I started this project because I believe the intelligence, national defense and homeland security enterprise has grown too large, too expensive, too powerful, too ineffective, and too unaccountable to the American people. As it operates today it threatens rather than protects Americans’ privacy and liberties, and undermines human rights and the rule of law abroad, leaving the U.S. less free and less secure.
Oversight institutions established after a previous era of intelligence abuses have become enablers of the growing national security state rather than the watchdogs for the public interest. Politicians often rail in the wake of intelligence failures or abuse, but their reform efforts are episodic, incremental, and insufficient to slow the growth of the intelligence enterprise. Reviewing commissions rarely hold anyone accountable, and even recommend expanding intelligence authorities and resources, effectively rewarding agencies for their incompetence and misconduct.
I designed this project to raise questions about the intelligence enterprise that policy makers too often fail to ask: whether there is evidence that the methods the intelligence community uses are necessary or effective in addressing legitimate national security needs; whether these methods have collateral consequences that undermine their worth; whether existing oversight mechanisms are effective in identifying and curbing misuses and abuses of intelligence authorities; and how we can reassert democratic controls over the intelligence enterprise.
I interviewed former intelligence officials, academic researchers and public advocates whose work has challenged the conventional national security views held in Washington, D.C. policy circles. Some had decades of experience in the intelligence community, others investigated its methods, or litigated against it. They approach the subject of intelligence reform from diverse viewpoints, but all have exhibited integrity, academic rigor, and fidelity to American values in their efforts to understand and improve our government, and make it more accountable. Rather than interpret their work, I decided to let them speak for themselves through a series of taped interviews focusing upon their experience, writing, research and advocacy.
It is my hope that their voices broaden the national conversation about intelligence reform, create an empirical research base for informed policy changes, and draw attention to the flaws that weaken our current national security state.
As a former FBI agent, I know there are many threats to our safety. But only by abandoning our commitment to limited government and the rule of law will our national security ever be truly threatened. The experts interviewed for this project light a path toward comprehensive intelligence reform that will protect our democracy by rigorously testing intelligence methods for effectiveness and efficiency, ensuring compliance with the law, and strengthening public accountability.