The Western Allies Need More Eyes on the World

Photographer: Alexander Gerst/ESA via Getty Images

Every challenge the U.S. faces today – the rise of China, a resurgent Russia, the North Korean nuclear weapons program, Iranian adventurism throughout the Middle East, cyberthreats and many more – all have one thing in common: the need for high-grade, accurate intelligence. And as any intelligence expert will tell you, an accurate picture is not a sweeping oil painting, it is a mosaic. You build up that picture one small stone at a time until you can step back from what you have developed and have a full view of actionable intelligence. To do this in the fastest possible time, you need as many allies, partners and friends contributing stones as possible. No individual nation is as smart as all working together: Intelligence-sharing is the key to creating true security.

Today one of the most effective collaborations globally is the so-called Five Eyes agreement to fully share intelligence between the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The founding agreements were initiated in the immediate post-World War II period. Again and again, Five Eyes has proven its worth, saving countless lives and helping win the Cold War. It maintained secrets so well that its very existence wasn’t known by the public until the mid-2000s.

When I was the NATO commander in Afghanistan, I was pleasantly surprised at how effectively our much smaller partners were able to contribute a key name, a precise geolocation, ascribe a motive, or a detailed timeline for a Taliban operation. Throughout my long career at sea, I constantly benefited from the maritime intelligence that flowed on Five Eyes circuits. The arrangement facilitates sharing of not only signals intelligence (listening to cell phones and other communications), but also human intelligence (gathered from operatives) and satellite intelligence. It’s also attuned to new threats: The intelligence chiefs of all five nations met in Scotland last month to discuss, among other things, the risk posed by the Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

But as we look at the effectiveness of the concept and the increasing number of global challenges, there is good reason to think about expanding from the original five allies to at least seven.

The first candidate would be Israel. It has a legendary intelligence service in the Mossad, and a deep pipeline into every country in the Middle East. The Israelis are motivated to share intelligence at elevated levels given the existential threats they face; have a long history of military cooperation with the U.S.; and can bring one of the world’s best cyberforces to the table. When I was commander of U.S. European Command, I went to Israel often and always came away with a deep respect for its intelligence capabilities. For example, when NATO embarked on the Libyan operation in 2011, it was Israeli intelligence that assisted us in getting a complete picture of al-Qaeda terror cells operating in that very complicated battle space.

The other natural addition would be Japan. Just as Israel would provide coverage in the Middle East, Japan would be extraordinarily helpful in northeast Asia. Japan has excellent intelligence capabilities and a top-notch set of military and civilian intelligence leaders. The government of Prime Minster Shinzo Abe is determined to increase defense spending; and – like Israel – is highly motivated given the dangers in the neighborhood, including North Korean missiles, the maritime dispute with China over the Senkaku islands, and a growing Russian military presence in its far east. Japan also has a very strong sense of alliance with the U.S. During a recent trip there, I met with very senior government intelligence officials and came away impressed with the nuance and depth of the views about the region.

There are other strong candidates, including several European nations. Obviously, there is deep intelligence-sharing among the 29 nations of NATO, but not at the same full-access level of the Five Eyes. France, particularly, is very sophisticated and has strong links in nations across Africa. There were serious discussions about bringing France into Five Eyes some years ago, but both sides leaned back. And other Asian allies such as South Korea and Singapore would also be natural fits. But starting with Israel and Japan – assuming they are willing – is a good place to begin.

The Sri Lankan bombings, which the Islamic State has now taken credit for, are a harbinger of a new style of disaggregated, internet-based lethality that I call Terrorism 3.0. Global intelligence is the first and best tripwire for emerging threats by both hostile nations and non-state actors. Let’s get more eyes on the targets.

Originally published in Bloomberg on May 3, 2019