A Challenging Job for Civil Society
Civil society operates in a difficult environment when reporting on, and researching, intelligence elites. Alongside the twin obstacles of pervasive secrecy and periodic attempts at influence, there is always uncertainty about what any evidence means, whether it be provided by sanitised, official reports or unearthed via whistle-blowing or critical investigations.
By its nature, intelligence information is uncertain. It is based on intelligence analysts’ risk assessments which are derived from piecemeal material of varying credibility.
These characteristics mean that intelligence information, if publicised, is manipulable by those seeking to influence wider opinion, while civil society’s ability to assess claims is compromised by absence of independent evidence.
Arising from these constraints, academic research shows that journalists across liberal democracies currently face many challenges when dealing with intelligence elites. These include:
- Negotiating the balance between secrecy for national security and the right to know;
- Finding and verifying information;
- Lacking time, resources and ability to recognise disinformation;
- Dealing with minimal audience knowledge or interest in intelligence stories;
- Dealing with being surveilled, which compromises source anonymity and may have chilling effects on journalism.
Non-Governmental Organisations also face specific challenges when dealing with contemporary intelligence elites. Currently, these include:
- Competing with front organisations, as intelligence elites set up state-private networks and covertly launch and finance front organisations;
- Dealing with being monitored.
Given these challenges, we need best practice guidelines to encourage critical researching and reporting in this difficult area.