The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has opened an espionage hub in Poland, in a bid to strengthen the 29-member military alliance’s ability to gather intelligence amid tensions with Russia.
Located in the southern city of Krakow, the new facility is focused on "developing the basic norms, principles and activities" for NATO allies’ spy agencies, Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said during the opening ceremony on Thursday.
Noting that espionage "covers all areas of life" today, the official said the military and critical civilian infrastructure were more than ever vulnerable to cyber-tools and conventional spying.
The Counter Intelligence Centre of Excellence (CI COE) is NATO’s 24th formally endorsed COE, which according to the alliance’s website, “aims to expand the capabilities of the alliance and its member nations to enhance NATO counter-intelligence and improve interoperability.”
The COEs are coordinated by the Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in Norfolk, the US state of Virginia, and carry out a range of activities from cyber defense and military medicine to counter-terrorism.
Speaking at the presence of his Hungarian, Romanian and Slovak counterparts, Macierewicz said the new center was “fundamentally important, especially in the face of threats from Russia.”
NATO's relations with Moscow have hit their lowest point since the Cold War over the conflict in Ukraine, leading to a spike in espionage claims on both sides.
Earlier this month, NATO claimed that Russia was targeting allied soldiers’ smartphones seeking information on operations and troop strength.
In August, Lithuania’s Defense Ministry announced that NATO air police jets had intercepted Russian spy planes above the Baltic Sea on three occasions in just two days.
Moscow, on the other hand, has been critical of Washington for establishing a missile network in Europe and on the Korean Peninsula that the Kremlin says can gather information on Russia using their advanced radars.
NATO has been deploying weapons and equipment to its eastern frontier with Russia, backed by four international battalions that the US-led alliance’s officials say act as tripwires against possible “Russian aggression.”
In May, the US Army set up a new European headquarters in Poland to command some 6,000 of its troops deployed across the alliance's eastern flank since the beginning of this year.