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What is ‘Five Eyes’, the intelligence alliance US wants South Korea, India, Japan to be part of

The Five Eyes is an intelligence-sharing alliance consisting of the US, UK, Australia, Canada & New Zealand. The origins of the Five Eyes can be traced back to WWII.

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New Delhi: The United States of America seeks to invite South Korea to join the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance, according to a report in The Korea Herald.

This comes days after a US House of Representatives panel approved the National Defense Authorisation bill for fiscal year 2022, on 2 September, before the House of Representatives votes on it.

First introduced on 2 July by Representatives Adam Smith and Mike Rogers, the bill is primarily meant to officially authorise funding for American military activities & the armed forces for the next fiscal year. This also includes the potential of continued support for intelligence sharing operations with US allies, including member nations of the Five Eyes.

The Five Eyes alliance found mention in the congressional Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations’ report reviewing Smith and Rogers’ draft bill.

“The committee believes that, in confronting great power competition [from China and Russia], the Five Eye countries must work closer together, as well as expand the circle of trust to other like-minded democracies”, the report said. Along with Korea, three other countries — Japan, India and Germany — were proposed as possible new members.

If passed by the US House of Representatives and the Senate, and signed by President Joe Biden, the National Defense Authorisation bill for fiscal year 2022 will lead to the official expansion of the ‘Five Eyes’ to the ‘Nine Eyes’.

However, the South Korean government is yet to express its “official stance” on a potential expansion of the Five Eyes and cited that the level of discussions in the US remain “nascent”, The Korea Herald report says.

‘Five Eyes’

The Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance consisting of the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The origins of the Five Eyes can be traced back to the informal meetings between the US and UK code-breakers during the Second World War.

In 1941, British and American intelligence members began engaging in secret meetings before signing the Atlantic Charter that August, which listed global objectives for the two countries beyond the conclusion of the war.

According to the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), this Charter paved the way for the Britain-USA agreement, and later the UKUSA agreement, which was signed in 1946.

Declassified UKUSA intelligence documents confirm that the agreement was expanded to include Canada in 1948, and Australia and New Zealand in 1956, thereby creating the Five Eyes alliance, partly due to past shared Commonwealth heritage.

Also read: Five Eyes alliance urges China to ‘stop undermining rights’ of Hong Kong

Five Eyes & Cold War

The alliance was created during the Cold War that was fought between the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as their respective allies.

Throughout the Cold War, covert intelligence operations were commonplace, and often the main currency for the parties involved. As such, alliances needed to share sensitive information regarding their adversaries on all possible fronts available.

In the case of Five Eyes, Political Science professor Andrew O’Neil says the alliance members engaged in “ocean surveillance, covert action, human intelligence collection and counterintelligence”, as well as the ECHELON surveillance programme since the 1960s.

The Five Eyes countries also frequently shared intelligence with other allied nations in Europe and Asia, also known as “third parties”, during the Cold War.

For instance, Japan shared military signals with the United States from the 1969 Sino-Soviet conflict as well as the 1979 Soviet-led invasion of Afghanistan, Japanese historian Ken Kotani said in the East Asia Forum.

Push to include other countries

Following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the strategic objectives of the Five Eyes changed, with the war on terror and later the perceived threats of China and Russia emerging as points of intelligence and spheres of influence.

As such, the potential to expand the Five Eyes beyond the Anglosphere has been repeatedly talked about in recent years.

For instance, US lawmakers in 2013 requested the then president Barack Obama to include Germany in the alliance, according to a report by Deutsche Welle.

In 2019, a US Congressional Committee led by Representative Adam Schiff pushed for the integration of India, Japan and South Korea at par with ‘Five Eyes’ for intelligence sharing so as to maintain peace in the Indo-Pacific region.

In 2020, India and Japan had joined the Five Eyes nations in a joint appeal to tech companies to permit “backdoor access” to encrypted applications on smartphones.

Also read: It’s like ‘return to the Cold War’ as Five Eyes spy alliance trains focus on China


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