A top foreign policy priority of the United States is the dismantlement of the al Qaeda terrorist network. Like all terrorist organizations, al Qaeda is most effective if it can successfully conceal its activities from the authorities. Accurate intelligence is thus a crucial part of the campaign against the group. And many states are in a position to develop valuable intelligence. Countries in western Europe, North Africa, the Persian Gulf, and South and Southeast Asia are able to collect intelligence that the United States is unable to gather, and can engage in mutually beneficial intelligence sharing with the United States.
But some of these states also face powerful barriers to full intelligence sharing. European governments face legal challenges to some of their foreign intelligence activities. Domestic political pressures prompt some states in the Middle East and Europe to curtail collaboration with the United States. Some countries contain religious or nationalist groups or elements of the government apparatus that are less enthusiastic about taking effective action against al Qaeda. Other governments may wish to exaggerate the effectiveness of their action against and the accuracy of their intelligence on al Qaeda in order to win the approval and support of the United States.
These cross-cutting motives pose an important challenge for the United States because less than full cooperation and sharing is very difficult for it to detect. All intelligence agencies seek to ensure that their sources of information remain secret. This involves strictly limiting the distribution of such information among government officials and carefully controlling its dissemination to foreign governments. But these security measures also make it very hard for the recipients of shared intelligence to verify its accuracy. The problem for the United States is that some of the states that have the most valuable intelligence on al Qaeda are also those with the strongest incentives to defect from agreements to share such intelligence.