Edwards’ CITO proposal

by Henry Farrell on September 12, 2007

Via “Matt Yglesias”:http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2007/09/cito.php I see that John Edwards is proposing the creation of “a new treaty organization”:http://johnedwards.com/news/speeches/a-new-strategy-against-terrorism/ to combat terrorism through cooperation on policing and intelligence.

The centerpiece of this policy will be a new multilateral organization called the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Treaty Organization (CITO).

Every nation has an interest in shutting down terrorism. CITO will create connections between a wide range of nations on terrorism and intelligence, including countries on all continents, including Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe. New connections between previously separate nations will be forged, creating new possibilities.

CITO will allow members to voluntarily share financial, police, customs and immigration intelligence. Together, nations will be able to track the way terrorists travel, communicate, recruit, train, and finance their operations. And they will be able to take action, through international teams of intelligence and national security professionals who will launch targeted missions to root out and shut down terrorist cells.

The new organization will also create a historic new coalition. Those nations who join will, by working together, show the world the power of cooperation. Those nations who join will also be required to commit to tough criteria about the steps they will take to root out extremists, particularly those who cross borders. Those nations who refuse to join will be called out before the world.

My first reaction to this is that it’s going to be extremely difficult to pull this proposal off. It’s really, really hard to get states to cooperate on intelligence and internal security stuff – much harder in practice than to get them to cooperate in waging war. This “piece”:http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1468-2346.2004.00413.x (sub. to _International Affairs_ of London required) sets out some of the reasons why. States tend to be very cagey about good intelligence information because they fear (with good reason) that if they distribute this information to other countries, their sources may get blown. Formalized police cooperation is also very tricky, because of differing legal systems. We’re beginning to see more cooperation happening in the European Union, through the adoption of the “Treaty of Prüm”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/germany/article/0,,1995239,00.html into EU law and through other measures, but even there (where there are more shared interests), cross-border cooperation has been tricky to organize and highly controversial. Something like Edwards’ proposal would have had a much better chance of getting implemented if it had been proposed by the US immediately after September 11, 2001; now it’s going to face very tough going, even if Edwards manages somehow to win the Democratic primaries and (probably much easier) the presidency.

I’m also much more skeptical than Matt is about whether an organization like this could include countries like China and Russia. If it would be difficult to organize among democracies (which share a certain minimal set of values), it’s going to be nearly impossible if semi-authoritarian states (Russia) or one-party dictatorships (China) are supposed to be part of the club. Their ideas of what police are and are not allowed to do, who are the terrorists we need to fight etc etc are, to put it mildly, likely to be incompatible with minimal shared norms of how democracies should operate. The potential for really horrible things to happen when authoritarian countries get their hands on shared information about ‘dissidents’ and ‘extremists’ is too obvious to warrant much further discussion.

These doubts aside, I think that this is a worthwhile proposal for two reasons. First – it clearly puts the emphasis of combatting international terrorism where it should be – on policing and domestic intelligence. Metaphorically and intellectually muddled plans to drain the fever swamp of the Arab Street etc have not only proved wrong-headed, but catastrophic. Domestic intelligence and police work in Europe and elsewhere has been reasonably successful in preventing further attacks. This is not to discount the obvious risks to privacy and human rights if police and interior ministries are given too much of a free hand – but it is to say that domestic policing work has had some success in dealing with the undoubtedly nasty people who want to plant bombs.

Second, it may over time bring various rather shady existing forms of informal cooperation between intelligence and security services into the light, and make them more accountable to democratic authority. Many of the nastiest episodes of the last few years have been possible because international cooperation on these issues is a grey area under the law. Extraordinary rendition is the most obvious example of this – but we’ve also seen kidnapping of Europeans (with a nod and wink from the European intelligence services in question, despite its illegality), illegal sharing of financial information (which European central banks seem to have known about without informing the relevant domestic authorities) etc. All of these have been possible because the lines of authority are vague, and there isn’t anyone who can easily be held accountable for abuses. Negotiating a formal treaty is likely to bring some of these issues out into the open, and perhaps make them more amenable to domestic oversight. Creating real restraints on the power of security forces won’t be easy – in the best case it will be a bitter and hard-fought struggle – but it would be _much_ easier going, I suspect, in the context of negotiations over a formal treaty. The problem at the moment is that the important forms of cooperation happen behind closed doors; it’s extremely difficult to establish what exactly is happening, let alone to do anything about them.

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09.14.07 at 4:11 pm



David 09.12.07 at 4:11 pm

This sounds suspiciously like the Rainbow Six series by Tom Clancy…


James Wimberley 09.12.07 at 4:56 pm

It’s Pr&#252m as in zoom, not Prum as in thumb.


Grand Moff Texan 09.12.07 at 4:56 pm

As it is, this kind of information sharing has had to go through the various nations’ executives, which has produced the disasters of Aznar lying to the Germans about Spanish intelligence on the Spain bombing, Condi Rice blowing the cover of an investigation in the UK, and now the sad spectacle of Mike McConnell being contradicted by both the Germans and his own staff as he tries to sell new US spying laws based on a phony timeline.

Feh. Enough.

Seems to me like CITO might be a way to take these idiots out of the loop and let law enforcement do its job.


pt 09.12.07 at 4:57 pm

This proposal has almost no support inside the U.S. intelligence community and national security establishment. The United States has good productive bilateral relations with most countries on these matters. And, these relationships vary from country to country. This could be jeopardized if everybody has to abide by a rule to share with everyone else rather than just with those they trust. CITO could actually hurt intelligence sharing, leading to lowest common denominator standards. In any case, the problem with sharing isn’t international-U.S., it’s inside the U.S. bureaucracy. This is just a very silly, superficial proposal by a very silly, superficial candidate.


Henry 09.12.07 at 4:59 pm

Thanks James – I should have put in the umlaut. It’s incredible to me how little public attention this treaty has gotten.


Grand Moff Texan 09.12.07 at 5:00 pm

“Cito,” btw. means “speedily” or “quickly” as an adverb, and “to put into quick motion” as a verb in Latin.

Don’t know if that was the aim.


foolishmortal 09.12.07 at 5:02 pm

This a wonderful dual-fig-leaf proposal. Should an Edwards presidency occur, EU nations will be in a position where they will be gagging for any kind of structured international cooperation. At the same time, it could provide cover for the various nasty things we (the U.S.) are asking them to do.

On the U.S. side, such an agreement would go a long way towards rejuvenating our soft power. If Guantanamo were closed, and moved to Dresden. this would be good PR indeed.


James Wimberley 09.12.07 at 5:03 pm

And we must not cede the wingnuts the monopoly of the “draining the swamp” idea. Tackling the root causes or predisposing factors of terrorism – political grievances, wacko readings of religious traditions, culture shock, unemployment and underdevelopment – is commonsense and essential. It should not be discarded just because the neocon idea of how to drain a swamp is to bomb it.


Grand Moff Texan 09.12.07 at 5:46 pm


Bloix 09.12.07 at 5:47 pm

Whatever the merits, it’s great to see a Democrat trying to come up with something constructive. For six years the terms of the debate have been on the one side, “Let’s go kill a whole lot of people,” and on the other, “That’s really not such a good idea.”


sglover 09.12.07 at 6:25 pm

It’s not clear to me how this ‘CITO’ is substantially different from Interpol, which already exists.


Shelby 09.12.07 at 7:07 pm

Re #9: Those stories appear to underscore the problems of sharing information internationally. Wouldn’t CITO exacerbate those problems, rather than ameliorate them? How confident is anyone that no administration in any member country would improperly access confidential information obtained by another country, and leak it?

Henry may be right about the potential advantages of such a scheme, but if anything he underestimates the difficulties and problems.


Kelly 09.12.07 at 9:12 pm

First one has to define what a “terrorist” is.
Unless and until that happens, this is useless. Remember “curveball”? The info there was shared by the Germans who also mentioned that the guy was a flake and likely a liar. Bush used the info anyway, instead of the documented and believeable info that the CIA provided him (see latest by Seymour Hersh.)
Also, we used to have a fellow that hung around the whitehouse that said “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” or words to that effect.


Leinad 09.12.07 at 11:55 pm

#11 Interpol are signally ineffective at counter-terrorism: there’s little evidence that the pretentious droning pap-rock that’s defined their career has any effect on terrorists, save perhaps making them want to hurt us more.


Chris Williams 09.13.07 at 10:02 am

Yet again, the advantage of being a historian is that I can say “Tried that”. Check out the international ‘Anti-Anarchist’ conferences of the early C20th, and why the UK and France refused to sign up to them (but, as F. Zuckerman has recently shown, their law enforcers were quite happy to co-operate unofficially with the Okrana).

There’s also good work on the broader history of this topic by M. Deflem and by H-H. Liang, respectively showing: how effective police co-operation requires that the police forces involved have a degree of ‘functional autonomy’ from their political masters; and how police co-operation didn’t develop as a technocratic process, but as an aspect of inter-state relations.

Jason Lane’s research on the impact of the Anglo-Irish agreement on RUC/GS co-operation suggests also that a more formalised approach actually damages long-standing informal connections.

But apart from that, nice one, Edwards.


Barry 09.13.07 at 11:41 am

“For six years the terms of the debate have been on the one side, “Let’s go kill a whole lot of people,” and on the other, “That’s really not such a good idea.””
Posted by Bloix

Which, of course, is productive, if successful. Restraining loons is a *good* thing.


Raphael 09.13.07 at 3:19 pm

As far as I know, there is already a good deal of information sharing between different countries’ intelligence agencies (and police divisions focussed on politically motivated crimes etc.) if the countries are more or less allied, and if they aren’t, I think such an organisation won’t make them share information, either.


c.l. ball 09.13.07 at 4:39 pm

I think Henry’s acknowledged most of the downsides mentioned in the comments, and made two good points about why CITO might still be worth pursuing.

Note that Edwards says it would “allow members to voluntarily share financial, police, customs and immigration intelligence.” So each member would presumably decide what it would put into CITO (otherwise, why the adverb ‘voluntarily’?). But it does not mention ‘domestic intelligence’ as we might normally use the term — by ‘police’ it is not clear that Edwards means the domestic intelligence branch of the FBI or organizations like MI-5.

I can also see a quasi-problem with customs and immigrations data-sharing: say a US citizen flies from Montreal to Havana, evading the US ban on travel to Cuba, but this data would be in the new CITO database presumably. Unless CITO barred non-terrorism prosecution uses, which would be difficult to define, it would be a new mechanism for governments to enforce unique national laws.

Sending reams of data to a central database sounds unwieldy on technical, privacy, and security levels. More helpful would be a set of procedures for querying other governments on suspects. Rather than rely on bilateral means for the US asking Germany about say, a suspected Pakistani national who entered the US via Germany or has called people in Germany from the US, the CITO members would be contacted jointly. It may be that Italy has more information. Of course, if bilateral or mini-lateral procedures like this are already strong, then this might be superfluous in most cases.


G. B. 09.14.07 at 4:10 am

Who needs something called CITO? Hell, we can’t even get the so-called Homeland Security to operate within the states…and now we want to include other countries!But then again, we see time after time how Europe smashes plots..uh, maybe we could learn something. Naw, we still know there’s WMD in Iraq.


R. Stanton Scott 09.14.07 at 1:00 pm

I think that such an information-sharing treaty is indeed possible, if states decide that non-state actors threaten their survival more than other states do. As globalization–and the finanacial and trade institutional structure that supports it–continues to bind states together, states may decide that a possible disruption of the global economy by terrorists presents more danger to survival than war with other states. After all, many states today fight more over market share than territory.

Corporations–run largely by the same elites that run states–will pressure political units to protect economies and the rules that make capitalism and trade possible. Sooner or later they will lobby to create processses–already developing to protect intellectual property rights, for example–designed to criminalize behavior that makes business riskier.

States cooperate on security only reluctantly, but we know from NATO that if they perceive a great enough threat they can overcome fear and jealousy and act collectively. This will happen if terrorism presents such a threat.

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