Thursday 14 March 2013

The Question of Ethics and the Accountability of the Intelligence Services in the Era of the War on Terror


This paper critically examines the degree to which the intelligence services of democratic states can vigorously and effectively conduct operations geared towards promoting the national interest while operating within a model which upholds ethical standards and remains accountable to elected representatives and the judiciary.

Drawing on a range of multidisciplinary sources including the work of historians, philosophical insight, legislation, case law, and intelligence service charters, the paper constructs a provocative historiography of key operations undertaken by the intelligence services of the United States and Britain.

It identifies unethical practices such as techniques of deception which have included the manufacture and dissemination of disinformation as well as the possible facilitating of false-flag operations. It presents evidence of collaboration with political extremists and documents significant contraventions of the rule of law through the use of extraordinary renditions, the establishment of ‘black camps’, the use of torture, and the facilitation of extra-judicial assassination. Further, it discusses their use in the destabilisation of sovereign nations through the supervision of extremist militias and death squads.

It compares intelligence projects and operations from the Cold War era, including the controversial utilisation of stay-behind armies in Western Europe, with the strategies employed in the contemporary ‘War on Terror’ while examining the existing mechanisms of accountability.

It concludes that the nature of intelligence work particularly when put in the context of pursuing vital national interests is one which many would see as being antithetical to a complete subordination to a rigorous ethical code. The security services are ultimately the tools of their political masters who sanction the use of unethical methods. This can only be tackled by the political will to abrogate laws and policies which encourage unethical strategies and the vigilance and persistence of the legal profession, human rights organisations and an independent media.


Adeyinka Makinde LL.B (Hons)
Of the Middle Temple, Barrister
University of Westminster
School of Law
4-12 Little Titchfield Street

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The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple

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