Florina Cristiana Matai and Carolyn Halladay (eds.) The Conduct of Intelligence in Democracies: Processes, Practices, Cultures (Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2019), 277 pp.

Reviewed by: Tania Sebastian, Assistant Professor of Law, VIT School of Law, Chennai.

The Conduct of Intelligence in Democracies demands the attention of anyone interested in the Intelligence-and-Democracy dynamics and dilemmas. The book brings together comparative scholarly work on the equation between Intelligence and Democracy and includes the interplay between collecting, planning, policy-making, law enforcement, intelligence sharing, classified information and the culture of national intelligence. The book collates international approaches to the study of intelligence and provides reflections on the next significant steps for furthering current intelligence mechanisms in democracies. This approach provides a better understanding of the relationship between elected leaders and intelligence agencies.

The equation explored between Intelligence and Democracy is achieved through various trajectories of national security, freedom of information, legitimacy and policy is insightful in the portrayal as the way forward for democracies. It is highlighted that to maintain democratic trajectory and to serve democracies, intelligence agencies must engage in clandestine activities or exploit secret sources and methods—measures that on their face do not agree with the open free society that democracies seek to sustain. Such activities pose a great danger to democracy itself and are a central theme of the book. This introduction is followed by an exploration of the dangers that successful democracies in regard to its intelligence function with. A democracy has to work through the benefits that are attained by the secret process of intelligence and the necessity of transparency—a balance that needs to be realized in principle and practice in politics and policymaking. The book explores the paradox that secrecy creates in the presence of democracy while admitting that experience shows that this conflict cannot be done away with.  However a proper balance between secrecy and openness based on perceptions of threat and necessity at a given point of time can “make intelligence safe for democracy” (p.229).

The book addresses covert operations and the correlation between intelligence and law enforcement, peace operations, intelligence sharing, intelligence fusion, counterinsurgency, public-versus-private issues, and lastly on intelligence accountability and culture in a democracy. These parameters are examined in light of the relationship between media and intelligence, and challenges and opportunities for institutionalization of an intelligence culture in a democracy. Also expressed in the book are incentives for democratic reforms of intelligence: personal prestige and recognition, awareness and understanding of threats, financial support and assistance. Protection of whistleblowers and providing information to a larger audience are laced with ethical dilemmas for democracies especially at the stance of criminal and legal prosecution.

The other dimension that finds focus in the book is the relevance of information and response from a societal viewpoint. This relevance is a result of the fact that one cannot belittle information and response in safeguarding national security in a democracy. The challenges to the intelligence function are addressed with the realization that there has to be a balance between effective intelligence and transparency and accountability, especially from policymaker’s viewpoint. The book looks into numerous democracies, specifically the Five Eyes (USA, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) to examine how these nations have incorporated intelligence in their economies and whether the work in progress of balancing security with transparency can be taken forward in a way that does not jeopardize either. The approach in this book seeks to address the unique challenges that newer intelligence organizations face as they strive to develop analytic capabilities. This volume appropriately engages with themes such as the rise of sophisticated technology and analytic work, the use of covert operations by democratic government as foreign policy instrument.

Addressing the contemporary issue of the need for cooperation and coordination among intelligence security agencies, on the ground realities are examined. The reality that a large and established democracy can no longer handle its security threats on its own and hence require intelligence sharing relations are formed. This brings with it problems that inhibit effective intelligence sharing and the challenges inherent in creating mutually acceptable agreements. The focus on new democracies is relevant as are the correctives they employ to ensure the success of the intelligence cycle in an environment post 9/11 that has led to shift in peace and rhythm of strategic intelligence. The rudiments of policy and planning for long term with the optimum aid of various modes of sensors and platforms necessary to monitor the top national-security priorities are examined.  Fundamental issues such as a clear definition of counterintelligence are addressed in consideration of its relationship with intelligence activities in a democracy and its future.

Contributors to the book have provided possible mitigation strategies to overcome, whenever possible, the Intelligence-and-Democracy dilemmas by suggestions for newer intelligence services, and by engaging with policymakers. They have provided a theoretical review of the roles and tradecraft of counter-intelligence in democracy. They advocate for a well-established system that can provide safeguards to organizations and governments for national interest. They look at fundamental theoretical concepts of the nexus of law enforcement and intelligence and the challenges they present to democracies. These challenges include catching criminals while tracking terrorists, and how safeguards can play a role in maintaining a balance in democracies so that excess is not the case. The authors also warn about the scope of counterinsurgency carried out in a democratic setting and the contemporary debates of the public-private divide about reconfiguration of public authority. The book also mentions the important aspect of the UN’s doctrinal framework to illustrate how intelligence can be made compatible with UN democracy and transparency, especially in the peacekeeping intelligence.

This book adds to the preexisting literature on the role of secret intelligence organizations in democratic governance and democratic oversight of intelligence agencies, which has been achieved by bringing together experts in their respective fields to give theoretical review of roles and tradecraft of counterintelligence in democracy. The lacunae of representation of experts from the developing world economies is a shortcoming of the book, especially in an age of realization that developed world policies and experiences cannot form for import into other economies.


Feature Image Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe (edited from original)