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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 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


Western intelligence and security services are generally tasked with protecting state security and democracy. As ‘gatekeepers’ they try to foresee whether there are individuals, organisations, 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 organisations have been granted specific powers, such as tapping someone’s telephone and email communication and the power to run operations and manipulate organisations. 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 organisations, 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 institutionalisation, 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 organisations 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 will recognise the core controversies and debates that have occurred historically in relation to the activities of intelligence services in democratic societies;
  3. The student is able to explain the possible areas of tension in regard to the position of intelligence and security services in a legal democratic legal order;
  4. The student gains insight in the historical and current relationship between the intelligence services, civil services, public administration, politics, and society;
  5. The student is able to discern between various aspects of the organisation, structure and mode of operation of intelligence services;
  6. The student is able to analyse the position of a service in the democratic legal order and to distill the core issues and interests at hand;
  7. The student is able to identify and analyse important primary documents on the intelligence services.



Mode of instruction

7 lectures of 3 hours by instructor 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

Midterm assignment (35%)

  • 35% of total grade

  • Grade must be 5.50 or higher to pass the course

  • Resit possible

  • Resit will take the same form

Final exam (65%)

  • 65% 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 August 16th, after registration for the entire minor.
Register for every course and workgroup via uSis. Some courses and workgroups of the minor 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.


Dr. S.D Willmetts


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.