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Journal Articles Review of International Studies Year : 2023

Towards democratic intelligence oversight: Limits, practices, struggles


Despite its common usage, the meaning of ‘democratic’ in democratic intelligence oversight has rarely been spelled out. In this paper, we situate questions regarding intelligence oversight within broader debates about the meanings and practices of democracy. We argue that the literature on intelligence oversight has tended to implicitly or explicitly follow liberal and technocratic ideas of democracy, which have limited the understanding of oversight both in academia and in practice. Thus, oversight is mostly understood as an expert, institutional and partially exclusive arrangement that is supposed to strike a balance between individual freedom and collective security with the goal of establishing the legitimacy of, and trust in intelligence work in a national setting. ‘Healthy’ or ‘efficient’ democratic oversight then becomes a matter of technical expertise, non-partisanship, and the ability to guard secrets. By analysing three moments of struggle around what counts as intelligence oversight across Germany, the UK, and the USA, this paper elucidates their democratic stakes. Through a practice-based approach, we argue that oversight takes much more agonistic, contentious, transnational, and public forms. However, these democratic practices reconfiguring oversight remain contested or contained by dominant views on what constitutes legitimate and effective intelligence oversight.
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Dates and versions

hal-03952695 , version 1 (23-01-2023)
hal-03952695 , version 2 (20-03-2023)
hal-03952695 , version 3 (23-03-2023)
hal-03952695 , version 4 (30-05-2023)


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Ronja Kniep, L. Ewert, Bernardino León-Reyes, Félix Tréguer, Emma Mc Cluskey, et al.. Towards democratic intelligence oversight: Limits, practices, struggles. Review of International Studies, 2023, 39 p. ⟨10.1017/S0260210523000013⟩. ⟨hal-03952695v4⟩
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