Brussels, the center of gravity of the European Union and seat of NATO Headquarters, not only teems with lobbyists, diplomats, military personnel, bureaucrats, politicians, Americans, and other weird characters from around the world, but also with spies.
“Brussels is one of the largest spy capitals in the world,” said Alain Winants, head of the Belgian State Security Service VSSE. He guesstimated that there’d be “several hundred” plying their trade at any one time, chasing after a broad array of topics, from trade issues to security policies.
Yet officially, the EU itself doesn’t have an intelligence service of its own. It’s dependent on the national intelligence services of the member states that supply it with “finished intelligence.” Officially. In reality, it has been building an intelligence apparatus of six services so far, some of them brand new, populated already by 1,300 specialists. But because they’re officially not conducting direct covert operations – though they do go overseas, including to Libya during the Arab Spring! – they simply deny being intelligence services.
Thus, four of them have finagled to escape democratic oversight and control by the European Parliament. Even in the US, the Intelligence Community is accountable to the Congress. Not so in the EU. As everything else in the EU bureaucracy, these services – the newest dating back to 2011 – are constantly growing, assuming more functions, responsibilities, and power, with vast and ever expanding databases at their fingertips, tied into a dense network of other intelligence services. And it’s just the beginning.
Some Members of Parliament are getting antsy and want to rein them in. Martin Ehrenhauser, independent MP from Austria, and member of the Subcommittee on Security and Defense Policy, is one of the ringleaders; and in his blog post, he details some of the issues.
Since its founding, the EU has been building its own spy programs, often triggered by specific needs, in an “ad-hoc” manner “without strategy” and without a “coherent concept” about its structure, methods, and people, he writes. This “EU intelligence community” saw its first steps in 1993 with the founding of Europol, the only intelligence service established by treaty, and thus the only one with a legitimate basis. Between the prolific years of 2000 and 2004, four additional intelligence units were cobbled together by the unelected European Council. And another one in 2011.
Parliament, emasculated by design in the hyper-democratic manner of the EU, was never given an opportunity to be involved. The logic? Since these entities receive only “finished intelligence” from national services, democratic oversight would rest with national parliaments, not with the European Parliament. Alas, these EU intelligence services are gathering their own intelligence to an ever greater degree. Hence, Ehrenhauser writes, the idea that the EU receives 100% of its information from national intelligence services is a “fallacy.”
The EU intelligence services function similarly to their national counterparts: they collect information, often overseas, analyze it, and transmit it to policy makers. These products can be classified EU TOP SECRET. The mere fact that they might not use covert operations directly to obtain the information, Ehrenhauser writes, is “not sufficient to deny the very existence of the intelligence services and therefore the necessity of democratic controls by the European Parliament.”
Of the six services, only Europol (intelligence and law enforcement) and Frontex (external borders) are subject to some parliamentary oversight. The remaining four – the Intelligence Analysis Center (IntCen), the Satellite Center (SatCen), the Intelligence Directorate (IntDir), and the Situation Room (crisis monitoring) – are beyond democratic controls.
All four have been rolled into the European External Action Service (EEAS), which itself was founded in 2011. Some of them don’t even publish their budgets. Though they’re still small, given their youth, they’re destined to grow just like Europol has been growing over its 20 years of existence. They’re already getting tangled up in “ever more complex decision-making structures with diffuse responsibilities,” Ehrenhauser writes, and they’re making “sweeping decisions far away from the voter.”
So he demands oversight by the European Parliament “at all levels.” It’s not like they haven’t tried. Well, one tiny bit. While Parliament – unique among democracies – can’t initiate legislation, it does have some control over the purse strings. So there was an initiative in the budget committee to force EEAS to disclose the budgets of these four entities. It would have provided a modicum of say and transparency. But it was voted down in the committee.
What kind of Parliament decides to abrogate its responsibilities? What kind of lawmaker votes for continued ignorance and powerlessness in face of what someday will be a massive intelligence apparatus with unknown budgets, ill-defined limits, and the mission to serve its master, the European Council? Monsters have been created on this basis. Another victory for unelected Eurocrats and their armies of functionaries that plod forward in their unsteady manner, hell-bent on implementing their vision of a mega-state encumbered only slightly by the somewhat inconvenient veneer of democracy.