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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