09 Aug

Intelligence in An Insecure World, Third Edition

Posted By polity_admin_user

Wendt hi resBy Peter Gill and Mark Phythian

When we started working together the whole idea of ‘intelligence studies’ was very much in its infancy. In the US scandals involving the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) in the 1970s had kickstarted the serious study of how to govern intelligence with due regard for civil rights. However, most researchers in the UK were historians ploughing through the archives, especially regarding the role of intelligence in wartime. We wanted to do something different and analyse intelligence within a broader framework of social science rather than historical studies in a way that built on our earlier research into the impact of state surveillance in the UK.

Since this book was first published in 2006 the concept of surveillance has become more central to contemporary concerns about the impact of state and corporate information collection on privacy. Edward Snowden’s leaking of a trove of NSA and GCHQ files to the media in 2013 precipitated legal changes in Germany, the UK and the US, but digital surveillance by authoritarian regimes, often with equipment supplied by western companies, has much more lethal consequences for activists. The exploitation of ‘Big Data’ is having a transformative effect on the analogue ‘intelligence cycle’ that used to be the core model of the intelligence process.

Intelligence has always been about acting as well as gathering information but here as well technological advance is taking intelligence action into new realms. Drones can be great fun for the hobbyist, but no self-respecting police force, army or intelligence agency can afford to do without them for surveillance in certain circumstances. As the US demonstrated throughout its ‘war on terror’ once weaponised, drones are an ideal means of carrying out targeted killings. As President Maduro of Venezuela has just discovered, attempted assassination by drone could well represent a future trend. Apart from gathering and analysing information, agencies have always sought to use what information they have, or make up, in order to achieve their objectives. Spreading ‘disinformation’ is an old technique but in the era of social media the possibilities are greatly expanded. Debate rages as to the extent to which it did, or did not, play a crucial role in the UK EU referendum campaign and the election of Donald Trump as US President in 2016.

Thus security intelligence continues to be of central importance to the contemporary world: individuals, organizations and states all seek timely and actionable intelligence in order to increase their sense of security. But what exactly is intelligence? How does it relate to surveillance in general? Who seeks to develop it and to what ends? How can we ensure that intelligence is not abused?

The third edition of Intelligence in an Insecure World examines the state of play in both theoretical and policy debates concerning this often-controversial dimension of international and domestic governance. It sets out a comprehensive framework for the study of intelligence, discussing how states organize the collection and analysis of information in order to produce intelligence, how it is acted upon, why it may fail and how the process should be governed in order to uphold democratic rights. The book covers recent developments, including the impact of the Snowden leaks on the role of intelligence agencies in Internet and social media surveillance, in defensive and offensive cyber operations, and the legal and political arrangements for democratic control. The role of intelligence as part of ‘hybrid’ warfare in the case of Russia and Ukraine is also explored, and the problems facing intelligence in the realm of counterterrorism are considered in the context of the recent wave of attacks in Western Europe.

All indicators suggest that intelligence will play an increasingly important role in the years ahead both in seeking to anticipate and prevent disruption and as a potentially disruptive force. How it does these things and at what cost are key questions at the heart of debates about the role of intelligence in liberal democratic contexts. This book provides a framework through which informed contributions to these debates can be made.


Peter Gill is an Honorary Visiting Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester.
Mark Phythian is Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester. 

The Third Edition of their book, Intelligence in an Insecure World, is now available from Polity.