Brussels, Den of Spies — Belgian Justice Minister : “Chinese Espionage is Very Real.”

“Belgium may seem an unlikely destination for a Chinese agent. In fact, it’s a den of spies, according to domestic intelligence agency State Security (VSSE). It says the number of operatives is at least as high as during the Cold War, and Brussels is their chessboard.”

How Belgium Became Europe’s Den of Spies and a Gateway for China — Bloomberg (November 28 2019)

October 20 2020 — What a difference a year makes. Until recently, Main Stream Media rarely discussed the issue of Espionage in Brussels. Chinese espionage was a taboo subject among Belgian politicians and Intelligence agencies. No more… Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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Last week, Belgium Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne acknowledged that Chinese espionage is “very topical and real”.

Jaak Raes, the current administrator-general of the state security service, asked Van Quickenborne to allocate adequate resources to fight Chinese espionage.

Incidentally, we learned that not one Belgian agent has been working on this issue for at least 5 years — This probably means NEVER — as all resources are allocated to terrorism.

According to POLITICO, spies flock to Brussels like bees to a honeypot. [Belgium’s spy problem]

Why? Short answer. Lots of targets and very little to fear.

With 127 diplomatic postings, Brussels hosts the most diplomatic missions in the world, according to the Global Diplomacy Index of the Lowy Institute. The presence of the EU institutions and NATO headquarters makes Belgium relevant not just for diplomats, journalists and lobbyists, but also for international espionage.

But despite the high levels of interest in the Belgian capital, both Belgian and EU authorities say it is difficult for them to punish those caught spying and attempts to tighten the rules have failed.

In Belgium, espionage in itself is not classified as a crime. Belgian law only stipulates you are committing a crime if you communicate classified information of key national interest to a hostile or foreign power. The provisions date back to the 1930’s.

Calls for change are long-standing. Johan Delmulle, attorney general in Brussels, addressed the issue in a speech for the Brussels Court of Appeal in 2018.

“Espionage in Belgium, and specifically in Brussels, isn’t something virtual, but very concrete. Our legal arsenal for prosecuting crimes of espionage is outdated — some paragraphs date back to before the Second World War — and must be adapted to today’s society and reality.”

“Public prosecutors must revert to other articles of the law which weren’t created in order to combat espionage, such as gang formation or breaches of the telecommunications legislation,” Demuelle said.

There is a proposal to expand the law to economic and scientific espionage. This law would include any secret information that a foreign state or an armed group can use to engage in economic warfare.

Although an update of the espionage law is necessary, it also entails risks, said Frank Verbruggen, law professor and head of the Institute of Criminal Law at Leuven University.

“There was a clear demand from security officials to adjust the law to cases we had in the recent past, which is understandable.

But it’s a thin line between addressing those cases without endangering fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, the freedom of association or the freedom of press.”

Last year, the Belgian State Security Service banned the head of the Confucius Institute in Brussels, Xinning Song, from entering the country because of espionage activities. This year, the decision was overturned by judges on a procedural technicality.

REFERENCES

How Belgium Became Europe’s Den of Spies and a Gateway for China — Bloomberg Cyber security

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Brussels, Den of Spies — Belgian Justice Minister : “Chinese Espionage is Very Real.”

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