Review of International Studies

Research Article

Beyond the vigilant state: globalisation and intelligence



The world of intelligence has grown exponentially over the last decade. This article suggests that prevailing explanation of this expansion – the spectre of ‘new terrorism’ – reflects serious misunderstandings. Much of the emergency legislation which has extended the power of the state so remarkably was already sitting in the pending trays of officials in the late 1990s. Instead, the rise of both the ‘new terrorism’ and its supposed nemesis – the secret state – both owe more to long-term structural factors. Globalisation has accelerated a wide range of sub-military transnational threats, of which the ‘new terrorism’ is but one example. Meanwhile the long-promised engines of global governance are nowhere in sight. In their absence, the underside of a globalising world is increasingly policed by ‘vigilant states’ that resort to a mixture of military power and intelligence power in an attempt to address these problems. Yet the intelligence services cannot meet the improbable demands for omniscience made by governments, nor can they square their new enforcer role with vocal demands by global civil society for improved ethical practice.

Richard J. Aldrich is Professor of International Security at the Warwick University and is the author of several books including The Hidden Hand: Britain American and Cold War Secret Intelligence (John Murray Publishers Ltd, 2001) which won the Donner Book prize in 2002. He is currently directing the AHRC project, ‘Landscapes of Secrecy: The Central Intelligence Agency and the contested record of US foreign policy, 1947–2001’. He has held a Fulbright fellowship at Georgetown University and more recently has spent time in Canberra and Ottawa as a Leverhulme Fellow.


* I am indebted to the Leverhulme Trust for a fellowship that facilitated this article. The paper was first given at ECPR Pisa 2007 and other locations and I would like to record my gratitude to those who have offered comments.