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Counter-intelligence and Cold War superpowers


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 for the minor to be accepted to this course.


The KGB and its predecessors regularly scored spectacular successes in its intelligence operations against the West in the twentieth century. The Cambridge Five are a classic example: five Cambridge graduates recruited by Soviet intelligence in the mid-1930s who would all occupy important positions within the British government. Two important KGB successes from the final period of the Cold War are the cases of Aldrich Ames of the CIA and Robert Hanssen of the FBI. Throughout the twentieth century the KGB also made frequent use of ‘illegals’, intelligence officers who operated in the West under deep cover, in most cases with a non-Soviet identity.
Counterintelligence (CI), which aims to prevent hostile services from discovering one’s own secrets, is an important aspect of all intelligence operations. The KGB were masters in this field and used CI techniques to protect important agents such as Ames and Hanssen. The American CIA in turn also developed a set of very successful CI techniques for their agent operations in Moscow, primarily to evade the omnipresent KGB surveillance there. Among the basic intelligence and counterintelligence concepts discussed in this course are ‘agent’, ‘double agent’, and ‘Humint’.

Course objectives

  1. The student gains insights in intelligence and counter-intelligence;
  2. The student gains knowledge and insights in the central concepts of intelligence- and security services;
  3. The student is able to illustrate the mode of operations of the intelligence services of the USSR/Russia, in particular the KGB/SVR;
  4. The student is able to give examples of important intelligence operations of the KGB and its predecessors against Western countries;
  5. The student gains knowledge about and is able to explain the mode of operation of the counterparts of the KGB, with a focus on the American services.


See the link at the front page.

Mode of instruction

7 lectures of 3 hours by instructors and guest lecturers.
Attendance is obligatory.

Course Load

Component % Hours
Attendance mandatory 21
Mid term exam 40% 2
Final exam 60% 3
Reading and self-study* 114
Total 100% 140

*On the basis of reading approximately eight pages per hour.

Assessment method

Mid term exam (40%)
Final exam (60%)

Attendance is obligatory. Being absent more than once may lead to expulsion from the course.

The Course and Examination Regulation and the Rules and Regulation of the Board of Examiners will apply.



Reading list

  • Sandra Grimes & Jeanne Vertefeuille, Circle of Treason. A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2012.

  • David E. Hoffman, The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal. NewYork etc.: Doubleday 2015.


Use both uSis and Blackboard to register for every course.
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). In uSis you can access your personal schedule and view your results. Registration in uSis is possible from four weeks before the start of the course.
Also register for every course in Blackboard. Important information about the course is posted here.


Ms. W.J.M. Aerdts LL.M MA


This course can only be taken as part of the minor Intelligence Studies.