Documents: Operation Sophia anti-migrant smuggling mission to host "crime information cell" pilot project
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The EU's anti-migrant smuggling mission, Operation Sophia, is to host a "crime information cell" as part of a pilot project that will attempt to ensure any information gathered by the mission that is "relevant for crime prevention, investigation and prosecution, or more broadly border security is made available to the relevant Member State authorities and JHA agencies".
See: NOTE from: Presidency/EEAS Services/Commission Services/GSC to: Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation on Internal Security (COSI)/Political and Security Committee (PSC): Cooperation between CSDP missions/operations and JHA agencies (14265/17, LIMITE, 20 November 2017, pdf)
A "win-win" for foreign policy and home affairs operations
The pilot project comes as part of longstanding EU plans to improve the exchange of information and intelligence between Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) bodies and agencies, although:
"it was noted that EUNAVFORMED Operation Sophia is not representative of the majority of CSDP missions/operations, notably in that its mandate allows collection of personal data and cooperation with JHA agencies. Therefore the solutions identified through a pilot project on EUNAVFORMED Operation Sophia may not be necessarily replicable, although lessons learnt could be useful for later reflection on the development of a further tailored approach to other missions/operations." [emphasis added]
According to a recent restricted document produced by the European Union Military Staff (in the European External Action Service) and sent to the European Union Military Committee (in the Council of the European Union), enhancing cooperation between CSDP mission and JHA agencies could provide "a win-win situation for JHA Agencies as well as for CSDP Missions and Operations," and the authors:
"highlights the possibility to create 'Crime Information Cells (CIC)' by using national Military Police Forces or Gendarmerie Forces which are already available and trained for investigation purposes."
See: Working document of the European External Action Service: Military Advice on "Strengthening military, law enforcement and judicial information exchange in counter-terrorism" and "enhancing cooperation between CSDP Missions/Operations and JHA Agencies" - Revision3 (EEAS(2017) 1273 REV3, RESTREINT/RESTRICTED, 8 November 2017, pdf)
Pilot project: "up to 10 law enforcement experts"
According to the note on Operation Sophia (emphasis added in all quotes):
"This cell could count up to 10 law enforcement experts and would operate in a safe and secured environment for staff and information, within the current legal framework, in respect of the data protection rules making the most of the transmission channels already in place (SIENA [Europol] and JORA [Frontex]) with JHA agencies."
Reflecting the Military Staff's suggestions, the note says:
"The following categories of law enforcement experts may be required: Member States judicial and law enforcement officers notably with military status, JHA agencies staff."
Frontex is seen as having an important role in the project:
"In order to improve the collection of information, EBCGA [Frontex] offered to expand the collection implemented within Operation TRITON and to deploy de-briefers on ships participating in EUNAVFORMED Operation SOPHIA as appropriate. The crime information cell would then be in the position to facilitate the exchange of information with JHA agencies and provide the necessary feedback, focusing on facilitation of illegal migration, migrant smuggling, crossborder crime and terrorism. In addition to the acquisition of strategic information, the system would provide the collection of personal data of suspect activities. In addition EBCGA offered to exchange surveillance information beneficiary to both parties."
A "comprehensive picure of illicit activities"
"EUNAVFORMED Operation Sophia could benefit from further cross checking of information by JHA agencies of all relevant databases which offers an opportunity to identify possible links to organised crime and terrorism and to obtain a clear and comprehensive picture of illicit activities. This may add benefit in increasing the security of its assets and crews in the Area of Operation."
The EU has long sought to expand information-sharing between CSDP and JHA bodies and agencies, and between Operation Sophia and EU and national authorities in particular. The note does not refer to any issues regarding admissibility of information gathered by Operation Sophia as evidence in judicial proceedings (for example, in attempted prosecutions of migrant smugglers), although it does state:
"although the initial focus of the pilot project should be the sharing of information, it would also be important to improve judicial cooperation, and thus to ensure that judicial dimension of CSDP/JHA cooperation would be adequately addressed in further developments."
- Restricted document highlights plans for ongoing EU interventions in Libya (Statewatch News Online, July 2017)
- Proposals for EU intelligence-gathering abroad and "civmil convergence and synergies" (Statewatch News Online, July 2016)
- Plans emerge for the collection of personal data outside European borders to obtain "comprehensive situational awareness and intelligence support" (Statewatch News Online, October 2012)
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