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Intelligence Communities, the Cold War, and Decolonization


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 180 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


When we picture the activities of intelligence agencies and security services in international affairs and national security – of the spy, case officer, and agent-handler; of mole, the penetration agent, and mole hunts; of the double agent playing more than one side; of new surveillance technologies under the sea, from the air, and in space; or of clandestine provocative propaganda, secret paramilitary ‘proxy wars’, and covert coup d’états – popular culture and imaginations frequently direct us to Cold War imagery. This is because throughout that conflict over the power to shape the international system in the interests and ideology of its superpower protagonists, national intelligence and security communities were on the frontline of collecting information to gain decision advantage over their adversaries, protecting state secrets from their adversaries, and supporting programmes to politically and ideologically influence states and societies around the world in what has been termed a ‘total Cold War’.

Political and military leaders from the United States to the Soviet Union and from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China – and the permanent diplomatic and defence institutions that served them – consistently required intelligence regarding their adversaries’ (and allies’) defence capabilities and political intentions. Additionally, through counter-intelligence and counter-espionage they needed to protect against adversaries’ domestic intrusions seeking both intelligence of their own and to influence and undermine state and societal institutions and relations to their advantage and in their image. Moreover, these leaders and their civil and military servants needed the capabilities to covertly influence not only adversaries but the increasing number of newly independent states and societies across the Global South decolonising from European rule. From deniable propaganda and supporting civil society organisations, to electoral interference through funding local political parties, to arming and training state and non-state ‘proxies’ and partners, to fostering regime change through coups and assassinations, these intelligence service tools and activities formed part of the superpower competition to shape and partner with states and societies in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America towards capitalism, liberal democracy, and/or anti-communism, or Marxist-Leninism or Maoism. Newly independent states, including their own embryonic and growing intelligence and security services, faced decisions regarding aligning with one of the superpower blocs and charting their own non-aligned course.

This course consequently examines: how and why superpower intelligence communities emerged from the Second World War on the frontline of the Cold War; the roles, impacts, successes and failures of intelligence collection and analysis, counter-intelligence, international cooperation, and covert action on this frontline; the interaction between the intelligence communities of the Cold War superpowers and those across the Global South; what difference these intelligence communities ultimately made to the course of the Cold War; the Cold War’s legacies; and the intelligence reforms that flowed from it.

Course objectives

After finalising this course, students are able to:
1. Understand the influence of the Cold War and decolonisation on superpower and Global South intelligence and security communities;
2. Explain why intelligence communities served on the frontline of the Cold War and what difference they made to its course and outcomes;
3. Draw on declassified empirical evidence from several different national Cold War and post-colonial contexts to inform their understanding of central concepts of intelligence, including collection and analysis, counter-intelligence, liaison, and covert action;
4. Debate the ethical, legal, and political controversies that the use of intelligence and security services in these different fields provoked at the time and since;
5. Track the changes and legacies that have emerged in superpower and Global South intelligence and security services from the Cold War and decolonisation.


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

Mode of instruction

7 interactive 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 will lead to expulsion from the course.

Assessment method

Mid term exam (40%)

  • 40% of total grade

  • Grade must be 5.50 or higher to pass the course

  • Resit possible

  • Resit will take the same form

Final essay (60%)

  • 60% of total grade

  • Grade must be 5.50 or higher to pass the course

  • Resit possible

  • Resit will take the same form

Details for submitting papers (deadlines) are posted on Brightspace.

Late hand in penalty: 1 minus per day, and after three days we do not accept the assignment any longer.

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.

Transitional arrangements
Grades obtained for this course in previous academic years are no longer valid in academic year 2021-2022.

Reading list

To be determined


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


This course can only be taken as part of the minor Intelligence Studies.
All sessions will be in English. Exams and assignments need to be written in English.
Please be aware that the resits will take place in January 2022.