Intelligence alliances are often highly secretive and consequently poorly understood. Some argue that no secret services are friends with one another and point to the large amount of recent economic espionage by supposed allies. Others claim that clandestine agencies cooperate too closely and cannot be trusted by the states that employ them. The attacks of September 11 blurred the boundaries between friends and enemies even more, as Western agencies have now teamed up with unlikely partners in order to pursue a vigorous war on terrorism. The campaign in Afghanistan, however, reminds us of the importance of intelligence alliances and shows that the real priority is finding a robust doctrine that allows some regulation of the diverse friendships required by the war. Far from constituting a world of unyielding competition, intelligence alliances can teach would-be practitioners of liberal institutionalism about structures that radiate trust, order, and devotion to the public good.
Intelligence alliances are among the most closely guarded secrets of clandestine agencies. Inside large alliances, these organizations behave remarkably like states, with their own treaties, embassies, and emissaries. Such intelligence groupings are more common than most realize, and most Western agencies enjoy treaty relations with dozens of foreign equivalents, setting out rights, permissions, and, most importantly, their l)lace in the hierarchy of intelligence powers. The United States is at the top of this hierarchy, not only by virtue of its vast intelligence spending--over US$30 billion per year--but also because of its position as a global intelligence alliance manager.
Perspectives on the inner workings of intelligence alliances differ sharply. Some argue that clandestine agencies pursue national interests ruthlessly against friends and enemies alike. This secret statecraft school of thought is typified by the much-quoted adage: "There are no friendly secret services, only the secret services of friendly states." Conversely, others argue that agencies of different states operate together like an international brotherhood, and that this clandestine kinship means they often owe more allegiance to each other than to the stares they purport to serve. Whatever our perspective, the events of the last decade have created turbulence in the realm of intelligence alliances. The end of the Cold War left established allies with seemingly less need to cooperate after their common enemies had disappeared. Globalization and the quickening pace of technological change gave developed states more incentive to spy on each other in search of high-tech gains.
Public discussions of intelligence alliances have tended to focus upon the low politics of economic espionage between established allies, something that comes close to commercial theft. But the importance of this aspect has been exaggerated. In the last decade, real cooperation over issues such as nuclear proliferation has become increasingly important. Today, it is the war on terrorism and the exponential growth of US intelligence and military activities that pose urgent questions for the West. If the 20th century was characterized primarily by war, then the 21st century might well be one marked by terror. Terrorist organizations and the clandestine agencies of Western states operate in similar ways. In this new landscape of silent warfare, clandestine agencies may cease to be a supporting arm of defense and diplomacy, instead becoming themselves the cutting edge of foreign policy.
As these agencies increasingly pursue global issues, intelligence alliances will become yet more important. What kinds of intelligence alliances will be needed in this new landscape and how will they be managed?
Established allies fight over policy-related intelligence, corroding trust and undermining possibilities for high-level policy convergence. …