The Security State and Public Accountability

Relationships of influence between civil society and ‘intelligence elites’ (that small number of leaders in interlocking political, economic and military domains that make fundamental decisions on policies concerning intelligence) is an under-researched area within the study of persuasion. This is a core finding of MPC member Vian Bakir's book, Intelligence Elites and Public Accountability (2018), where she examines multidisciplinary scholarship from international relations, history, media and journalism. Also see her journal article.

Academic research shows that, with some notable exceptions, civil society largely does a poor job in holding intelligence elites publicly accountable. To address this, Vian has been co-developing with investigative journalism expert Paul Lashmar, and with civil society more broadly, some best practice guidelines to encourage critical researching and reporting in this difficult area. This includes co-creating plain English guidance for journalists on how to deal with the surveillant state. Journalism post-Snowden: a simple guide to protecting your information & contacts is now hosted on the National Union of Journalists’ website (members only can access it).

In 2018, Vian Bakir and Andrew McStay presented written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, UK Parliament. Their submission, The Sorry Tale of British Journalism and our Right to Privacy, shows how British journalism inadequately informs audiences about their privacy rights, especially given the press’ preference for a counter-narrative on the importance of surveillance for national security. They recommend that: (a) Journalists should be encouraged to reject simplistic binary narratives of surveillance versus privacy: there are many shades of complexity within these issues; (b) Journalists should not automatically privilege intelligence agencies and their political mouthpieces as sources, but should give more prominence to those pointing out human rights implications of security practices

In related work, in October 2016, Vian helped to independently evaluate advocacy group CAGE's report, The Science of Pre-Crime: the secret radicalisation study underpinning PREVENT, on the secret research base underpinning Channel's extremist risk guidelines. Reflecting on this, and other secret research in the USA, Vian published a piece in Open Democracy about the problems with secret research that informs security policy.
Vian has spoken to diverse audiences on the relationship between intelligence agencies, national security and surveillance laws. In 2019 she was an invited panellist for 2 panels at the International Journalism Festival, Perugia Italy: How to See in the Wilderness of Mirrors and Covering the Surveillance State . ┬áIn 2018 she gave an invited talk on Oversight of Digital Surveillant Organisations to Grounded Festival on AI in the Age of Intimacy, (Ljubliana, Slovenia, Nov 2018). In 2015, she was an invited Panelist on Journalism in post-Snowden era for Eurovision's 10th News Assembly, European Broadcast Union, the largest association of broadcasters in the world (held in Berlin).  Vian participated in the Emwazi External Review (held at SOAS, Univ. of London) where she discussed CAGE's reaction to media coverage of 'Jihadi John' and intelligence agencies. Vian and Andrew McStay introduced CitizenFourLaura Poitras' (2014) documentary on national security whistle-blower Edward Snowden, at Caernarfon Arts Gallery. This included a pre-screening talk on the national security whistle-blowers and media representations, and the importance of privacy.