Action plan on Afghanistan: Europol to hire evacuated staff from Kabul

A high-ranking EU advisor has drawn up recommendations for the Council and the Commission on how to deal with evacuees and refugees from Afghanistan. The focus is on more cooperation with secret services and NATO.

The European Union’s anti-terrorism coordinator proposes 22 measures for dealing with Afghan refugees. An action plan, published by the British organisation Statewatch, addresses the four areas of security controls, strategic intelligence, countering propaganda as well as terrorist financing.

The recommendations by the Belgian Gilles de Kerchove are based on a declaration by the EU interior ministers on 31 August. There, flight and migration from Afghanistan are seen primarily as a security problem.

Querying of biometric data

According to the action plan now on the table, the agencies Europol and Frontex as well as the asylum support office EASO are therefore to make logistical preparations. This includes, in particular, the registration and screening of refugees who may arrive at the EU’s external borders.

The action plan also designates measures for those who have already been evacuated. They will be security-checked with the help of relevant databases. These include all four existing EU information systems with biometric data, in addition to data collections from Europol and Interpol.

De Kerchove recommends further queries with the individual NATO members via their BICES system. There, NATO member states store so-called „battlefield information“. This includes, for example, fingerprints and DNA data of imprisoned or killed fighters as well as traces of crime scenes in countries such as Afghanistan.

Monitoring of „right-wing and left-wing extremist discourse“

The EU should also „politically engage“ with NATO and the G7 countries and obtain information on what weapons and equipment have been left behind in Afghanistan. In this way, de Kerchove wants to prevent them from being used by terrorist groups for attacks in the EU. The agencies Europol and Frontex are therefore to cooperate with international parcel services. To counter terrorist financing, Europol is also to monitor the trafficking of narcotics in Afghanistan more closely.

The police agency is also asked to monitor the internet on extremist or terrorist activities as well as travel movements to and from Afghanistan. However, the „Internet Referral Unit“ at Europol in The Hague lacks personnel who speak Pashto, Dari, Urdu or Farsi. According to the action plan, these could be recruited from among the members and local staff of the EU delegation evacuated from Kabul.

It is also necessary to search the internet for right-wing and left-wing extremist discourse“. De Kerchove does not provide a justification for the proposal. It is rather unlikely that left-wing groups will react to the Taliban’s seizure of power with actions worthy of punishment. More obvious is that right-wing extremist groups are instrumentalising the flight of many people from Afghanistan for their anti-human propaganda or even attacks.

More exchange with secret services

Cooperation with secret services is also to be expanded. As is usual in EU papers, these are not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the action plan, but are described as „competent authorities of Member States“. The background to this is that the EU has no mandate for secret service coordination. However, the EU treaties allow for the operation of the INTCEN Situation Centre in Brussels, which receives analyses of domestic and foreign secret services from the member states. The facility is now supposed to provide „intensified reporting“ on Afghanistan.

EU governments are asked to provide resources to detect, monitor and intercept „possible jihadists“ as they enter the country. The appeal is presumably addressed to the „Counter Terrorism Group“ (CTG), in which all domestic seret services of the EU member states have informally joined forces. For rapid exchange, the group operates a common information system and a database at the Dutch AIVD in The Hague. Europol is also involved in this top-secret cooperation.

Finally, the Kerchove advises „strengthening dialogue“ and „strategic information exchange“ with Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, as well as countries in the region and around the world that have „access to information“ about the country. According to the Frontex director, his border agency has already „started discussions“ on cooperation with the Pakistani government.

More „battlefield information“

In a week’s time, high-ranking EU and US officials will hold their regular meeting in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana. The US government is expected to explain the process by which those evacuated by its troops to the Western Balkans have been security cleared. Of particular interest to the EU are those Afghan nationals who have applied for asylum in an EU member state from US bases. Around one thousand people were flown out by the US to Kosovo, several hundred to Albania and over one hundred to Northern Macedonia.

The action plan will be discussed this week in the competent Council working groups „Terrorism“ and „Terrorism (International Aspects)“. The focus there is on the further exchange of „battlefield information“ collected in Afghanistan. Secret services from the USA, North Africa or the Western Balkans can now use the Schengen Information System, which is actually only accessible to European authorities, for these purposes. This questionable practice is now about to be intensified.

Image: Intelligence services from the EU and third countries are increasingly exchanging biometric data from Afghanistan (Public Domain).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.