Five Eyes Countries Economic Pact
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This article has been written by Sushmita Choudhary, from New Law College, Bharati Vidyapeeth (Deemed University). It gives an overview of the world’s oldest intelligence-sharing alliance “Five Eyes”, touching various aspects of it.


In the current days, we have come across news that the US Congressional committee has sought to bring along three countries namely India, Japan and South Korea with the Five Eyes for intelligence sharing. The case for bringing these countries at par with the Five Eyes was argued by Congressman Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, for the reason of maintaining peace and rule of law in the Indo Pacific region and Central Pacific Ocean in addition to the South China Sea while submitting a report to the House of Representatives. To understand the involvement of India, we need to know precisely what Five Eyes Countries Economic Pact.

What is the Five Eyes Alliance

The Five Eyes Network is an intelligence alliance between the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand. This alliance shares a vast range of intelligence in the UKUSA agreement, one of the world’s tightest multilateral agreements. According to Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee and subcontractor, the Five Eyes is a ‘supra national intelligence organisation’ and isn’t even accountable to the laws of its countries. 

Instead of being a centrally organised body, Five Eyes is an alliance of affiliated independent intelligence agencies. It is the world’s oldest intelligence partnership which will turn 74 this year. Conventionally, trust amongst spies is a rare commodity, however, the UKUSA Agreement of 1946 known as the Five Eyes has been the most enduring and comprehensive alliance in the world and is uniquely set up to tackle the challenges brought by globalization. Mainly a SIGINT (a signals intelligence organization), the Five Eyes does not carry covert operations but complements each member nation’s relevant intelligence capability with substantial coverage on a global scale. SIGINT which is an acronym for Signals Intelligence is one form of the various types of intelligence like HUMINT(Human Intelligence), OSINT(Open-Source Intelligence), etc. As a result of an increase in all kinds of transmission, SIGINT has become very important. Globalization and the internet have instrumented its analysis as well as collection. SIGINT comprises various fields and practices including cryptanalysis, track analysis, communications intelligence and electronic intelligence. 


The Five Eyes Alliance emerged out of an intelligence pact made in the cold war era called the UKUSA agreement. This pact was originally an intelligence-sharing Agreement between the United States and the UK only primarily aimed at decrypting Soviet Russian intelligence. Canada joined the alliance in 1948 followed by Australia and New Zealand in 1956, thus creating the Global intelligence sharing organisation. As we know it today, these five English speaking countries constitute the Five Eyes. Over the years, the intelligence-sharing agreement between these countries has strengthened and its networks have also increased with the surveillance of online activity.

For a long time, this Alliance was a well-kept secret between the five countries. In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor leaked a number of documents. These documents unravelled rampant government surveillance of online activities of citizens and showed evidence that the international intelligence-sharing network is more humongous than previously thought. Though precise assignments aren’t publicly confirmed, research reveals that Australia monitors South and East Asia emissions whereas New Zealand monitors the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. The UK covers Europe and western Russia, the US devotes attention to the Caribbean, China, Russia, the Middle East, Africa and Canada monitors Russia and China. This collaboration has allowed the member countries to concentrate on specific areas which they wouldn’t have been able to do alone due to lack of resources. 

Nine Eyes and Fourteen Eyes

In addition to the Five Eyes Alliance, there are two other international intelligence-sharing agreements called the Nine Eyes Network and the Fourteen Eyes Network. The member countries of the Nine Eyes network are the UK, the US, France, Australia, Norway, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands. 

The Fourteen Eyes network consists of the UK, the US, France, Australia, Norway, New Zealand, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Belgium.

These alliances are extensions of the original five eyes Alliance. Although these countries may not share as much information with each other as the five core countries, they still actively and willingly take part in international intelligence sharing. 

Importance of economic pact

The Five Eyes alliance wants to stop western reliance on China. The intelligence partners now want to end the economic reliance by forging a relationship with each other in order to create trusted supply chains. The alliance will start both manufacturing and selling in the member countries which will consist of every stage ranging from the supply of materials to its production, distribution and sale. A successful supply chain is very important for competence amongst companies. Various leaders of the Five Eyes have given the confirmation that this Alliance will go beyond intelligence and will be used for economic purposes as well. 

The five eyes countries have been among the leading advocates of ‘hyper globalization’ but China has benefited proportionally from this form of globalisation, as it has resulted in a fundamental transformation in its economic and industrial fortunes over the past 20 years. Though the idea of the decoupling from China’s economy is established in the US, it has gained currency with the COVID-19 crisis. According to the interpreter, the incompetence of countries to manufacture personal protective equipment via globalised supply chains generates the need to be able to produce strategic commodities because China’s actions and behaviours are of authoritative nature. 

According to the UK think tank, the Henry Jackson Society, Five Eyes rely on China for imports of 831 separate categories, 260 include elements for critical national infrastructure. The report says these categories of goods consist of consumer electronics such as laptops and phones. They also consist of pharmaceutical ingredients important for antibiotics, painkillers and antiviral medicines.

As per the UN’s international trade data, all five eyes countries are affected:

  • Australia is the most strategically dependent country amongst them on China for 595 categories of goods, ranging from pens, Pharmaceuticals to garlic. 167 of these have applications in critical national infrastructure.
  • New Zealand is the second most strategically dependent on China accounting for 513 categories of goods amongst which 144 categories have applications in critical National infrastructure.
  • The US being the third most strategically dependent on China relies upon 424 categories of goods amongst which 114 categories have applications in critical national infrastructure.
  • Canada is the fourth most strategically dependent on China and relies on it for 367 categories of goods. 83 of these have applications in critical national infrastructure.
  • The UK being the last one, is strategically dependent on China for 229 categories of goods amongst which 57 categories have applications in critical national infrastructure.

According to Politik, the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing has started to become more of a security agreement. Australian Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, is leading a proposal to have the Five Eyes nations coordinate a strategic economic response to the Covid-19 crisis. Australian MP, Andrew Hastie called for a prudent industrial plan to develop national self-reliance in respect to pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and other critical goods, coupled with tax incentives to encourage domestic production. He emphasised the “thinly disguised threats of economic coercion” being possessed by China to show how dangerously countries are relying on China. New Zealand Finance Minister Grant Robertson claimed that he had accepted an invitation from Josh Frydenberg to participate in a call on economics responses to Covid-19. A group of conservative MPs in the United Kingdom have written to the Trade Bill currently before its Parliament to diminish strategic dependency on China. From the USA, Senator Marco Rubio recommended forming “coalition centred” strategies to strengthen resilience across the Five Eyes. Also, he claimed that their way of responding to the challenges posed by China is going to define the 21st century. Canadian Parliamentarian, Peter MacKay recommended “limiting trade with unpredictable states like China”.

How is it different

Though there are various other multilateral intelligence-sharing arrangements, such as within NATO, a larger amount of information gets shared among the Five Eyes, tied in a bond by a common language and years of trust.

“Even inside NATO, nobody shares everything,” partly because there are too many nations with contradicting interests sometimes”, Gustafson, senior lecturer of intelligence studies at Brunel University London, said.

The United States also continues intelligence-sharing relationships with allies like France, Germany and Japan. In the Middle East region, the US formally and informally shares intelligence with several countries in the mega-fight against ISIS and other terror-linked groups. They include Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, among others.

But Five Eyes members keep some things particularly to themselves and share with others on a case to case basis.

For instance, the Five Eyes decided to share with France some of their most sensitive intelligence on ISIS in Syria because of the unfortunate Paris terror attacks on November 25, a US official told CNN on condition of anonymity at the time.

That intelligence was “previously shared only with the Five Eyes countries,” the official said.

Many other relationships tend to be on a give and take basis – one side gives information in exchange for something else.

But Five Eyes is “more of a trust economy – you can go to a bar and order a drink on credit,” Gustafson said.

In order to enhance its work: The five nations have similar security standards and classification systems.


Privacy International had launched a project called Eyes Wide Open which aimed to pry open the five eyes arrangement and bring it under the rule of law. In its special report, it mentioned-

  • Pry open the Five Eyes arrangement and subject the world’s most powerful and secret intelligence-sharing regime to appropriate transparency and scrutiny;
  • Challenge the legal frameworks that enable global surveillance practices, and particularly that discriminate between nationals and foreigners with respect to human rights obligations;
  • Promote an understanding of human rights obligations as applying to all individuals under a State’s jurisdiction, regardless of their location; and
  • Campaign for policies that bring intelligence agencies under the rule of law.

P.I. alleged the problem of the Five Eyes to be the secrecy in which the intelligence-sharing agreements are shrouded, thus allowing for arbitrary or unlawful intrusions on the right to privacy which circumvent domestic legal restrictions on state surveillance. There is no domestic legislation governing intelligence-sharing, which indicates that many of these arrangements lack legal basis and therefore democratic legality. The “third party rule”, often included in intelligence-sharing agreements, forbids the disclosure of inter-agency information to third parties, which completely ousts the possibility of oversight for legal compliance.

In July 2017, Yale Law School’s Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic and Privacy International filed a lawsuit against the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the NSA, the National Archives and Records Administration and the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act seeking access to records concerning the Five Eyes alliance.

In some months, they began receiving limited disclosure from the NSA and the State Department which gave them some insight into the nature and scope of how the agreement functions. In summarizing it, they suggested that an inconsistent approach is taken by the US government regarding legal classification and therefore publication of these types of agreements. They also claimed that the General Security Agreement taken place in 1961 between the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom (which further illuminates their understanding of the privatization of intelligence activities) provides them with a rare glimpse of the “third party rule,” which creates a barrier for oversight and accountability of intelligence sharing.

Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) condoned global surveillance practices as being fundamentally opposed to the international human right to privacy and the rule of law. The legal frameworks that mask the activities of the intelligence agencies or that prioritize the citizens of Five Eyes countries over the global internet population must be brought down. It is important to ensure trust by bringing the intelligence agencies under the rule of law and for doing so, transparency, as well as accountability for secret agreements, is an essential first step.


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