Why are governments sharing intelligence on the Ukraine war with the public and what are the risks?
In this article, Thomas Maguire, assistant professor at the Institute of Governance and Global Affairs, examines the intelligence of the US, British and Ukrainian governments and NATO partners concerning Russia and its war against Ukraine. This article discusses how and why governments communicate intelligence - and with what risks.
- Thomas Maguire, Huw Dylan
- 26 September 2022
- Read the full article here
Before and during the war in Ukraine, intelligence disclosures have been intended to bolster Ukrainian and European resilience against Russia’s invasion, to undermine Russia’s attempts to justify their actions and expose their wartime atrocities and failings. These disclosures have also sought to justify Nato and EU member economic sanctions and security assistance to Ukraine and to enhance cohesion with more reluctant allies to isolate Russia diplomatically and economically. Yet the scale, frequency and initially preemptive nature of intelligence disclosures concerning Russia and Ukraine are new. Given the acute pressure Ukraine is under, Kyiv is disclosing especially granular intelligence on alleged Russian operations to kill Ukrainian prisoners of war and Russian security service war planning. Finally, long-term considerations of disclosing for influence must consider the audience costs of losing trust through politicised intelligence. Using intelligence to forewarn of an enemy’s planned action runs the self-negating risk of successfully deterring the very act that is predicted. Also, publicly deployed intelligence often lacks the nuance of internal and classified assessments. It is consumed by a public generally unfamiliar with the limits of intelligence and contextual considerations. Intelligence agencies should be careful to protect their credibility with the public. Likewise, media intermediaries and public consumers alike need to approach such intelligence-led communications with a careful, critical eye.