Promoting Democracy Top Intelligence Priority

The Bush Administration has placed democracy promotion ahead of only counterterrorism and weapons proliferation as priorities for the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Spy Agencies Told to ‘Bolster the Growth of Democracy’ (NYT)

A new strategy document issued Wednesday by the Bush administration ranks efforts to “bolster the growth of democracy” among the three top missions for American intelligence agencies. John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, said the rankings were intended to align the work of intelligence agencies with the administration’s broader national security goals. The top two “mission objectives” are efforts to counter terrorism and weapons proliferation.

At a briefing, Mr. Negroponte said he did not believe that the priorities reflected a significant change from those in place before the overhaul of intelligence agencies and the establishment of his post six months ago. But another senior intelligence official, speaking at the same briefing, said the emphasis reflected an acknowledgment that American agencies needed to do “a better job” in understanding the role played by “soft power.”

The Bush administration has seized upon the expansion of democracy abroad as a central theme of foreign policy, especially since President Bush devoted much of his second inaugural address to pledging support for democratic movements “in every nation and culture.”

Among other things, the strategy says that “collectors, analysts and operators” within the 15 American intelligence agencies should seek to “forge relationships with new and incipient democracies” in order to help “strengthen the rule of law and ward off threats to representative government.” The strategy, published on, is unclassified, and the officials said it was not intended to apply in any way to any covert action that might be undertaken by the United States.

The document provided few specifics, and Mr. Negroponte said it could take as long as two years before its goals were fully reflected in intelligence budgets. But the second intelligence official said it would be prudent to expect to see funds shifted away from classified technical intelligence programs, some of which Mr. Negroponte’s office has already selected for cuts, and toward human spying.

That democracies don’t fight wars with other democracies has been deemed as close a thing to an empirical truth established by the social sciences. Supporting it as a major national security objective, then, is a no-brainer.

It does not, however, seem an obvious role for intelligence agencies, why are primarily in the business of collecting and analyzing information. The only sense in which I can see “democracy promotion” as a job for intelligence is in a negative sense. For example, we need to ensure we learn from the mistakes made at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and understand how important it is to prevent human rights abuses and other incidents which might undermine America’s reputation for decency. They might help “strengthen the rule of law” by observing it themselves.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Business as usual for Bush. Nothing like mixing up policy with intel to utterly foul up both intel and policy.

  2. legion says:

    You’re absolutely right, James – there is no plausible way for intel to ‘bolster’ democracies.

    Unless, of course, you assume Bush meant ‘bolster _this_ democracy’, ie, ‘provide better proof for decisions I’ve already made’…

  3. RA says:

    Inteligence is needed for fighting the enemies of Democracy, like the American hating left. It is also useful in supporting groups in despotic countries who are attempting to turn their countries into democracies.

    The above cheap attempts to discredit Bush on this issue is proof positive why the left should NEVER run foreign policy.