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RAF MOLESWORTH, England — Earlier this year the seizure of Korean aid workers set in motion an effort to free the hostages that stretched from embassies in Seoul, South Korea, and Kabul, Afghanistan, to the mountainous badlands of Afghanistan and back to this Royal Air Force base.

At RAF Molesworth, officials at the newly minted NATO Intelligence Fusion Center provided critical imagery to German military officials participating in the search effort.

Twenty-three Korean volunteer workers were kidnapped by the Taliban on July 19. Insurgents killed two male hostages but later freed the rest.

The abductions were an early test of the Intelligence Fusion Center, where officials from 21 of 26 NATO nations have converged to create a new brand of intelligence, according to IFC commander U.S. Army Col. James E. Cashwell.

“We were able to get imagery to German pilots and crew that proved vital in their mission,” Cashwell said. “That just wasn’t possible before the IFC.”

The IFC last week celebrated becoming “fully operational” and next summer the approximately 160 personnel will move into a 20,000-square-foot, two-story structure designed for the IFC’s mission, Cashwell said. The installation is also home to the U.S. European Command’s Joint Analysis Center.

The new building will include rooms where each participating nation can privately tap into its intelligence network before officials converge to create NATO-specific rather than nation-specific intelligence reports.

Operating 24 hours a day, the IFC will theoretically allow a European commander operating in Afghanistan to access communications gleaned from the National Security Agency or satellite imagery from the National Reconnaissance Office.

The center is the result of a 2002 pledge made by NATO representatives at a conference in Prague, Czech Republic, to foster an environment of greater intelligence cooperation.

Steven Aftergood, who serves as a senior research analyst for the Washington-based independent think tank, Federation of American Scientists, said IFC’s goal is well-founded in theory, but may be difficult to achieve in practice.

“There’s a bureaucratic tendency to hold back the best stuff,” Aftergood said. “Everyone wants to protect their best sources and people are worried about being misled even by their friends and allies.”

Thus far, the United States has supplied 90 percent of the $35 million start-up funds as well as the $11 million annual operating budget, Cashwell said. In return, the U.S. maintains the leadership post at the center.

Cashwell said the IFC serves each member country differently. For the United States and its long-standing NATO partners, the IFC is just part of a much larger network of intelligence sources.

But for emerging NATO countries in Eastern Europe, information provided by the fusion center may serve as their primary source of intelligence.

While its goal is to provide a new brand of intelligence in which NATO members jointly influence reports, the outcome has not always pleased the sponsor and the host.

“We’ve produced products that the U.S. and U.K. have asked us to withdraw,” Cashwell said.

The IFC is not permitted to collect or report intelligence on member countries and NATO membership is a strict requirement for entry, according to Aftergood.

John Pike, who serves as the director of the Virginia-based military information clearinghouse globalsecurity.org, said the IFC will serve its purpose, but cannot diminish contradictory national interests.

“No amount of intelligence sharing can overcome political disagreements that result from basic policy differences or inconsistent national interests,” Pike wrote in an e-mail.

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