Cowtown Counterintelligence

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

One behind-the-scenes development when it comes to the European Union involves the transformation over time of Brussels, its capital. The EU certainly has not yet attained the degree of political, military, financial, etc. unity and resulting power enjoyed by the United States of America, and it’s quite possible that it never will. Then again, it has certainly made great progress in these directions since the signing of the original Treaty of Rome back in 1957, and in a parallel manner Brussels has also metamorphosed in that period from a rather sleepy if historical city to an international metropolis with many of the attributes of Washington, DC (most of them to be deplored, to tell the truth): horrific traffic jams, increasing swarms of lobbyists, a non-native population from everywhere in the provinces (read: member-states) with much higher-than-average levels of both education and (recession-proof) income, etc.

Yet another aspect of Brussels hitting the “big time” lies in the realm of security, intelligence, and spying. Yes, there are now important, vital secrets buried there which intelligence services from around the world would love to ferret out, as we are reminded by a brief yet fascinating recent piece in La Dernière Heure*: Belgium bungles a European listening affair. It seems that as far back as in 2003 signs were detected of bugging devices located no less than in the Justus Lipsius Building, which is the home of the European Council (i.e. the EU organization that directly represents the interests of the member-states). In particular, the “R Committee” – “R” for renseignement or “information,” as that is the body of the Belgian parliament that supervises the country’s intelligence services – concluded that it was likely that the French, German, Spanish, and UK delegations had been bugged – i.e. most of the big boys.

By whom? Well, the piece mentions the Mossad, the (in)famous Israeli intelligence service, but no one ever found out for sure. That was mainly because Brussels is still stuck back in the provincial capital age – or perhaps we could call it the “Inspector Clouseau stage” – when it comes to effective counter-intelligence. That same “R Committee” report noted how progress in following up the initial discovery of the espionage activities was very slow, while information supplied by the responsible officials to Justice officials was incomplete. The latter just recently decided simply to drop the entire matter, as they still didn’t have anyone they could indict!

*The Dernière Heure piece generously credits its Dutch-language counterpart De Tijd with initial reports over this affair. In such cases I like to go to that original source instead and use the material there – but this time I could not find it on the De Tijd site!

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