Global intelligence partnership planned




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 29 June 2004

Counter-terrorism chiefs in the US, Britain and Australia are aiming to build a global intelligence-sharing structure that will allow security services to assess threats and issue warnings continuously across all time zones.

The new system is intended to allow each country to benefit from the daytime collection and assessment of information on the threat from groups affiliated to al-Qaeda.

Security services in the different time zones will assess information received from the other services and then pass on updated assessments in an unbroken flow.

“The step change has been in the intelligence sharing because no one country can understand al-Qaeda,” said a senior security official involved in creating the new system.

Extensive intelligence sharing on terrorism and other issues between the three countries is already routine. But al-Qaeda’s fragmented structure has intensified the focus on local terrorist cells whose cross- border links have become increasingly difficult to identify.

The foundation of the system will be the new terrorism assessment centres the three countries have established. In the aftermath of the bombing of a nightclub in Bali on October 12 2002, which killed 199 people, including many Australians, several security services blamed a lack of intelligence co-ordination for having limited the sharing of information available before the bombings.

Part of the UK response was the creation of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, through which all information on the terrorist threat to the UK or UK interests abroad now passes.

The US followed the UK’s lead by creating the Terrorist Threat Integration Center in May 2003, and Australia with the creation of the National Threat Assessment Centre last October. All three centres have brought together staff from government departments ranging from transport to secret intelligence.

The aim has been to maximise the range of experience and allow threat assessments to be tailored to the needs of different economic and other sectors.

Britain’s JTAC grew out of a 20-person terrorism assessment centre that operated within MI5, the security service. The new centre, which has its offices at MI5 headquarters and is handling 30,000 items of terrorism- related intelligence annually, now has a staff of 100, of whom about a third are MI5 officers.

NTAC, its Australian equivalent, draws on a similar range of staff and established a round-the-clock operational ability on June 1. John Brennan, TTIC director, told the commission investigating the September 11 terrorist attacks that the US centre now had direct access to 14 US government databases and planned to create access to 10 more information networks.

The number of terrorist-related suspicious bank transaction reports in the UK has fallen since 2001 even though the overall number of suspicious reports is rising, a conference was told on Tuesday, writes Jane Croft. All suspicious activity reports must be sent to the National Criminal Intelligence Service by the banks.

The reports are aimed at helping NCIS root out possible money launderers, organised crime and financiers of terrorism.

Delegates at a British Bankers’ Association conference were told by a speaker from one of the largest retail banks that the volume of terrorist-related suspicious bank transactions fell to 486 last year against 719 in 2001.

However, the overall number of reports – which also detect other activities like money laundering – have risen from 31,000 in 2001 to about 100,000 last year.

The speaker also said that 400 court production orders were made in 2003 in England and Wales against UK banks.



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.