Challenging Accountability
: US Intelligence, the Private Sector, and the Global War on Terrorism

  • Damien Van Puyvelde

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis contributes to the existing scholarship on intelligence studies and examines the reasons, the means and the consequences of the privatisation of intelligence in the United States between 2001 and 2009. In the years after the /11 terrorist attacks, the extension of public-private intelligence ‘partnerships’ has raised important questions about the nature and parameters of the modern national security state and the boundaries of legitimacy as defined within the democratic model. A major focus of this project is the relationship between the US intelligence community’s reliance on the private sector and intelligence accountability. A considered analysis of this issue casts new light on the strengths and weaknesses of the US system of intelligence accountability. This research suggests that, in the period under
consideration, the relationship between the privatisation of intelligence and intelligence accountability was characterised by interdependence and imperfection but not necessarily in a completely negative way. Privatisation complicated accountability holders’ access to information from intelligence providers whilst emphasising the need for better regulation,control and oversight of private intelligence activities. Senior accountability holders (within the executive and legislative branches) nevertheless always retained the authority to devise better means to access private sector information, improve accountability standards, and sanction or support private intelligence ‘partners’. However, this did not mean that the executive and the legislature used their authority to achieve optimum solutions. Indeed, the lack of policy planning behind privatisation adversely affected the accountability process in the US. The resultant gaps in accountability can be traced to key accountability holders’ priorities in the years 2001-9. This, it is argued here, demonstrates a lack of political willingness within the US body politic to hold both public and private intelligence providers to account
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorAlastair Finlan (Supervisor)

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