EU doesn’t need a CIA – but better intelligence would help

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Cooperation between the EU's intelligence services is minimal. [Mike Mozart/Flickr]

Björn Fägersten asks: could better intelligence-sharing boost European foreign and security policy? 

Björn Fägersten is a research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. His new report on EU intelligence decision-making within the Common Foreign and Security Policy is available here.

Intelligence analysis is one of several ways to reduce uncertainty about a security problem. As the EU is today cornered by security problems – from Russia’s aggressions in the east to the mayhem caused by IS and Assad in the Levant and the turbulence of North Africa – the demand for sound intelligence clearly exists.

Today, this demand is met by a variety of units and functions within the European Union’s bureaucracy, with the EU Intelligence Analysis Centre (IntCen) as the main hub.  Despite the obvious sensitivities of the field, the EU has considerably increased these resources for intelligence-sharing and analysis in last decade.

This does not stop frequent calls for further intelligence capacity and even the establishment of a ‘real’ operational intelligence agency. At the height of the Snowden affair, the former Commissioner Viviane Reding called for a new agency to counter the NSA, President Juncker aired thoughts on a European security service this spring and the ALDE party in the European Parliament made calls for “a mechanism to better share intelligence across the EU”.   

But creating real intelligence agencies with a mandate to collect secret information is both unrealistic and possibly counterproductive. Both member states and practitioners would be hesitant to support such agencies and the public sentiment in Europe is hardly in favour of new ambitious integration projects in controversial areas. Top-down establishment of new agencies is thus a closed route to better European intelligence.

What to do then? In a new report on EU intelligence and the Common Foreign and Security Policy, I suggested three ways to boost the value of current structures: making part of the intelligence reporting available to the public, training young analysts and EU diplomats adequately and making sure that consumers of EU intelligence reports interact more.

First, the EU should make more use of its open source reporting. Today, the IntCen boosts more than a hundred analysts, who advise EU policy makers based on classified reporting from member states as well as open sources. But the output is all classified. In today’s conflicts when information warfare is a main ingredient, publicly and rapidly verifiable information is vital. For that reason the IntCen should consider producing more reports solely based on open sources that would allow for swift and open dissemination within and outside the EU’s borders.   

Second, to build trust and make better use of its own resources, the IntCen should establish training modules for young analysts and staffers. These training sessions in Brussels could be open for entry level staff in the national intelligence systems to build trust and learn the habits of multilateral intelligence work. But equally importantly, they should be open for the staff at the EUs 140 external delegations, which today often lack staff capable of analysing security issues.

Finally, more needs to be done to increase interaction between intelligence producers and consumers. One example could be to involve decision makers more tightly in the tasking of intelligence resources. Considering that member states contribute the bulk of classified information to the EU intelligence system they have a rather modest role in influencing the focus of the analytical work. Another possibility would be to host analytical sessions where analysts and decision makers ponder topical international issues together, in order to become more familiar with each other’s needs and levels of understanding.

Taking steps to boost the intelligence capacity of the EU obviously builds on the premise that this would allow for better policy. Is that really the case? Interviews with top level decision makers suggest it is. While the EU members frequently struggle to unite in the foreign policy domain, this process is facilitated by common assessment of the problems at hand. Common information does not guarantee collective action, but it raises the political cost of the actors resisting it. When EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini sits down to draft a new Global Strategy for foreign and security policy, she would do well to consider how the Union could be better informed.