UK “spying” on EU partners
Statewatch Bulletin, January-February 1998    Bookmark and Share

The UK's overseas intelligence gathering service, MI6 (the Secret Intelligence Service, SIS), spies on other EU governments to strengthen their position in negotiations. As the Guardian put it: “The clearest confirmation from authoritative sources of a long-held suspicion comes in BBC 2's How to be Foreign Secretary..”. The programme broadcast on Sunday 8 January 1998 quotes a senior official, who could not be identified, as saying:

"Of course, we spied on them. It is as vital to know what our European partners are doing as any Soviet battle plan.” (Times, 2.1.98)

The presenter Michael Cockerell, a respected documentary maker, asked a number of ex-Foreign Secretaries, and the present one about this statement. Douglas Hurd, Foreign Secretary between 1989 and 1995, said: “I don't want to go into that. That's operational. I can't, can't, can't get into that.” Robin Cook, the Labour Foreign Secretary showed an unusual reticence saying: “No, I'm sorry. I can't talk about that because it is all secret information. We never discuss that.”

A former Labour Foreign Secretary in the 1970s David Owen said he did make use of intelligence but felt “you have to be very careful once you join the EU. These are our friends and allies”. But former Conservative Foreign Minister William Waldegrave was more forthcoming speaking of the use of “intercepts”: “The Secret Intelligence Service is very useful to the Foreign Secretary. It can't do miracles but it does provide a most extraordinary source of good information.”

In the UK the Foreign Office (and the Cabinet Office) is supplied with intelligence both by MI6 and by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). GCHQ is part of the secret worldwide SIGINT network set up by the UK and the US in the 1946 UKUSA Treaty later joined by secondary partners Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The same countries are party to the ECHELON network which trawls the ether for communications (faxes, telex, e-mails), encrypted and unencrypted, gathering economic and political intelligence. The information gathered is routinely passed on to participating countries.

Thus, in addition to the usual means of intelligence-gathering by human means (HUMINT) placing “bugs”, scanning the media and specialist publications, following “targets”, using informants and gathering “gossip” which are available to all EU governments the UK alone in the EU has access to the most closely-guarded secrets of its “partners”

(by Tony Bunyan)

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