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This article explores the role of the news media in overseeing intelligence services and their work. As an informal mechanism, how do they fit into the wider landscape of intelligence oversight? By drawing on examples of US counter-terrorism efforts in the post-9/11 era, the article identifies three roles for the news media in intelligence oversight: as an information transmitter and stimulator for formal scrutinizers, as a substitute watchdog and as a legitimizing institution. Yet there is a danger of the news media acting merely as a lapdog. Other limitations include the impact of regulatory frameworks, government secrecy and the media strategies of intelligence services. The article concludes that the news media play an important role in the wider intelligence oversight landscape, but that their ability to scrutinize is uneven and ad hoc and as a result the picture they produce is blurred.

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This article explores the role of the news media in overseeing intelligence services and their work. As an informal mechanism, how do they fit into the wider landscape of intelligence oversight? By drawing on examples of US counter-terrorism efforts in the post-9/11 era, the article identifies three roles for the news media in intelligence oversight: as an information transmitter and stimulator for formal scrutinizers, as a substitute watchdog and as a legitimizing institution. Yet there is a danger of the news media acting merely as a lapdog. Other limitations include the impact of regulatory frameworks, government secrecy and the media strategies of intelligence services. The article concludes that the news media play an important role in the wider intelligence oversight landscape, but that their ability to scrutinize is uneven and ad hoc and as a result the picture they produce is blurred.