Intelligence as Democratic Statecraft: Accountability and Governance of Civil-Intelligence Relations across the Five Eyes Security Community - the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand

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Intelligence as Democratic Statecraft: Accountability and Governance of Civil-Intelligence Relations across the Five Eyes Security Community - the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand by Christian Leuprecht and Hayley McNorton. Oxford University Press, 2021, 272 pp.

To write a negative review of a book presents a challenge. After all, one must be judicious rather than cleverly churlish. Yet when a book disappoints, honesty is called for. Intelligence as Democratic Statecraft is such a book.

Christian Leuprecht, a Royal Military College of Canada professor with an extensive list of publications and media activities to his credit, and Hayley McNorton, a fellow at Queen’s University’s Centre for International and Defense Policy, have aimed their book at the specialist and the interested layperson alike. On the one hand, they wish to prompt the discipline to engage in comparative studies of oversight; on the other, they seek to educate the layperson whose cynicism about intelligence activities stems in part from a poor understanding of those activities and the institutional mechanisms developed over the decades within the intelligence alliance of the Five Eyes countries—the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—to ensure that they are carried out in a manner consistent with democratic principles.

The first chapter attempts to address the tension between democracy and intelligence (or surveillance), a tension which the authors to some extent suggest is more apparent than real: indeed, they claim that intelligence is integral to democracy’s survival. A literature review serves as the second chapter, and here they suggest that although some comparative work does exist, their contribution is unique in focusing on the Five Eyes community. The heart of the book consists of one chapter for each country, offering a condensed history of intelligence activities and a compilation of the various bodies and institutions developed to exercise oversight. Putting together all this information was clearly laborious; to some extent, these chapters can serve as a handy reference. Their penultimate chapter serves to illustrate the comparative aspect of the project by noting similarities and differences in approaches to oversight. In the final chapter, Leuprecht and McNorton cast a wider net by offering some final thoughts on intelligence accountability within democratic states.

If done well, the book could have been valuable. It suffers, however, from numerous defects. On a theoretical level, it is strange indeed that a book concerned with democratic statecraft and large bureaucracies engages so little with relevant literature from political science or public administration. Concepts like democratic control, bureaucratic drift, or regulatory capture, extensively explored in relevant literature, are of obvious interest to anyone exploring tensions between intelligence agencies and democratic values. It is simply not enough to make repeated references to Samuel Huntington; citing the work of John Keane surprises because his notion of monitory democracy is germane.1 As a matter of technique, the comparative approach offered here is inadequate as it seems to rely mostly on juxtaposition rather than analysis: a framework explained in advance and then illustrated through application to cases would have been useful.2

The authors say that their book is informed by a principal-agent approach, but the concept has little obvious impact on the book. Their periodic insistence on the importance of society fails truly to show why it is important. Relatedly, it is simply assumed that intelligence officers are professionals of a certain sort with no attention paid to how intelligence officers are inculcated with democratic values. And their own claim that “the crux of this book, through inductive empirical comparison, has been to explore how to build or improve an accountability system that supports intelligence communities so they reflect those values” is just not borne out (201).

The book uses, as it probably must, a dazzling array of abbreviations. A convenient list that the reader could easily consult would have been quite helpful, especially in those cases where they are unexplained. Moreover, it is puzzling to be reminded repeatedly that WMD means weapons of mass destruction: surely this is well known by now, no matter the audience. Citations are sloppy or vague. The bibliography is confusing. It is split into various sections, doubtless to help the reader easily locate, for example, legislation relevant to New Zealand by checking under the New Zealand section. Yet it becomes difficult to find references if one does not know a priori where they belong, or, as with Keane, they appear out of place.

The index is problematic, too. With some references it is simply incomplete: by my count, eight references to the NSICOP National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and 10 instances of double-lock, an important term of art, are not indicated. I won’t cite examples of confusing or poor writing, but there are many, and almost no page is free from typographical errors. One wonders what happened to the editor. Finally, items are sometimes only explained after being mentioned a few times, which can be puzzling for the reader. In the end, the book is too intellectually superficial and the errors too distracting to feel anything but annoyance after reading it. In a word, it is slap-dash.

C. A. Hoffman, PhD


1  See John Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009).

2 See, for example, Katherine Bersch and Francis Fukuyama, “Defining Bureaucratic Autonomy,” Annual Review of Political Science 26 (June 2023), https://doi.org/.

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."