Discussion

Integrating cross-sectoral and transnational perspectives is vital when discussing intelligence in Europe (we make the case for why believe that to be the case in our mission statement). In order to facilitate a conversation in that spirit, this section curates contributions as responses to key discussion questions. That means that experts from a diverse array of backgrounds are invited to comment on the same discussion question for any given topic so as to emulate a discussion that is both issue-driven and heterogeneous.

Discussion Prompt: Is productive engagement on intelligence law, policy and oversight possible between the secret and civilian world and what can be gained from it? Reflections on best practice, lessons learned, and plans for the future.

The issue of intelligence in public debate has arrived at a noteworthy conundrum: on the one hand, we are experiencing a normalisation of intelligence politics the Snowden revelations and the subsequent response by parliaments, governments, and agencies have had their share in that on the other hand, many countries are still treating intelligence politics as a special, if not unique, realm of policy, one that necessitates secrecy by default. This prerogative leads to the exclusion of large swaths of institutionalised public life (from civil society to business, and from academia to tech industry) from the political and legislative process around intelligence. Weighing the need for national security and civil liberties should not be left to one sector alone. Rather than preclude the input of different stakeholders, we posit that sound intelligence policy and practice requires a plurality of cross-disciplinary inputs and partnerships. This discussion question seeks to investigate the practical possibility and the potential of reaching across the ‘aisle of secrecy’ by hearing from experts who have done that. 

Discussion Prompt: Will AI solve the “information overload“ challenge for intelligence agencies?

In a 1993 white paper, the US Scientific and Technical Intelligence Committee (STIC) spelled out the need for analytical “paradigm shifts” to cope with the rapidly expanding “global production of information”, widely dubbed ‘the information overload’. 25 years later, self-learning algorithms, commonly referred to as Artificial Intelligence, are often heralded as that very technological revolution, suited to provide for either a “new kind of security” or a new age of government surveillance, or both. Against this backdrop, we try to understand the current and projected role of artificial intelligence in the work of intelligence agencies. Is it the technological breakthrough agencies have been seeking? Has it propelled us into a new intelligence governance dimension, where we require specific and updated regulation and control? Or is it a continuation of technology support systems which simply aid decision makers.

Discussion Prompt: Why don’t intelligence oversight bodies cooperate as well as intelligence agencies? And is there reason to believe that could be changing?

A series of terror attacks, most notably 9/11 and the 2015 Paris attacks, has led to an ever-closer cooperation among European intelligence agencies. The bodies tasked with monitoring these agencies, however, rarely engage in direct cooperation, let alone conduct joint investigations into intelligence cooperation. This discrepancy engenders an oversight gap, whereby intelligence data and activity eludes nationally mandated review as it crosses national borders. Simply speaking, transnational intelligence practice and national oversight have historically been an accountability mismatch, which in turn undermines the democratic legitimacy of intelligence agencies and their work. This discussion question interrogates why oversight bodies don’t have similarly extensive international relationships and what the likely trajectory is for intelligence oversight in an increasingly transnational security context.