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Making Friends and Influencing People: International Cooperation and Covert Action


Admission requirements

  • Only students of the MSc Crisis and Security Management, enrolled in the specialization ‘Intelligence and National Security’, can take this course.


This course will explore two of the most sensitive aspects of nation states’ intelligence communities in the international system: international cooperation, or ‘liaison’; and covert action. International cooperation has taken and can take many forms – from basic sharing of intelligence, to the running of joint operations, to security assistance, to ‘clandestine’ diplomacy – in response to and in order to meet a range of security and political requirements. Similarly, governments have regularly interfered, and continue to, in the affairs of foreign states and societies in an unacknowledged manner to influence their thinking, behaviour, and policies or those of regime dissidents, ranging from unattributable propaganda and political influence to paramilitary operations and assassinations. Such measures have been given many labels from different practitioner communities around the world, from covert action, to ‘special political action’, to ‘active measures’.

While these two sensitive fields of statecraft have their own unique characteristics and intended outcomes, they also overlap: not only through international cooperation to conduct covert action; but also through the use of international cooperation as a channel of covert influence. Making and maintaining clandestine friendships can be and has been designed to influence people and policies as much as to leverage their support. Considerations of agency and control also underpin both. And both carry not only operational but also political, legal, and ethical risks, including complicity in human rights violations and challenges to democratic norms of oversight and accountability.

But why have state intelligence services and special forces, inherently inclined towards secrecy, been willing to share their secrets? What gains and costs, enablers and obstacles, explain why some liaison relationships have remained merely transactional and ephemeral while others have deepened and endured? Similarly, what drives states and political leaders to seek to influence other states and societies more covertly than overtly along a blurred continuum of deniability? What gains and costs has covert action produced for sponsors, proxies, and partners, and how easy or difficult is it to determine impact?

In addition to critically reviewing key theories, concepts, and debates, students will explore core case studies to ground class discussion in both historical and contemporary examples. There is also a strong applied element to enhance professional skills for the workplace, from the central course skill of critically evaluating research - vital in evidence-led professional environments - to simulation exercises and group policy briefings on liaison and covert action scenarios. Developing your professional skills in critical evaluation, team collaboration, and oral briefing will prepare you for the labour market because these are fundamental requirements for entering policy, security, advocacy, media, and private sector jobs such as political risk, business intelligence, and cyber threat intelligence.

Course Objectives

After finalizing this course, students will have demonstrated:

  1. Advanced knowledge and understanding of the main theoretical, practitioner, and associated stakeholder debates regarding intelligence liaison and covert action.
  2. An ability to engage critically with the gains and costs of cooperation and deniable influence in varying political, legal, and normative contexts globally, and according to different security requirements: from counter-terrorism to cyber security.
  3. The development of advanced critical evaluation – including the ability to interrogate key research outputs and texts – independent judgment, and oral and written presentation to a level commensurate with taught post-graduate study.
  4. The skills to apply key concepts and debates in practice through a simulation exercise and oral policy briefing to enhance their professional skills and complement those developed in their other courses.
  5. The ability to self-evaluate, constructively engage with peers, and reflect after interactive in-class work and individual and group assignments.


On the right side of the programme front page of the E-guide you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Brightspace.

Mode of Instruction

This course consists of 14 interactive sessions. Some will consist of lectures with break out groups, others with primarily group work, and others with in-class simulations. There will also be visiting guest speakers from academic, think tank, and practitioner communities.

Attendance is mandatory. Students are only allowed to miss one session if there are special, demonstrable personal circumstances. The Board of Examiners, in consultation with the study advisors, will decide on such an exceptional exemption of mandatory attendance.

In this 10 ects course, 4 ects is specifically reserved for the assignment that is going to be part of the portfolio of students, including working on their interim reflection notes as preparation for the final reflection paper. Specific information on the portfolio assignment and the intended learning outcomes that are being acquired will be published in the syllabus of this course.

Total study load 280 hours:

  • 42 Contact hours.

  • 238 Self-study hours: reading, preparing lectures, assignments, etc.

Assessment method

Critical Article Review of Research

  • 30% of final grade

  • Resit not possible

  • Grade can be compensated

Group Simulation Briefing

  • 30% of final grade

  • Resit not possible

  • Grade can be compensated

Research Essay

  • 40% of final grade

  • Grade must be 5.50 or higher to pass the course

  • Resit possible

  • Resit will take the same form on a different question

Students will be permitted to resit the research essay if they have a calculated overall course grade lower than 5.50 or with permission of the Board of Examiners. The critical article review and the group simulation briefing must be compensated to achieve a 5.50 or higher to pass the course.

transitional arrangement
Partial grades obtained during the academic year 21-22 will still be valid in the academic year 22-23, but they will weigh towards the final grade in accordance with the weight given to partial grades in the year 22-23.

The Course and Examination Regulation Crisis and Security Management and the Rules and Regulation of the Board of Examiners of the Institute of Security and Global Affairs apply.

Reading list

A selection of books, articles, and additional audio-visual materials, to be released in the course syllabus and announced on Brightspace.


Some courses and workgroups have a limited number of participants, so register on time (before the course starts). In uSis you can access your personal schedule and view your results.

Leiden University uses Brightspace as its online learning management system. Important information about the course is posted here.
After enrolment for the course in uSis you are also enrolled in the Brightspace environment of this course.


If you have any questions, please send an e-mail to


All sessions will be in English.
Group assignments and individual papers need to be written in English.