Arslan Chikhaoui, Executive Chairman of the Algeria-based NSV Consultancy Center. 

Since it was restructured in September 2013, Algeria’s Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS), a branch of the country’s military, has seen a second wave of reforms, following the first set in early 1990s. These reforms seek not just to address growing regional threats but also to respond to current internal developments. However, a more progressive approach is needed to ensure that the institution moves away from its traditional role of political policing and shift to real intelligence work.

The terrorist attack at the gas plant in Tiguentourine (in the south-east of Algeria) in January 2013 proved the need to speed up the intelligence services reform and to improve the efficiency of the military. The reforms that have been undertaken are threefold. The first is a generational shift to rejuvenate DRS leadership and allow the post-independence generation to take the lead. The second is a structural reorganization to ensure a refocusing on principal activities and new threats. Finally, a modernization effort seeks to transition the intelligence service away from operating as a “secret police” and toward acting as a proper intelligence agency that can adapt to ongoing regional threats and domestic political transition.

In addition to these reforms, the presidency, through a consensual agreement, is making a concerted effort to show that DRS is slowly becoming more transparent and moving away from interfering in politics. Presidential decree 14-183 of June 11 created a new Service of Judiciary Investigation (SIJ) under the jurisdiction of both the DRS and the general prosecutor of the criminal division of the court of appeal. The SIJ is intended to conduct investigations on national security threats (terrorism, subversion, organized crime, and corruption). Furthermore, the decree specified that the SIJ is prohibited from interfering with affairs, such as political ones, that do not relate to its specific missions listed in the decree. That a decree related to the affairs of the DRS was made public is an indication of the attempts to bring more transparency to the institution’s functioning.

Although in theory the army has been retreating from the political scene since the late 1980s, the DRS still needs to break its organic and hierarchical link with the Ministry of Defense. Only a progressive approach can guarantee this. The “Soviet”-like centralized structure model needs to be reformed to ensure it does not interfere in civilian political governance. 

The presidency is attempting to adapt the country’s military and security doctrines along with its foreign policy doctrine. In terms of security, it remains to be seen whether the improvement in institutional governance could be achieved without disrupting stability. The key challenge for the future is to shift from rulership to leadership.