Skip to main content
book

Secrets and Spies

UK Intelligence Accountability after Iraq and Snowden

By Jamie Gaskarth
Cvr: Secrets and Spies

Exploring how intelligence professionals view accountability in the context of twenty-first century politics

How can democratic governments hold intelligence and security agencies accountable when what they do is largely secret? Using the UK as a case study, this book addresses this question by providing the first systematic exploration of how accountability is understood inside the secret world. It is based on new interviews with current and former UK intelligence practitioners, as well as extensive research into the performance and scrutiny of the UK intelligence machinery. The result is the first detailed analysis of how intelligence professionals view their role, what they feel keeps them honest, and how far external overseers impact on their work

Moving beyond the conventional focus on oversight, the book examines how accountability works in the day to day lives of these organizations, and considers the impact of technological and social changes, such as artificial intelligence and social media.

The UK is a useful case study as it is an important actor in global intelligence, gathering material that helps inform global decisions on such issues as nuclear proliferation, terrorism, transnational crime, and breaches of international humanitarian law. On the flip side, the UK was a major contributor to the intelligence failures leading to the Iraq war in 2003, and its agencies were complicit in the widely discredited U.S. practices of torture and “rendition” of terrorism suspects. UK agencies have come under greater scrutiny since those actions, but it is clear that problems remain. The book concludes with a series of suggestions for improvement, including the creation of intelligence ethics committees, allowing the public more input into intelligence decisions.

The issues explored in this book have important implications for researchers, intelligence professionals, overseers, and the public when it comes to understanding and scrutinizing intelligence practice.

A Chatham House Insights Series book

Praise for Secrets and Spies

“Open society is increasingly defended by secret means. For this reason, oversight has never been more important. This book offers a new exploration of the widening world of accountability for UK intelligence, encompassing formal as well as informal mechanisms. It substantiates its claims well, drawing on an impressive range of interviews with senior figures. This excellent book offers both new information and fresh interpretations. It will have a major impact.”
—Richard J. Aldrich, professor of international security, University of Warwick

“Gaskarth’s novel approach, interpreting interviews with senior figures from the intelligence world, brings fresh insight on a significant yet contested topic. He offers an impressively holistic account of intelligence accountability—both formal and informal—and, most interestingly of all, of how those involved understand it. This is essential reading for those wanting to know what accountability means and how it is enacted.”
—Rory Cormac, professor of international relations, University of Nottingham

Reviews and Related Articles

Get daily updates from Brookings