Five Eyes 101

Much has been said about the secret surveillance alliance that has been said to have infiltrated every aspect of the modern global communications system. With the launch of the Eyes Wide Open project, more attention has been directed to Five Eyes. But who makes up the secretive Five Eyes alliance? This article takes a closer look.

The Five Eyes arrangement between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand was formed secretly in 1946, after WWII. It was not acknowledged in public until decades later. This unique alliance has two core rules: 1) The partners share intelligence; and 2) The partners do not spy on each other. According to the agreement, interception, collection, acquisition, analysis and decryption is conducted by each member in their respective parts of the globe. All information is shared by default.

According to a former senior CIA official, “There is no more important set of [intelligence] relations that each of these countries has with each other’s services. I would say they are just as important today as they have always been, if not more important.”

Important Facts

Here are some key pieces of information on the Five Eyes:

  • Starting in 1946, Five Eyes is an alliance of five English-speaking countries: the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
  • The alliance is comprised of a series of bilateral agreements over more than a decade. This is known as the UKUSA agreement, establishing Five Eyes for the purpose of sharing intelligence, primarily signals intelligence (SIGINT).
  • This arrangement is kept on a strictly need-to-know basis. In fact, the Australian prime minister wasn’t informed of its existence until 1973. No government officially acknowledge it by name until 1999.
  • The agreement is wide in scope, establishing jointly-run operations centers where operatives from multiple intelligence agencies of the member states work alongside one another.
  • Tasks are divided between SIGINT agencies, ensuring that the Five Eyes alliance is far greater than a set of principles of collaboration. The level of cooperation under this agreement is so extensive that the national product is often indistinguishable.
  • Despite a “no-spy pact,” there is no prohibition on intelligence-gathering by Five Eyes members on the citizens or residents of other member states. There is, however, a general understanding that citizens will not be directly targeted. Where communications are incidentally intercepted, there will be an effort to minimize the use and analysis of such communications by the intercepting state.


Together, the Five Eyes have collaborated upon and developed specific technical programs of collection and analysis. Some notable examples:

  • ECHELON – A system that collects and processes information derived from intercepting civil satellite communications.
  • THINTHREAD – An analysis tool that creates graphs showing relationships and patterns that can identify which targets should be examined in greater detail, and which calls should be listened to.
  • TEMPORA – A program that collects intelligence via undersea fiber optic cable taps.
  • XKEYSCORE – An analytic framework that indexes email addresses, file names, IP addresses, cookies, phone numbers and metadata. It enables a single search to query a three-day rolling buffer of all unfiltered data stored at 150 global sites.

Going Further

Along with the Five Eyes alliance, there are a number of other international surveillance partnerships, including:

  • 9 Eyes – The Five Eyes, along with Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Norway.
  • 14 Eyes – The Nine Eyes, along with Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Sweden.
  • 41 Eyes – All of the above, along with the allied coalition in Afghanistan.
  • Tier B Countries with which the Five eyes have cooperation on computer network exploitation – This includes Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
  • Club of Berne – 17 members in total, mostly European States. The US is not a member.
  • Counterterrorist Group – A wider membership than the 17 states that make up the Club of Berne, including the US.
  • NATO Special Committee – Made up of the heads of the security services of NATO member countries.


Snowden’s revelations, along with the Eyes Wide Open project spearheaded by Privacy International, has resulted in a flurry of interest in the Five Eyes alliance. For almost 70 years, the Five Eyes has operated as a surveillance alliance of five English-speaking countries. This article takes a closer look.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/US Government (CIPP/US), a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • National Security and Privacy (III.B.)

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