Importance of accountability in intelligence

Accountability in intelligence also depends upon the kind of system of state structure which is in place in a country

Faisal Ali Raja June 05, 2024


Accountability in intelligence community is an intriguing subject. In general, accountability in any area can be categorised as internal or external. The former is selectively carried out, in a private manner, by the elite of an institution or a group or a committee while the latter falls exclusively in public domain. The intelligence agencies tend to opt for the former over the latter as a balance has to be struck between morale of men and space of independent-and-innovative execution of tasks enmeshed with national security. As the spirit of an intelligence organisation ebbs, the space of independent action and innovation for field operators also dissipates. Therefore, in majority of intelligence agencies, accountability is being carried out quietly without making any headlines in the newspapers so that the organisational structure remains as vibrant and active as before.

Accountability in intelligence also depends upon the kind of system of state structure which is in place in a country. A democratic state always exhibits an external control over its intelligence apparatus. However, in a security state, internal accountability is often exercised by a securitisation management system. Sometimes, external accountability propaganda is used to satisfy the public’s aspirations and to reign in certain elements of intelligence as well. It is important to understand that a security state cannot afford to bear the impression of its military component weakening and must therefore react to it in physical and non-physical spaces. Such a reaction should be calculated and advanced in nature which is often tampered by tyrannical means.

However, there are a few exceptions to this principle. At times a situation demands that head of intelligence must come forward to accept the responsibility in public so as to relieve pressure on his peers and more importantly on the organisation. In a security state, the head of securitisation structure may take immediate steps to rectify years of stagnation and organisational inertia in its intelligence set-up.

Recently, Israeli military intelligence chief Aharon Haliva submitted his resignation citing moral, administrative and functional responsibility of failure for the surprise attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023. The inability to anticipate it properly led to a strategic damage to the repute and outlook of the state of Israel. It was an act in which intelligence chief presented himself for public accountability and accepted his failure. It was a rare instance indeed and it was necessary as a mitigating measure to downplay the effects of the strategic surprise as well. The top man conceded his mistake in public and the weeding-out process of senior or junior officials will be done quietly without letting the public know about it. Thus, the military intelligence chief has become the first senior Israeli official to resign. During his address to the people of Israel, he admitted his men failed and could not come up to the expectations. Second, he demanded an in-depth inquiry into the whole episode to identify the real cause of the failure. It means those who were in-charge of an area or a sector that was raided by Hamas men would be taken to task and their follies should become part of the syllabus for intelligence or military institutions for future education. For a security state like Israel, the resignation submitted by the military intelligence chief is a major step since it indicates that he also believes that something positive would come out of it. As a major intelligence failure occurs, the best way to rectify and restore the prestige of an organisation is to accept the mistake and overcome it in due course of time. Here the idea of covert accountability breaks down which demands an immediate overhaul of monitoring system as well.

Nowadays, intelligence collection has become a full-fledged public domain pursuit. Ordinary persons, connected with multiple networks, are being utilised as field operators. In other words, a hybrid system of intelligence collection has evolved where the component of actionable accountability is missing due to a poor evaluation and a mediocre monitoring method.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2024.

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