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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 for the minor to be accepted to this course.


Western intelligence and security services are generally tasked with protecting state security and democracy. As ‘gatekeepers’ they try to foresee whether there are individuals, organizations, 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 organizations have been granted specific powers, such as tapping someone’s telephone and email communication and the power to run operations and manipulate organizations. 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 organizations, 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 institutionalization, 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 organizations in the broader democratic, legal order will be central to our study.

Course objectives

  1. The students 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 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;
  3. The students gains insights in the historical and current relationship between the intelligence services, civil services, public administration, politics and society;
  4. The student gains knowledge of the judicial embedding of the services (in the Netherlands);
  5. The student is able to discern between various aspects of the organization, structure and mode of operation of the Dutch services;
  6. The student is able to formulate a research question and to prepare a research design;
  7. The student is able to analyze the position of a service in the democratic legal order and to distill the core issues and interests at hand;
  8. The student is able to assess and classify sources.


To be announced by OSC staff.

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 research design 25% 8
Final paper 75% 26
Reading and self-study* 85
Total 100% 140

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

Assessment method

Mid term research design (25%)
Final paper (75%)

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



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


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