Secrets and Spies: UK Intelligence Accountability After Iraq and Snowden


Using the UK as a case study, this book provides the first systematic exploration of how accountability is understood inside the secret world. It is based on new interviews with current and former UK intelligence practitioners, as well as extensive research into the performance and scrutiny of the UK intelligence machinery.

The result is the first detailed analysis of how intelligence professionals view their role, what they feel keeps them honest, and how far external overseers impact on their work.

The UK gathers material that helps inform global decisions on such issues as nuclear proliferation, terrorism, transnational crime, and breaches of international humanitarian law. On the flip side, the UK was a major contributor to the intelligence failures leading to the Iraq war in 2003, and its agencies were complicit in the widely discredited U.S. practices of torture and ‘rendition’ of terrorism suspects. UK agencies have come under greater scrutiny since those actions, but it is clear that problems remain.

Secrets and Spies is the result of a British Academy funded project (SG151249) on intelligence accountability.

Open society is increasingly defended by secret means. For this reason, oversight has never been more important. This book offers a new exploration of the widening world of accountability for UK intelligence, encompassing informal as well as informal mechanisms. It substantiates its claims well, drawing on an impressive range of interviews with senior figures. This excellent book offers both new information and fresh interpretations. It will have a major impact.

Richard Aldrich, Professor of International Security, University of Warwick, UK

Gaskarth’s novel approach, interpreting interviews with senior figures from the intelligence world, brings fresh insight on a significant yet contested topic. He offers an impressively holistic account of intelligence accountability—both formal and informal—and, most interestingly of all, of how those involved understand it. This is essential reading for those wanting to know what accountability means and how it is enacted.

Rory Cormac, Professor of International Relations, University of Nottingham

About the author

Jamie Gaskarth is senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, where he teaches strategy and decision-making. His research looks at the ethical dilemmas of leadership and accountability in intelligence, foreign policy, and defence. He is author/editor or co-editor of six books and served on the Academic Advisory panel for the 2015 UK National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review.

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