Why has it become necessary for countries to have security intelligence organisations in order to secure the state?

Military Organization

The role of intelligence in national security became prominent after the cold war. The requirements of the intelligence community have shifted from the targets of the Cold War. Intelligence was commonly used in the Cold War and the Soviet Union eras, but after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the need for intelligence was questioned. However, the overall mission of the intelligence agencies has not changed significantly. Intelligence organizations play a crucial role in securing the state. This can be explained in terms of contemporary and theoretical; perspectives. Several countries including the US have well established intelligence organisations responsible for collecting, analysing and converting information into action. This can also be viewed in terms of constructivist theory which suggests that the concept of security is constructed by various interest groups in international security.

Democratic states have internal security intelligence organisations. The principle purpose of such organisations is to defend the state against threats of national security.[1] Security intelligence is not the only way of securing a state. There are other authorities which have various security and intelligence responsibilities. Intelligence organisations therefore work together with such authorities as central government structures, foreign affairs, defense, customs and trade, transport, immigration, health authorities, finance departments, etc. Intelligence organisations work with law enforcement institutions to prosecute groups and individuals committing offenses against national security.[2]

Secrecy can also be used to explain the role of intelligence organizations as they seek information necessary for protecting their nation states. It is an essential aspect in any free society and is necessary for the democratic functioning of a country’s political system. It is in the foundation of secrecy theory that intelligence organisations play their role of obtaining and keeping security information.[3] After the cold war, former US President Ford said that he would be willing to share the secrets of the state with as many citizens as possible if that wouldn’t risk the security of the state. Intelligence organizations therefore maintain secrets in order to protect the state. Colby (1976) suggests that a new theory of secrecy begins with what needs to be exposed rather than what needs to be kept secret. Generally, secrecy is concerned with information. Intelligence organisations collect and keep information, and then assess it to determine what needs to be exposed and what needs to be kept as a secret.

The political culture of intelligence organizations is inward-looking and is guided by the need to know.[4] As a result, the intelligence organisation does not provide information freely to the community without understanding clearly the objective of the obtaining such information. This agrees with the theory of secrecy. In this regard, intelligence organisations are important because they obtain information and keep them secretly to avoid exposure to international security threats which may cause insecurity to the state.

Vitkauskas (1999) suggests that sensitive information concerning the scientific, military, political and economic affairs of a country must be kept secret in order to protect the state. In the current globalised world, countries have secrets that other states sought by other countries as they advance their objectives.[5] Intelligence organisations carry out espionage by attempting to obtain secret information of other countries in order to advance their objectives related to national security. Furthermore, intelligence organisations may also maintain secrets of their own countries in order to prevent espionage by other foreigners who may threaten the security of the state. When espionage is conducted to harm another country, it is referred to as sabotage. Intelligence organisations help to prevent sabotage by keeping secrets and countering espionage.

Sabotage endangers safety, security, and defence of the state. By countering espionage, an intelligence organisation may catch spies; hence disrupting the activities of hostile intelligence service.[6] Sovereign states usually devote their time and resources to counteract the spying activities of foreign governments. A great amount of intelligence information that a country’s policy relies on is obtained through the analysis of foreign broadcasts and open source publications, normal diplomatic missions, and activities of newspaper reporters. This makes the information of intelligence organisations minimal; hence necessitating espionage. Intelligence organizations prevent threats to national security by counteracting hostile espionage. This requires top secrecy and high-level knowledge and information about the spying country or government.

It has also become necessary for countries to have intelligence organizations in order to secure the state by investigating the activities of foreigners. Some foreign countries may conduct economic espionage in a given country in order to acquire technology that can be used to make weapons of mass destruction. The work of intelligence organisations in this situation is to monitor the activities of foreign intelligence officers and prevent foreigners suspected of intelligence activities from entering the country or obtaining information from the country’s archives.

In this regard, countering espionage and sabotage remains one of the most important functions of intelligence organisations. Espionage and sabotage from foreign countries is a key reason why countries should have intelligence organisations to secure the state. Although sabotage and espionage has declined significantly since the Cold War, it is still necessary to prevent espionage activities by foreigners for the safety and security of the state.[7] Intelligence organizations watch the industrial and economic espionage of foreigners carefully within the state and warn local firms that targeted by those spies.

Another reason why intelligence organizations are needed in order to secure the state is because they use their knowledge and information to identify and interrupt foreign structures which may attempt to interfere with or manipulate the political life of the state while pursuing their own interests. Foreign political groups, governments and other organisations may try to cause such interferences and influence the domestic affairs of the state to the extent of causing threat to national security.[8] In this case, the intelligence organisation will secure the state by preventing such interferences from foreigners. Political interference from hostile foreign powers takes many forms. Such foreign powers may exert pressure on public officials or infiltrate governmental authorities. Foreigners may also interfere with the affairs of local communities by threatening people who have relatives abroad. Such hostile foreigners may deceive, threaten or blackmail the local communities. These activities constitute threats to national security.[9] Intelligence organisations are needed to secure the state by countering such activities.

Intelligence organizations are also needed to secure the state by monitoring transnational crime. Many democratic countries are threatened by international organized or transnational crime. Transnational crime is often economically motivated. Members of criminal groups across the world team up to carry out both legal and illegal economic activities worldwide[10]. These groups are always adaptable and sophisticated. At the lower level, they engage in such illegal activities as prostitution, drug trafficking, illegal gambling, loan-sharking and extortions. At higher levels, they engage in large scale insurance fraud, environmental crime, bank fraud, depletion of natural resources, migrant smuggling, and tax fraud. These illegal groups also use money earned from illegal businesses to fund legal ones. This allows international criminals to launder money and earn profits from them. These groups operate in countries where there are loopholes. In countries with effective intelligence organisations, such loopholes are sealed and minimized; hence illegal businesses are reduced.

According to the UN, the cost of transnational criminal activities in developed countries is estimated to be 2% of their GNP.[11] This means that transnational criminal activities in developed states are key challenges facing economies of various states. Furthermore, such criminal activities, though economically motivated, may result in threat to security of the state. Intelligence organisations such as The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) are mandated to investigate foreign activities that are seemingly detrimental to the state security. Some intelligence organisations such as the CSIS have established transnational criminal activity unit to deal with such menaces. This unit is a part of the overall intelligence organisation and uses resources of the intelligence organisation to collect intelligence concerning transnational crime. Such intelligence helps in safeguarding or securing the state.

The usually motivated use of violence through terrorism is also another key concern of an intelligence organization of any country.[12] Terrorists use violence to force the government into acting in their desired manner. Terrorists take hostages, kidnap, use bomb threats, or assassinate people. These activities obviously endanger the lives of people in the affected states. They are also used to blackmail the government and obtain political responses. Terrorism in a given country may be used to achieve a given political objective in that country. It may also be used to influence political affairs in another country.

Masking and countering terrorism has become one of the traditional tasks of intelligence organizations in many countries nowadays, especially in NATO states. Intelligence organisations are also responsible for dealing with domestic terrorism which affects the security of the state. Various incidences of terrorism have been reported in various parts of the world. For instance, the September 11 bombing of US buildings by the Osama-led Al Qaeda terrorist group claimed several lives.[13] This followed two terrorist attacks on US embassies in Dares Salaam and Nairobi in 1998. Furthermore, various terrorist groups in the Middle East and Africa including the Taliban and Al Shabaab have caused a major threat to security of many states. These terrorism incidences lead many countries to develop intelligence organisations in order to secure their states from the threat of terrorism.

Democratic Western countries are the most vulnerable to terrorism because they have open and free societies. Ironically, such open societies are the most safe and economically prosperous states. This can be attributed to the fact that their intelligence organizations have enough resources and knowledge to gather the intelligence needed to deal with terrorists despite the open nature of their states.

Most forms of terrorism are politically motivated. Political violence lead people to join established terrorist groups in order to fight their political battles successfully. For instance, terrorist groups have resulted from the Middle East Peace Process and the political process to resolve the situation in North Ireland. Political power and territorial fights between Israel and Palestine have also resulted in Islamic extremism and hostilities from terrorist groups in Palestine and Pakistan.[14] These political tensions and terrorism have led several countries, especially Israel to develop intelligence organizations which carry out espionage in other countries. Israel’s intelligence organisations spy on many countries including the US and Arab countries in order to develop strategies that will favour the security of Israeli state. Religious extremism have also increased the incidences of terrorism; hence necessitating effective intelligence organisations to gather sufficient information of various religious groups in order to secure their states from such religious extremists.

Political and religious extremists have caused serious threats in the world today. As a result, it has become necessary for various states to empower their intelligence organisations towards effective intelligence services in order to protect their states from the terrorism activities of the extremists. Terrorist groups are becoming more sophisticated and organized, making it difficult for the regular army to counteract their activities. Therefore, intelligence organisations are needed to obtain information and develop intelligence in a more sophisticated and organized manner in order manage the terrorism activities of terrorists and secure their states. Terrorism has become complex nowadays; hence it requires effective intelligence services from an intelligence organisation.

Colby (1976) suggests that knowledge is power and it gives strength to the person who posses it. In this regard, intelligence organisations obtain strength from their intelligence activities. This is because the intelligence activities of intelligence organisations involve gathering of information and development of knowledge. The information obtained by intelligence organisations can be used to gain knowledge about certain activities of terrorists and other security-threatening groups.[15] The theory of secret intelligence proposes that independence and welfare of the nation are key ingredients of a sovereign state system.[16] The independence and welfare of a state are in turn dependent on the strength of the nation. Therefore, intelligence organisations are necessary for the independence and welfare of a state because it entails the acquisition of information needed to develop knowledge in order to provide strength to the nation.

The rise of political involvement as a source of strength for states has also necessitated security secrecy.[17] This can be achieved through a well organized and independent intelligence organisation. In this case, the purpose of the intelligence organisation is to inform the public about the government’s policies on matters pertaining security. This will enable the population of the state to sacrifice for the security goals of the state. While the intelligence organisation is required to maintain secrets for the success of the country’s military operations and safety of the state, it is also essential for it to inform the people about the requirements, plans and achievements of the government on security issues so that the public can participate appropriately in maintaining security for the state. However, this role conflicts with the need of the state to maintain its secrets regarding security matters. Therefore, the intelligence organisation of a state chooses carefully what to disclose and what not to disclose to the general public in order to secure the state.

Keegan (2003) argues that a great part of intelligence work add value to the state security if it is kept secret. In international security, intelligence is highly essential in maintaining security secrecy and enhancing security of the state in an evolving environment. Since intelligence organisations mainly deliver their information to the government, it has become necessary for the intelligence organisations to work closely with the state and understand the secrecy needs of the state.[18] Intelligence organisations use intelligence to analyse and evaluate information in order to understand the security and secrecy needs of the state.[19] This enables the intelligence organisation to secure the state in collaboration with the government and other interest groups within the state.

It has already been mentioned that one of the primary functions of intelligence organisations is to collect information. Without considering espionage, collecting information can be carried out by the intelligence organisation using published information.[20] This essay has already stated that intelligence organisations collect information from published materials such as radios, newspapers, periodicals, military and economic journals, etc. The information obtained from these sources is analysed by the intelligence organisation in order to develop the knowledge needed by the state and the military to combat security threats.

Russel (2007) suggests that intelligence organisations can also collect information through passive environmental scanning (overt approach) or a more active and aggressive process of penetrating the secrecy and privacy of other nations or international organisations. In this case, information is obtained from a wide range of concealed sources including human spies, intercepted communications, defence attachés, satellite imagery and diplomatic reporting.[21] These mechanisms are used by intelligence organisations to obtain concealed information used by hostile nations or transnational terrorists to cause security threats in the state.

The role of intelligence organisations can be explained using the constructivist theory. In this theory, security is constructed by the interest groups. National interests of the state are not ontologically prior to the state actors including intelligence organisation. The theory suggests that the national interests which need to be secured through national security policies should be well defined.[22] Therefore, intelligence organisations should define the national interests of the state in order to secure the state by obtaining and analysing information.

The analysis and evaluation of available information enable intelligence organisations to develop the knowledge needed to define and secure the national interests of the state.[23] This reflects a sociological perspective of national security politics as suggested by the constructivism theory. In this perspective, intelligence organisations do not focus on the traditional material capabilities and power but rather on cultural-institutional context. For example, the heavy financial spending of the CIA to curb security problems has failed to secure states such as the Soviet Union, and Kuwait which was invaded in 1990 by Iraqi. Keegan (2003) argues that the importance of intelligence in international security has been overrated. He says that the success of extensive spending by intelligence groups in securing a state is questionable. In this perspective, intelligence organisation has become necessary not because they have the resources to fight security threats but because they have the ability to collect and analyse information needed to construct and define security threats. According to the constructivism theory, defining security threat is more successful than defending it.[24] Therefore, based on this theory it is necessary for a country to have intelligence organisations which will help to define security threats and report them to the government for appropriate actions.

From this discussion, it is clear that countries need intelligence organisations to secure their states. This is based on a wide range of reasons. One of the reasons is that intelligence organisations collect information needed to construct and define security threats, and develop the knowledge of security needed by the government to secure the state. Intelligence organisations are also needed to combat the effects of espionage from foreign nations and to spy on hostile groups and countries that may cause security threats to the state.




[1] Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (2002). Intelligence Services and Democracy. Working Paper Series, No. 13, Geneva.

[2] Vitkauskas, D. 1999. The Role of A Security Intelligence Service in a Democracy. NATO.

[3] Colby, W.E. 1976. Intelligence secrecy and security in a Free Society. International Security, 1(2): 3-14

[4] Vitkauskas, D. 1999. The Role of A Security Intelligence Service in a Democracy. NATO.

[5] Vitkauskas (1999).

[6]   Vitkauskas, D. 1999. The Role of a Security Intelligence Service in a Democracy. NATO.

[7] Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (2002). Intelligence Services and Democracy. Working Paper Series, No. 13, Geneva.

[8] Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (2002). Intelligence Services and Democracy. Working Paper Series, No. 13, Geneva.

[9] Vitkauskas, D. 1999. The Role of a Security Intelligence Service in a Democracy. NATO.

[10] Hoffman, F.G. 2009. “Hybrid Warfare and Challenges.” JFQ, 52(1): 34-48.

[11] Vitkauskas, D. 1999. The Role of a Security Intelligence Service in a Democracy. NATO.

[12] Hoffman, F.G. 2009. “Hybrid Warfare and Challenges.” JFQ, 52(1): 34-48.

[13] Keegan, J. 2003. Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda. London: Hutchinson.

[14] Hughes, G. 2011. “Intelligence in the Cold War.” Intelligence and National Security , 26 (6): 755-758.

[15] Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (2002). Intelligence Services and Democracy. Working Paper Series, No. 13, Geneva.

[16] Colby, W.E. 1976. “Intelligence secrecy and security in a Free Society.” International Security, 1(2): 3-14

[17] Colby, W.E. 1976. “Intelligence secrecy and security in a Free Society.” International Security, 1(2): 3-14.

[18] Keegan, J. 2003. Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda. London: Hutchinson.

[19] Odom, W. E. 2008. Intelligence Analysis. Intelligence and National Security, 23 (3): 316-332.

[20] Hoffman, F.G. 2009. “Hybrid Warfare and Challenges.” JFQ, 52(1): 34-48.

[21] Russel, R. L. 2007. Achieving all-source fusion in the Intelligence Community. in L. K. Johnson (Ed.), Handbook of Intelligence Studies (pp. 189-199). Lonson: Routledge.

[22] Varadarajan, L. 2004. Constructivism, Identity and Neoliberal (In)security. Review of International Studies, 30(3): 319-341.

[23] Hulnick, A. S. 2006. “What’s wrong with the Intelligence Cycle?” Intelligence and National Security, 21 (6): 959-979.

[24] Keegan, J. (2003). Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda. London: Hutchinson.

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