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Making Intelligence Accountable

1 January, 2005



List of Contents

Section I Introduction

Defining Democratic Oversight of Security and Intelligence Services

The Need for Oversight of the Security and Intelligence Services

In Search of Legal Standards and Best Practice of Oversight: Objectives, Scopeand Methodology

Section II The Agency

Defining the Mandate

Appointing the Director

Authorising the Use of Special Powers

Information and Files

Internal Direction and Control of the Agency

Section III The Role of the Executive

The Case for Executive Control

Ministerial Knowledge and the Control of Intelligence

Control over Covert Action

International Cooperation

Safeguards against Ministerial Abuse

Section IV The Role of Parliament

The Case for Parliamentary Oversight

The Mandate of Parliamentary Oversight Bodies

The Composition of a Parliamentary Oversight Body

Vetting and Clearance of the Oversight Body

Parliamentary Powers to Obtain Information and Documents

Reporting to Parliament

Budget Control

Section V: The Role of External Review Bodies

Resolving Citizens' Grievances

Oversight of Agencies within the Administration by Independent Authorities

Independent Audit Offices

Overview of Best Practice

Assistance rendered by third parties is gratefully acknowledged.

Funding for translations provided by OSCE. Printing facilitated by the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) in Albania.

Printing costs co-funded by OSCE mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

 Printing and distribution sponsored by the Norwegian Parliament.

Printing and distribution sponsored by the Norwegian Parliament.

Funding for translation and publication costs provided by the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC), Argentina.


Establishing a system of intelligence service accountability that is both democraticand efficient is one of the most daunting challenges faced by modern-day states.This arduous task is indispensable, however, as political guidance and direction tothe reform of intelligence services contributes to the avoidance of abuses as well as to the enhancement of efficiency for all participating branches of government.

Little systematic international comparison of democratic accountability overintelligence services has been carried out; as a result, no set of internationalstandards for democratic intelligence accountability has evolved. The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, the Norwegian ParliamentaryIntelligence Oversight Committee and the Human Rights Centre of the University ofDurham have teamed up to produce this publication which seeks to fill this gap bycataloguing and evaluating the legal standards that currently exist regardingdemocratic accountability of intelligence services. In doing so, this report alsoidentifies and recommends best practice applicable to both transition countries andwell-established democracies.

These standards and examples of best practice do not make the assumption thatthere is a single model of democratic oversight which works for all countries. Rather, the system of democratic oversight of intelligence services depends on a country’s history, constitutional and legal system as well as its democratic tradition and political culture.

The rules and practices that are accepted and effective in one place may be lessrelevant in another. Given these different realities, some of the suggestions within the handbook will inevitably appear unsuitable for some countries. This said, from ademocratic governance point of view, the oversight of the intelligence services is ashared responsibility of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. A soundsystem of checks and balances is necessary, in which the executive does not havethe exclusive privilege of overseeing the intelligence services. Thus, the intelligenceagencies themselves, national parliaments, as well as external review bodies all havea role to play in this endeavour.

It is hoped that this publication will enhance public awareness of this complex andimportant field of governance and that it will contribute to ensuring that security policy and practices genuinely reflect the aspirations of the people they are meant to serve.

Book Review: Intelligence & National Security, 21:4, (2006), 631- 649

"In essence, Making Intelligence Accountable is an admirable addition to theliterature regarding accountability and democratic oversight. Its strengths lie not somuch within the policy implementation areas covered, but more dramatically withinthe number and variety of countries analyzed. Rarely, if ever, has a book integratedexamples of positive oversight measures and best practices from so many countryexperiences: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Estonia,Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Africa,Turkey, the UK and the US are all included. The authors also adeptly integrate norms and standards for democratic oversight of intelligence services from such diverse sources as the UNDP, OECD, EU and OSCE. Furthermore, the authors take arefreshingly nuanced approach. Instead of providing a simple blueprint, Born andLeigh’s clearly expressed recommendations and relevant examples are meant to betaken as ‘a set of principles from which particular national rules may be developed’(p.23)."