Secret Affairs 1

Secret Practices


Mr. drs. W.J.M. Aerts en Dr. G.G. de Valk 


This course has several learning objectives. One is to gain insight in the functioning of intelligence and security agencies. This course of the Minor Intelligence Studies aims to offer a thorough look at both the internal processes as well at the external processes taking place at intelligence agencies. It will take into account that these processes occur within a political system and within the realm of international relations. Furthermore, students taking the course are to learn the skills and methods of intelligence studies, where emphasis will be put on analytical skill training.

Students can take this course separately or as the starting point of the minor Intelligence studies (please see under Particular Issues at the bottom of the page). In case a student takes the course as part of the minor programme, it is possible to focus on specific topics that are relevant for the field of intelligence. The minor programme offers elective courses such as Cryptography, Forensic Science and the History of Intelligence Agencies during the Cold War. Furthermore, the Secret Affairs I course offers the opportunity to practice in thinking beyond disciplines, as one will learn how to look at a problem from an interdisciplinary perspective. Students will also learn how to apply quantitative and qualitative analysis techniques and skills. Each student can choose an angle for his or her minor programme, i.e. there is a quantitative or a qualitative option to fulfill the requirements of the minor programme.


Knowledge and insights

Within the realm of International Relations, there is often little or no attention paid to what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ of international relations. Overall, IR tends to focus mostly on actors, such as states, (inter)governmental organizations, multinationals etc. Instead, this lecture series put affront  this ‘dark side’ and hidden background issues that go on behind the sealed scenes of international relations. A student will gain knowledge and insight on the follow topics and skills:

• Intelligence: methodology, theory & practice

• The history of intelligence gathering

• The organizational structures of intelligence and security agencies

• The role and influence the intelligence community has on international politics

• The way informants and agents operate, how eavesdropping takes place, the gathering of imagery intelligence and what kind of influence covert actions could have on international politics

• How to produce intelligence reports and the analysis of ‘intelligence failures’

The application of gained knowledge and insights

Students are expected to be able to apply the following to present cases or situations:

• Knowledge on methodology, the history and core aspects of this new discipline of intelligence

• Interdisciplinary skills and knowledge on several methodological core values: recognition of different approaches

• The ability to recognize the (value) of relevant sources and how several sources may interact with one another, recognize how analytical failure is being caused

• Critical evaluation of the mandatory reading materials

Weighing and valuing sources

In order to make students aware that weighing one’s sources is of utmost importance in this field, mandatory reading materials will reflect upon several visions and opinions. In addition, guest lecturers will be presenting case materials and come from a great variety of backgrounds:

• Internal security agency/ Central Intelligence and Security Agency from the Netherlands

• Military intelligence and security agency/ Institute for Defense intelligence and Security

• Police department, research institutes, large companies

Registration at

UvA students can enroll from 8 December 2016 onwards using the course code 55121SEP6Y in SIS.

Contract students and students from other institutions can enroll through the registration form.




See the timetable of this course in[52981]

Study materials

Digital course instruction and the book: Michael Herman (2004) Intelligence Power in Peace and War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


See  here


Written test. The questions on the exam will be based on the mandatory reading materials and the content of the lectures.


This course is a part of the minor Intelligence Studies. For more information about this minor, please take a look  here or send an email to Willemijn Aerdts.

Once you finished all courses that are mandatory for the minor programme, you will obtain a certificate. You can file a request for this by sending an email to the

Conditions for admission
6 ECTS, 8 weeks
Language of instruction
Starts in

Published by  Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies