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«Relations between Intelligence Services and Policy Makers: An Analysis of challenges and their causes This article addresses the relations between ...»

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Gintaras Bagdonas*

European Union Military Staff **

Relations between Intelligence

Services and Policy Makers:

An Analysis of challenges

and their causes

This article addresses the relations between intelligence services and political institutions

in democratic countries and overviews the main causes of both challenges and the tensions

between these issues. The purpose of this publication is to analyze the relations between

intelligence services and political institutions of contemporary democratic countries, to determine the fundamental challenges and disagreements of these institutions and to offer suggestions on how to avoid, or at least to reduce, these challenges and their affect on the intelligence activities.

The main dilemmas in these relationships are caused by an insufficient understanding of the role, capabilities, and limitation of intelligence. This is why the article starts with the analysis of the tasks of intelligence and determines its definition. The article deals with the main problems arising in the relationship between intelligence services and political institutions: the lack of clear priorities and requirements provided to the intelligence services; deficiencies in ‘feedback’; the over-familiarity or, on the contrary, absence of interaction in the relationship; and the politicization of intelligence.

Whilst acknowledging the inevitable challenge of politicians seeking to affect the process of intelligence, this article aims to avoid the negative effect of politicization of intelligence. It offers a solution to create systematic relations based on confidence and a professional understanding of each other’s different responsibilities, capabilities and restrictions. The emphasis is on the balanced divide between domains of politics and intelligence.

Introduction Although almost two decades have passed since the crumbling of the Soviet Union, the world has not become a safer place. The spectre of threats,

risks and challenges to the security of countries and people has become increBrig. Gen. Gintaras Bagdonas is a Director Intelligence of EU Military Staff. Address for correspondence:

* Rue de la Loi 175, BE 1048 Brussels. Tel.: 0032 2 281 59 05, e-mail: gintaras.bagdonas@consilium.

europa.eu The views and evaluations expressed in this article are purely those of the writer and may not in any ** circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of the EU Council and should not be attributed to the Ministry of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania and its institutions.

asingly varied. Challenges to the safety of democratic societies are posed by both asymmetric threats such as terrorism and organized crime and also by the ‘old’ threats and challenges originating from totalitarian states and from the collapse of countries due to political crises, emerging military conflicts followed by humanitarian disasters, ethnic cleansing, genocide and migration problems.

Additionally, there are new phenomena of the 21st Century creating security problems to the democratic communities, which must also be added to this spectre of threats. Among these are cybernetic dangers, information wars and other use of information in order to get political dividends in the international arena or domestic politics, challenges to energy security and problems originating from global warming. In contemporary democratic countries the role of intelligence in safeguarding national security is more important than ever.

In democratic countries, most public debates on the subject of intelligence are usually connected to the failures of intelligence: for example, when a certain dramatic event or so called ‘strategic surprise’ 1 takes place, discussions on the efficiency gaps of intelligence are raised. It is not sufficient to organize the intelligence service itself and its inner activity when it comes to the successful execution of tasks given to it. In a democratic state intelligence does not work for itself. Depending on the results of intelligence, other institutions make necessary decisions and initiate appropriate actions. An intelligence organisation of a democratic country works on behalf of the customers of intelligence information: governments, politicians and other decision makers2.

Intelligence services are authorized to collect and analyze information by institutions that need certain intelligence data. In the terminology of intelligence, these institutions (mainly the institutions of executive government responsible for the foreign, security and defence policy of a country) are often called the ‘customers’ of intelligence. The success or failure of intelligence may depend on the relationship with these customers. This is why one of the most important conditions of efficiency of intelligence activity is the clearly defined and harmonious relationship between intelligence services and their consumers.

An element of these relations is the necessity for customers of intelligence to understand what intelligence services can and what they can not do, to strengthen the security of a country and society and to ensure their national interests.

As the historian Walter Laqueur wrote:

Intelligence not only has to train new recruits but also to educate its customers.

This is a formidable task because the latter, at a more advanced age, are very busy people, sure of their own judgement […]. They have to be convinced of what intelligence can, and what it cannot, achieve3.

For more information on the ‘strategic surprise’ and on it‘s relation to intelligence look at: Handel I. M.

War, Strategy and Intelligence, London: Frank Cass, 1989, p. 229 – 281.

Nomikos M. J., “European Union Intelligence Agency: a necessary institution for Common Intelligence Policy?” Look: Koutrakou N.V., Contemporary issues and debates in EU policy. The European Union and international relations. Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York: 2004, p. 39 Laqeuer, W., A Word of Secrets: The Uses and Limits of Intelligence, New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1985, p. 343.

The goal of this paper is: to analyze the relations between intelligence:

and other governmental institutions, which are closely connected to intelligence services in one way or another; to identify the main challenges and disagreements emerging between these institutions; to determine the reasons for these problems; and to provide possible solutions in order to avoid these challenges or at least to mitigate against them. The scope of the article will only focus on the analysis of relations between intelligence and its customers (i.e. decisionmakers). It will not address the issue of parliamentary control and oversight of intelligence services. As far as this function is independent from the role and responsibilities of executive governance in relation to intelligence services.

This article is based on author’s personal experience as well as on books and publications released mainly in English. It is confined only to the practice of intelligence services of democratic countries and does not refer to any of them specifically.

1. What is Intelligence?

A frequently occurring problem in the relations between intelligence services and customers of intelligence is the different understandings of the role intelligence plays in safeguarding the national security of a country. It would seem that the easiest way to determine what intelligence can do and what it cannot do is to create a unified definition defining the tasks, functions and spheres of intelligence. The problem is that there are many definitions of intelligence. Even countries with long lasting traditions of intelligence have not created a united clear definition. The United States of America alone has more than ten different definitions of intelligence4. Firstly, a distinction between the two words – intelligence and information – is needed. The latter can be used to describe any knowledge regardless of the methods used for obtaining it. In the words of a former long-time US officer of intelligence and the current President of the US Academy of Intelligence and Security and professor of the University of Columbia, Mark M. Lowenthal, intelligence is information that has already been systematized, processed and evaluated, and that satisfies the expressed needs of decision or policy maker5. Although it canot be argued against, this definition is not thorough because it does not reveal the reason for collecting intelligence.

The Law on Intelligence of the Republic of Lithuania defines four intelligence related definitions: intelligence, intelligence activity, intelligence

information and intelligence service6:

Warner, M. “Wanted: A Definition of “Intelligence””, https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/docs/v46i3a02p.htm, 2008-06-22.

Lowenthal, M. M., Intelligence: from Secrets to Policy, third edition, Washington D.C. CQ Press, 2006, p.2.

Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, the Law on Intelligence, Article No 2, 2000-07-17, Nr. VIII-1861, Žin., 2000, Nr. 64-1931, p.2., http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=171400, (in Lithuanian), 2008-06-15.

Intelligence – activity of intelligence service that use special and operational methods and means in order to protect a person’s, a society’s and a state’s security from external threats.

Intelligence activity – the collection, procession and analysis of intelligence information and other actions taken by an intelligence service in order to guarantee national security.

Intelligence information – data about actions, plans or intentions of foreign states, organizations or persons which pose or could pose threats, risk factors or dangers to Lithuanian state from exterior, also other data which is relevant in guaranteeing national security.

Intelligence services – subdivision (subdivisions) of institutions with special authorization from the state, which are assigned by this law to carry out intelligence activity.

As can be seen from the above Act, Lithuanian intelligence encompasses three components: intelligence is a service that uses methods of intelligence activity, collects and processes intelligence information, which is important to national security.

Most openly accessible sources refer to intelligence in a similar way. In addition, American political scientists Abram N. Shulsky and Gary J. Schmitt call intelligence (not linking it to intelligence services or activity) the information that is needed to secure a government’s policy, to support a country’s national security interests and to deal with threats stemming from adversaries or opponents7. This definition names the customers of intelligence and outlines the reasons for carrying out intelligence activity, but like the definition of Lowenthal it does not explain the core of intelligence practice. Before trying to define intelligence, it is important to understand that it is a constantly ongoing process (also called ‘Cycle’) which consists of many closely related processes depending on each others components. In shaping intelligence activity this

process is usually presented as below (Figure 1)8:

–  –  –

Shulsky N. A., Schmitt J. G., Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence, Washington, D.C.:

Potomac Books, Inc., 2002, p. 1.

Turner A. M., Why Secret Intelligence Fails Dules, Virginia: Potomac Books, Inc., 2005, p. 9.

• Planning and direction – In this stage priorities are set down, the intelligence service gets appropriate authorizations, tasks and requirements of decision makers, politicians and other consumers, in order to carry out intelligence activity;

• Collection - In this stage subdivisions of intelligence gather the required information. In this stage various means of information collection (e.g.

technical intelligence, human intelligence and openly available sources of information) are employed;

• Processing - In this stage collected information is evaluated and if necessary translated or deciphered, the relevance and reliability of this information is assessed. Also at this stage, information can be in certain ways sanitized in order to protect the sources of information or the methods used to gather it;

• Analysis and production - In this part of the cycle analysts analyze the information, evaluate it, make forecasts and conclusions and work up the appropriate form for delivery of intelligence to the customers;

• Dissemination - i.e. submission of final intelligence product to the customer, politician or other decision maker.

This is a simplified and theoretical model of intelligence. In practice, when organizing intelligence activity this process is not necessarily fulfilled in the exact order as presented above. In some cases, for example when generating the so-called ‘early warning’ about threats, intelligence information on likely short term threats to the security of the society or the state is introduced to consumers straight after receiving it. Another frequent deviation from this process of intelligence happens at the very beginning. While planning the intelligence activity, a politician or another policy maker does not form the requirements of intelligence and does not set the priorities. This has a negative affect on the intelligence activity and distorts the intelligence process. The latter problem will be analyzed in more detail later in the article.

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