New international challenges may significantly change the geopolitics of Western intelligence.
The alliance between the intelligence agencies of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (the so-called ‘Five Eyes’) doubtless represents the fulcrum of Western espionage and its greatest expression in terms of geopolitical power. Created in 1946, at first it included the UK and the USA, while Canada, Australia and New Zealand were still represented by London.
The situation changed in the following years when the British Dominions obtained complete independence. The main purpose of the ‘Five Eyes’ is collaboration and the exchange of data and intelligence information between the member countries.
Initially directed towards the Soviet Union (USSR) and the other countries of the communist bloc, its spying activities were later redirected to economic espionage and the war against terrorism.
As a network of international listening posts, it is today based especially on the interception of fibre-optic undersea cables, it guarantees spying operations. In fact, the cables carry the most of world communications and, by means of the control of territories and overseas military bases through which the undersea cables pass, the ‘Five Eyes’ is able to spy
on almost every region of the world.
Other forms of espionage collaboration have further extended the field of operations of the Anglo-Saxon countries.
In particular, during the Cold War, the ‘Nine Eyes’ was created (in which the Anglo-Saxon countries were joined by Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, and France) and the ‘Fourteen Eyes’ (with the inclusion of Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Belgium). However, these countries, also called ‘third parties’, do not enjoy the same confidence among the ‘Five Eyes’, with the exchange of intelligence with them being limited both in quantity and in quality.
The five Anglo-Saxon countries, for historical, cultural, linguistic and strategic reasons, and despite numerous cases of disagreement, clashes and even reciprocal spying, possess a geopolitical and cultural affinity that they do not share with any other nation. This has allowed them to establish close relations in unequalled military terms.
The Anglo-Saxon countries are not the only western countries to have set up interstate networks of espionage. By means of the European Union (EU) and the ‘Maximator’ alliance, the agencies of continental Europe fill an important role in intelligence, even if it is smaller than that of the Anglo-Saxon countries.
At the EU level, The European Union Intelligence and Situation Centre (EU INTCEN) directs the gathering and sharing of information between the various European Institutions and its member states.
However, given the civil nature of the information gathered, which is based upon open-source intelligence (OSINT), the effectiveness of the INTCEN is greatly limited. A similar alliance to the ‘Five Eyes’ may be found in ‘Maximator’, whose existence was made public some months ago by a Dutch professor of the University of Nijmegen.
Initially composed in 1976 of Denmark, Sweden and Germany, it later included Holland in 1978 and France in 1986, given the close relations between these countries and Germany. Other European countries such as Italy, Spain and Norway were not accepted due to their low capacity and operative experience in the field of cryptography, apart from a lack of trust. This alliance is still active today and concentrates mainly on the exchange of information derived from the interception and decoding of diplomatic and military communications. Real spying operations are a national responsibility and there are no joint operations.
Nevertheless, little is known of its modus operandi, except that, during the Cold War, the member countries brought pressure to bear upon the European companies in the production of encoding machines, which were deliberately tampered with and sold to third countries so
as to spy on them.
Holland, by means of Philips, and Germany by means of Siemens, and the partial control of the Swiss company Crypto AG, a world leader in cryptography, are the countries best technologically equipped.
The geopolitics of Western intelligence is therefore characterised by various forms of collaboration, of which ‘Five Eyes’ and ‘Maximator’ are at the top. Nevertheless, new geopolitical challenges could significantly alter present alliances. In particular, the return of China and Russia as great powers, and their perceived threat to some Western countries, has recently led to the development of new forms of collaboration.
The best example of this is probably the unpublished partnership between the intelligence agencies of ‘Five Eyes’ and that of Japan, Germany and France. That alliance is closely directed by the United States and has been called ‘Five Eyes Plus Three’. Its main aim: to take on the potential threat of China in the field of cyber-attacks and, more generally, of interceptions via the internet (see the Huawei case, one of the world leaders in 5G technology and accused by various western governments of wanting to install backdoors on their telecommunication systems to spy on other countries).
The potential threat of Russia to Europe, and especially to Middle East and Nordic countries, constitutes an ulterior bond between the western intelligence agencies, apart from opening the way for unpublished forms of collaboration with the new members of the EU and NATO such as Poland and, presumably, Ukraine in the future. At EU level, even though Brexit risks weakening intelligence relations between the United Kingdom and the other European nations, the split between London and the Old Continent has led to greater cooperation between the member states. One clear example of this is the institution of a European intelligence school (Joint European Union Intelligence School, JEIS) within the PESCO projects, with the aim of developing common skills and technologies in that ambit.(photo: The home of MI6 in central London)