Reforming Intelligence: Obstacles to Democratic Control and Effectiveness

Reforming Intelligence: Obstacles to Democratic Control and Effectiveness

Reforming Intelligence: Obstacles to Democratic Control and Effectiveness

Reforming Intelligence: Obstacles to Democratic Control and Effectiveness


These days, it's rare to pick up a newspaper and not see a story related to intelligence. From the investigations of the 9/11 commission, to accusations of illegal wiretapping, to debates on whether it's acceptable to torture prisoners for information, intelligence- both accurate and not- is driving domestic and foreign policy. And yet, in part because of its inherently secretive nature, intelligence has received very little scholarly study. Into this void comes Reforming Intelligence, a timely collection of case studies written by intelligence experts, and sponsored by the Center for Civil-Military Relations (CCMR) at the Naval Postgraduate School, that collectively outline the best practices for intelligence services in the United States and other democratic states.

Reforming Intelligencesuggests that intelligence is best conceptualized as a subfield of civil-military relations, and is best compared through institutions. The authors examine intelligence practices in the United States, United Kingdom, and France, as well as such developing democracies as Brazil, Taiwan, Argentina, and Russia. While there is much more data related to established democracies, there are lessons to be learned from states that have created (or re-created) intelligence institutions in the contemporary political climate. In the end, reading about the successes of Brazil and Taiwan, the failures of Argentina and Russia, and the ongoing reforms in the United States yields a handful of hard truths. In the murky world of intelligence, that's an unqualified achievement.


Robert Jervis

Intelligence and intelligence services are simultaneously necessary for democracy and a threat to it. But this topic is remarkably little developed. There are bookshelves of studies of civil-military relations but almost no counterpart investigations of intelligence. Intelligence failures have fascinated scholars (and exasperated decision makers), but even here our knowledge is thin, and in other areas of intelligence the studies are thinner. This is particularly true for examinations of countries other than the advanced democracies and a few selected dictatorships like Nazi Germany. The essays in this volume are an excellent start to filling these gaps.


Intelligence services are vital and troublesome. They are vital because to thrive, or even to survive, the state has to understand its environment and assess actual and potential adversaries. Without good intelligence, a country will thrash about blindly or allow threats to grow without taking countermeasures. It is trite to say that knowledge is power, and perhaps it is more accurate to say that knowledge is needed if power is to be used well. But while we can debate the exact contribution intelligence makes to policy and the extent to which superior intelligence has countered or won wars, it is hard to believe that the role is negligible. Leaders certainly value intelligence; Winston Churchill referred to code breakers as his “hens” because they brought him golden eggs.

Intelligence services also can be troublesome, even leaving aside the problems they can create when they are inadequate. If knowledge contributes to power, then those who have the knowledge are powerful . . .

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