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date: 05 March 2021

Intelligence Oversight in the USAlocked

  • Cynthia M. NolanCynthia M. NolanSchool of International Service, American University


Oversight of intelligence agencies maintains public control and knowledge of their activities through an assurance of accountability and responsible use of power. It reflects the essential part of democratic checks and balances as applied to intelligence and security services in government. The US intelligence community and its oversight offices are the most extensive, oldest, and most studied in the world. Here, oversight of intelligence had developed as a series of checks and balances against the often unchecked power that had revealed itself in a scandal of some sort. Meanwhile, early descriptions of the activities of the intelligence agencies have given way to more systematic examinations of the quality of intelligence. And as oversight has been formalized, so too have academic descriptions of that oversight, both to expose that oversight to scrutiny and to aim to improve it. It is the use and form of these advances in government and their relationships to the necessity of democratic control and accountability that present the most intriguing challenges to academic theories of government conduct. In a democracy, intelligence must deliver high-quality assessments, analysis, and warnings in the advancement of US interests while at the same time acting within the law and respecting the rights of US citizens. These two sides of the same coin give intelligence oversight multiple objectives and make the task of the overseer even more difficult.

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