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The Gatekeepers: secret services in the democratic legal order


Admission requirements

This course is designed for the minor Intelligence Studies. It is not possible to follow single courses of this minor. You need to be enrolled in Usis for the minor to be accepted to this course. There are 150 places open for registration, on a first come first serve basis, where LDE students are given priority.


Western intelligence and security services are generally tasked with protecting state security and democracy. As ‘gatekeepers’ they try to foresee whether there are individuals, organizations, or other states that have the intention and capabilities to attack, damage, or subvert the democratic order.

To be able to do so, on the other hand, these organizations have been granted specific powers, such as tapping someone’s telephone and email communication and the power to run operations and manipulate organizations. Intelligence and security services are also very dependent on secrecy to do their work: it cannot become publicly known what they actually know at this moment about specific people and organizations, nor can it become public knowledge how they operate specifically – if such knowledge pours into the public domain, then the adversaries or opponents can protect themselves against the intelligence activities. Secret services, therefore, are not able to meet the democratic needs for transparency.

These problems are not new. Ever since their institutionalization, societies and states have negotiated the position of intelligence and security services in the heart of their democracies. In this course, we will explore from a political theoretical, legal, historical, and personal perspective how the gatekeepers of democracy have tried to protect their democracies from too powerful intelligence and security services and from real threats and enemies. The position of intelligence organizations in the broader democratic, legal order will be central to our study.

Course objectives

  1. The student gains knowledge about the position of the services in the democratic legal order and the student is able to position the different services in the different traditions and political theories;
  2. The student is able to explain the possible areas of tension in regard to the position of intelligence- and security services in a democratic legal order;
  3. The student gains insights in the historical and current relationship between the intelligence services, civil services, public administration, politics and society;
  4. The student gains knowledge of the judicial embedding of the services (in the Netherlands);
  5. The student is able to discern between various aspects of the organization, structure and mode of operation of the Dutch services;
  6. The student is able to formulate a research question and to prepare a research design;
  7. The student is able to analyze the position of a service in the democratic legal order and to distill the core issues and interests at hand;
  8. The student is able to assess and classify sources.


The timetable will be displayed with a link on this course page, the website, blackboard and on the front page of this minor programma.
The schedule 2018 will be published asap.

Mode of instruction

7 lectures of 3 hours by instructors and guest lecturers.
Participation in lectures, discussions and exercises is required in order to obtain a grade. One lecture may be missed. Being absent more than once may likely lead to expulsion from the course

Course Load

Component % hours
Attendance mandatory 21
Midterm quiz 1 20% 2
Midterm quiz 2 20% 2
Final paper 60% 3
Reading and self-study* 112
Total 100% 140

*On the basis of reading approximately eight pages per hour.

Assessment method

Midterm quiz 1 (20%)
Midterm quiz 2 (20%)
Final paper (60%)

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



Reading list

TBA on Blackboard


Use both uSis and Blackboard to register for every course.
Register for every course and workgroup via uSis. Registration in uSis is possible from four weeks before the start of the course. 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. Registration in uSis is possible from four weeks before the start of the course.
Also register for every course in Blackboard. Important information about the course is posted here.


Dr. S.D. Willmetts