Published by: Tanusmita Debnath

The Five Eyes Alliance developed a stronger consolidated relationship between its members and became the world’s most perfect and inclusive intelligence alliance. Here the author discusses the Five Eyes Alliance, its history and its importance in today’s world.

What is the Five Eyes Alliance?

The Five Eyes Alliance abbreviated as FVEY in government documents is a collective intelligence system that observes the electronic communications of citizens and overseas governments. [1]This network of anglophone countries consists of U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Every single member country has three to five government agencies involved and each agency is in charge of one to two roles such as signal intelligence, security intelligence, defence intelligence, human intelligence, and geo intelligence. The Five Eyes Alliance make use of the communications methods like signals intelligence (SIGINT), to observe the citizens of the other member countries.

The FVEY sidesteps internal surveillance rules by observing each other's citizens. It has gradually progressed since its origin and has improved to the factor of a global surveillance program at multinational level which is able to observe the data of entire populations. The FVEY amasses intelligence by intercepting private or personal communications for instance, textual content messages, emails, telephone calls, and faxes from infrastructure which includes telephone networks, satellites, and fiber optic cables. It also obtains records of user data from big companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, etc.

History of FVEY:

The Five Eyes Alliance commenced due to the 1941 Atlantic Charter that put out Allied objectives for the world after World War II (1939-1945). [2]In 1943, United States of America and United Kingdom developed a collaborative intelligence treaty identified as the BRUSA Agreement, later authenticated as the UKUSA Agreement. In 1946, the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) and UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) strengthened their collective efforts under the UKUSA Agreement that grants cooperation on SIGINT among the services. The NSA and the GCHQ originally shared intelligence to achieve a viable advantage. The FVEY stretched to embrace other nations to expand their range. The aim of this expansion is to allow better collaboration among the member countries allowing assortment and sharing of vast amount of data with its members. It extended to incorporate Canada – Communication Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) in the year of 1948.

In 1956, Australia- Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) and New Zealand – Government Communication Security Bureau (GCSB) had joined the alliance. The FVEY shared the Cold War (1947- 1991) intelligence and observed communications from the Soviet Union, China and Eastern Bloc countries in the 1950's. Additionally, intelligence amassed by FVEY was used for the Vietnam War (1 November, 1955 - 30 April, 1975), the Falklands War (2 April-14 June, 1982), the overthrowing of Iran's Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh (15 August-19 August, 1953), the assassination of Patrice Lumumba (January, 1961), the overthrowing of Chilean President Salvador Allende (11 September, 1973), aiding Chinese dissidents during the Tiananmen Square protests (1989), the Gulf War (2 August, 1990 - 28 February, 1991), and the war on terror. It gave rise to other alliances such as the Nine Eyes and the Fourteen Eyes. The members of the nine eyes consists of the Five Eyes’ nations plus France, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands. The perfect opportunity for further expansion by growing to be the Fourteen Eyes came with the tragedy of 9/11 in the year of 2001. The members of Fourteen Eyes include Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Belgium along with the members of Nine Eyes. Other additional partners who foster close ties with the alliance are Singapore, Japan, South Korea, British Overseas Territories, Israel.

Reason behind its formation:

The Alliance initiated in 1941, when US and UK acquiesced to share their intellect with each other. At the end of Second World War, the US and UK maintained their intelligence-sharing by signing a secret treaty, later renamed as UKUSA. The reason behind this alliance was to rationalize the intelligence-sharing method amongst the two nations as a way to higher cope with global threats, especially the Soviet Union. [3]The addition of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand led to the formation the Five Eyes Alliance. These member nations of the alliance work together to gather and share mass surveillance data with each other. For instance, the NSA and other collaborating nations monitored the Soviet Union, China, and other Eastern European countries during the Cold War.

The initial attention of the organization at that time was to uncover intellect about military movements. The reports were shared among the five nations through Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), which includes the interception of communications. The exchange of messages could be between people or it could be between electronic systems that create signals. Additionally, the FVEY used a surveillance program known as ECHELON to spy on citizens and foreign governments. This program was acquired during the World War II to eavesdrop on the Soviet Union and their allies. It includes numerous factors on the earth where telephone calls, computers, and faxes were intercepted. After the Cold War ended in 1991, other nations were proposed membership in the alliance to deal with the rising threat of international terrorism.


Public knew very little about the FVEY before 2003. In 2013, a former NSA contractor, [4]Edward Snowden had leaked some classified documents linked to the Five Eyes alliance. These documents conveyed the widespread supervision of public’s online activities by the alliance. Numerous interrogations were raised about the thin line between surveillance and the invasion of online privacy. The public was totally oblivious of the full extent of data assemblage and the new disclosures left much of the public feeling that it is a violation of their privacy rights. It also became clear that the alliance is more widespread than predicted.

The FVEY functions beyond the jurisdiction and control of any government. Therefore, it is very difficult to track their activities. Gough Whitlam, the former Prime Minister of Australia professed that he was oblivious of the existence and operations of the Five Eyes Alliance. Nevertheless, this alliance had met large amounts of public distrust with many believing it is a violation of basic human rights since the Snowden leak.[5] However, recently another set of disagreement exploded after Canada and the other members nations of FVEY released a statement implying they are ready to expense the online privacy of the public in an attempt to upsurge security. This statement also signified that all the member nations of the alliance approved the need for the formation and law enforcement to gain access to certain data. These laws would be subject to strict safeguards, domestic consultations, and legal limitations. It is also expected that the alliance is about to put pressure on several software and telecom companies to come up with better ways of surmounting encryption.

Importance of FVEY today:

The FVEY brought the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand into the world’s most perfect and inclusive intelligence alliance. It had assisted to build a stronger consolidated relationship between two strong nation. During the Cold War the United Kingdom and the United States nurtured a mutual trust by forming the alliance that deepened the links between the two nations. [6]Every single member of FVEY is in charge of amassing intelligence and analysing specific regions of the world. They mainly work together and the outcome is a result of its members aiding each other which is an essential function of this alliance. The present role of FVEY has many corollaries, for instance, the maritime zone, where the alliance observes shipping traffic passing through strategic maritime areas and the aerospace zone, which covers aerial missile tests, foreign satellite deployments and the military movements of the pertinent air forces.

Terrorist organizations and weapons business deals made by tricky governments are also monitored by the Five Eyes alliance. International terrorism and illegal weapon dealing are a growing source of concern for all the five members of the alliance and the sharing of intellect among them is essential to keep their governments well-informed with the current information. This helps in the procedure of policy-making as the data amassed and evaluated by FVEY might turn out to be crucial for more than a time of crises but additionally as the daily source of government. For instance, the daily endeavours that includes tracing and detecting possible sources of terrorism and other non-conventional threats. The members of FVEY share common principles like the liberal democratic values, similar or complementary national interests and cultures. Additionally, the alliance works with various countries. The collaboration of the alliance with Denmark, France, Norway and the Netherlands obtains the recognition of Nine Eyes. Additionally, the collaboration of the members of the Nine Eyes with Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden gave rise to the Fourteen Eyes. However, the Fourteen Eyes is officially recognised as SIGINT Seniors Europe (SSEUR), and its basic purpose is to synchronize the military signals exchange amongst its members.


The Five Eyes is broadly considered as the glided standard of collaborative intelligence alliances. Currently, the initial objective of the alliance is to protect citizens from terrorist schemes. Its range raises consequently with the new innovations, technologies as well as the growing security concerns ascending from those new technologies. As the number of cyber-attacks increases continuously, the alliance recognises that the digital world cannot be underestimated. Nevertheless, the FVEY is a massive strength to keep people of safe and it is the result of decades of relationship bolstered on mutual trust and confidence amongst its member nations.

Footnotes: [1] Five Eyes Alliance available at https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/Five-Eyes-Alliance (visited on 16 August, 2020). [2] Jamie Cambell, “Five, Nine, Fourteen Eyes Surveillance Alliances Explained” GoBestVPN, July 15, 2019. [3] Global Information Society Watch available at https://giswatch.org/en/communications-surveillance/unmasking-five-eyes-global-surveillance-practices (visited on August 16, 2020). [4] Barney Cotton, “FIVE EYES ALLIANCE: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW” Business Leader, September 20, 2019. [5] Bill Mann, “Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, & 14 Eyes Alliances – Are They Snooping?” blokt, May 26, 2020. [6] J. Vitor Tossini, “The Five Eyes – The Intelligence Alliance of the Anglosphere” ukdj, April 14, 2020.