In some ways, counter-terrorism review operates well. The ‘pluralistic jumble’ that is the counter-terrorism review assemblage has significant strengths. It is often able to ensure that counter-terrorism is subjected to real evaluation: that merit is assessed, that reality is engaged with and that there is a capacity for action as a result of review. In important ways, the assemblage operates as a ‘web of accountability’ in the counterterrorist state, subjecting its activities to scrutiny against a range of legal, societal and operational standards. However, challenges to realising the accountability potential of counter-terrorism review persist. In large part, those challenges reflect the persistence of exceptionalist thinking within the counter-terrorist state. In this chapter, we zoom out from the detailed accounts given in Chapters 2 and 3 to problematise counter-terrorism review from the perspective of accountability. We dwell on four persistent challenges that emerged from our research: the secret state, the abundance of executive control, the limitations of Parliament and the absence of trust. These challenges have a serious impact on counter-terrorism review but, to a large extent, their resolution may be beyond the reach of the assemblage itself.
Part I: The secret state endures
In spite of the Government's avowed commitment to accountability and transparency in counter-terrorism, and of the near-universal agreement across our interviewees that reducing secrecy and increasing transparency was at the heart of counter-terrorism review, the counter-terrorist state is a secret state. Often enabled and legitimised by accountability mechanisms such as courts, this secrecy poses significant challenges to the optimisation of accountability through counter-terrorism review. To explain this, we adopt Morgan's tripartite characterisation of the secret state as engaging in esoteric, operational and efficient secrecy. We argue all three elements can be observed within the counter-terrorist state in ways that undermine, and in some cases seem to be structured into, the counter-terrorism review assemblage. Seen in this way, state secrecy not only poses obstacles for accountability in the counter-terrorist state, but also exacerbates the hierarchy, competition and marginalisation that, as we discussed in Chapter 3, are apparent in the counter-terrorism review assemblage.