The Complex

U.S., European Spooks Meet to Discuss PRISM Data Swap

Representatives from the United States' intelligence community will meet with European Commission officials July 22 in Brussels to discuss the extent to which the National Security Agency conducted internet surveillance on European networks under the now famous programs leaked by Edward Snowden.

"We want to learn more about this system, how does it work, what does it do, and then make a sort of assessment and we'll see where all this leads," Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union's counterterrorism coordinator told Killer Apps at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

"What we would like to have . . . is reassurance that these programs [have] limits, safeguards, are proportional, that they are for counter terrorism only and not economic intelligence," said de Kerchove during a speech on July 19 at the forum. "We want to see if there is room for improvement, we don't reject" the idea of the program. Instead, the EU wants to make sure the information is collected lawfully and is held in a secure manner so there are no more large scale leaks. He then referred to the now joint US-EU effort called the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) as an example of intelligence collaboration between the two sides of the Atlantic.

TFTP started as an American intelligence program aimed at monitoring the Brussels-based bank information-sharing organization, SWIFT, with the intent of tracking terrorists' financial transactions around the world. TFTP program was expanded to a joint operation after it was publicly revealed that the US was obtaining information on European bank transactions.

While Monday's meeting is meant merely to inform EU officials about the extent to which the United States is spying on their networks, it might -- might -- lead to more information sharing between the U.S. and Europe, according to de Kerchove.

While the two sides "will not enter into negotiation on a formal arrangement" on transatlantic sharing of information contained in the NSA's PRISM database, part of the goal of the talks for European officials is to make sure that the US will share intelligence gathered under its Internet spying programs, according to de Kerchove.

EU officials want to make sure that "if, through PRISM, the US intelligence community gets some relevant information -- which, together with satellite interception, human source or some other program -- leads to something that is meaningful for one member state in Europe, they will share it," de Kerchove told Killer Apps.

Just yesterday, German newspaper Der Spiegel revealed a "prolific" and growing partnership between German intelligence agencies and the NSA in the gathering and sharing of electronic intelligence, including Internet data such as search engine queries.

de Kerchove acknowledged during his speech that most European government officials, "in the back of their mind, know that the US is collecting a lot of data . . .and we know that a lot of information that has helped us foil [terrorist] plots was provided by the Americans."

So much for all the anger expressed by continental leaders when, in the non-news of the year, the NSA was revealed to be spying on Europe.

(Still, de Kerchove's speech came the same day the EU announced an increased push to ensure that European Internet data is held to European privacy standards even when it is handled by US-based companies.)

At the end of the day, it looks like all of the sturm und drang over the NSA's Internet spying programs might be set to invoke greater intelligence sharing between the US and Europe.

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National Security

U.S. Is Now Paying Syria's Cops

ASPEN, CO. - The American effort to arm Syria's opposition may be stalled in Congress. But the Hill just gave the State Department the green light to pay police in rebel-controlled territory a monthly stipend of $150. It's a start - and it's part of a wider U.S. effort to build law enforcement organizations in conflict-ridden nations.

"We'd rather have a trained policeman who is trusted by the community than have to bring in a new crowd or bring in an international group that doesn't know the place," Rick Barton, assistant secretary of state for conflict and stabilization operations, said during a talk at the Aspen Security Forum today.

"There are literally thousands of defected police inside of Syria, they are credible in their communities because they've defected," said Barton. "They have been playing the role of police without any pay because there's no revenue stream in the opposition controlled areas."

Right now, it's the best the U.S. can manage. Weapons shipments, promised in June, have been slowed. Obama administration lawyers have repeatedly raised red flags over the arms transfers. Congressmen are concerned the weapons could fall into the wrong hands. The CIA has been quietly training small groups of anti-Assad fighters to use anti-tank weapons and heavy guns, according to the Los Angeles Times. But a larger up-arming and training push is on hold. "We don't understand why our friends delay and delay and delay and hesitate to support us," Gen. Salim Idriss, the commander of a Western-backed rebel group, told McClatchy.

In the meantime, the State Department has been providing some Syrian opposition groups secure communications technologies as well as some rule-of-law training, added Barton. There have also been planned shipments of vehicles, medical supplies, and night vision goggles. But even that non-lethal aid has been bottled up in the bowels of the American bureaucracy; fully half of it was still on U.S. shelves as of last month.

All of this is part of the U.S. government's effort to build up the capacity of local groups in conflict zones around the globe. The idea is for them to eventually handle extremist threats on their own, according to Barton and several people sharing the stage with him at Aspen today.

This is reflected by the way the U.S. has bee sending small teams of soldiers, spies and diplomats to countries and regions with brewing or existing fights with extremist groups.

U.S. Special Operations Command chief Adm. Bill McRaven said this trend will grow as the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, allowing it to deploy special operations teams on missions to train local militaries around the globe.

"Ideally, you want to take these violent extremist networks that kind of have regional reach, make it [the terror group's reach] local, and then make it a local law enforcement problem," said McRaven. "If you can do that, then you can eliminate the terrorist threat, I think, as we know it today."

Still, don't expect U.S. special operators to stop killing terrorists anytime soon, even as they train militaries and police forces in the developing world to do just that.

McRaven said that hammering terrorist groups until they can be rolled up by local law enforcement is a process that will take decades.

"Do I think we're gonna get there in the mid-future? No I don't think we will," said the four-star admiral. "But we need to strive for that because if we don't, we'll be deferring back to our old kinetic way of doing business."

 

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images