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When Should State Secrets Stay Secret? Accountability, Democratic Governance, and Intelligence, Genevieve Lester

Reviewed by Briana R. Morgan



Oversight of the intelligence infrastructure presents unique challenges within a democratic government. The values of transparency and accountability are often in direct conflict with the responsibilities to protect and defend, a dynamic that is magnified by the secret and highly technical nature of intelligence work. Genevieve Lester examines this intersection in When Should State Secrets Stay Secret? Accountability, Democratic Governance, and Intelligence.

Lester’s study provides detailed historical analysis of how intelligence oversight mechanisms developed within each of the three branches of government, how those mechanisms interact, and what historical conjunctions have driven change. Central to this story is the problem of information asymmetry among the intelligence agencies, other branches of government, and the general public. In the broadest sense, the executive branch creates and controls all intelligence information. Both Congress and the judiciary are charged with oversight of these activities, but that oversight depends on information provided by (and at the discretion of) the executive branch. Lester finds that “each step of mechanism development in all three branches, pivots around rebalancing an asymmetry that will never completely balance due to the specialized tasks requirements, and characteristics of the intelligence s

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