Global Intelligence Oversight

Title:                      Global Intelligence Oversight

Author:                 Zachary K. Goldman

Goldman, Zachary K. (2016) and Samuel J. Rascoff, eds. Global Intelligence Oversight: Governing Security in The Twenty-First Century. New York, NY: Oxford University Press

LCCN:    2015051038

K3278 .G56 2016


  • Intelligence services, peer constraints, and the law / by Ashley Deeks — Oversight through five eyes : institutional convergence and the structure and oversight of intelligence activities / by Richard Morgan — Oversight of intelligence agencies : the European dimension / by Iain Cameron — Global change and megatrends : implications for intelligence and its oversight / by Christopher A. Kojm — The FISC’s stealth administrative law / by Daphna Renan — In law we trust : the Israeli case of overseeing intelligence / by Raphael Bitton — Review and oversight of intelligence in Canada : expanding accountability gaps / by Kent Roach — The emergence of intelligence governance / by Zachary K. Goldman — The president as intelligence overseer / by Samuel J. Rascoff — Intelligence oversight : made in Germany / by Russell A. Miller — Intelligence powers and accountability in the U.K. / by Jon Moran and Clive Walker — Executive oversight of intelligence agencies in Australia / by Keiran Hardy and George Williams.

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      December 7, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

Of the 15 contributors to this volume, 11 are lawyers, all are academics, and none claim any professional experience in the intelligence profession. They come from seven countries: Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Israel, Canada, and the United States. Oversight in each nation is discussed, and one contribution considers it in the “Five Eyes” context. In her preface, former Congresswoman Jane Harmon writes that “the world wants to know … who is watching the watchmen?” Oversight is her answer. (p. xiv) To illustrate that oversight works, she cites “the inspiring example” of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogation techniques. (p. xv) She admits that Congress can do better,” suggesting that “members ask spies the tough questions every chance we get.” (p. xvi, emphasis added.)

Global Intelligence Oversight gives an overview of how oversight has developed and how it is currently working. Compared to the United States, “parliamentary oversight across the liberal democratic world is not as robust,” (p. xix) the editors assert. Several contributors expand on this point. More generally, they “offer insights into the purposes intelligence oversight may serve beyond legal compliance.” (p. xxvi)

As might be expected from lawyers, the descriptions and recommendations concerning oversight are not always expressed in simple declarative sentences. For example, in an otherwise informative study, on “Oversight Through Five Eyes,” the author argues that “the similarity of intelligence structures and oversight across the Five Eyes states is neither coincidental nor unintentional. Rather it is the result of a phenomenon of isomorphic ‘institutional convergence’ that results in homogenization of state practices across a wide variety of contexts …” (p. 38) He argues that the process of isomorphic convergence has resulted in a model that could become an “international norm for intelligence oversight.” (p. 70)

In addition to chapters on oversight in the countries named above, other topics include global technical changes under way in government and industry, the legal aspects of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and the challenging issues associated with oversight within the European Union. The chapter entitled “The President as Intelligence Overseer” surprises no one by concluding that “the White House ought to be an object, not a source, of intelligence oversight.” (p. 235)

Global Intelligence Oversight does leave some issues for the future. For instance, the term oversight is never defined, which makes it difficult to identify the line between oversight and management. Likewise, there is the implicit assumption that the legislative branch of government is the proper body to conduct oversight, as opposed to an independent joint commission of experts. Finally, one may reasonably ask whether the conference from which the book emerged would have benefited from the contributions of an experienced career intelligence officer.

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 2 Fall 2017, pp. 115-116). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at

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