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Reason of state and intelligence secrecy: The case of German intelligence legislation

Monday 3 December 2018
Intelligence Lecture Series 2018
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague


Please send an email to Clotilde Sebag confirming your attendance.

About the lecture

Can secret intelligence agencies fit in a democratic state? Maybe the strongest argument for secrecy here is based on reason of state: To preserve the state and its security, secrecy may be necessary, even if it might clash with the democratic commitment to transparency or even with legal rules.

The lecture discusses reason of state conceptually and shows how it plays out empirically, based on an analysis of expert interviews and legislation processes in the German Bundestag.

The concept of the reason of state can be traced to two different rationales. First, secrecy is seen as a necessary evil where the end (e.g. security) justifies the means (secrecy), even if this goes against democratic principles (like parliamentary control). From this perspective, while actors agree that there is a tension between secrecy and democracy since secrecy hinders democratic debate and decision-making, they still might see it as an inevitable concession to political reality. In Germany, MPs try to reconcile what they consider problematic, but necessary secrecy with parliamentary control through oversight committees which get access to secret information but in turn must keep the secrets to themselves. The second understanding of the reason of state refers to the preservation of the inner structure of the state viz. separation of powers. The constitutional system of the separation of powers is here understood as a system that grants the executive some sphere of secrecy. In this form, the idea of the reason of state refers to executive privilege (Kernbereich exekutiver Eigenverantwortung). If the executive is supposed to be overseen by parliament, they must have the right to deliberate and take decisions on their own for which they then are responsible. Both aspects are traced in the debates of the German Bundestag.

After the lecture there will be a time for questions and in-depth discussion, followed by drinks.

Dorothee Riese

About the speaker

Dorothee Riese is a PhD student on the ERC-funded project “Democratic Secrecy: Philosophical Analysis of the Role of Secrecy in Democratic Governance”. Her research focusses on the negotiation of secrecy rules in the German Bundestag. She holds a B.A. in social sciences and philosophy (major in political science) and an M.A. in political science from Leipzig University. In 2014, she started her PhD studies at Leipzig University where she has been working since 2015 as a research assistant for Prof. Dr. Astrid Lorenz and as coordinator of the M.A. European Integration in East Central Europe. In 2017, she was awarded the ECPR Rudolf-Wildenmann-Prize. 

About the Lecture Series

The Intelligence and Security Lecture Series is hosted by the Intelligence Research Group of the Institute of Security and Global Affairs.

A range of distinguished speakers, both practitioners and academics, will share their analyses and knowledge on the most important issues in the field of intelligence. The Lecture Series also strives to be a platform for experts and the wider public to engage in thought-provoking discussions.

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