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    Despite Previous Calls, European Spy Agency Not a Commission Priority

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    Julian King, EU Commissioner for Security, has poured ice on calls from Commission colleagues to establish a pan-European spy agency to rival the US Central Intelligence Agency.

    A dedicated pan-European intelligence service would be too cumbersome to set up, and distract Brussels from urgent efforts to battle extremism and crime, Julian King, EU Commissioner for Security, has declared.

    Speaking at a press conference September 7, King said terrorists wouldn't pause their activities in order to allow the EU to set up the agency.

    "I have to tackle the problems that we face right now. The terrorists are not waiting for us to review the treaties, they are not waiting for a constitutional discussion in Germany," he said.

    Instead, King said the EU would continue to work on the broad range of policies already underway and prepare for "new objectives" set to be announced by the Commission, according to President Jean-Claude Juncker's annual state of the union address on September 13.

    Cross-Border Cooperation

    King's statements directly contradict sentiments expressed mere days earlier by the EU Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, who suggested an EU spy agency would've helped prevent the recent flurry of terrorist strikes in Belgium, France, Finland, Spain and the UK.

    Avramopoulos was far from the first EU leader to call for the creation of an EU intelligence agency. Most notably, in the wake of the March 2016 terror attacks in Belgium, Juncker himself said a pan-European intelligence organization was becoming increasingly necessary.

    Presently, the EU has an intelligence analysis center — Intcen — but the body is unable to gather its own intelligence, and is mainly working off classified briefs received from member states' national intelligence agencies.

    This body has demonstrably been an inadequate means of preventing terrorist attacks on EU soil, even when perpetrators are known to police, and there are clear forewarnings of impending strikes.

    Immense Hurdles

    Nonetheless, King's neutering of his colleagues' aspirations may be tacit recognition of the immense difficulties inherent in removing all the political and legislative barriers required to create such an agency.  

    First and foremost, member state governments are already reticent to disclose sensitive information to one another over fears it may get leaked, or reveal their sources.

    An EU spy agency would, almost by definition, mean member states would be precluded from keeping any secrets to themselves, or a select group of trusted parties. This potent disincentive will perhaps always impede truly open intelligence-sharing between nations.

    Moreover, a pan-European intelligence agency would presumably pool together data collected by the bloc's 28 member states, centralizing a vast quantity of highly delicate information under the roof of a single organization — maximizing the prospect of damaging leaks, and greatly increasing the volume of information hackers could potentially access.

    Still, moves are afoot to open up EU databases on security, border, and migration management to all member state law enforcement and intelligence agencies, via the creation of a European search portal, a shared biometric matching service, and a common identity repository, and an overhaul of the Schengen Information System, Visa Information System and Eurodac.

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    Tags:
    information sharing, intelligence agencies, spying, terrorism, surveillance, Brussels bombings, European Union, Jean-Claude Juncker, Europe
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