Counter Terrorism Group
The Counter Terrorism Group (CTG; also, "Counter Terrorist Group" and "Counter-Terrorism Group") is an informal grouping of intelligence agencies from 30 European countries. CTG was founded in 2001 and includes agencies from all 27 European Union members, Norway, United Kingdom and Switzerland. MI5 of the UK is expected to continue to remain a part of the CTG after Brexit.
The Counter Terrorism Group was founded after the September 11 attacks to combat the threat of international terrorism. It is an off-shoot of the Club of Berne, an intelligence-sharing initiative that started in 1971 and is composed of the heads of security and intelligence agencies in the European Union. However, while the Club of Berne focuses on a wide variety of intelligence functions, including counterintelligence and counterespionage, the CTG was created to focus exclusively on terrorism, specifically jihadi terrorism.
When it was created, the CTG did not have a permanent office or a formal status. In 2016, in response to the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, the CTG established a permanent office at the Hague under the Dutch presidency and started to take a more active role in counter-terrorism. Before that, the CTG had only consulted with the EU on a case-by-case basis.
The CTG is composed of intelligence agencies from all 27 states of the European Union, as well as United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland. It is chaired by the member of the group that belongs to the country that holds the EU presidency, a position that rotates every six months. The presidency is held by Portugal as of January 1, 2021.
The group is composed of Heads of Services, who focus on planning, and Heads of Units, who focus on implementation. The Heads of Services meet twice a year and Heads of Units meet four times a year, or more if needed to implement programs.
The CTG has been described as a "parallel" intelligence-sharing network, where the intelligence agencies of the various member states participate on equal footing. This includes nations like Switzerland, which have an equal status to other members in spite of not being part of the European Union.
In addition to allowing member states to carry investigations across international borders, the CTG provides expertise and threat assessments to intelligence agencies of countries in the EU, and works alongside Europol, though Europol is not a member of the CTG.
Under the chairmanship of the Dutch intelligence agency, the General Intelligence and Security Service (Dutch: AIVD), the group created a virtual platform to improve intelligence exchanges on terrorism between European agencies. It was started in reaction to the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, when intelligence agencies realized that the suspected perpetrators of the attack had been on watch lists in other countries. The failure to share information between the intelligence services of different countries had allowed the plans to go unnoticed until too late. The database is designed to encourage intelligence agencies to share real-time information across borders and cross-reference with information shared by other agencies.
Though not a member of the CTG or the EU, the United States participates in information exchanges with the group.
Because the CTG is not under the umbrella of any government and is very secretive about its activities, the group has been criticized as lacking accountability and legitimacy.
The informal nature of the organization has been criticized by scholars who say it prevents the CTG from being effective at combating terrorism, and that the existence of the group itself prevents Europol from being effective.
Following the announcement of the real-time terrorism database created by the CTG, the group was criticized for engaging in "mass surveillance," with the program being compared to mass surveillance in the United States of America.
Future of the Organization
The UK does not plan to leave the CTG after Brexit, according to the head of MI5, who cited the importance of intelligence-sharing in the current climate. This is in spite of Prime Minister Theresa May's attempt to use intelligence-sharing as a bargaining chip in Brexit agreements.
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