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The security sector: protecting Italy and its businesses

    • Rome
    • 27 March 2013

          The opening premise at this National Conference on the important economic role played by Italy’s intelligence services was that, in a globally competitive marketplace, intelligence information is a vital – albeit not the only – underpinning for the realization of any country’s potential for development and success. It informs government decisions regarding the defense of the economic and productive system from increasingly serious external threats, as well as those relating to the protection and support of the foreign interests of Italian firms, now more crucial than ever for the country’s resumption of growth.

          It was therefore seen as falling within the purview of executive government to set the guidelines and priorities for the information-gathering activities that the intelligence services are tasked with in this sensitive area, based on a precise (if often difficult) discernment of the national interests, as broadly defined by law, which allows them to be distinguished from interests of an exclusively private nature. In this regard, the participants noted that for the 2007 reforms of this sector to be fully implemented, clear policy guidance is required to maintain the continued legitimacy of dealings between the intelligence services and firms, ensuring they are conducted squarely within the bounds of constitutional propriety.

          These – it was suggested – are the necessary prerequisites to guarantee that the benefits of cooperation between public intelligence agencies and private enterprise can come to fruition in the service of the nation’s economic interests. Indeed, it was observed that this is already the case in many countries today, with the result that Italian firms operating abroad often find themselves at a heavy disadvantage.

          In  order to address this disparity, the participants called for urgent organizational and regulatory steps to be taken that would enable the initiation of a symbiotic process in which national security and economic growth feed into each other, based on prudent management and an efficient use of intelligence data combining procedural transparency with the protection of sensitive information.

          In a similar vein, it was further suggested that conditions now seem ripe for arrangements to be put in place which would allow Italy’s intelligence services – in the pursuance of strict policy guidelines consistent with the dictates of the 2007 reform, which cites the protection of “Italy’s economic, scientific and industrial” interests – to work directly with firms on the basis of appropriate agreements that clearly regulate the terms and scope of cooperation, as well as permitted information exchange.

          It was felt that such agreements offer the safest and most immediate means to creating a network of stable and efficient relationships on a proper legal footing between national intelligence services and the security offices of major Italian firms, often made up of highly-professional and vastly-experienced teams. It was stressed that linking this wealth of private resources with those at the disposal of public intelligence agencies is the key to raising the competitive bar of the entire economic system.

          Identified as a more complex yet likewise urgent issue was the question of how to safeguard and bolster the competitiveness of Italy’s myriad of small and medium-sized enterprises, rich in technology and increasingly adept at operating in foreign markets.

          In this instance, it was felt that relations could, at least initially, be structured around a new institutional “point of contact”, which firms or their internal departments would be able to deal with directly, once again based on clearly-defined rules and firmly-rooted in the principles of constitutional propriety.

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