Jean Labrique
(Secretary General to Western Defense Studies Institute, Rome
and President to European Osint Nexus - EON, Paris – Bruxelles)

Copyright: Jean Labrigue on line

Spain, Hungary and Belgium have agreed to cooperate during the period they will each head the EU.

The challenges are many and amongst them there is one that we should monitor with interest: inter-government cooperation in the sharing of information and intelligence. I use both words deliberately. In the modern computerized world, information - masses of information, is readily available to everyone, private citizen and governments alike…however, intelligence is that information which has been collected, processed and analyzed…usually by governments. It is this process of collection, analysis and dissemination that makes information useable, i.e. intelligence…and also probably sensitive and classified.

In 2007 Hungary launched an initiative called Open Source Intelligence or OSINT. Much to their dismay, the founders discovered that the EU apparatus were, to say the least, reluctant to the idea of pooling or sharing intelligence. In fact, immediately after the launching, EU agencies made it clear that, intelligence, open source or other, should be a government-only initiative and that NGO’s were to be kept far from the meetings.

One member of the Roman think tank, Western Defense Studies Institute, suggested the use of different semantic i.e. open source information instead of open source intelligence. This was favourably received, and at the third Budapest meeting, OSINT Budapest Club became OSINF Budapest Club. This was immediately appreciated by the EU government agencies attending the meeting. It changed the chemistry of the gathering.

A fourth meeting was held in Bucharest. Some agencies tried to relegate the Hungarian initiative -OSINF Budapest Club- to a secondary role and to even neuter the innovative concept of open source information sharing by treating it the same manner as traditional government intelligence – to be jealously protected, guarded and NOT SHARED!

But the ball was already rolling, some member countries were co-operating with the Budapest Club initiative. New information technologies were combining with the ancient practice of human information/intelligence collection (HUMINT or HUMINF). One could no longer ignore or dissolve the process without risking to be left behind, conceptually in the last century.

Although the Budapest Club had to accept that separate meetings would be set-up for government only, they insisted and obtained that recognition a union of both NGO’s and government representatives was also useful. Those meetings looked more to be commercial presentation of technologies which could be used by government “Intelligence agencies”.

EU agencies such as EDA organized seminars where the private sector could present their “know how”.

A key element, in fact the sine qua non, of inter-agency and intra-government information and intelligence sharing is a formal organizational structure dedicated to this purpose which has become known world wide as a fusion center…that is a center where, ideally, all-source information is collected, analyzed (“fused”) and disseminated by a variety of professionals from different disciplines…and even different agencies or governments. In fact, this concept of multiple source staffing (“fused” in working together) is important in habituating different agencies to collaborate for a common goal and is the foundation of trust that will eventually lead to real cooperation between European national intelligence agencies.

Now, with the support of the next three presidencies for the initiative of OSINF, and its practical operational manifestation, the fusion center, one could hope that the concepts will finally be recognized as a plus to the EU and its member governments, instead of an unwanted intrusion into a sector were parochial secrecy and sovereignty privileges are the norm and sharing the exception!

We can only hope that this will come to be, in spite of the still strong conservative Establishment opposition to international cooperation. The advantages far supersede the negative points. Will EU find itself innovative in this field?

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