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Britain Betwixt and Between: UK SIGINT Alliance Strategy's Transatlantic and European Connections

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Intelligence alliances are among the most intimate and enduring international security relationships. International partnerships have proven to be especially relevant to signals intelligence (SIGINT), where collaboration among allies has been crucial for extending the range and scope of geographic coverage. One of the earliest and most enduring SIGINT alliances dates back to the Second World War, when Great Britain and the United States collaborated in intercepting German and Japanese electronic communications and shared the intelligence product. This Anglo-American wartime partnership subsequently evolved and expanded during the post-war and Cold War eras, and continues up to the present as the core of a wider plurilateral SIGINT alliance involving Australia, Canada and New Zealand as well. Britain's accession to the European Communities, now the European Union (EU), did not, at first, detract from its transatlantic intelligence connection. By the late 1990s, however, European partners had begun to challenge Britain's alliance strategy for SIGINT, in particular, out of heightened concern for their own communications security and in response to the increasing salience of economic intelligence in contemporary international affairs. British statecraft now found itself confronted by mounting pressure from EU partners to reorient the UK intelligence away from its long-standing transatlantic SIGINT connection, so as to undermine American reach and also promote a potentially competing European capability to achieve global coverage in signals intelligence collection. While the 2003 war against Iraq certainly consolidated the trans-Atlantic alliance between the UK and USA, while alienating the Americans from the so-called 'Old Europe' led by France and Germany, the longer term spin-offs from that conflict seem likely to exacerbate those pressures on British intelligence strategy.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2004

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