The Architecture of Accountability: A Case Study of the Warrantless Surveillance Program

65 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2010

See all articles by Kathleen Clark

Kathleen Clark

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: April 12, 2010


This Article identifies mechanisms that help to hold the federal government’s executive branch accountable for complying with the law, and shows how claims of national security secrecy undermine the effectiveness of these accountability mechanisms. It identifies four distinct stages in the process of accountability, sets out a typology based on the mechanisms’ location inside or outside of government, and identifies some of the specific mechanisms that hold the executive branch accountable for violations of the law. These multiple overlapping mechanisms would appear to constitute a robust system of accountability.

A review of how this system of accountability operated in connection with the Bush Administration’s warrantless surveillance program, however, reveals that all of these mechanisms share a common characteristic, which turns out to be a weakness: a dependence on the provision of information. Remove the information, and the entire structure of apparently robust accountability collapses. The executive branch was able to prevent these multiple accountability mechanisms from scrutinizing the warrantless surveillance program by asserting national security secrecy. This systematic weakness in the accountability architecture has significant policy implications, including the need to recognize a crime-fraud exception to the state secrets privilege.

Keywords: Intelligence, Intelligence Community, CIA, Covert Action, Checks and Balances, Legislation, Secrecy, Surveillance, Oversight, National Security, President, Congress, ethics, public law, national security

Suggested Citation

Clark, Kathleen, The Architecture of Accountability: A Case Study of the Warrantless Surveillance Program (April 12, 2010). Brigham Young University Law Review, Vol. 2010, No. 2, 2010, Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-11-02, Available at SSRN:

Kathleen Clark (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States
314-935-4081 (Phone)
314-935-6493 (Fax)

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