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Director of the MIVD General Swillens visits ISGA to talk about intelligence cooperation

On 15 December, Director of the MIVD General Jan Swillens, visited the Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA) to give a lecture on international intelligence cooperation together with ISGA/NLDA researcher Pepijn Tuinier. This event, co-organised by the Intelligence and Security Group and the KVBK, was the final lecture for the main course of the minor in Intelligence Studies.

General Swillens

General Swillens opened the lecture by reflecting on his military education. During which he was introduced to the Clauswitzian concepts of fog of war and friction. Intelligence officers today operate in a grey zone below the threshold of armed conflict, a ‘fog of war 2.0’. In this environment the MIVD (the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service) tries to live up to its motto: Meritum In Veritatem Discernendo, or Merit in Verifying the Truth.

The MIVD strives to provide decision-makers with a foundation to base their decisions on. The Dutch intelligence community benefits from efficient internal coordination between its two services, which work under a robust legal framework and oversight system. To operate effectively and maintain their competitiveness, especially in the cyber domain, the services need to be able to adapt ‘at the speed of light’.

National Security = International Security

Warfare in the grey zone is not limited by borders, especially in the cyber domain where ‘zero-days don’t stop at the border’. Therefore, international solutions are needed. Which is a complex affair, due to the need to protect sources and operating methods.

On 15 November General Swillens was attending a biannual NATO meeting when a missile tragically killed two people in Poland. The stakes were high, leaving no margin for error. Swillens witnessed first-hand the value of multilateral cooperation, when partners were able to bring the right pieces of the puzzle to the table at the right time, enabling them to  defuse the situation.

What drives cooperation?

Intelligence cooperation is ‘not just about Quid pro Quo’. Cooperation is based on trust. In the Q&A following his talk, General Swillens revealed that he and the AIVD director had asked themselves what the worst possible way would be to fail. They concluded that the worst possible scenario would be one in which they failed because they did not cooperate. Cooperation, for instance on Russia, is a no-brainer.

Intelligence cooperation within the European Union

After the Q&A, ISGA/NLDA researcher Pepijn Tuinier presented the findings of his research on intelligence cooperation in the European Union. He started by explaining how even the US lacks the capacity and capability to face the world alone. Multilateral intelligence cooperation is necessary, but its practice is complex. The EU, specifically, has its unique, complicating features.

One such feature is the vague status of EU-intelligence. On the one hand, the desire for a strategically autonomous EU creates a need for European intelligence. On the other hand, national security ‘belongs’ to the members states as decreed in the treaty of Lisbon. Additionally, the reliance on the solidarity of member states creates a risk of non-commitment by member states. However, intelligence cooperation does take place at the European level, through a complex web of bilateral and multilateral groups working in areas of common interest. Although the EU cannot impose its need and requirements, Tuinier considers these networks to be direct contributors to European security and indirectly also to the EU.

Drs. Pepijn Tuinier

Intelligence structures within the EU itself are weakly institutionalized. EUMS INT (military intelligence) and INTCEN (civilian intelligence) perform the exclusive intelligence functions within the EU. They are not intelligence services and are having to work with outdated structures, limited resources, and limited access to sources. As a result, many practitioners consider their products to be inadequate or not ‘real’ intelligence; leading to a reluctance to share information through these platforms, which further undermines their position. 

Yet Tuinier considers the establishment of the Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity (SIAC) to be a major improvement. SIAC produces joint EUMS INT and INTCEN intelligence reports and policy. But it is necessary to remain realistic. SIAC depends on the willingness of its participants. And it will prove difficult to develop both strategic and tactical intelligence through this arrangement.

Concluding, Tuinier proposed that the main problem EU intelligence faces is not lack of structure but a lack of connectivity. EU intelligence cannot function as a hub when they are not well-connected themselves. One of the challenges EUMS INT and INTCEN face is their integration within the EU and intelligence communities. This is partially caused by the differing professional cultures, as one of Tuinier’s interviewees put it: ‘Every time the EU wants to solve a problem, it does so by inclusion, bureaucratization, and formalization. Every time intelligence wants to solve a problem, it does so in small formats, pragmatic and informal.’

Inter-personal relationships are important

There is cause for optimism, Tuinier’s research highlights the importance of inter-personal relationships. The interaction between practitioners dictates what shape their cooperation will take. In the EU context, goodwill and generosity between partners based on professional recognition and personal attachment can overcome many obstacles. EU intelligence officers often serve as working-level information brokers, negotiating national and EU interests. Personal contacts enable them to reach out and go that extra mile to get the job done and make sure information keeps flowing both ways.

So, is EU-intelligence ‘Trapped Between Ambition and Reality?’ According to Tuinier: ‘Yes, in the sense that the members have encouraged the EU to become active in the field of security without allowing the EU to develop the needed skills and structures.’ But Tuinier does not believe EU-intelligence is trapped in  reality, but rather in practicality. The EU is also increasingly taking intelligence  more seriously, increasing the incentive to share. Moreover, external threat is a powerful driver in this regard. Tuinier indicated that it is difficult to predict how the role of intelligence in the EU will continue to develop: ‘As one intelligence officer said: 'It does not look like much now. But when there is a common will, who knows how fast things can change…I do not dare to predict where we stand in ten years'.’

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