- Tunisia’s National Intelligence: Why “Rogue Elephants” Fail to Reform by Noureddine Jebnoun
Noureddine Jebnoun’s book, Tunisia’s National Intelligence, is a valuable contribution to ongoing discussions surrounding the reform of security sectors in countries undergoing transitions from authoritarian rule. Describing the emergence and trajectory of Tunisia’s intelligence services under the rule of Habib Bourguiba (1956–87) and Zine El-‘Abidine Ben ‘Ali (1987–2011) and analyzing steps toward the reform of these agencies since the revolution of 2011, Jebnoun’s insightful work breaks new ground in several respects. It is essential reading for those interested in Tunisian politics and for students of security sector reform and the role of intelligence agencies more broadly.
One of the book’s central strengths is its focus on intelligence agencies proper. While there is some debate about the control of intelligence services in democratic settings,1 and about the challenges of intelligence reform following democratic transitions,2 intelligence services in the Middle East and North Africa have not received much systematic scholarly attention.3 This relative negligence is probably a function of the political centrality of these agencies in many of the authoritarian states of the region, which makes systematic empirical information particularly hard to come by. Jebnoun’s study of the Tunisian intelligence services is therefore a significant contribution to an important but under-researched field.
Moreover, Jebnoun demonstrates an exceptional depth of empirical knowledge. Based on interviews with more than 40 active and retired Tunisian security officials from various institutional backgrounds as well as on legal texts and secondary sources, Jebnoun’s study offers rich insights into the landscape of overlapping and competing intelligence agencies. He masterfully traces the emergence and historical development of these institutions and analyzes reform efforts undertaken since the revolution. In keeping with the book’s subtitle, Why “Rogue Elephants” Fail to Reform, his [End Page 331] main contention is that the limited steps of intelligence reform that have been undertaken in Tunisia since 2011 have largely been undermined by the persistence of an authoritarian organizational culture. His book can therefore be read as a call for stronger and deeper-reaching efforts at security sector reform in Tunisia, directed at the country’s decision-makers and international stake-holders alike.
In Chapter 1, Jebnoun outlines the framework for his analysis. Emphasizing the need to focus on intelligence agencies in their own right, he briefly lays out how intelligence services have been at the center of authoritarian regimes in various world regions and how transitions from authoritarian rule have affected intelligence services in Eastern Europe and Latin America. He advocates analyzing the reform of the intelligence services as part of a larger process of security sector reform and briefly discusses the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s notion of “security systems” as a guiding conceptual notion.
The second chapter, in turn, discusses the emergence of the Tunisian intelligence services under Bourguiba. The chapter can be read as an argument tracing the politicization of the Tunisian intelligence system back to the power struggles pitting Bourguiba against his rival within the New Constitutional Liberal Party (Néo-Destour), Salih Ben Youssef. Relying heavily on French personnel, the formation of the Tunisian intelligence agencies was a reaction to events on the ground “rather than the outcome of a rational and planned policy” (p. 14). As such, the intelligence services were political instruments in the service of regime protection from the outset, and remained inefficient in their supposed core function of intelligence gathering and analysis. Jebnoun discusses at some length the example of Military Security (SM, from the French Sécurité militaire), including its development into “another internal security apparatus operating in parallel with those within the Interior Ministry” (p. 24), and the ineffectiveness of this particular service when it came to providing the Tunisian Armed Forces with actionable intelligence.
Chapter 3 continues this line of analysis by discussing the evolution of the intelligence services after the end of the Bourguiba era, including what Jebnoun refers to as the “securitization...