Intelligence Services

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Case Studies

Intelligence and security reform in a post-conflict country

Intelligence and security reform in a post-conflict country


In one post-conflict country, intelligence reform became a key element of the political transition from multinational control to self-government. A national security review identified significant internal threats, mostly from corruption, organised crime and unconstitutional activity, which could properly be dealt with by a security service. Foreign intelligence agencies were willing to support the formation of a new service by providing training, infrastructure and advice on legislation and oversight.

The public’s understanding of a security service, based on historical experience, was of an authoritarian secret police who committed political murders and intimidation, particularly of minority ethnic groups. As rumours of the formation of the service began to emerge in the media and parliament, such misunderstandings led to a decrease in trust in the new government institutions and fears of a return to the ethnic repression that had caused war in the past.

The political sensitivity of forming a new service was increased by the existence of several semi-legitimate security bodies, linked to political parties that wished to be involved. Debates about who should be allowed to join and lead the new service became an inherent part of the overall struggle to allocate power in the new political settlement.

Entry point

State-building and reform were seen as key elements in a modernisation process that could underpin economic growth and membership of multinational bodies. The international community was already conducting a wide range of activities to develop the country’s capability in the executive, judiciary and parliament, and it was possible to include intelligence reform in these programmes.

Lessons learned

Open debate — The multinational community engaged in a programme of public diplomacy to persuade the country’s media, parliamentarians and the public that a new service would be effectively controlled and not become the instrument of narrow party-political or ethnic interests. The proper role of a security service in a democracy was debated in a series of seminars.

High-level management of sensitive issues — The discussion on who should be allowed into the new service was managed as part of the overall political negotiations towards self-government, and clear guidelines were agreed on vetting procedures and selection criteria. It was emphasised to political parties that, in a well-functioning system, it should not be necessary to insert a “party man” into the operational leadership of the service; influence could instead be gained through legislation and oversight. 

Emphasis on local decisions on tasking — A discussion of threats and tasking was conducted as part of the public debate and linked to the national security review, in order to ensure that the new service’s priorities were not skewed by the international agencies that were assisting with training and advice.


The programme is still in its infancy; it is not yet possible to judge its impact.

Case Study


Overseeing Intelligence Services - A Toolkit

DCAF’s toolkit on overseeing intelligence services is a compendium of booklets (tools) written by leading experts on intelligence governance from around the world.  

To view these tools, please follow this link.



Panel Discussion - SSR in West Africa - Introduction - 2010-12-01

Comments from Mark Downes, Head of ISSAT, to open the Panel Discussion on SSR in West Africa and to introduce the panel members.


Characteristics of a SSR Advisor - Interview with Bgen(ret) Bernard Belondrade

ISSAT Senior SSR Advisor sheds light in this video on the main characteristics and competencies that SSR Advisors need to have inorder to carry out their activities efficiently. Besides the technical skills that are needed in any SSR Advisor, Bgen(ret) Belondrade, shares his real-life experience on what competencies he had to develop to undertake advisory activities to high level authorities on SSR.


eBook Intro: The Future of Security Sector Reform

At a time when the United States, Canada and their coalition partners are re-evaluating their roles and exit strategies in Afghanistan and other broken states, "The Future of Security Sector Reform (SSR)" provides a crucial understanding of the complexities of reforming and transforming the security and justice architecture of the state. In this video, the eBook's editor, Mark Sedra, discusses the state of SSR and why the book fills a crucial gap in its study. Written by leading international practitioners in the field, it offers valuable insight into what has worked, what has not and lessons that can be drawn in development, security and state building for the future. Purchase the eBook or download a free PDF copy here:


Introduction to SSR

This presentation gives a background on the theory behind the concept Security Sector Reform, as well as an overview of the international efforts within SSR today.

Folke Bernadotte Academy

SSR Politics in Training - Interview Bgen(ret) Bernard Belondrade

What are the "politics of SSR" and how could these dynamics be managed? Bgen(ret) Bernard Belondrade shares with ISSAT Community members the experience of a training workshop where this aspect was predominant in how the trainees reacted to the knowledge shared with them.


Policy and Research Papers

Developing the Security Sector. Security for Whom, by Whom. Security Sector Reform and Gender

This paper was drafted further to the Dutch policy framework for security sector reform (SSR). It examines the following three questions: 1) Why is it important to apply a gender perspective in SSR? 2) What commitments has the Netherlands made? 3) What opportunities for reform are presented by our partnerships with the various actors that make up the security sector?. It briefly examines the current situation with regard to gender and security sector reform and underscores the importance of devoting attention to equal rights and opportunities for both men and women within the security sector. The second chapter offers examples and some practical recommendations.


Security Sector Governance in Africa: A Handbook

The handbook has been produced by a collaborative effort among researchers and practitioners across Africa. It provides guidance on undertaking a process of security-sector transformation consistent with democratic governance principles and a human security agenda. It is primarily intended for security-sector practitioners both in the security organisations and among the civil authorities charged with managing and monitoring the activities of the security organisations. It is secondarily intended to assist policy makers, civil society, and those agencies that provide financial and technical support to efforts to strengthen security-sector governance in understanding the issues involved in a transformation process.


Compilation of good practices on legal and institutional frameworks and measures that ensure respect for human rights by intelligence agencies while countering terrorism, including on their oversight

This document presents a compilation of good practices on legal and institutional frameworks and measures that ensure respect for human rights by intelligence agencies while countering terrorism, including on their oversight, as requested by the Human Rights Council and prepared by the Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. The compilation is the outcome of a consultation process where Governments, experts and practitioners in various ways provided their input. In particular, written submissions received from Governments by a deadline of 1 May 2010 have been taken into account.


Parliamentary Oversight of Justice and Intelligence Agencies in the European Union

This study evaluates the oversight of national security and intelligence agencies by parliaments and specialised non-parliamentary oversight bodies, with a view to identifying good practices that can inform the European Parliament’s approach to strengthening the oversight of Europol, Eurojust, Frontex and, to a lesser extent, Sitcen. The study puts forward a series of detailed recommendations (including in the field of access to classified information) that are formulated on the basis of indepth assessments of: (1) the current functions and powers of these four bodies; (2) existing arrangements for the oversight of these bodies by the European Parliament, the Joint Supervisory Bodies and national parliaments; and (3) the legal and institutional frameworks for parliamentary and specialised oversight of security and intelligence agencies in EU Member States and other major democracies. 


Security Sector Transformation in the Arab Awakening

  • The Arab Awakening opened the door to democratic political change in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Security sector reform (SSR) is an integral component of the nascent democratic process in the region. While SSR is a long-term process, it should be a key part of institution building in the new democracies. Democracy requires security institutions that  are open, professional, and responsive to public needs.
  • The transitions to democracy are varied in nature and scope. SSR will differ by country and must be tailored to the political realities and specific circumstances of each state. The international community can foster successful SSR processes by calibrating its assistance according to the reform efforts in each country. A general or “one-size-fits-all” approach to SSR will not be successful.
  • A sense of political powerlessness, an unresponsive bureaucracy, a general lack of opportunity, economic stagnation (including high unemployment), and repressive security forces all contributed to the Arab Awakening. As a result of the upheaval, democratic forces in several of the MENA countries are pushing for transparency and accountability in the security services.
  • SSR must be undertaken in a holistic manner, couched within the framework of overall democratic reform and linked to other broad policies such as justice sector reform, evolution of the political process, and economic development. SSR will only be achieved if it is integrated and pursued in unison with these larger processes of democratic change. 
  • The international community, especially the United States and the European Union, need to foster democratic developments and, in particular, to support and coordinate SSR.

Follow this link to view the article.


Security Sector Reform in Sierra Leone 1997–2007. Views from the Front Line

As a collection of separate papers, this volume is not aimed at being a coherent, polished version of the security transformation of Sierra Leone, but at providing an insight into the thoughts of those involved. In particular we have sought to showcase papers providing a ‘warts-and-all’ picture of the reform process that not everyone would agree with, but all have to acknowledge as being relevant. The original idea of these papers was to provide inputs into a broader piece of research reconstructing the narrative of the UK intervention, so many of them were not written with publication in mind. Rather, the authors sought to provide their own views of the process from their particular vantage point and to highlight different perceptions of the same processes.