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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).

One lecture may be missed. Being absent more than once will lead to expulsion from the course.

Assessment method

Mid term exam (30%)

  • 30% of total grade

  • Resit not possible

  • Grade can be compensated

Final essay (70%)

  • 70% 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.

In the case of written assessment methods, the examiner can always initiate a follow-up conversation with the student to establish whether the learning objectives have been met.

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

To be determined


Registration via MyStudymap or uSis is possible from Monday July 17, 13.00 h, after registration for the entire minor.

Leiden University uses Brightspace as its online learning management system. After enrolment for the course in MyStudymap you will be automatically enrolled in the Brightspace environment of this course. Furthermore, announcements and modifications will be communicated via Brightspace. Students have the responsibility to stay informed and are thus advised to regularly check Brightspace for updates.

After registration for an exam you still need to confirm your attendance via MyStudymap. If you do not confirm, you will ultimately be de-registered and you will not be allowed to take the exam.

More information on registration via MyStudymap can be found on this page.

Please note: guest-/contract-/exchange students do not register via MyStudymap but via uSis. Guest-/contract-/exchange students also do not have to confirm their participation for exams via MyStudymap.


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.