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‘Nine Eyes’? Bill would look at adding four countries to intel-sharing pact

The CIA seal at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. (Olivier Douliery/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)
November 06, 2021

The United States’ “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing pact is a World War II relic that needs updating to better keep tabs on China, the chairman of a key house subcommittee on intelligence told Defense One.

Arizona Democrat Rep. Ruben Gallego, chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on special operations and intelligence, has added language in this year’s defense bill that opens the door for the decades-old pact’s first expansion.

The provision would require the director of national intelligence and the Defense Department to report on the current status and shortcomings of intelligence sharing between the “Five Eyes” nations: the U.S., Australia, the U.K., New Zealand, and Canada, and what benefits and risks there would be to adding Japan, Korea, India, and Germany to the trusted group.

“We are very much stuck on this ‘Five Eyes’ model, which I think is outdated,” Gallego said at Defense One and Nextgov’s 2021 National Security Forum. “We need to expand the scope. It shouldn’t just be such an Anglophile view of sharing.”

The provision says, in part: “The committee acknowledges that the threat landscape has vastly changed since the inception of the Five Eyes arrangement, with primary threats now emanating from China and Russia. The committee believes that, in confronting great power competition, the Five Eye countries must work closer together, as well as expand the circle of trust to other like-minded democracies.”

Dustin Carmack, who served as chief of staff to former National Intelligence director John Ratcliffe, said the U.S. has already increased its intelligence sharing and cooperation with Indo-Pacific nations, and that a formal change to the Five Eyes “is a lot easier said than done.”

“I think a lot of the work is already being done, personally, behind the scenes, to kind of build better links,” said Carmack, now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

For example, the U.S. has since 2018 finalized key agreements to share military communications and bases with India, deals that were negotiated by the Obama and Trump administrations.

“I’m all for it,” said Carmack, but cautioned that each added country would need to be assessed to determine whether they could protect the Five Eyes’ intelligence collection sources and methods.

“When it comes to the Five Eyes, you know, information that has to be protected inside that relationship is very difficult to protect,” Carmack said.

The “Five Eyes” started during World War II as an intelligence-sharing agreement between the U.S. and U.K. to defeat the Axis powers, and grew to include the other three member countries. The pact has lasted more than seven decades.

Over the last few years, China has several times surprised the member countries, as with its summer’s tests of a hypersonic missile that circled the globe.

Gallego said adding Japan, South Korea, and India would allow the U.S. to expand its network of espionage assets to better monitor China through those nations’ cultural ties and location.

“We have worked greatly with South Korea for many years and they probably have better assets in China and in Asia that we could be working with, but we don’t have that relationship with them where we can share as much information as we do with Britain,” he said.

Gallego said it would likely be an uphill battle of both bureaucracy and norms to change the pact after so many years, and that further study would be needed on each potential partner’s intelligence relationships. But the benefits—both of securing stronger diplomatic ties and improving intelligence—are worth it, he said.

“It is basically a warning to China, as well as a shot in the arm to these nations, that ‘we trust you so much that we are putting you in our sacred circle of intelligence sharing,'” Gallego said.

Each of the Five Eyes countries are still majority-white countries with shared European ancestry. Gallego said he suspects there will be pushback to diversifying.

“I think you are going to have some people who are culturally unaware and at some base level are just xenophobic about sharing information with largely Asian, non-Anglo nations,” Gallego said. “Honestly, they are just going to have to get over that, because this is a whole new world that we are going to be fighting in. And we are likely going to be fighting with these friends, and we don’t want to be in a fight without them.”

Gallego’s provision was included in the House version of the NDAA, which was passed in September. The Senate has not yet passed its version, which will need to be reconciled with the House version before it is sent on to President Joe Biden for his signature.


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