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would be worried that their spying techniques could also be compromised by the memos publication. S

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Secret Australia Years sold Documents

Australia Sold Years of Secret Documents in an Old Piece of Furniture

February 4, 2018

Five Eyes Wide Shut: Australia Sold Years of Secret Documents in an Old Piece of Furniture

Michael Evans

The Daily Beast

February 3, 2018

LONDON—The protection of highly classified secrets is one of the golden rules of the most exclusive intelligence club on the planet.

There are only five member nations in this club, sharing, on a daily basis, a treasure-trove of covertly acquired secret information about foreign governments, terrorist organizations and targeted individuals which provides an unrivaled insight into developing security, economic and political threats around the world.

“The Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing organization, whose members are the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is unique. They depend on each other’s absolute trustworthiness.

One of its members, Australia, broke the golden rule this week—in comical fashion—by leaving a pile of top secret government documents in two locked filing cabinets which were sold for 20 Australian dollars in a second-hand furniture store in Canberra. While the revelations broadcast by the Australian national TV station ABC, which acquired the papers, are unlikely to cause long-term damage to Australia’s national security, the lapse is the latest blow to the Five Eyes club.

Indeed, the conditions of membership were under serious strain this week. Not because of the Australian blunder, but because of a political decision by U.S. President Donald Trump.

The infamous House Intelligence Committee memo alleging that the FBI misused its surveillance powers against a Trump aide during the election campaign raised concerns that British as well as U.S. operational methods might be exposed because of the president’s willingness to publish it.

“The political context surrounding the House Intelligence Committee memo raises serious issues for the Five Eyes organization.”

Congressional sources told The Daily Telegraph that Britain’s intelligence services, which work so closely with their U.S. counterparts, would be worried that their spying techniques could also be compromised by the memo’s publication.

Sir David Omand, former director of GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence center, told The Daily Beast he thought this was “unlikely.”  But he warned that allegations had already emerged in the public domain that GCHQ had tipped off the U.S. that there had been communications between Trump campaign people and the Russians before the election.

While monitoring the Russians, GCHQ operators found themselves listening to senior figures in the Trump election team. “So that could be potentially damaging if it [the publication of the memo] allowed the Russians to infer how these communications were obtained,” Sir David said.

He noted that it was “unusual” for a political directive to be issued for the release of intelligence.

Whether it compromises British techniques or not, the political context surrounding the House Intelligence Committee memo raises serious issues for the Five Eyes organization.

The club has experienced its fair share of embarrassing episodes in the last few years, the most devastating of which was the exposure by Edward Snowden of thousands of top secret files copied and removed from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) where he had been working as a contractor.

Snowden, traitor or whistleblower, depending on your point of view, did more damage to the sacred Five Eyes agreement than anything any member of the club has ever done since it was founded.

The Five Eyes members have clung to each like lovers despite a rapidly changing world in which intelligence-sharing between nations can make the difference between life and death, so grave is the threat from international terrorists and rogue states.

Why then is Five Eyes still so exclusively limited to the English-speaking powers? Is there not a case for the club to invite in more members from Europe and from trusted nations in the Middle East? Would the world be a safer place if Five Eyes was now Ten Eyes or Twenty Eyes?

The answer is complex.  

There are already numerous arrangements under which “third-party” countries can benefit from intelligence acquired by the Five Eyes partners. Countries such as France, Norway, The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Sweden have all at some point been allowed into the club as unofficial members when their national security interests are at stake. But only for intelligence relevant to their concerns.

Cooperation between the Five Eyes members and other intelligence services has increased markedly since 9/11. European intelligence agencies are also more coordinated than ever, and NATO’s intelligence-gathering set-up has improved.

Trust is the absolute gold standard for intelligence sharing. Most people in the intelligence community would say that the more countries you share intelligence with on a regular basis the greater the risk of a leak or a security breach.

So, the Five Eyes is likely to remain Five Eyes for that very reason.

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