Europe is 'happy hunting ground' for foreign spies, says watchdog

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Europe is a "happy hunting ground" for foreign security services, the continent's leading human rights watchdog concluded yesterday, as it called for new legal safeguards against secret rendition of terror suspects.

Drawing on formal responses to questions to 46 member countries, the Council of Europe's secretary general, Terry Davies, criticised Europeans for their subservience to US intelligence. Governments should co-operate on counter-terrorism with the US as "equal partners" and not in "the role of the proverbial three brass monkeys".

The responses to a questionnaire from Mr Davies revealed little new evidence of covert CIA interrogation centres and "black flights". But they highlighted the freedom with which third-country intelligence agencies may be operating in Europe. Though domestic services are subject to scrutiny, this does not apply to organisations such as the CIA.

Mr Davies said: "It would appear that most of Europe is a happy hunting ground for foreign security services. Hardly any country, with the exception of Hungary, has any legal provisions to ensure an effective oversight over the activities of foreign security services."

Italy, Poland, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina had not provided information on cases of alleged CIA transfer of terror suspects already in the public domain. Slovakia and Croatia failed to provide complete answers on transport while shortcomings were identified in the replies of Bulgaria, Ukraine and Greece.

The British government said that "no UK public official or other person acting in an official capacity" was involved in renditions. It said that police are investigating allegations made by Liberty, a non-governmental organisation, but that Foreign Office officials found no evidence of detainees being rendered through the UK or its Overseas territories since 11 September, 2001.