The Five Eyes brings the UK, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand into the world’s most complete and comprehensive intelligence alliance.
The Five Eyes (FVEY) is widely regarded as the world’s most significant intelligence alliance. The origins of it can be traced back to the context of the Second World War and by its necessity of sharing vital information mainly between Britain and the United States so both countries could enhance their close war effort.
The Five Eyes was formally founded in the aftermath of the Second World War, through the multilateral agreement for co-operation in signals intelligence (SIGINT), known as the UKUSA Agreement, on 5 March 1946.
Initially, compromising only the UK and the United States, it expanded to also include Canada in 1948 and Australia and New Zealand in 1956, all of these last three English-speaking countries, members of the Commonwealth of Nations and with similar political systems when compared to Britain. Thereby, the ‘Five Eyes’ term was created from the lengthy ‘AUS/CAN/NZ/UK/ Eyes Only’ classification level that included the ‘eyes’ that could have access to high profile papers and information.
For more than 70 years, the once-secret post-war alliance of the five English-speaking nations has been an infrastructure of surveillance with a global reach and ageing is not a problem for the FVEY, which remains one of the most complex and far-reaching intelligence and espionage alliances in our history.
Despite the fact that the alliance is known throughout the world and its existence is subject of endless debates, the real knowledge of how the Five Eyes works is still clouded by the security measures that involves almost everything related to the Five Eyes.
The secretiveness of the alliance is so severe that the treaty that created it was not in the knowledge of Gough Whitlam, then Prime Minister of Australia, as late as 1973 and it did not come to the public attention until 2005. Only in June 2010, the full text of the UKUSA Agreement was released by the British and American governments and for the first time officially recognised.
It’s worth mentioning the importance of the UKUSA Agreement and the subsequent Five Eyes for the Special Relationship. It helped to forge the basis for a stronger co-operation between the UK and the United States in the Cold War period fostering mutual trust and deepening the links between the two countries. In other words, the Agreement consolidated the Special Relationship between Britain and the United States.
The co-operation was crucial for both countries during the Cold War, for Britain, an example was the Five Eyes role in providing complementary intelligence for tracking Soviet submarines with ballistic missiles in the North Atlantic and the North Sea, and for the United States, it relied on long-established British listening posts in territories that were part of Britain’s empire for signals of intelligence, especially in the Middle East.
Few documents are accessible to the public, but with the ones that have been officially realised it is possible to know the primary extent of the Agreement.
According to the original declassified treaty of 1946, ‘the parties agree to the exchange of the products of the following operations relating to foreign communications: collection of traffic, acquisition of communication documents and equipment, traffic analysis, cryptanalysis, decryption and translation, acquisition of information regarding communication organisations, practices, procedures, and equipment’. This shows the initial scope of the treaty and its ambitions.
Furthermore, it is known that each member of the alliance is responsible for intelligence gathering and analysis over specific regions of the world. Britain monitors Europe, Western Russia, Middle East and Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the United States also oversees the Middle East plus China, Russia, Africa and the Caribbean. Australia is responsible for South and East Asia and New Zealand for the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Canada monitors the interior of Russia and China and parts of Latin America. In spite of this division, they work mainly together, and the ‘final product’ generally is a result of more than one of its members; helping each other is an essential part of this agreement.
Nevertheless, the regional division does not imply that the parties are bounded to direct its efforts only to those regions, this means that while Britain is ‘responsible’ for some areas, it has not the obligation to just monitor those parts of the world.
The current role of the Five Eyes has many ramifications, such as the ‘maritime domain’ where the alliance monitors shipping traffic passing through strategic maritime areas and the ‘aerospace domain’ which covers ballistic missile tests, foreign satellite deployments and the military activities of relevant air forces.
Terrorist organisations and weapons business deals made by ‘problematic regimes’ are also within the scope of the Five Eyes; these two, in particular, are growing source of worries for all the five members and the intelligence co-operation between them is essential to keep their governments updated with the most recent information. This aids the process of policy-making, for the data collected and analysed by the alliance may turn out to be vital for more than a time of crises but also for the daily basis of government; notably, these daily efforts consist in tracking and identifying possible sources of terrorism and other non-conventional threats.
Such complex agreement would never exist if not by the convergent aspects of all the five members. They share common principles, such the liberal democratic values, similar or complementary national interests and cultures. Beyond that, since the Second World War Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States share same threats to their national security be them conventional or not.
All these characteristics unify their efforts and foster mutual trust, indispensable to the Five Eyes. Within the context of mutual trust, the five partners seem not to target each other; nevertheless, there are no means of ensuring that spying on each other does not happen.
In addition, the Five Eyes works with various ‘Third Party’ countries, the co-operation with Denmark, France, Norway and the Netherlands receives the name of ‘Nine Eyes’, and there is the ‘Fourteen Eyes’ which consists of the previously mentioned Nine Eyes plus Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden. However, the official name of the Fourteen Eyes is SIGINT Seniors Europe (SSEUR), and its primary objective is to coordinate the exchange of military signals amongst its members.
It is also worth to mention that many countries mentioned above already have other intelligence co-operation links, especially through NATO Special Committee which gathers the heads of the security services of its parties.
So, after more than 70 years, the Five Eyes is widely regarded as the ‘gold standard’ of intelligence alliances. Its scope grows accordingly with the new technologies and the following evolving security concerns arising from those new technologies, thereby, the Eyes have in mind that the digital world cannot be underestimated; the opponents of the UK and the United States recognise that as well, as the number of cyber attacks grows unceasingly.
Therefore, the Five Eyes is an enormous asset to keep the citizens of the ‘English-Speaking World’ safer and is the result of decades of relationship cemented on trust and confidence amongst its members.
By uniting services from Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand it is possible to affirm that its potential is almost limitless and meets no parallel.