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Making Friends and Influencing People: International Cooperation and Covert Action


Admission requirements

  • Only students of the MSc Crisis and Security Management, enrolled in the specialisation ‘Intelligence and National Security’, can take this course.


This course explores two of the most sensitive aspects of nation states’ intelligence and security communities in the international system: international cooperation, or ‘liaison’; and covert action. International cooperation takes many forms – from basic sharing of intelligence, to security assistance, to ‘clandestine’ diplomacy – in response to and in order to meet a range of security and political requirements. Similarly, governments have regularly interfered in the affairs of foreign states and societies in an unacknowledged manner to influence their thinking, behaviour, and policies, ranging from unattributable propaganda to paramilitary operations and assassinations.

While these two sensitive fields of statecraft have their own unique characteristics and intended outcomes, they also overlap through the development and use of clandestine international friendships to influence partners and proxies as much as to leverage their support. Considerations of agency and control also underpin both. And both carry not only operational but also political, legal, and ethical risks, including complicity in human rights violations and challenges to democratic norms of oversight and accountability.

This course consequently examines:
1. what drives states and political leaders to seek to influence other states and societies more covertly than overtly, along a blurred continuum of deniability
2. how this has varied across different types of covert action
3. what gains and costs covert action has produced for sponsors, proxies, and partners
4. why state intelligence services and special forces, inherently inclined towards secrecy, have been willing to share their secrets with international partners
5. what gains and costs, enablers and obstacles, explain why some liaison relationships have remained merely transactional and ephemeral while others have deepened and endured

Course Objectives

After finalising this course, students will have demonstrated:

  1. Advanced knowledge and understanding of the main theoretical and practitioner debates regarding international intelligence cooperation and covert action.
  2. An ability to critically evaluate research, including methodologies used to generate research, on the gains and costs of cooperation and deniable influence over time, in varying political, legal, and normative contexts globally, and according to different security requirements.
  3. The development of advanced critical textual evaluation of key scholarship, independent judgment, and oral and written presentation to a level commensurate with taught post-graduate study.
  4. The skills to apply key concepts and debates in practice through a simulation exercise and oral policy briefing to enhance their professional skills and complement those developed in their other courses.
  5. The ability to self-evaluate and reflect after interactive in-class work and assignments.


On the right side of programme front page of the studyguide you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Brightspace.

Mode of Instruction

This course consists of a series of: interactive lectures by acdemics and current and former security practitioners from Europe and North America; work groups debating key readings and applied case analyses; interactive scenario exercises; and red team analytical briefings.

Attendance is mandatory. Students are only allowed to miss more than one session if there are special, demonstrable personal circumstances. The Board of Examiners, in consultation with the study advisors, will decide on such an exceptional exemption of mandatory attendance.

In this 10 ects course, 4 ects is specifically reserved for the Critical review of existing research assignment that is going to be part of the portfolio of students, including working on their interim reflection notes as preparation for the final reflection paper. Specific information on the portfolio assignment and the intended learning outcomes that are being acquired will be published in the syllabus of this course.

Total study load 280 hours:

  • 42 Contact hours.

  • 238 Self-study hours: reading, preparing lectures, assignments, etc.

Assessment method

Assessment for this course is based on three assignments:

Critical Article Review

  • 30% of final grade

  • Resit not possible

  • Grade can be compensated in case of a fail (< 5.50)

Group Assignment

  • 30% of final grade

  • Resit not possible

  • Grade can be compensated in case of a fail (< 5.50)

Research Essay

  • 40% of final grade

  • Grade must be 5.50 or higher to pass the course

  • Resit possible

  • Resit will take the same form

The calculated overall course grade must be at least 5.50 in order to pass the course. If the calculated overall course grade is lower than 5.50, students are also permitted to resit the 40% Research Essay.

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.

Transitional Arrangement
Passed partial grades obtained in year 2022-2023 remain valid during year 2023-2024.

Reading list

The syllabus detailing the weekly core readings of scholarly articles, as well as an extensive reading list of articles, books, and additional resources to inform the red team and research essay assignments, will be announced and shared on Brightspace.


Register yourself via MyStudymap for each course, workgroup and exam (not all courses have workgroups and/or exams).
Do so on time, before the start of the course; some courses and workgroups have limited spaces. You can view your personal schedule in MyTimetable after logging in.
Registration for this course is possible from Wednesday 13 December 13.00h

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.

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


Dr. Tom Maguire