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Intelligence Accountability

The intelligence sector represents a last frontier in democratization and Security Sector Reform (SSR) processes. As many established democracies have demonstrated, democratic governance and the rule of law reach the intelligence sector long after becoming well-established in other areas of the state. In many established democracies, the germination of intelligence oversight systems has followed a common trajectory: certain activities of intelligence services generate concerns about encroachment on legitimate democratic processes and the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, which provoke a season of inquiry and soul-searching, with the creation of new oversight mechanisms as a result of the foregoing.

Post-conflict and emerging democracies need not take this reactive approach. “Transition” presents these contexts with a gilt-edged opportunity to lay down robust legal and institutional foundations for the oversight of intelligence services. However, we must remain mindful that the establishment of these foundations is but one small step in the interminable and challenging process of ensuring that services are not only effective in protecting national security, public safety, and human rights, but also respectful of the rule of law and democratic praxis. Accomplishing these aims on a long-term basis requires ongoing interest, vigilance, and dedication on the part of the stakeholders involved in oversight, as well as assiduous efforts to evaluate and improve systems of oversight.

Since its inception in 2000, DCAF has developed a well-established track record of research projects and publications on the democratic and civilian oversight of intelligence services. 

The results of these policy and research projects are presented below, along the below categories.

Photo: Adam Schiff, Wikimedia


Within our broader support to the UN, we have a focus on the following priorities: 
•    Mapping UN efforts to reform national defence sectors;
•    Learning from past experiences in the integration of ex-combatants into the security sector;
•    Enhancing multilateral cooperation in the field of SSR;
•    Improving coherence between policy and practice; and 
•    Raising awareness of the role of SSR in the implementation of two major UN agendas: (1) the sustaining peace agenda and (2) the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Making Intelligence Accountable: Legal Standards and Best Practice for Oversight of Intelligence Agencies 
Hans Born and Ian Leigh, 2005
Little systematic international comparison of democratic accountability over intelligence services has been carried out; as a result, no set of international standards for democratic intelligence accountability has evolved. Over 23 chapters, this handbook seeks to fill the to fill this gap by cataloguing and evaluating the legal standards that currently exist regarding democratic accountability of intelligence services. In doing so, this report also identifies and recommends best practice applicable to both transition countries and well-established democracies. These standards and examples of best practice do not make the assumption that there 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 handbook has been translated into 15 languages and was made possible due to the generous support of the Parliament of Norway’s Intelligence Oversight Committee (EOS).

Overseeing Intelligence Services: A Toolkit 
Hans Born and Aidan Wills, 2012
DCAF's toolkit on overseeing intelligence services is a compendium of booklets (tools) written by leading experts on intelligence governance from around the world. It provides policy-relevant information on the establishment and consolidation of independent bodies to oversee state organisations involved in the collection, analysis, production and dissemination of intelligence in the national security domain. The toolkit's principal innovation is its provision of detailed guidance on the oversight of specific areas of intelligence services' activities (please see below for a full list of the tools). Acknowledging that there is no single 'best' approach to organising and conducting oversight, the toolkit's guidance is based on examples from almost twenty countries.
The toolkit focuses primarily on oversight by parliamentary committees and expert non-parliamentary bodies (e.g. supreme audit institutions and data protection commissions) and, to a lesser extent, on oversight by (quasi)judicial bodies. The toolkit is, however, likely to be of broad interest to the following groups:

  • persons involved in the design and establishment of oversight systems;
  • civil society organisations and media that monitor and evaluate the work of oversight bodies;
  • members of organisations that are subject to oversight by these bodies; and
  • members and staffers of oversight bodies.

This publication is available in 12 languages and has been made possible by the generous support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

Making International Intelligence Cooperation Accountable 
Hans Born, Ian Leigh and Aidan Wills, 2015
Intelligence services perform a valuable service to democratic societies in protecting national security, including safeguarding the fundamental freedoms and human rights of their members. The secret nature of intelligence work can, however, put the services at odds with the principles of an open society. This applies in particular to international cooperation, where intelligence services try to keep secret why, how, with whom and when they cooperate with other states. Until relatively recently, international intelligence cooperation was a black box, impenetrable to public scrutiny, about which states gave very little or no information. The secrecy surrounding international cooperation was so high that it was thought to be impossible to address issues of accountability.

Against this backdrop, the aim of the guide is to provide practical and specific guidance on how accountability and oversight of international intelligence cooperation can be strengthened on the basis of practical examples. It is based on international comparative research of legal and institutional frameworks of intelligence oversight, combined with in-depth interviews with former intelligence officials and intelligence overseers. It covers recent developments in intelligence cooperation, domestic and international standards, as well as internal and external oversight of international cooperation. The guide is an invaluable and practical tool for everyone concerned about accountability in this important but challenging field.

This publication was made possible due to the generous support of the Parliament of Norway’s Intelligence Oversight Committee (EOS).



Compilation of good practices on legal and institutional frameworks and measures that ensure respect for human rights by intelligence agencies while countering terrorism 
DCAF contributions to the Compilation, endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in its Fourteenth session, 2010 
This document is a compilation of good practices on legal and institutional frameworks and measures that ensure respect for human rights by intelligence agencies while countering terrorism, including on their oversight, as requested by the Human Rights Council and prepared by the Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Prof. Dr Martin Scheinin (European University Institute). The compilation is the outcome of a consultation process where Governments, experts and practitioners in various ways provided their input. 
The publication benefited from a grant of the Institute for Human Rights at Åbo Akademi University in Turku, Finland.

Intelligence: Parliamentary Oversight of Security and Intelligence Agencies in The European Union
Aidan Wills (DCAF), Mathias Vermeulen (EUI), 2011
The study evaluates the oversight of national security and intelligence agencies by parliaments and specialised non-parliamentary oversight bodies, with a view to identifying good practices that can inform the European Parliament’s approach to strengthening the oversight of Europol, Eurojust, Frontex and, to a lesser extent, Sitcen. The study puts forward a series of detailed recommendations (including in the field of access to classified information) that are formulated on the basis of in-depth assessments of: 

  • the current functions and powers of these four bodies; 
  • existing arrangements for the oversight of these bodies by the European Parliament, the Joint Supervisory Bodies and national parliaments; and 
  • the legal and institutional frameworks for parliamentary and specialised oversight of security and intelligence agencies in EU Member States and other major democracies.


International Intelligence Cooperation and Accountability 
Hans Born, Aidan Wills (DCAF), Mathias Vermeulen (EUI), 2011
This book examines how international intelligence cooperation has come to prominence post-9/11 and introduces the main accountability, legal and human rights challenges that it poses. Since the end of the Cold War, the threats that intelligence services are tasked with confronting have become increasingly transnational in nature – organised crime, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. The growth of these threats has impelled intelligence services to cooperate with contemporaries in other states to meet these challenges. While cooperation between certain Western states in some areas of intelligence operations (such as signals intelligence) is longstanding, since 9/11 there has been an exponential increase in both their scope and scale.
This edited volume explores not only the challenges to accountability presented by international intelligence cooperation but also possible solutions for strengthening accountability for activities that are likely to remain fundamental to the work of intelligence services. The book will be of much interest to students of intelligence studies, security studies, international law, global governance and IR in general.

This publication has been made possible due to the financial support of the Parliament of Norway’s Intelligence Oversight Committee (EOS).

Democratic Control of Intelligence Services – Containing Rogue Elephants 
Hans Born and Marina Caparini, 2007
 The events of September 11, 2001 sharply revived governmental and societal anxieties in many democratic countries concerning the threats posed by terrorism, organized crime, the proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction, and other complex security threats. In many countries, public discourse of subjects traditionally considered part of social policy, such as immigration and asylum, have been securitized, while intelligence services have been granted greater resources and expanded powers. This comprehensive volume discusses the various challenges of establishing and maintaining accountable and democratically controlled intelligence services, drawing both from states with well-established democratic systems and those emerging from authoritarian systems and in transition towards democracy. It adopts a multidisciplinary and comparative approach, identifying good practices to make security services accountable to society and its democratic representatives. The volume will engage both academics and practitioners in the discussion of how to anchor these vital yet inherently difficult to control institutions within a firmly democratic framework. As such, it has clear relevance for these concerned with the control and oversight of intelligence and security issues in many countries.

Who’s Watching the Spies? Establishing Intelligence Service Accountability
Hans Born, Loch K. Johnson and Ian Leigh, 2005
Given recent experiences with terrorism, clearly even the most democratic societies have a legitimate need for secrecy. This secrecy has often been abused, however, and strong oversight systems are necessary to protect individual liberties.
The assembled authors, each well known in the international community of national security scholars, bring together in one volume the rich experience of three decades of experimentation in intelligence accountability. Using a structured approach, they examine the strengths and weaknesses of the intelligence systems of Argentina, Canada, Germany, Norway, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States. While these democracies have experimented with methods to make intelligence more accountable, they all have different political systems, political cultures, legal systems, and democratic traditions, thereby presenting an exceptional opportunity to examine how intelligence accountability evolves under disparate circumstances. The contributors draw together the best practices into a framework for successful approaches to intelligence accountability, including a prescription for a model law.