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The Privatization of Intelligence

Published on January 23, 2009        Author: 

Editors note: Over the coming days we will be discussing (see here) Professor Simon Chesterman’s article: “We Can’t Spy . .  . If We Can’t Buy!: The Privatization of Intelligence and the Limits of Outsourcing Inherently Governmental Functions”  (2008) 19 EJIL 1055 (available here).

Simon Chesterman is Global Professor and Director of the New York University School of Law Singapore Programme and Associate Professor of Law at National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law. His publications include:  From Mercenaries to Market: The Rise and Regulation of Private Military Companies (Oxford University Press, 2007) (ed. with Chia Lehnardt), Shared Secrets: Intelligence and Collective Security (Lowy Institute for International Policy, 2006)

This piece builds on two discrete areas of research that I’ve been pursuing for a couple of years and are now beginning to intersect.

The first is the privatization of the military and security sector. Building on the project on Global Administrative Law at New York University School of Law, the work that I’ve done with colleagues like Chia Lehnardt has focused on regulation of private military and security companies (PMCs or PMSCs). One product of that research was the book, From Mercenaries to Market, and a key argument was that we need to take the emerging market for force seriously – rather than pursuing the abolitionist approach that had long dominated discussion of this issue within the United Nations.

The second area is the oversight and accountability of intelligence services. I now teach a course on “Intelligence Law” at the National University of Singapore under the auspices of the NYU School of Law Singapore Programme and have written about the difficulty of using law that must normally be public to regulate government activities that must often be kept secret.

The article partly documents the privatization of intelligence, but also suggests the beginnings of an answer to a question that has long dogged debates over PMCs: what can and what cannot be outsourced?

Though it still lags behind the privatization of military services, the privatization of intelligence expanded dramatically with the growth in intelligence activities after September 11. This has seen an enormous increase in the money spent on intelligence (dominated by large items such as spy satellites) but also in the proportion of personnel working on contract. At the CIA’s station in Islamabad, for example, contractors reportedly outnumber government employees three-to-one. Read the rest of this entry…

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