Interpol urges more sharing of terror intelligence





By Mark Huband in Florence

Financial Times, 8 June 2004

Strict limits on intelligence sharing are hindering efforts by law enforcement agencies to understand how the global terrorist threat is changing, senior police and legal officials have been told.

Countries routinely share information on terrorism, but this is done between states on a bilateral basis. This system means intelligence agencies choose who to share information with. It also means they can control the flow of information and protect their sources, because it is shared on the understanding that it will not be passed on to third countries without the originating agency’s permission.

However, pressure for information to be pooled – so that all countries facing a terrorist threat can have access to it – has increased since the Madrid train bombings in March.

“Bilateral relations are what people believe will work, and distrust is what occurs most frequently,” Ronald Noble, secretary general of Interpol, the international police organisation, said at the weekend.

“Unless we can change that set of ideas we are not going to make progress. We haven’t tried enough at being open on sharing information. We have done too much to conceal it,” he told a meeting of legal and security experts in Florence, organised by New York University Center on Law and Security.

After the Madrid bombings, the European Union created the post of terrorism co-ordinator to improve liaison between EU states. That move prompted calls for Europe’s largest intelligence agencies to share more information.

Some EU officials said bilateral sharing was insufficient at a time when the terrorist threat was evolving from a structure dominated by the al-Qaeda leadership into disparate cells that are harder to track.

But intelligence experts from the UK, France and the US disagreed, insisting international co-operation was already difficult without the extra worry of potential leaks from information shared more widely.

“Bilateral co-operation is almost always likely to be more robust,” Ellen Laipson, a former official with the CIA’s National Intelligence Council, told the meeting. “It’s a relationship that intelligence professionals feel they can control and trust more.”

Armando Spataro, co-ordinator of terrorism investigations at Milan’s justice department, said hurdles still hampered investigations despite improved co-operation since the September 11 2001 attacks.

He said Italian investigators recently asked another European country – which he did not name – for the name of a person uncovered during an Italian terrorism inquiry to whom a specific telephone number was attributed. The Italians were told to make a formal request to that country for the name.

“There is a parochial attitude,” he said. “Security agents and judges are not really convinced of the need to co-operate. It’s useless to keep discussing new conventions and treaties. We should reach the stage where we automatically share information.”

Jean-Louis Brugui√®re, France’s top terrorism judge, made a similar call. “We need to set up a new global approach to terrorism in order to avoid this fratricidal war between intelligence services and the law enforcement agencies. If we do, we will be able to respond to the global threat.”


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.