Intercept What You Can…….Pt.2


By Constant Hijzen

The question that MPs should ask on the basis of these insights is not whether it happens, but why these types of information programmes exist and whether we as a society – privacy versus security – can justify it. MPs must direct questions to the Ministers about what the programmes produce, why AIVD and MIVD necessarily need these programmes to properly carry out their duties, to what extent the privacy of the average Dutch citizen is thereby threatened, and how we can prevent blunders on the basis of this data.

These questions are related to the bigger question of what the efforts of the Dutch intelligence and security should exactly produce to begin with. But that question too is not being raised by any political party, even though parliament every year approves the budgets of Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations, that include tens of millions of euro for the MIVD and AIVD. What does society want in return for that, does the current system still suffice, don’t these services do not much of the same? Do they coordinate their efforts? Are recipients of intelligence reports satisfied, does the security policy improve as a result of those? Do long-term investments in ICT and technology result in better efficiency or effectiveness – are more terrorist attacks prevented?

Despite the large amounts of money flowing to the Dutch intelligence community every year, there is no MP who asks these type of questions. There is no trust between the intelligence community and the parliamentary Intelligence & Security Committee. The tradition of working visits, which always provides a nice starting point to that end, dilutes as parliamentarians are briefed confidentially, and then appear in front of a camera at the door to tell the media what they have just heard.

MPs bring different reasons forward to justify their disinterest. They point to the secrecy and lack of information, and state that the chairs of the political parties (the Intelligence & Security Committee) and the CTIVD exercise sufficient oversight. However, the party leaders rarely show up (their agendas are overcrowded and they have other priorities), and the CTIVD examines the legality but not the costs and benefits to society as a whole. Questions should be heard in Parliament, but the MPs who ask critical questions to the Minister at every possible occasion are absent from this topic. To them, no electoral need seems to exist. And no one feels it is their responsibility.

To politicians in The Hague, the Dutch intelligence and security services traditionally are unpopular institutions. With the exception of the German invasion in May 1940, the Netherlands remained protected from military attacks through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Despite the fear of revolutionary upheavals before WWII, and of communists that would disable Dutch defences by sabotage and espionage afterwards, no serious threats have ever occurred within the Dutch borders. Even the confrontation with terrorism in the 1970s did not lead to lasting feelings of insecurity in Dutch society. Against this background, politicians have always assumed that the Dutch electorate did not really care about security issues.

In essence, this is a consequence of a broader transformation of the way Dutch MPs look at their own function. Their mission statement has changed from making their own independent judgments within their political program to echoing the voice of the citizen as literally as possible. If something comes to light that probably does not please citizens, like eavesdropping by intelligence and security services, MPs focus on expressing (or feigning) outrage. The problem with this is that outrage implies distancing. ‘The government’ should just come up with a solution. As a result, there is little expertise in the Parliament, no sense of history and no discussion about the costs and benefits of the intelligence community.

The first Dutch civil security service, the Central Intelligence Service, was founded in 1919 in absolute secrecy. For the same reason, the Catholic-arranged cabinets between 1946 and 1949 established a confidential Royal Decree providing powers, tasks and budgets for the Dutch intelligence and security services. Around 1950, the leaking of that Royal Decree led to some criticism, but that was soon lulled with the establishment of the Permanent Committee for National Security (the Intelligence & Security Committee) in 1952.

In the 1960s and 1970s the Dutch intelligence community was occasionally the subject of critical media reports, and was discussed in parliament. It was always about the Domestic Security Service (BVD) and the practice of ‘security screenings’, in particular of communists, that were meant to keep them away from sensitive positions. The three military intelligence services (Navy, Army and Air Force) and the Foreign Intelligence Service were barely mentioned in parliament for decades.

The establishment in 1947 of the department ‘Marid VI’ – and its renaming in 1960 as the Mathematical Centre (WKC) and again in 1985 as the  Technical Information Processing Centre (TIVC) – was decided behind the scenes. Top officials from Economic Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance and War established, without public participation, the tasks and powers of this interception service: interception, decryption and traffic analysis (analysis of enemy communications for tactical intelligence). The (decrypted) intercepts of the Mathematical Centre not only went to the military, who obtained knowledge about the capacity and plans of the enemy from the intercepts, but also to the Domestic and Foreign Security Services. Even policymakers on Foreign Affairs, Justice and Economic Affairs took advantage of this. As was true for many security initiatives in Dutch history, no minister was willing to spend a lot of money on it. Only after the attacks in 2001 were the ministers of Defence and the Interior and Kingdom Relations seriously prepared to spend money, and the interception capacity was significantly enlarged in response to the terrorist threat.

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