Skip to main content


Back to Resources

Rethinking Engagement Between Intelligence Services and Civil Society

17 March, 2021


In recent years, the concept of democratic oversight has been extended to include the role played by civil society in overseeing the security sector. Despite this, national security and in particular, the intelligence community, are generally viewed as within the exclusive domain of the executive.

Where civil society plays a role in overseeing the intelligence sector, it generally does so through traditional means of public oversight, such as advocacy. While underscoring the importance of such strategies, this Thematic Brief suggests that under certain conditions they may be complimented by other approaches.

It details the conditions under which the interests of intelligence services and civil society may coincide and presents several strategies for intelligence services undergoing reform processes to engage with civil society. Such dialogue can have many benefits: from improving the quality of intelligence work to identifying ways to enhance the oversight and management of intelligence activity. It is nevertheless important to stress that in general the roles of civil society and intelligence services should be strictly separated to ensure the independence of the former, and that only under certain conditions should intelligence services consider engaging civil society.