Securg Tyrants or Fostering Reform?: U. S. Internal Security Assistance to Repressive and Transitioning Regimes


This study examines the results of U.S. assistance to the internal security forces of four repressive states: El Salvador, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Efforts to improve the security, human rights, and accountability of security forces appear more likely to succeed in states transitioning from repressive to democratic systems. In addition, several factors are critical for success: the duration of assistance, viability of the justice system, and support and buy-in from the local government (including ...

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This study examines the results of U.S. assistance to the internal security forces of four repressive states: El Salvador, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Efforts to improve the security, human rights, and accountability of security forces appear more likely to succeed in states transitioning from repressive to democratic systems. In addition, several factors are critical for success: the duration of assistance, viability of the justice system, and support and buy-in from the local government (including key ministries).

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780833040183
  • Publisher: RAND Corporation
  • Publication date: 12/28/2006
  • Pages: 234
  • Product dimensions: 6.06 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 0.60 (d)

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Securing Tyrants or Fostering Reform?

U.S. Internal Security Assistance to Repressive and Transitioning Regimes
By Seth G. Jones Olga Oliker Peter Chalk C. Christine Fair Rollie Lal James Dobbins

Rand Corporation

Copyright © 2006 RAND Corporation
All right reserved.

Chapter One


Throughout its history, the U.S. government has provided funding, equipment, training, and other assistance to the police and internal security agencies of foreign governments to help counter security threats, including terrorist organizations, drug trafficking, and hostile states. This report examines an important subset of U.S. internal security assistance; aid to repressive states. The United States has provided assistance to a number of countries that have not shared its political ideals. Their security forces were not accountable to the public, and their practices and approaches were not transparent. In some cases, the confluence of shared interests has led the United States to provide assistance to the internal security forces of regimes that stood accused of human rights abuses and repression, as well as to states seeking to transition away from such practices.

The provision of assistance to repressive states raises a number of questions, the answers to which have significant policy implications. Has U.S. assistance improved the effectiveness of internal security agencies in countering security threats? Has U.S. assistance improved the accountability and human rights records of these agencies?What is the relationship between improving security and improving accountability and human rights?

This study was undertaken to help answer these questions. It focuses on four cases: El Salvador, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In each case, we consider the assistance the United States has provided to internal security forces and the goals of that assistance. We then assess whether the assistance has helped improve the ability of these agencies to effectively deal with security threats, improve transparency and accountability, and improve human rights practices. Based on the analysis of the cases, we draw some preliminary implications for U.S. security assistance programs in the future. We define internal security forces as police, counterterrorist, counternarcotic, and other government forces that have a core internal security function. Consequently, we exclude U.S. assistance to foreign military forces, and, because of data constraints, we also exclude U.S. assistance to foreign intelligence services. Information on U.S. assistance to foreign intelligence services is difficult to obtain, as is information about the activities of U.S. intelligence services, including such related activities as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) "rendition" program for terrorism suspects.


We chose our cases on the basis of four criteria. First, the countries had to receive internal security assistance from the United States, since this is the focus of the study. Second, the countries had to have a history of repressive security forces and little or no history of democratic policing. Third, we included countries that were transitioning away from repressive systems when U.S. assistance began in order to assess whether reform is easier to achieve under these conditions. Fourth, we chose cases that varied in both effectiveness in dealing with security threats and accountability of police and internal security forces. Examining only cases in which the United States has failed to reform police and internal security forces would tell us little about what factors lead to success. Focusing only on successful cases would be equally biased and would tell us little about what factors lead to failure. Our objective was to examine both successful and unsuccessful cases to draw out both positive and negative lessons and practices.

Table 1.1 presents an overview of the four case studies. El Salvador began to transition away from a highly repressive and autocratic regime following the 1992 Chapultepec Accords. Our assessment was that the human rights practices and accountability of El Salvador's security forces had improved by the late 1990s, although those forces faced significant challenges in dealing with violent criminal groups. Uzbekistan remained a repressive regime over the course of U.S. assistance. In addition, we saw little indication that the effectiveness, accountability, and human rights practices of its internal security forces improved during that time. Uzbekistan clearly presents the challenges of undertaking a reform effort in a state where corruption and human rights violations are endemic and political reform is feared as a threat to the state. Afghanistan was in the early stages of a transition from an autocratic to a democratic regime. We also found some initial evidence that its internal security forces had become more accountable following U.S. and German assistance, although we were less optimistic about their effectiveness in the face of an increasingly violent insurgency. Finally, Pakistan, much like Uzbekistan, remained repressive and autocratic over the course of U.S. assistance. We also found little evidence that the effectiveness, accountability, and human rights practices of its internal security forces had improved. Indeed, Pakistani forces have used highly draconian punishments, including home demolition, the seizure of businesses, and the forfeiture of other properties and assets, to combat terrorists and other militants within the country.

There is substantial variation in these cases regarding both the effectiveness and the accountability and human rights practices of the internal security forces. Figures 1.1 and 1.2 show the change in the perception of effectiveness and accountability in the case studies at two intervals: before the United States provided assistance, and 2006.2 The figures, based on data from the World Bank Governance Indicators dataset, reveal several key findings.

First, Afghanistan experienced improvement in accountability over the course of U.S. assistance. However, it started from a low baseline. Since U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan are ongoing, it is still too early to reach a final conclusion. Second, El Salvador experienced an improvement in accountability but a decline in the effectiveness of police and other internal security forces, although it began from a higher baseline than did the other countries. Third, Pakistan experienced a slight increase in accountability but a major decline in the effectiveness of its security forces. Fourth, Uzbekistan experienced a decline in both categories. It is important to interpret these findings with some caution because they reflect only the perception of effectiveness and accountability in these countries. Nevertheless, they offer a useful first cut and indicate wide variation in the cases. They also suggest some preliminary conclusions.

Our research approach consisted of several components. We reviewed relevant primary and secondary source documents. We also conducted extensive primary-source interviews with government officials from the United States, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, El Salvador, and Afghanistan who were involved in police and internal security. In the United States, these interviews included officials in the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Justice-including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP)-the CIA, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the U.S. Department of Treasury. Finally, we also examined a combination of quantitative and qualitative "outcome" measures that were available and relevant to the cases at hand. For accountability and human rights, these included perception of human rights and civil liberties by the local population, based on data from several sources, including World Bank and Freedom House datasets and relevant State Department reports. For effectiveness, we used a variety of data on crime rates, levels of political violence and insurgency, the perception of security among the local population, and levels of corruption. The data was obtained from a number of sources, including the RAND-Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) Terrorism Incident Database, the World Bank, and Transparency International.

Outline of This Report

The rest of this report is divided into six chapters. Chapter Two provides the historical context of U.S. assistance to repressive states. Chapter Three examines U.S. assistance to El Salvador in the 1980s and 1990s. Chapter Four focuses on Uzbekistan. Chapter Five assesses U.S. assistance to Afghanistan beginning in 2001, especially assistance to the Afghan National Police and other Ministry of Interior forces. Chapter Six explores Pakistan, particularly in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Finally, Chapter Seven outlines key findings and recommendations for security reform. It includes a discussion of the short-term and long-term costs, benefits, and tradeoffs of various policies regarding assistance to repressive states. It also considers mechanisms and priorities by which assistance can be better geared to support future security development efforts.

The case studies were structured to address the same questions. For each country, we sought to assess the local leadership's perceived threat environment and the extent to which the United States shared those views. In each case, we present an overview of the aid the United States has provided, and we discuss how vetting of candidates for training is carried out. Finally, we assess how effective or ineffective assistance has been both in improving basic capacity and in fostering credible reform. Although the questions are the same, the answers are different, and the case studies reflect the differences among the four countries.

Chapter Two

Historical Context

This chapter presents a brief history of U.S. internal security assistance dating back to the Cold War. During the Cold War, for example, the United States provided assistance to a number of states with repressive internal security forces, including El Salvador, Iran, and the Philippines, in response to fears of Soviet expansion. More recently, after the September 11, 2001, attacks, the United States provided-or, in some cases, significantly increased-assistance to states whose internal security practices raised concerns, as part of its war on terrorism. Examples include Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. In most of these cases, the United States argued that providing assistance would increase the accountability and improve the human rights practices of these countries. According to one high-ranking State Department official, "Providing internal security assistance to repressive regimes presents a number of challenges. However, our objective is generally twofold: to improve the effectiveness of these forces in combating terrorism; and to improve their human rights and accountability."

Following the historical review, the chapter outlines the two major schools of thought regarding internal security assistance to states with repressive internal security forces and agencies. Finally, it offers a brief conclusion.

The U.S. Historical Experience

During the Cold War, U.S. officials believed that internal security assistance was critical to prevent certain countries from falling under Soviet influence. The Office of Public Safety, which was established in 1962 in USAID, trained more than a million foreign police over its 13-year tenure. President John F. Kennedy believed that Moscow sought to strengthen its international position by pursuing a strategy of subversion, indirect warfare, and agitation designed to install communist regimes in the developing world. In March 1961, President Kennedy told the U.S. Congress that the West was being "nibbled away at the periphery" by a Soviet strategy of "subversion, infiltration, intimidation, indirect or non-overt aggression, internal revolution, diplomatic blackmail, guerilla warfare or a series of limited wars." He concluded that providing assistance to police and other internal security forces was critical to combat Soviet aggression, since these organizations were the first line of defense against subversive forces. Robert Komer, President Kennedy's key National Security Council (NSC) staff member on overseas internal security assistance, argued that viable foreign police in vulnerable countries were the necessary "preventive medicine" to thwart Soviet inroads. Komer argued that the police were in regular contact with the population, could provide early warning against potential subversion, and could be used to control riots, demonstrations, and subversive activities before they became serious threats.

Consequently, the Defense Department, the CIA, the State Department, and USAID provided assistance to police and internal security forces in key strategic regions such as Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Successive U.S. administrations were influenced by "modernization theory" in offering internal security assistance. Weak state institutions, U.S. policymakers believed, would create ideal conditions for communist exploitation. Consequently, U.S. assistance encouraged the adoption of such principles as managerial efficiency, merit-based promotion, and the use of advanced technology to rebuild police and other internal security forces.

By the early 1970s, the U.S. Congress became deeply concerned that U.S. assistance abroad frequently strengthened the recipient governments' capacity for repression. Congress was also concerned about the role of the CIA, which trained foreign police in countersubversion, counterguerilla, and intelligence-gathering techniques. Consequently, Congress adopted Section 660 of the Foreign Assistance Act in 1974, which prohibited the United States from providing internal security assistance to foreign governments and specifically stated that the U.S. government could not "provide training or advice, or provide any financial support, for police, prisons, or other law enforcement forces for any foreign government or any program of internal intelligence or surveillance on behalf of any foreign government within the United States or abroad." While the U.S. government still provided some internal security training during the late 1970s and 1980s through exemptions and waiver provisions, Section 660 largely terminated U.S. involvement in this area. One notable exception was ICITAP, which was established in the Justice Department in 1986 to help restructure the law enforcement systems of countries in transition.

The end of the Cold War and the increasing tempo of U.S. stability operations after 1989 rendered the 1974 legislation largely obsolete. Section 660 still exists, but U.S. government agencies have increasingly secured waivers and provided police and other internal security assistance to a range of both democratic and non-democratic regimes. A variety of U.S. agencies currently provide assistance to foreign police and internal forces, including:

The State Department, especially the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

The Defense Department, including the office of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict



The Justice Department, especially ICITAP, the FBI, DEA, and the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT)

The Transportation Department


Excerpted from Securing Tyrants or Fostering Reform? by Seth G. Jones Olga Oliker Peter Chalk C. Christine Fair Rollie Lal James Dobbins Copyright © 2006 by RAND Corporation. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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