Intelligence cooperation faces obstacles

December 02, 2010

"Bureaucrats put spanners in the works; they are unwilling to release information when politicians try to start new cooperation", says political scientist Björn Fägersten from Lund University in Sweden. He will shortly be defending a new thesis on international intelligence cooperation.

Björn Fägersten has studied the reasoning European countries use when considering cooperation with another country's intelligence services. The advantages are that they gain access to one another's information and expertise on specific regions. Countries are particularly keen to cooperate on terrorism and organised crime.

"It could be both disastrous and embarrassing if they withheld information about a planned attack in another country", says Björn Fägersten.

Other types of intelligence cooperation can entail disadvantages, for example in the case of development trends in other countries - countries are less willing to exchange information if they believe the knowledge could lead to economic advantages.

However, even cooperation where all parties have something to gain can meet with opposition, according to Björn Fägersten. In such cases it is often because civil servants within different organisations look after their own interests.

"The various intelligence organisations overlap one another and when the staff have put time and money into an issue, they are unwilling to relinquish their areas of expertise", says Björn Fägersten.

He mentions Europol, which despite repeated demands for cooperation on counter-terrorism has difficulty delivering. One example is the politically initiated Counter Terrorism Task Force that was set up after 11 September. It was a fiasco and in the end was wound up because it did not receive support.

"If the civil servants don't see any value in an initiative, it becomes very difficult to carry it out. Politicians should be more aware of this when they establish new structures", says Björn Fägersten.

Björn Fägersten has studied intelligence cooperation within three different European forums: the European Police Office (Europol), the EU Joint Situation Centre (SitCen), and the security services' forum for counter-terrorism, the Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG). Besides open sources in the form of decisions and parliamentary hearings, the study is based on interviews with individuals from a total of 11 European countries with links to intelligence services.
Björn Fägersten will defend his thesis on 4 December at 10.15 in Edens hörsal. The thesis is entitled Sharing Secrets - Explaining International Intelligence Cooperation.

Björn Fägersten can be contacted at or on +46 708 122438.

Please contact the author to obtain a review copy of the thesis.

Lund University

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