Navigating Troubled Waters: How Leaders Can More Effectively Prepare Intelligence Enterprises for the Risks of Intelligence Efforts in Transparent Societies

Jeffrey Dambly


Intelligence stakeholders increasingly expect intelligence officials to be more transparent in the twenty-first century.[1] Stakeholder support is important because intelligence organizations operate most effectively when they have the support of their respective stakeholders, including legislative bodies who give intelligence organizations their authorities, the courts who often review intelligence activities, the media who frame public narratives about intelligence activities, and most importantly the public from whom all authority for intelligence activities derive in a democratic society. This thesis asks the question of how intelligence enterprises can effectively meet stakeholder demands in a manner that sufficiently balances security and liberty interests, thereby maintaining the support of stakeholders and the public writ large.

This thesis uses the social identity perspective as a tool for analysis in the case study methodology. This social psychological framework makes clear how harmful conflicts between groups within organizations and among intelligence stakeholders are to organizational efficacy. The case study in this thesis focuses on the small group of policymakers who controlled U.S. counterterrorism policy in the period immediately after 9/11. By highlighting their unilateral, secretive, and hostile tactics to implement aggressive, norm-changing intelligence programs, the case study denotes the dangers incumbent upon social groups within a security-based organization who embrace the “prevention at all costs” narrative. In the twenty-first century, intelligence officials must be cognizant of the pitfalls awaiting organizations that attempt to unilaterally and aggressively enhance their capabilities in an all-out effort to prevent another terrorist attack. The case study highlights several of those potential consequences, to primarily include the loss of capabilities and authorities, and the threat of institutional instability. Here, the Bush Administration unnecessarily created several potential threats to the efficacy of their own policies through the decisions they made.

By focusing on the social identity perspective to analyze the case study, this thesis makes clear that effective leadership is a critical component to strong organizations.[2] Leadership does not equal raw, coercive positional power.[3] Instead, leadership of a group comes from the group’s acceptance and support.[4] According to the social identity perspective, a prototypical leader is an individual who most strongly identifies with a group’s perceived vision of the ideal group member, and who can then take that correlation and use the group’s acceptance to influence group norms.[5] Those in positions of power in organizations must recognize the distinction between power and leadership, and strive to use leadership qualities to positively influence their organization and their surrounding stakeholders.

Looking forward, this thesis provides a foundation upon which future researchers and policymakers may build. Through the Intergroup Relational Identity (IRI) theory, this thesis provides one potential method for improving the ability of intelligence enterprises to balance the equities between security and liberty. The IRI theory is thoroughly steeped in the social identity perspective discussed in this thesis, but it is distinct in the field of social identity in that it focuses on the necessity of intergroup relations as a defining characteristic of groups’ identities.[6] This method recognizes the need to grasp social dynamics when seeking to institute cultural change and uses those forces to the leader’s advantage. Specifically, this application of the IRI theory compels an organizational chief to use certain communication techniques while recruiting and fostering a leadership coalition.[7] Those leaders set the stage for social influence among themselves and among their respective ingroups.[8] Through their dialogue, the leadership coalition can mirror stakeholder concerns over intelligence and better prepare the organization for those stakeholder interests. A similar use of the IRI model can also improve relationships with external stakeholders.

By working with external stakeholders and fostering an internal organizational culture that seeks to reasonably balance security and liberty interests, officials lessen the likelihood that stakeholders will one day question and scrutinize their actions for potential abuses of authority or violations of stakeholder expectations. Officials can also use these concepts to prevent many of the dire scenes of social conflict outlined in the case study.[9]



[1] See Julian Richards, “Intelligence Dilemma? Contemporary Counter-terrorism in a Liberal Democracy,” Intelligence and National Security 27, no. 5 (October 2012): 761.

[2] See Michael A. Hogg, “A Social Identity Theory of Leadership,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 1, no. 3 (August 2001): 193.

[3] Hogg, 194.

[4] See Deborah J. Terry, Michael A. Hogg, and Julie M. Duck, “Group Membership, Social Identity, and Attitudes,” in Social Identity and Social Cognition, ed. Dominic Abrams and Michael A. Hogg (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 301.

[5] Hogg, “A Social Identity Theory of Leadership,” 194.

[6] Michael A. Hogg, Daan Van Knippenberg, and David E. Rast, III, “Intergroup Leadership in Organizations: Leading Across Group and Organizational Boundaries,” Academy of Management Review 37, no. 2 (April 2012): 241–42.

[7] See Hogg, Van Knippenberg, and Rast, 243–45.

[8] See Hogg, Van Knippenberg, and Rast, 244; see also Hogg, “A Social Identity Theory of Leadership,” 187.

[9] For examples, see James Comey, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (New York: Flatiron Books, 2018), 87–90; see also Timothy Edgar, Beyond Snowden: Privacy, Mass Surveillance, and the Struggle to Reform the NSA (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2017), 46.

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