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Counter-intelligence and Cold War superpowers


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 240 places open for registration, on a first come first serve basis, where LDE students are given priority.

This course is also open for inbound exchange students if they wish to take the entire minor Intelligence Studies; it is not possible to take single courses from this minor. Exchange students must be admitted by the FGGA International Office prior to the start of the minor; priority will be given to direct exchange partners of FGGA. For more information about the application procedure for exchange students, please contact the FGGA International Office at international@fgga.leidenuniv.nl.


The KGB and its predecessors regularly scored spectacular successes in its intelligence operations against the West in the twentieth century. The Cambridge Five are a classic example: five Cambridge graduates recruited by Soviet intelligence in the mid-1930s who would all occupy important positions within the British government. Two important KGB successes from the final period of the Cold War are the cases of Aldrich Ames of the CIA and Robert Hanssen of the FBI. Throughout the twentieth century the KGB also made frequent use of ‘illegals’, intelligence officers who operated in the West under deep cover, in most cases with a non-Soviet identity.

Counterintelligence (CI), which aims to prevent hostile services from discovering one’s own secrets, is an important aspect of all intelligence operations. The KGB were masters in this field and used CI techniques to protect important agents such as Ames and Hanssen. The American CIA in turn also developed a set of very successful CI techniques for their agent operations in Moscow, primarily to evade the omnipresent KGB surveillance there. Among the basic intelligence and counterintelligence concepts discussed in this course are ‘agent’, ‘double agent’, and ‘Humint’.

Course objectives

  1. The student gains insights in intelligence and counter-intelligence;
  2. The student gains knowledge and insights in the central concepts of intelligence- and security services;
  3. The student is able to illustrate the mode of operations of the intelligence services of the USSR/Russia, in particular the KGB/SVR;
  4. The student is able to give examples of important intelligence operations of the KGB and its predecessors against Western countries;
  5. The student gains knowledge about and is able to explain the mode of operation of the counterparts of the KGB, with a focus on the American services.


Schedule 2019 to be announced.

The timetable will be displayed with a link on this course page, the website, blackboard and on the front page of this minor programme.

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
Mid term exam 40% 2
Final exam 60% 3
Reading and self-study* 114
Total 100% 140

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

Assessment method

Mid term exam (40%)
Final exam (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

Please be aware that the resit of the exam will take place in January

Reading list

  • Sandra Grimes & Jeanne Vertefeuille, Circle of Treason. A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2012.

  • David E. Hoffman, The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal. NewYork etc.: Doubleday 2015.


Registration in uSis is possible from August 15th, after registration for the entire minor.
Register for every course and workgroup via uSis. Some courses and workgroups have a limited number of participants, so register on time (before the course starts).
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 intelligencestudies@fgga.leidenuniv.nl


This course can only be taken as part of the minor Intelligence Studies.