Post-dictatorship intelligence reform in Southern Europe

Sofia Tzamarelou

In the early 1970s, Portugal, Greece, and Spain each experienced the end of periods of dictatorship and the start of new eras of democratic rule that have lasted ever since. A key part of each country’s democratisation process were reforms to the way that government institutions functioned and the way that they interacted with newly enfranchised citizens. In each case, reforms of varying degree were applied to each country’s intelligence organisations and the paper focuses on the extent to which these reforms succeeded in making them more democratic.

This work is important as it links the broad concepts and ideas of ‘democratisation’ to the area of intelligence studies, specifically, how longstanding organisations with engrained methods and traditions can adapt to rapidly changing political environments. Furthermore, it also analyses the difficulties and challenges that newly democratic governments have controlling said organisations, or building new ones from their existing components.

The purpose first and foremost, was to conduct research in areas ‘outside the Anglosphere’, which are often overlooked when it comes to intelligence and security studies. Portugal and Greece in particular, have received only a very small amount of coverage in intelligencerelated literature despite their rich and expansive histories. Where they are included, it is often in relation to heavily-covered topics, such as the Second World War, rather than new and innovative areas.

In addition, a central aim was to help establish a reliable method of analysis when it comes to measuring intelligence democratisation, namely through the application of the Security Sector Reform (SSR) concept. SSR includes an important selection of pillars by which to evaluate the process of democratisation, such as governance, effectiveness, and the provision of security. It is within these pillars that indicators exist which provide an analytical framework through which it is possible to measure levels of intelligence democratisation.

What was learned from researching the paper was that actors often make path dependent decisions that do not always offer the most effective route to having a democratic intelligence service. In each country, newly democratic administrations were either motivated by a desire to avenge the wrongs of the past through radical action, or to quickly move on with only minimum or cosmetic changes. In none of the three was there a serious discussion about what kind of intelligence setup the state should have and how it should be governed until well after the start of the democratisation process. Even then, in almost each case, the initial decisions made early on left lasting effects that to this day determine how each country’s intelligence organisations perform and operate.

What can be concluded from the paper is that democratisation, particularly intelligence democratisation, is a very challenging process that requires compromise and buy-in from various stakeholders. As many of these are often disaffected, strong leadership is often needed to ensure that reforms are not unduly politicised by immediate needs at the expense of long-term requirements. The traditional consensus that democratisation is inevitable therefore, as per Francis Fukuyama, does not necessarily hold true in the intelligence sphere. Without commitment to meaningful reform, it is just as easy for intelligence organisations to become less democratic as the country’s they are meant to protect.

Tina Andersen