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.