Glasnost for US Intelligence: Will Transparency Lead to Increased Public Trust?

May 24, 2018

By: Stephen Slick, University of Texas-Austin; Joshua Busby, Nonresident Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy

A polling project launched last summer by the University of Texas aims to shed light on Americans’ perception of intelligence agencies, and to test the claim that efforts by these agencies to be more open will enhance their democratic legitimacy. While Americans generally consider the work of the intelligence community (IC) effective, few understand the institutional framework for supervising and overseeing this part of our government – despite more than a decade of vigorous public debate over controversial intelligence programs.

Key takeaways:

  • Americans generally regard the intelligence community as effective, particularly in preventing terrorism and learning the plans of hostile powers.
  • Americans are less convinced the intelligence community is respectful of privacy and civil liberties.  
  • Less informed Americans, particularly younger people, were less likely to view the intelligence community as effective.
  • Americans broadly were supportive of the intelligence community using all lawful means to acquire intelligence, but were divided on the need for surrendering privacy rights.
  • Republicans were even more likely than Democrats or Independents to say the intelligence community helps the country produce sound foreign policies.
  • Though less than a majority, Democrats were more likely than Republicans or Independents to support protecting the privacy rights of foreigners.


Glasnost for US Intelligence: Will Transparency Lead to Increased Public Trust?

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