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Unrestricted Warfare: Offensive Intelligence and Cyberwarfare in the 21st Century


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


Since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, intelligence agencies are increasingly tasked not only with the collection and analysis of intelligence, but with offensive operations aimed at disrupting or eliminating adversaries. Covert action, enhanced interrogation and targeted killing have all made headlines and led to major public controversies involving intelligence agencies. More recently, with the creation of web 2.0 and developments such as the Internet of Things, cyberspace has emerged as a new domain of “unrestricted warfare”, provoking numerous countries to develop a National Cyber Security Strategy. In many countries, cyber security has become one of the top priorities alongside international terrorism. The threats emerging from cyberspace are becoming more internationally recognised. Countries are trying to keep up with their legislation and framework to put measures in place to protect their own infrastructure and population from these threats.

This course will explore the ways in which intelligence agencies engage in offensive operations to disrupt, sabotage or eliminate their adversaries. The majority of the course will focus upon the emergence of cyberspace as a new sphere of intelligence activity, but we will also explore the history and present state of such other non-virtual means of “unrestricted warfare” carried out by intelligence agencies such as paramilitary operations, propaganda, political action and targeted killing. By the end of this course you should have developed a good understanding of how intelligence agencies have not only sought to understand the world, but how they have changed it. You will also gain knowledge on the impact of the internet upon those offensive operations, and the work of intelligence agencies more generally.

Course objectives

  1. The student gains knowledge on historical and recent developments in the field of Digital Cryptography, different Cyber- disciplines and Social Media in regard to intelligence gathering;
  2. The student gains knowledge of current scientific theories and development in the above-mentioned disciplines;
  3. The student will gain knowledge of the history of unrestricted warfare.
  4. The student develops writing skills and skills in regard to the academic use of sources
  5. The student develops research skills in the development in the above-mentioned disciplines;
  6. The student develops creative capacities (writing, inventions, design etc.).



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 will lead to expulsion from the course.

Assessment method

Mid term assignment (50%)

  • 50% of total grade

  • Grade must be 5.50 or higher to pass the course

  • Resit possible

  • Resit will take the same form

Final exam (50%)

  • 50% 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

TBA on Brightspace


Registration in uSis is possible from four weeks before the start of the course, after registration for the entire minor.
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.




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.