Report urges EU security network to pool intelligence


THE EU should set up a network of anti-terrorism centres across the Union to share intelligence gathered by secret service agencies to tackle terrorism, writes Jamie Smythin Cannes.

It also needs to beef up security measures to protect citizens from the threat of a biological or nuclear attack from terrorists by screening more freight arriving at ports and conducting background checks on transport employees.

These are two key suggestions made in a confidential report titled Freedom, Security, Privacy - European Home Affairs in an Open World, which was discussed yesterday at the EU interior ministers meeting in Cannes.

The 53-page report sets out a vision for how EU anti-terrorism and immigration policy should develop between 2010 and 2014 to better protect EU citizens. It also assesses key trends in these areas, such as terrorists increasing use of the internet to incite, recruit and support activists.

The internet "has become a decisive vector for radicalisation" notes the report, which urges the EU to make a more proactive use of the internet with the aim of "de-radicalisation".

It says more needs to be done online to challenge the terrorist message while making it very clear that terrorist speech leads to further aggression and is not covered by freedom of speech.

The report says the EU needs to create its own online content often in non-EU languages to focus on immigrant communities, most susceptible to radicalisation, focused on intercultural dialogue with a positive message.

Potentially one of the most controversial proposals in the field of EU anti-terrorism policy is the creation of a network of anti- terrorism centres across the Union to enable national intelligence services to swap and share information.

The report notes that the principle of availability of intelligence collides with the principle of confidentiality that is critical for EU states' national intelligence services to collect and share information. It says that "careful consideration is required about the extent to which EU structures could contribute to bringing these divergent interests in line with each other".

It suggests SitCen - the EU's joint situation centre - which is responsible for monitoring crisis regions, terrorism and providing the council of ministers with intelligence-based assessments on counter terrorism may play a role.

Civil liberties groups such as Statewatch have in the past expressed concern about a lack of accountability regarding the operation of SitCen and the wider development of the EU's role in security and intelligence matters.

The report also calls for much more practical co-operation between EU member state police forces and broadening the type of citizen's personal information that is shared between police forces. It also recommends that EU states finally make up their minds on whether to proceed with a political objective to achieve a Euro-Atlantic area of co-operation with the US in the field of justice.

This could involve more sharing of intelligence and personal data with the US in the future and joint initiatives to combat terrorism.

EU police should also make greater use of security technologies such as video surveillance, internet telephony and use of unpiloted aircraft, says the report. Sharing of these security assets between different member states must also be considered due to the cost of acquiring state-of-the-art technology.

The report, which was drawn up by the ministers of the interior of six EU states together with the European Commission, a body known as the Future Group, also warns of a threat of terrorist attacks with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons in the future. "It is obvious that this risk confronts all states with an exceptional challenge as regards the prevention of an attack, immediate reaction to an attack as well as the ensuing civil protection and crisis management measures," it says.

The report warns that counter terrorism instruments in this field need to be upgraded by improving transport security and better protecting against the illegal import of hazardous substances. It recommends introducing effective screening of container transport entering the EU, including checks to avoid the import of radioactive and certain biological and chemical materials.

A senior EU official said yesterday the report would lay the groundwork for the development of EU anti-terrorism policy up until 2014.