IILJ Working Paper 2006/9

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold War: Intelligence and International Law

Simon Chesterman

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International law has traditionally had little to say on the subject of intelligence—in large part because outraged rhetoric has long been contradicted by widespread practice. This article surveys efforts to regulate the collection of intelligence in international law before turning to more recent checks on the manner in which intelligence has been invoked in international organizations. Long a “dirty word” within the United Nations, intelligence is now being used to justify military strikes, target financial sanctions, and indict war criminals. While there is little prospect for limiting collection of intelligence beyond activities that can be physically intercepted or prevented, increasing recourse to intelligence in multilateral forums is beginning to impose procedural constraints on the purposes for which that intelligence may be employed.