chapter  8
15 Pages

European intelligence cooperation and accountability

ByTHORSTEN WETZLING

Intelligence has once again become a thriving business across Europe. National and European decision-makers value the clandestine and highly versatile modi operandi of modern security and intelligence services in the fight against international terrorism, organised crime, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.1 Contemporary agencies operate, however, in a remarkably different context from that which applied during the heyday of cloak-and-dagger operations in the Cold War. It can briefly be characterised as follows: First, European intelligence agencies all now serve and defend open societies. As a consequence, the direction of intelligence activities has become subject to increasing democratisation across the continent. Second, in accordance with the mantra that ‘networked threats require a networked response’ (Slaughter 2004b: 160), European nations have intensified their cooperation in intelligence matters. Cooperation can thus now take a variety of forms, and it is being practised at a range of levels. This can be seen in the proliferation of bilateral joint ventures, in the increasing resort to multilateral arrangements, and in the coordination of intelligence capabilities at the level of the European Union (Müller-Wille 2004; Daun and Jäger 2005; Wetzling 2008). Third, intelligence has been subject to a growing privatisation (see Shorrock 2008); it is no longer, consequently, a domaine réservé for the public services. However, while progress has no doubt been made at the domestic level in

democratising the direction of intelligence activities, it would be premature to assume that the entire spectrum of European intelligence activity today stands under sufficient democratic control. Indeed, the fact that a growing number of previously national intelligence competences are now being coordinated and practised outside national confines would appear to be a mixed blessing for citizens: in addition, namely, to the enhanced security it potentially provides, it poses major challenges to democratic governance. One particularly important challenge will be to establish and maintain mechanisms of public accountability for the conduct of European intelligence cooperation. So far, national and European politicians have been slow to apprehend and respond to the ‘transnationalisation of bureaucracies of surveillance’ (Bigo 2008: 11). Yet it is critical – and well past time – to shed more light on European

In keeping with the general theme of this book, this chapter places special

emphasis on accountability for European Union (EU) intelligence bodies. What is the effect on accountability when intelligence moves to the European level? A reasonable assumption from the outset might be that accountability in intelligence matters is least likely to be found in Brussels. In support of this assumption, one might point out that, notwithstanding all the progress that has been made, intelligence still figures as one of the very least transparent fields – possibly the least – of domestic government activity in most EU states. Furthermore, in light of the EU’s democratic deficit in far less secretive policy fields, there would seem to be little basis for properly accountable intelligence relationships at the supranational level. Alternatively, however, one might proceed on the opposite assumption: that the level of accountability achieved in this area is higher at the EU level than at the national level, at least in most cases. In support of this rather unconventional assumption, one could adduce the growing efforts at collaboration between national parliaments and the European Parliament (EP) – efforts that serve, very likely, to enhance accountability. Before we can apply this ‘least-likely test’ for accountability in the Eur-

opean Union, however, we will need to consider a few empirical and theoretical questions more closely. In the first two sections, accordingly, I review the patterns by which intelligence cooperation currently unfolds in Europe. I introduce the main players and their arenas; I describe the nature of the activities concerned; and I sketch the depth of cooperation achieved. The purpose of the third section is to examine the extremely popular (but also highly contingent) concept of accountability in greater detail. In the fourth section, I turn my attention to the question of intelligence accountability within the framework of the EU. In the same section, I also review certain accountability pathways between the European Parliament (EP) and the European Council (EC), as these emerged during a recent EP investigation into the possible involvement or complicity of EU member states in the ‘illegal deprivation of [the] liberty of individuals, including abduction, rendition, transfer, detention or torture either by act or omission’ (European Parliament 2006). Finally, I explore the significance of my findings from the standpoint of a more holistic discussion of accountability within the area of intelligence cooperation.