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From the perspective of the history of intelligence, intelligence services are no longer primarily twilight agent headquarters that operated "dead letter boxes" and developed secret ink. They are foreign policy actors and producers of knowledge for decision-makers. In his contribution, Rüdiger Bergien develops a definition of this field of research. He traces how the academic study of intelligence services has developed since World War II, focusing on the question of how insights into the black box of intelligence services could be gained at different times. Finally, he presents the focal points of previous research and identifies desiderata.
Intelligence History

by Rüdiger Bergien


“James Bond is dead.”[1] If there had been a slogan to capture the essence of the early days of intelligence history, this would be it. The Bond films, the novels of John le Carré and the thrillers of Tom Clancy had helped make spies and espionage a mainstay of popular culture, conveying to millions of people the notion of a shadow world of secret services influencing international politics. And yet it was precisely the overarching presence of mass culture, the blurring of fact and fiction when it came to the world of secret services, that long got in the way of the scholarly investigation of the latter. There was a consensus in the academic world “that intelligence [...] is no subject for scholars.”[2] Running counter to this, however, were British historians like Christopher Andrew and other intelligence scholars who attempted from the early 1980s on to establish the field as a serious academic discipline. In their view, intelligence was the “missing dimension” in the history of the Cold War, and so they endeavored to dispel these figments of the popular imagination and replace them with empirical evidence. This founding generation of intelligence history was guided by the question of the role secret services have played in international relations. From this perspective they were no longer seen as agent headquarters working in obscurity, setting up “dead letter boxes” and developing invisible ink; they were foreign-policy actors and producers of knowledge for decision-makers.

In retrospect, this academization of our understanding of the intelligence community has been remarkably successful. “The literature on intelligence-related matters is now extremely extensive and growing rapidly,”[3] concluded political scientist Stuart Farson as early as 1989, even before intelligence studies was to undergo its first real boom. Both academic fields dealing with intelligence – the more interdisciplinary intelligence studies and the focus of this essay, intelligence history – have grown exponentially since then. Specialist journals[4] and professional associations[5] have come into being, and the number of peer-reviewed articles, dissertations and postdoctoral theses has steadily increased along with the range of courses offered at universities – at least outside the German-speaking world.[6] Even in Germany, where a dissertation on such a topic could have easily been construed as a career obstacle in the first decade of the twenty-first century,[7] a genuine boom is now underway in the scholarly investigation of intelligence services.[8]

And yet this expansion of intelligence research has barely been registered outside of the two subdisciplines of intelligence studies and intelligence history. The former, in particular, has often been attributed a “ghetto-like existence,” being accused of having a one-sided focus on international relations while neglecting the social and cultural dimensions.[9] By the same token, intelligence historians have gained a reputation for preoccupying themselves with the “unmasking and overrecruitment of double and triple agents” rather than with the question of how intelligence affected political decision-making[10] or how the political culture of a given society found expression in the structures and practices of its secret service.[11]

Moreover, the academic research on intelligence services, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, has largely been carried out by former (and active) members of these organizations. These individuals often focus on the problems they faced as “practitioners” in the field rather than on the overarching concerns of the social sciences and historiography. The “marginalization” of their discipline that many intelligence researchers bemoan[12] seems, in this regard, to be more the result of self-limitations than any kind of external discrimination.

For a number of years, however, there have been repeated calls both inside and outside intelligence studies to inquire more into the interfaces between intelligence services, politics and society. The British intelligence researcher Simon Willmetts, for example, has argued that intelligence agencies should be understood less as self-sufficient actors, as state authorities sui generis, and more as organisations that are shaped by their cultural context and engage with politics and society.[13] Intelligence history, furthermore, should not be limited to the history of a certain – Western or Anglo-American – model of secret services. It should include all forms of secret knowledge production and the covert influencing of states and groups regardless of whether the actor in question is a Western intelligence service, a communist secret police, or a private-sector intelligence agency.[14]

And yet there is no question that secret-service practices have been (and still are) different in dictatorships and democracies, that, e.g., communist secret police forces during the Cold War were mainly instruments of repression and power-maintenance and only in a secondary way producers of knowledge. Conversely, by defining the object of study solely in terms of its respective political system we run the risk of limiting our understanding of it. This might, for example, mean recognizing that authorities specialized in clandestine activities evince structural characteristics of modern statehood. By inquiring into how the practices, organizational cultures and collective dispositions of these secretive and isolated state authorities exhibited analogies across the system divide intelligence history could make a welcome and important contribution to Cold War studies, offering a history of the Cold War that better integrates East and West.

In the current research on intelligence history it is rare to find approaches that consistently historicize their subject and that focus on the cultural and social context as well as on the similarities and differences that emerge through an international comparison of intelligence agencies. There exist a vast number of parallel intelligence and secret-service histories with an orientation on national history rather than a discipline that transcends national contexts while working with a similar premise or comparable guiding questions. That being said, the present contribution will point out some of these similarities and differences while also, and especially, serving as an orientation aid in the present “saddle period of intelligence history.”[15]

It will begin by defining the field of research, inquiring into its appropriate designation. Second, it will trace the development of scholarly investigations of intelligence services since World War II, focusing on the question of how, at various times, scholars have gained any insight at all into the black box of intelligence services. Finally, it will offer an overview of the current state of research, its focal points and gaps.

The Subject of Intelligence History

Espionage, understood as the acquisition of secret knowledge for the benefit of decision-makers, can be traced back at least to the early advanced civilizations.[16] The rudiments of institutionalized espionage date from the Renaissance, as seen, for example, in the machinations of Sir Francis Walsingham, the famous “spymaster” of Queen Elizabeth I in England.[17] The transition from “espionage to intelligence,” i.e., from pure information gathering to a systematic and bureaucratically organized production of knowledge, occurred in the nineteenth century. A new type of public authority arose which primarily served to procure information about internal and external opponents.[18] Its roots, however, were to be partly found in the military general staff system and partly in the political police developed in Continental Europe as an instrument against anarchic terror and social-revolutionary movements.

These early secret-service apparatuses were greatly expanded during the two world wars. Beyond mere information procurement, “covert operations” – from disinformation campaigns to assassinations – became a core task of wartime secret services such as the United States OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and remained an important part of its civilian successor agencies.[19] The “information revolution” accompanying the technologization of warfare proved to be a further impetus for the expansion of intelligence services. Thus, in 1944 more than 10,000 individuals worked for Bletchley Park (B.P.), the UK’s central military codebreaking facility operated by the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) and responsible for the deciphering and analysis of enemy radio and telex communication.[20]

But the real heyday of secret services and secret police forces was of course during the Cold War. The fear of nuclear escalation made early recognition of possible enemy attacks the security-policy priority in East and West alike. This objective was the single most important driving force for the rapid expansion and technological development of intelligence services, including satellite reconnaissance. Another motive – again on both sides of the Iron Curtain – was “subversion anxieties,”[21] the collective fear of enemy infiltration, which resulted in the massive expansion of counterintelligence apparatuses. In purely numerical terms, West Germany expanded its Gehlen Organization (as of 1956, the Federal Intelligence Service) from about 1,000 employees in 1950 to almost 7,000 in 1970; the various U.S. services employed no less than 200,000 individuals fulltime in the 1970s;[22] and in the Soviet Union, the KGB alone had several hundred thousand fulltime employees working for it in the 1970s and 1980s, along with an estimated 2.9 million informers. This rapid growth in the decades after 1945 might be the reason intelligence history – in contrast, say, to military history – is a comparatively young subject of study whose delineations, moreover, have continually changed under the influence of new threat scenarios (and continue to do so today). As a young discipline with a young subject matter, intelligence studies were long preoccupied with debates over definitions.

Western Foreign Intelligence or the Production of Secret State Knowledge?

The intensity of these debates corresponded to the semantic breadth of the English term “intelligence” – used since the sixteenth century as a synonym for espionage but also designating information, information procurement, as well as reports and analyses.[23] One controversial question was whether intelligence studies should primarily focus on the knowledge production of intelligence services or whether counterespionage and covert operations should be given equal attention. A related point of discussion was whether Western intelligence services should be considered part of the civil state or if they exhibited fundamentally irregular aspects not compatible with civil statehood.[24] The debates have died down of late, the general consensus being that intelligence refers, e.g., in the definition of Michael Warner, to “secret state activity to understand or influence foreign entities.”[25] When it comes to historical research, exact definitions are usually not the decisive factor. And yet historians do need a minimum consensus about what a particular subject area entails. Such a consensus in the case of intelligence history seems only to exist to a limited extent – with regard to scholarship on foreign intelligence, for instance, echoes of which are clearly present in Warner’s definition and which British intelligence scholar Michael Herman has stated rather succinctly: “Intelligence is about them, not us.”[26] From the perspective of the political cultures of maritime powers with global interests – the United States and Great Britain – this sentence might seem plausible, at least on an intuitive level. But for many Continental European researchers it stands in marked contrast to their own historical experience with the phenomenon.

The secret services of France, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries of Continental Europe were often engaged in domestic spying and surveillance rather than foreign reconnaissance during the twentieth century. Social polarization on the Continent was frequently much deeper, and the perceived danger of communist subversion much higher than on the other side of the Channel and/or the Atlantic. In France, in particular, state-building since the Early Modern period has been closely linked to the expansion of surveillance capacities.[27] This correlation of intelligence, repression and surveillance history has been illustrated by more recent Dutch and French intelligence historiography focusing on the domestic policy function of their respective national intelligence agencies in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[28] Analogously, a number of publications by the Independent Commission of Historians for the Investigation of the History of the Federal Intelligence Service, 1945-1968 (UHK/BND), have placed a particular emphasis on domestic spying by the Gehlen Organization.[29]

Historians have also come to different conclusions about whether intelligence history should primarily focus on agencies working in democratic societies or if – as alluded to above – it should also include secret police forces operating in dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. Renowned intelligence scholars are in agreement with historians, including experts on the history of communist secret police forces, that the latter were fundamentally different than Western intelligence services. Many historical investigations of the Stasi have presented the East German secret police mainly as an expression of the unjust character of the GDR state, focusing on its lack of commitment to the rule of law, whereas the intelligence functions of the Ministry for State Security have largely gone unnoticed.[30] By the same token, British intelligence historian Christopher Andrew has pointed out the foolishness of superficial analogies likening the KBG’s First Chief Directorate responsible for foreign espionage to its supposed counterpart in the CIA, when in fact the degree of autonomy within each political system as well as the content of the covert knowledge they produced were fundamentally different, rendering comparative perspectives useless in this case.[31]

There is certainly no question that the differences between Western intelligence services and the secret police forces of state-socialist regimes – to stick to this example – were considerable. Western agencies neither practiced state terror nor did they participate in large-scale domestic repression involving the use of physical violence. These differences become blurred, however, as soon as we consider the violence perpetuated by secret services on foreign territories, e.g., the “enhanced interrogation techniques” of U.S. agencies in the “war on terror” as of 2001.[32] Moreover, historical case studies do not necessarily bear out a common premise in intelligence studies that the degree of autonomy enjoyed by an intelligence service within a political system correlates to the latter’s dictatorial character. At any rate, the image of the Stasi as a “state within a state” is just as tenuous[33] as the notion that a democratic institutional order per se will automatically rein in the powers of a secret service.[34] But given the specific research focus of intelligence history it is worth asking how relevant these objections really are. Is it not possible to second-guess the definition of any field of research by pointing out that this or that aspect overlaps with related subdisciplines?

However true this may be, the problem of which agencies are the proper subject of intelligence history begs the question of its compatibility with contemporary history. Its importance therefore cannot be stressed enough. In this respect it is worth noting that its dual focus on foreign reconnaissance and intelligence services in democracies is primarily a reflection of the Anglo-American experience. But if it seems reasonable to expand the subdiscipline and give it a broader, international basis, there is little sense in limiting the analysis to the fundamental differences between intelligence agencies in democracies and dictatorships. A more fruitful approach for an international and comparative intelligence history would be to interpret these two aspects, secret police forces in dictatorships and intelligence services in democracies, as extremes of organization and behavior aimed at procuring (covert) knowledge and/or influencing social groups. British intelligence scholar Philip H. J. Davies summarizes this shared field of action and methods as follows: “Intelligence is one of those fields where different governments with [...] different political ideologies, different popular and political cultures [...] have to perform very similar tasks in very similar ways.”[35]

The assumption here is that secret services and their activities are a structural element of modern statehood. But this is only evident, and amenable to research, when intelligence history is broadly based and comparative in its approach. It is only by adopting this broad approach, moreover, that intelligence historians can make any substantial contribution to contemporary history in general, investigating, for instance, the question of to what extent the transformation of intelligence services since the late twentieth century corresponds to the much-discussed transformation of statehood.

The Development of Intelligence History

However one defines intelligence history, there is a general consensus that secrecy is a core aspect of intelligence. The degree of secrecy, in particular, rather than the information itself distinguishes the reports of a state’s diplomatic service from those drawn up at the stations of a foreign intelligence service. Secrecy conditions both the internal and external relations of intelligence services – as seen in the practice, still ubiquitous among Western agencies, of using code names for fulltime employees as well as “backstopping” their service departments. Secrecy is the common denominator of such varied intelligence activities as information gathering and the active influencing of individuals or groups, so-called covert operations.[36]

Finally, secrecy has a determining influence on how these agencies view their own history. Intelligence files are not run-of-the-mill state records; they are subject to special security procedures and declassification regulations. “Operational files,” containing information about informers and their deployment, are something that many in the intelligence community would rather keep out of the hands of historians, preferably forever. The fact that top-secret files are more often than not repositories of the trivial and mundane rather than containing any real surprises or highly sensitive material and that “intelligence agencies are merely historical actors like all the rest” is another matter.[37]

More so than other historiographical disciplines, intelligence history is very much a history of the access historians or, generally speaking, outsiders have had or not had to written and non-written records. The aim of intelligence agencies to completely cut themselves off from the outside world has only occasionally been successful, if at all. They had to put up with former collaborators wanting to recount their experiences on the “secret front” – like the thousands of “normal” war veterans who reported on theirs when World War I and II were over. Ideally these reminiscences of the secret-service war might even be used to retrospectively boost their image, the 1954 memoirs of Eddie Chapman being a case in point, in which he describes his work for MI5, the British domestic counterintelligence agency, feeding false information to the Germans about where their V1 rockets had landed.[38] A greater challenge to the primacy of secrecy were the tell-all books of the 1950s and 1960s sponsored by enemy intelligence agencies during the “cultural Cold War.” One example is The Cloak and Dollar War, an indictment of the CIA written by Australian journalist Gordon Stewart under the guidance of the KGB,[39] another are the thirty some monographs on Western intelligence agencies penned from the 1960s through the 1980s by an “officer on special assignment” (OibE) of the MfS under the pseudonym Julius Mader with print runs into the millions.[40] With their combination of documented facts, half-truths and lies, the books of Stewart, Mader and others posed a real threat to Western agencies.

Like the memoirs of former agents reporting on their stints in the “service of the enemy,” the above-mentioned exposés were one reason the CIA, MI6, BND and Co. began writing their own histories – in an effort to counteract the “disinformation” coming from the enemy camp.[41] They had come to the realization that the public perception of secret services affected their scope of action and that it was therefore worth their while to try to influence these perceptions.

From the Era of Distrust to the Era of Declassification

It was mainly the social demand for transparency that led in the medium term to a more open approach to “secret history” in many Western states. Developments in the United States had a particularly formative influence on intelligence history, thanks to a series of revelations about the illegal or irregular activities of U.S. agencies starting in the late 1960s.[42] These actions ranged from planned assassinations of foreign heads of state such as Fidel Castro to spying on American citizens, which the CIA was strictly prohibited from doing. In 1974 – the so-called “Year of Intelligence” in the United States – no less than three investigative committees probed into this misconduct in what became a public spectacle. These committees – the most famous being the U.S. Senate select committee under Democratic senator Frank Church – not only released extensive investigation reports,[43] they also published thousands of pages of previously classified documents. This provided the first substantial and openly accessible empirical foundation for conducting research into contemporary secret intelligence services.

The Iran-Contra affair, commonly considered the biggest intelligence scandal in the history of the United States,[44] led to a wave of public outrage over the U.S. “secret state” when the story broke in 1986. With the global watershed events of 1989-91, the time had seemingly come to meet the demands for greater transparency in the spirit of open government. In April 1995, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order that automatically released classified government documents after a period of twenty-five years provided there were no overarching security concerns. For the first time, secrecy had to be justified and declassification became the norm. U.S. agencies have since made publicly accessible tens of thousands of previously secret documents, first and foremost the CIA with its Electronic Reading Room, the twelve million documents of its CREST database that went entirely online in 2017.[45] Additional databases gather documents declassified under the Freedom of Information Act, including U.S. Declassified Documents Online[46] and the Digital National Security Archive.[47] Add to this the hundreds of meters of shelf space in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and the now accessible presidential libraries of all U.S. presidents in office since 1945[48] and it is evident that the “era of declassification” in the United States has literally laid the groundwork for an intelligence-history revolution.

Britain, too, was moved by the spirit of open government during the 1990s, resulting in the systematic clearance of intelligence files and a “tsunami of declassified material.”[49] Thousands of once top-secret files were given over to the Public Record Office, in particular those of MI5, the domestic intelligence service, and to a lesser degree those of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service, as well as those of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) responsible for signals intelligence and information assurance.[50] To be sure, the path there was a different one than in the United States: not in response to the pressures of public demands for transparency and congressional investigative committees, but by way of an active policy of information management on the part of the British government in the form of an “official history” project.[51]

In the late 1960s, the British intelligence community had been under massive public pressure after the publication of the memoirs of former MI6 employee Kim Philby, who for decades had worked for the KGB and defected to the Soviet Union in 1963. Under these circumstances, Whitehall commissioned historian Harry Hinsley to write a history of British Intelligence in the Second World War, for which he was granted access to internal documents. The book was a resounding success. Hinsley’s multivolume work, published as of 1979, and especially the memoirs of Frederick Winterbotham about the work of British codebreakers in Bletchley Park, published earlier in 1974, drew public attention away from the fractious present and into the glorious past: the hitherto largely unknown “secret war” from 1939 to 1945. These state-initiated revelations were followed in the 1980s by a flood of intelligence literature on World War II in the Anglo-American sphere. Even before 1989, this literature had led to ever more urgent appeals from historians to finally focus on this missing dimension of international politics, namely intelligence in the decades after 1945.[52]

There was no comparable echo in Continental Europe,[53] historians in countries such as France and West Germany showing little inclination to investigate the secret-service war of 1939 to 1945 or to join the Cold War intelligence bonanza after 1989-90. German contemporary history in the 1990s was under the spell of the mound of records left by the now defunct East German state, not least of all its State Security Service. In Germany and its East-Central European neighbors, these files were initially treated as a resource for studying the history of dictatorship and repression through 1989-90.[54] As the 1990s wore on, however, these former secret services were increasingly investigated with an eye to their intelligence functions, e.g., the heretofore underestimated extent of Eastern agencies’ attempts to covertly manipulate Western societies.[55] Since the late 1990s, the files of communist secret services have increasingly been used as sources for gaining insight into the operations of Western intelligence agencies – the scientific espionage of the CIA and MI6 in the early GDR, for instance.[56]

The opening of the archives of communist state security services greatly broadened the empirical basis of the intelligence history of the Cold War. And yet the initial euphoria of scholars has since been somewhat dampened. It was precisely the foreign-intelligence files of these Eastern agencies that were the first to vanish, thousands of files, not just the Stasi’s, presumably having been shredded in the final hours.[57] It is also worth noting that the case of the East German Ministry for State Security, the extensive opening of its files for purposes of historical research, is a rather exceptional one.[58] Only limited access is granted to the files of most other Eastern bloc secret services, not to mention those of the Soviet Union, the KGB and GRU, which are basically off-limits.[59] The main sources for the history of these agencies are still the parallel records of the CPSU party apparatus or the memoirs of former KGB and GRU members.[60] It is indicative of the state of research that two volumes edited by British intelligence historian Christopher Andrew and former KGB employee Vasili Mitrokhin published in the late 1990s[61] are still a key reference work on the history of the KGB.[62]

The “German Path” of Intelligence History

And yet even this very limited literature on the main intelligence agency of the Soviet empire still seemed relatively solid in the early 2000s compared with what we knew of other intelligence agencies outside the United States and Britain. After all, the era of declassification had been a purely Anglo-American affair. Most Continental European agencies – much less Latin American ones, or those in the Middle and Far East – continued to keep their documents under wraps. The situation in Germany, the increasing access to intelligence files as of about 2010, was only an indirect consequence of the open-government policies of the United States and Britain. It resulted, rather, from the discourse of the 1990s and 2000s surrounding the politics of history in the Federal Republic which gave top priority to the critical reappraisal of the Nazi past.

The advent of so-called bureaucratic history around the year 2005 is an expression of this historical discourse. Its aim was the investigation of mental and biographical continuities from the Nazi era in the ministries and administrative authorities of the early Federal Republic.[63] The commissions of historians that formed in 2010 and 2011 to investigate the early history of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) and the Federal Intelligence Agency (BND), respectively, were likewise initially focused on sleuthing out these continuities. They later developed an interest in the role and mode of operation of these two organizations. The Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD), on the other hand, was more comprehensive right from the start, intended as a comprehensive history of the “third” West German intelligence agency during the Cold War.[64]

This broad interpretation of the mandate to work through the legacies of the German past has not only resulted in more than a dozen weighty historical monographs analyzing the BfV and especially the Gehlen Organization, putting them into historical context as aspects of the early Federal Republic[65]; it has also succeeded in enhancing the reputation of intelligence history, the founding of the commissions by the federal government having induced a number of renowned contemporary historians to take up this hitherto seemingly exotic subject. Intelligence-history panels at German historical congresses are proof of this status upgrade, as are the externally funded projects that grew out of the work of the commissions.

Admittedly, in the German case, there is no telling to what extent contemporary history will profit over the medium term from a “more open approach to covert history.” The BfV and the BND have given over parts of their records to the Federal Archive in Koblenz in the context of these projects, and the BND has even opened its internal archives for external users. Yet the agencies still retain a good deal of autonomy in deciding which files are released and which are not. It can therefore happen that informer files older than seventy years are not released to independent historians even when the respective commission of historians has already used them in their own research.[66] In other words, a basic premise of scholarly work – the verifiability of results – is only ensured to a limited degree in the case of commission publications on BND and BfV history.

The same applies to the official histories of British agencies. The latter have commissioned renowned historians such as Christopher Andrew with the task of writing comprehensive histories of their agencies, granting full access to the files in the process but not making these files accessible to the general public afterwards. This in no way diminishes the scholarly value of these excellent studies on the history of the MI5,[67] the MI6,[68] the Joint Intelligence Committee[69] and, finally, the Government Communications Headquarters.[70] Moreover, these studies – similar to the publications of the German commissions of historians – provide a previously nonexistent organizational history enabling independent historians, in some cases, to use declassified files to write their own histories. All the same, the problem of getting access to the files remains a core challenge for intelligence history. Only if access to the files is not a privilege granted by these services will the discipline be able to establish itself internationally in the medium term.

Areas of Research

The different paths taken by intelligence historians in their respective national contexts have found expression in their different research focuses and hypotheses. Still, there are some overarching perspectives and areas of research. First we have the organizational history approaches that aim to illuminate the inner workings and internal structures of these services. Second, there is a common focus on the spheres of activities and working methods of secret services – i.e., the procurement and analysis of information, the passing on of this information to political actors, and the influencing and manipulation of social groups in the context of covert operations. Third, the relationship between intelligence services and the societies around them is increasingly becoming its own distinct field of research.

Organizational History Approaches

As much as intelligence history would profit from sound historical investigations of organizational structures and staff development, very few have actually been written. There are in fact a range of comprehensive scholarly and semi-scholarly surveys of secret services, including Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Matthew M. Aid’s The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency, Gordon Thomas’s Gideon’s Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, etc.[71] But these works are mostly written from the perspective of the espionage operations and/or foreign and security policies of these states. Information on internal structures and their transformation are just as seldom in these works as depictions of employee profiles and financial resources, not to mention the actual inner workings of these agencies, their informal practices and organizational culture[72] – though these inner workings, it must be said, cannot be properly understood without extensive access to the files. Even Richard Aldrich’s masterful depiction of the British SIGINT service GCHQ[73] based solely on declassified files, offers only sporadic information on the actual practice of signals monitoring – that is to say, what the thousand of employees there do on a daily basis.[74] Official historian Christopher Andrew at least describes in passing how from the 1970s onwards the MI5 gradually developed from being a militaristic men’s association firmly anchored in the upper classes into a more socially diverse organization.[75]

In the case of secret services operating under dictatorships, more recent perpetrator research in particular has stimulated investigations into the biographies and mindsets of their employees. Studies on the leadership corps of the Gestapo and the Security Service[76] can be cited here as examples, along with analyses of the social profile and living environment of fulltime Stasi employees and collective biographies of KGB officers.[77] Recent research on the employee profiles of West German intelligence workers in the 1950s and 1960s has at least been indirectly inspired by the question of the possible long-term consequences of collaboration with the Nazi regime and its organs of repression even after the change of political systems. A study on the early BND came to the conclusion that ideologemes and interpretations of reality from the period before 1945 had essentially been preserved in this organization – a leading BND employee talked with some reserve about the “so-called rule of law in the Federal Republic” as late as the early 1960s.[78] At the same time, studies of the nascent CIA have suggested that shared life experiences combined with isolation from the outside world and an elitist self-image could lead to specific organizational cultures wholly independent of the political system an intelligence agency is working in.[79]

A theoretical and methodological reference point for the question of a secret-service “culture” is offered by the work of British organizational scholar Christopher Grey. Using the example of the British “code breaking organization” in World War II, the Government Code and Cypher School in Bletchley Park, Grey conceptualizes secrecy as a social practice that is constituted daily through a variety of formal and informal behaviors. Secrecy, Grey argues, is characteristic of the structures and identities of organizations in general, but is constitutive for intelligence services and hence a key for understanding the organizational transformation of intelligence agencies.[80]

The social practice of secrecy can also illustrate to what extent secret services, which outwardly give a rather homogeneous impression, have exhibited functional differentiations and developed “local rationalities.” Thus, secrecy among members of the CIA’s counterintelligence unit during the Cold War was habituated to a totally different degree than in the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, active at the same time but with a strong civilian presence in its ranks.[81] This gives rise to a core question of intelligence history from an organizational-history perspective: To what extent can we speak of the “civilizing” of secret services, an uncoupling from their military roots after 1945? And to what extent have these agencies, whatever degree of “administrative rationalization” they exhibit, “ultimately remained disreputable, violence-prone and risky?”[82] In the context of an already sketchy organizational history of intelligence services, notions of masculinity and gender relations represent a particularly telling gap. Literary scholar Eva Horn has shown to what extent the perceptions and representations of espionage are influenced by stereotypical gender images, by the idea that social leverage and power relations are intrinsically dependent on sexual differences.[83] No gender-specific research questions have even been articulated in any of the organizational history approaches to intelligence history to date.

This is likely an expression of the “double masculinity” of intelligence history of the kind found in military history. Karen Hagemann writes about the latter: “Males not only make up the majority of the scholars, they also unquestioningly assume the universally masculine nature of their object of research.”[84] Christopher Andrew, for instance, in his history of the MI5, points out that there were no female agent handlers in the British intelligence community into the 1970s,[85] but he barely touches on the role of women in MI5 in the rest of his thousand-page book. And for all the empirical and analytical depth of the Independent Commission of Historians’ work on the early BND, gender relations are all but ignored in the eleven volumes published to date; indeed, the memoirs of Gabriele Gast, a double agent working for East Germany’s Main Directorate for Reconnaissance, offer more insight into the role of women in the West German Federal Intelligence Service.[86]

Two members of the British Women’s Royal Naval Service, Dorothy Du Boisson (left) and Elsie Booker (right), on a Colossus Mark 2 at Bletchley Park in 1943. The Colossus was the world’s first vacuum-tube computer, developed to decode the communications of Nazi Germany’s military command. Bletchley Park, headquarters of the British code-breaking service (the Government Code and Cypher School) during World War II, is a British memorial site and a symbol for the victory of the British intellect over the brutality of the German war machine. Less well known is the fact that most of the thousands of individuals working at Bletchley Park were women, whose role has been sorely neglected in intelligence history. Photo: unknown, source: [ Wikimedia Commons] / The National Archives (United Kingdom) FO850/234, public domain
Two members of the British Women’s Royal Naval Service, Dorothy Du Boisson (left) and Elsie Booker (right), on a Colossus Mark 2 at Bletchley Park in 1943. The Colossus was the world’s first vacuum-tube computer, developed to decode the communications of Nazi Germany’s military command. Bletchley Park, headquarters of the British code-breaking service (the Government Code and Cypher School) during World War II, is a British memorial site and a symbol for the victory of the British intellect over the brutality of the German war machine. Less well known is the fact that most of the thousands of individuals working at Bletchley Park were women, whose role has been sorely neglected in intelligence history. Photo: unknown, source: Wikimedia Commons / The National Archives (United Kingdom) FO850/234, public domain

Information Procurement and Analysis

As fragmentary as our knowledge is of the structures, inner workings and staff profile of secret services, some individual espionage operations have nonetheless been the subject of intense analysis. To be sure, the interest here has been less the experiences of individual agent controllers or the pressures faced by intelligence analysts. Rather, the focus has been on the significance of intelligence or covert operations in the field of foreign policy. The approach to individual fields of intelligence activities – the procurement of information, evaluating and feeding it into the political arena, and finally covert operations – has generally always been from a top-down perspective. This is particularly evident in the case of human intelligence, or HUMINT.

HUMINT is considered the oldest form of intelligence collection, and is still an important one in the age of high technology, as seen in the role of agent reports in bringing down the Islamic State in 2016-17. Agents reporting from the enemy’s center of power or, to use the intelligence term, “target country” are among the most endangered “informers in place” but are often able to provide invaluable information.[87] The top spies in this category have always attracted the attention of historians: the exotic dancer Mata Hari, executed in France in 1917 as an agent of the German Empire[88]; the “atomic spy” Klaus Fuchs, who furnished the Soviet Union with information on America’s Manhattan Project[89]; or the “Chancellery spy” Günter Guillaume, whose exposure in 1974 was one factor leading to Willy Brandt’s resignation.[90] The hypotheses pursued in investigating the “big” spies and espionage cases predominantly reflect contemporary concerns, the biographical or social preconditions of treason being downplayed and linked to motives of “ideology,” “money” or “nationalism.”[91] And yet an investigation of the motives, loyalties and emotions of “traitors” offers considerable analytical potential. Indeed, the twentieth century has even been interpreted as the “century of betrayal,”[92] given the unprecedented clash of national, social and political allegiances. Biographies like Philby’s – who defected to the Soviet Union in 1963, was celebrated there as a hero, only to literally wall himself in with British cultural objects inside his Moscow apartment – could shed light on the contradictory nature of such interpretations.[93]

A Soviet postage stamp from 1990 commemorating the British double agent Kim Philby. An offspring of the British upper class and a Cambridge graduate, Philby became an enthusiastic communist during the 1930s and was recruited by the Soviet secret service. Active in the United States as a liaison officer of the British foreign intelligence service during the late 1940s, he passed on top-secret information to Moscow that repeatedly helped the Soviet Union in its secret-service war with the Western allies. In 1963 Kim Philby fled to Moscow, where he was given a position with the KGB. Yet it was only after his death in 1988 that he was given the honors he had coveted all his life, including a posthumous Order of Lenin, the second-highest distinction in the Soviet Union. On the left: USSR postage stamp from the series “Soviet Spies”: Kim Philby 1990, picture of B. Ilyukhin, CFA #6266. Source: [ Wikimedia Commons], public domain; on the right: Grave of Kim Philby in a cemetery in Moscow, July 10, 2010. Photo: A. Savin, source: [ Wikimedia Commons], License: [ CC BY-SA 3.0]
A Soviet postage stamp from 1990 commemorating the British double agent Kim Philby. An offspring of the British upper class and a Cambridge graduate, Philby became an enthusiastic communist during the 1930s and was recruited by the Soviet secret service. Active in the United States as a liaison officer of the British foreign intelligence service during the late 1940s, he passed on top-secret information to Moscow that repeatedly helped the Soviet Union in its secret-service war with the Western allies. In 1963 Kim Philby fled to Moscow, where he was given a position with the KGB. Yet it was only after his death in 1988 that he was given the honors he had coveted all his life, including a posthumous Order of Lenin, the second-highest distinction in the Soviet Union. On the left: USSR postage stamp from the series “Soviet Spies”: Kim Philby 1990, picture of B. Ilyukhin, CFA #6266. Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain; on the right: Grave of Kim Philby in a cemetery in Moscow, July 10, 2010. Photo: A. Savin, source: Wikimedia Commons, License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Other groups of agents and informers long stood in the shadow of these top spies. Though their reports may have been less spectacular at first glance, in some cases they were more important in the overall scheme of human intelligence. This goes for hundreds of employees at state-owned industries in the GDR who furnished Western intelligence agencies with a detailed picture of the state of East Germany’s planned economy before the construction of the Wall,[94] as well as tens of thousands of Wehrmacht soldiers released from Soviet captivity who were screened by Western agencies upon their arrival in West Germany about things such as infrastructure of the Soviet Union.[95] The East German citizens who, especially as of 1984, were questioned by the BND when visiting or emigrating to West Germany also fall into this category.[96] The historiographical potential of evaluating these reports goes beyond a mere intelligence context, offering insight into the interpretive patterns and mentalities of individuals and groups that are otherwise seldom documented. The wiretap transcripts from British prisoner-of-war camps documenting the informal conversations of military personnel from the Axis powers are perhaps the most prominent example.[97]

Compared to HUMINT, other forms of intelligence gathering have been given much less attention by historians. This is the case for open-source intelligence (OSINT), i.e., the analysis of freely accessible sources such as newspapers or scholarly publications from the target country, as well as for imagery intelligence (IMINT), the evaluation of aerial or satellite images, which briefly assumed global importance during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.[98] Reviews of the literature on intelligence history are almost stereotypical in their bemoaning the woeful neglect of signals intelligence (SIGINT), i.e., the interception and possibly deciphering of electromagnetic signals.[99] Despite the significant growth of SIGINT in all Western agencies after World War II – the British GCHQ, for example, grew from about 1,000 employees in 1945 to 7,500 in 1973, comprising half of all individuals working for British intelligence agencies[100] – the amount of literature on the subject is hardly overwhelming. This is not only due to the particular reluctance of agencies to release their files on signals monitoring. It is also tied to an ongoing tendency among contemporary historians to view the field of technology as separate from politics and society, and to leave it up to the specialists to study it.

Most information obtained by intelligence agencies, whether by questioning refugees at a West German reception camp or through a dish antenna at a SIGINT ground station, ends up sooner or later with an analysis unit. The question of how these units work and how extremely heterogeneous information becomes “finished intelligence,” i.e., a report or prognosis, has hardly played a role in the research to date – or is simply hard to answer due to a lack of relevant sources.[101] The administrative and political framework for intelligence analysis has in turn been an even greater preoccupation of intelligence scholars. Here the guiding question has always been whether or not an agency has used the given information in a certain situation to come to the “right” conclusions. If analysts were wrong – the CIA, for example, did not see the Vietcong’s Tet Offensive coming in 1968 despite available intelligence[102] and was taken by surprise when the Soviet sphere of influence collapsed in the late 1980s[103] – what were the reasons for this?

The roots of such intelligence failures is one focus of Anglo-American intelligence studies.[104] The usual assumption here is that obtaining “objective” knowledge about an enemy is generally possible and that intelligence services can use “individual data” to reach a “prognosis” – a questionable belief from the perspective of the sociology of knowledge.[105] Working from this premise, scholars then focus their attention, for example, on organizational and management deficits. These led, for instance, in the case of Pearl Harbor in 1941, to existing intelligence about Japanese naval movements not being shared between various U.S. agencies or linked in a meaningful way.[106]

Since the 1970s socio-psychological factors have been seen as a primary cause of analysis failures, categorized under terms such as “group think,” “mirror imaging” and “echo effects,” the latter referring to a tendency to report what the recipients presumably want to hear.[107] A spate of studies devoted to intelligence failures after the colossal failure of U.S. agencies to foresee 9/11 has identified organizational culture as a root cause of “intelligence adaptation failures” (Zegart), e.g., the inability of the CIA and FBI to prepare for new threats such as Islamist terrorism.[108]

What tends to get overlooked in these fault-finding studies is the question of what the government actually expects from intelligence reports, what makes these reports different or more useful than other information channels such as embassies. Ronny Heidenreich, in his investigation of the Gehlen Organization’s intelligence gathering on the GDR until the erection of the Wall, has come to the conclusion that these reports were generally of lower quality than information on the same subject from the Foreign Office or the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, not to mention the reports of other Western agencies such as the MI6 or the CIA.[109]

Only by putting things into context like this does it become clear why different political cultures have placed a different value on their intelligence services – why, for example, since the early 1950s the director of the CIA has been the most important foreign-policy advisor to the U.S. president,[110] while the head of the West German BND had virtually no access to the chancellor once Gehlen had left (even if the service's performance improved) and French intelligence agencies were chided by President Mitterrand for being a “costly farce.”[111] Such public statements by heads of state about their respective intelligence services offer insight into national “intelligence cultures” – that is to say, the collective reception of secret services which, generated by the media and reinforced in a discursive manner, effectively determines the latitude and limits of these agencies.[112]

U.S. President Ronald Reagan with his Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, on May 1, 1984. The DCIs were considered the most important presidential foreign-policy advisor from 1946 to 2004 (the office was replaced by the DNI, Director of National Intelligence, in 2004). Casey, moreover, was one of several intelligence chiefs who actively influenced U.S. foreign policy. His name is linked to the arming of the mujahideen by the CIA during the Soviet war in Afghanistan as well as with supporting the Contras in the 1980s, a right-wing rebel organization in Nicaragua. Casey also rejected the newly expanded Congressional controls on U.S. secret services and refused to cooperate with the respective Senate and Congressional committees. Photo: Levan Ramishvili, source: [ Flickr], public domain
U.S. President Ronald Reagan with his Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, on May 1, 1984. The DCIs were considered the most important presidential foreign-policy advisor from 1946 to 2004 (the office was replaced by the DNI, Director of National Intelligence, in 2004). Casey, moreover, was one of several intelligence chiefs who actively influenced U.S. foreign policy. His name is linked to the arming of the mujahideen by the CIA during the Soviet war in Afghanistan as well as with supporting the Contras in the 1980s, a right-wing rebel organization in Nicaragua. Casey also rejected the newly expanded Congressional controls on U.S. secret services and refused to cooperate with the respective Senate and Congressional committees. Photo: Levan Ramishvili, source: Flickr, public domain

Covert Operations

The latitude of these agencies is particularly evident in the covert operations carried out on behalf of their governments or, as intelligence historian Loch K. Johnson put it, “[...] actions carried out abroad in support of national foreign policy objectives so that the role of the [government] is not apparent.”[113] It is a matter of debate in intelligence studies to what extent covert operations are a genuine responsibility of secret services at all.[114] From a historical perspective, however, they have undoubtedly been part and parcel of intelligence work in many countries. Covert operations have at times even taken precedence over the core function of intelligence: the gathering of information for decision-makers.[115] Johnson described them as a “third option” between diplomacy and open warfare,[116] which explains their paramount importance during the Cold War.

In effect, covert action became “a substitute for war between great powers” after 1945, “which had quite simply become unfeasible in light of growing nuclear arsenals,” or so the opinion of Krieger in his history of secret services.[117] The destructive phantasies of these agencies sometimes went unchecked. The Soviet secret police used every means at its disposal, from publicly compromising to assassinating individuals, to silence democratic politicians in the countries of East-Central Europe and facilitate the building of “people’s democracies.”[118] Members of socialist party and security apparatuses who had fled to the West were never safe from the “long arm” of these eastern agencies. The Stasi alone kidnapped and imprisoned several hundred individuals from West Germany into the early 1960s, which for many of them meant death sentences.[119]

Western services, for their part, were at times virtually uninhibited in their efforts to subvert Soviet influence in East-Central Europe. Shaped by the “culture of action” of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime intelligence agency of the United States, the CIA relied on the support of anticommunist combat leagues some of whose members had Nazi pasts,[120] sabotaging state-run enterprises in the GDR and repeatedly engaging in aggressive propaganda campaigns.[121] To what extent operations of this sort, meant to replace large-scale warfare, only magnified mutually held enemy stereotypes and thus perpetuated the Cold War is a question that a future social history of the Cold War should endeavor to answer more thoroughly.

Industrial sabotage, kidnappings and assassinations are all grouped under the label “hard covert action.”[122] These forms of covert influence on foreign societies were beginning to shift to the Global South as of the 1950s, with the consolidation of the status quo in Europe; the so-called proxy wars in Africa and Latin America were often the result of secret-service operations, East and West. “Soft covert action,” including the distribution of food packages in West Berlin, remained an important instrument in the conflict between systems in Europe (and seems to have acquired new significance in the age of digital information flows). This type of operation is generally about influencing opinion-making in foreign societies – for instance, with regard to free elections. Hence, European elections in the early postwar period have been described as hidden conflicts between the KGB and the CIA. The CIA spent more than $75 million between 1948 and 1975 just on its efforts to influence elections in Italy.[123] Another form of soft or covert political action were CIA-sponsored radio stations such as Radio Free Europe or, with a target audience in the Soviet Union, Radio Liberty.[124]

The SED, by the same token, was successful with its “Brown Book” campaigns, enlisting the aid of the Stasi in the attempt to expose the Nazi pasts of West German politicians, judges, military officers, etc.[125] Another source of concern in the West were the partly successful disinformation campaigns of the KGB, claiming, for example, that President Kennedy was murdered with the collusion of the CIA, or that the United States was waging bacteriological warfare in Vietnam.[126] Attempts to turn social and political groups into foreign-policy instruments through the placing of agents of influence were met with mixed success. The large-scale attempt of the KGB and the GDR’s Main Directorate for Reconnaissance failed, for example, in the early 1980s to use the West German peace movement to prevent the stationing of U.S. medium-range missiles in the Federal Republic.[127]

If intelligence as information for decision-makers is the missing dimension of international politics, then covert action can be understood as the missing dimension of a political history of society. Unlocking this potential is a long way off, of course. The initial question here, discussed already in the literature, is how to measure the success or failure of such an operation at all. The question is all the more difficult to answer, the more differentiated a media system is and the more complex the public opinion of the society in question. In a pluralist public sphere, intelligence disinformation is simply one of many factors constituting public opinion. And yet the fact that foreign agencies resorting to soft covert action can have considerable political consequences has been shown in the discussion around possible Russian intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Intelligence Services and Society

Their influence on the societies of “target countries” begs the question of how secret services have had an effect on their own societies. What influence have they had on the political climate? How, in turn, have social groups, political actors and not least of all the mass media viewed these agencies or made them the subject of political demands for transparency?

The question of how intelligence agencies have influenced their own political systems has long been posed by scholars outside the fields of intelligence studies and intelligence history. Critical analyses of the sometimes antidemocratic effects caused by the prominent role of secret services in the U.S. government during the Cold War, investigations of the cultural Cold War of the CIA or the FBI’s counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO), which massively violated the basic rights of citizens, have long come from political scientists such as Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones or historically working journalists such as Tim Weiner.[128] Even the volumes published by the Independent Commission of Historians on the history of the BND, examining the influence of the Gehlen Organization on West German domestic policy during the Adenauer era – and attesting a debilitating effect on the process of implementing democracy in the Federal Republic – were written by political and contemporary historians such as Klaus-Dietmar Henke and Jost Dülffer rather than by intelligence historians.[129]

And yet these publications, much like depictions of the early history of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution,[130] give the impression of being a kind of “expanded” intelligence history. To put it crudely, they proceed on the assumption that secret services are producers of a specific kind of secret state knowledge, while also incorporating social, cultural and political frameworks into their analyses to a much greater degree than classic intelligence history has done. This expanded perspective is evident in the works of a younger generation of mostly British historians.[131]

Limiting the Powers of Intelligence Agencies in Liberal Democracies

An important area of investigation with regard to the social implications of secret intelligence is the history of intelligence accountability. The latter charts the efforts to make secret services compatible with the norms of liberal democracies. The guiding question of these studies is whether and how secret services can be effectively held in check, e.g., by parliamentary committees, without them losing their effectiveness.

Historical and comparative studies have shown that most Western parliaments in the early postwar years were anything but eager to preoccupy themselves with the world of intelligence services.[132] This was put down more generally to the Cold War consensus valid into the 1960s, and more specifically to the fear that too much public scrutiny of their own intelligence agencies would ultimately play into the hands of their Eastern adversaries.[133] In West Germany, moreover, additional parliamentary oversight was rejected into the 1970s with the argument that the representatives of extremist parties, should they be elected, would have to be granted access to the respective oversight committees.[134] The establishment of such committees – the House Permanent and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the United States in 1975, the German Bundestag’s Parliamentary Control Commission in 1978, the Intelligence and Security Committee in Great Britain in 1999 – were approved in each case by the government as a kind of “fire-fighting” measure, to counter massive public demands for more transparency.[135]

To what extent parliamentary or congressional control helped in the medium term to ensure these agencies comply more fully with legal and ethical norms is a matter of dispute among political scientists. A number of parliamentary systems have faced the problem that members of parliament have not been willing to take full advantage of the oversight powers granted to them, either because they lack the expertise or because the reputational gains of working in closed-session committees seems too insignificant to them. According to former Church Committee member Loch K. Johnson, only in the case of intelligence failures or secret-service scandals do U.S. Congress members generally become active, and then in “fire-fighting” mode, i.e., with the aim of limiting the damage.[136] Constantin Goschler has even gone so far as to call parliamentary oversight in the Federal Republic “institutionalized social mistrust” of intelligence agencies. He argues that this oversight is essentially incapable of achieving one of its main stated goals: promoting social trust in these agencies. Every revelation of abuses of power or other irregularities brought to light by an oversight committee only strengthens social mistrust rather than diminishing it. But if oversight committees do not make these wrongdoings public, they quickly find themselves accused of inactivity or a lack of assertiveness.[137]

Thus, those who advocate for a more effective oversight of intelligence agencies pin their hopes – while intelligence historians accordingly shift their focus – on the role of the press as the only effective means of control. And, indeed, the overwhelming majority of all intelligence scandals in the Western world, from the Profumo affair in Britain in 1963 to the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986 to the mass surveillance of electronic communication by the NSA in 2013, have been outed by the media.[138] Richard Aldrich talks about the “counter-culture of revelation” that developed in the media since the 1960s with regard to secret services.[139] But this culture of revelation is basically reactive; it cannot perform routine controls that lead to changes in behavior in these agencies as opposed to scandals and public protest.[140]

What is left is the realization that the conflicts surrounding intelligence agencies and their competencies cannot be resolved in liberal democracies. They are constitutive, as it were. Contemporary history is therefore faced with the task of studying these manifestations and the transformation of these conflicts. A frequently used analytical approach here is the investigation of cultural representations of “secret intelligence.”

Cultural Representations

The relationship between intelligence and fiction is a key issue when it comes to inquiring into the social implications of secret services, the latter’s significance with regard to perceived threats, and the trust or mistrust citizens feel towards their governments. And yet, with a few exceptions, only media studies and media history have taken the trouble to address it.[141] Moreover, the reception of these findings by intelligence studies and intelligence history has been limited. Intelligence historians have long addressed fictional representations, though mostly just to compare how, say, the novels of John le Carré (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) square up with “reality” – only to come to the conclusion that “spy fact is invariably stranger than spy fiction.”[142] Only gradually have scholars come to accept – and integrate into their research – the fact that intelligence-related fiction can be politically charged[143] and that the reputation of intelligence and hence its historical efficacy has been decisively influenced by the spy fiction of popular culture.[144]

James Bond paraphernalia in the Berlin Spy Museum. The fictional agent James Bond, “007,” illustrates in a paradigmatic way the interrelationship between popular representations and intelligence practice. It is true that the Cold War is only hinted at as the historical background to Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and their film adaptations. Fleming’s experiences as a naval intelligence officer during World War II, helping to plan several special-forces operations behind enemy lines, are more obvious on the other hand. That perceptions of the fictional James Bond led political decision-makers to venture into risky waters is probably true in the case of John F. Kennedy. An avowed fan of Fleming with no intelligence experience of his own, Kennedy issued orders for the invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, an operation planned by the CIA but repudiated by military experts and which turned into a foreign-policy fiasco. Photo: Scontrofrontale, September 24, 2015, source: [ Wikimedia Commons], License: [ CC BY-SA 4.0]
James Bond paraphernalia in the Berlin Spy Museum. The fictional agent James Bond, “007,” illustrates in a paradigmatic way the interrelationship between popular representations and intelligence practice. It is true that the Cold War is only hinted at as the historical background to Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and their film adaptations. Fleming’s experiences as a naval intelligence officer during World War II, helping to plan several special-forces operations behind enemy lines, are more obvious on the other hand. That perceptions of the fictional James Bond led political decision-makers to venture into risky waters is probably true in the case of John F. Kennedy. An avowed fan of Fleming with no intelligence experience of his own, Kennedy issued orders for the invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, an operation planned by the CIA but repudiated by military experts and which turned into a foreign-policy fiasco. Photo: Scontrofrontale, September 24, 2015, source: Wikimedia Commons, License: CC BY-SA 4.0

Spy fiction is relevant in at least two ways. First, its images of agents, espionage and intelligence services fill a blank space in the public imagination. The vast majority of people have no firsthand knowledge of intelligence activities, their only source of information being Bond movies, Tom Clancy novels, or the Homeland television series. It hardly matters if the Bond films or the Homeland series have anything to do with historical “reality.” What matters is that people organize their notions of intelligence agencies according to fictional representations of this sort. This goes for the broad mass of the population as well as for political decision-makers.[145]

Even the members of these agencies are influenced by these fictional portrayals. They try, for their part – and this is the second thing that makes spy fiction a highly political genre – to influence these cultural representations of espionage and intelligence agencies, whether by writing their own histories or even by helping create fictional representations in literature and cinema. The West German Office for the Protection of the Constitution, for instance, supported the production of a TV series (“The Fifth Column,” which ran from 1963-68 on ZDF) that was meant to warn against the cold-blooded methods of Eastern agencies, whereas the Military Counterintelligence Service was influential in the production of four episodes of Tatort (“Crime Scene”) between 1977 and 1985, in which an officer tracks down Eastern moles in the West Germany army, the Bundeswehr.[146] The CIA, in particular, has developed a remarkable expertise in this field, hiring “liaison officers” since the 1990s to work towards a positive depiction of the “Agency” in the television series Homeland and the Oscar-winning production Argo.[147]

A decisive step towards integrating such issues into intelligence history was made in 2011 with the launching of a research project called “Landscapes of Secrecy” by British historians Richard Aldrich and Christopher Moran, among others. The project has been the first to shed light in a systematic way on the interrelationship between (pop)cultural representations of the CIA and the academic history of the agency,[148] e.g., with a view to how the CIA is presented in Hollywood movies. Here, too, the shift towards the “conspiracy thrillers” of the 1970s has been interpreted as an indication of a broad crisis of confidence on the part of Americans towards their state institutions.[149]

Of course, there is still a lot of potential for further research, not least of all considering the extensive work being done in the field of surveillance studies on the interrelationship between surveillance practice and its cultural representations, the conceptual aspects of which could be adopted for the purposes of intelligence-related inquiries.[150] Most notably, however, a systematic analysis of the public perceptions of secret services would offer the opportunity to address questions that go beyond the more narrow scope of intelligence history. The connection between political culture and the organizational frameworks of state security could be addressed, for example – possibly through the interpretive lens of “intelligence culture.”

Technologization and Knowledge Production

Another approach, one that would expand our understanding of intelligence as an element of modern statehood as well as broadening the interfaces between intelligence history and general contemporary history, would consist in interpreting intelligence agencies as organizations subject to basic processes of the twentieth (and twenty-first) century, in particular technologization and, increasingly, knowledge orientation. It is hardly news that intelligence services are largely technical systems. This was especially true in the second half of the twentieth century. Even in World War I, signals intelligence was the most resource- and staff-intensive form of information procurement. During World War II, the deciphering of Axis codes was carried out on an “industrial scale” – towards the end of the war no less than 2,500 American specialists were trying on a daily basis to unravel a single Japanese code.[151] The NSA, founded in 1952, was America’s biggest user of computers for about a decade, its more than a hundred mainframes reportedly taking up over five acres in 1968.[152]

What technologization has meant for these agencies as organizations, i.e., for their structures, their staff makeup, their practices and self-perceptions, has only been researched in a rudimentary way, however.[153] Jon Agar, for instance, has hypothesized that the introduction of computers in these agencies, while leading to new possibilities, has also created serious and ultimately unsolvable security issues. As early as the 1960s intelligence agencies became dependent on private hardware and software companies – with long-term consequences, as seen in the Snowden leaks. In basic terms, technologization has increased the interfaces between intelligence agencies and society,[154] often creating internal and sometimes crippling conflicts – in the CIA, for example, during the 1960s, between “librarians” from the Office of Central Reference, who wanted to carry over their document-classification system from the analogue to the digital world, and the newly arrived “computer people,” who wanted to put an end to classic forms of intelligence analysis.[155]

Entangled with technologization, intelligence services in the twentieth century underwent a development “from espionage to intelligence”[156] in a very literal sense. As early as 1939, Britain’s Government Code and Cypher School was employing leading mathematicians from elite universities,[157] while the Research and Analysis Branch of America’s OSS and its successor unit the CIA had humanities scholars and social scientists the likes of Herbert Marcuse in its ranks.[158] The fierce competition between East and West and the technologization of intelligence services during the postwar era led these agencies to recruit their own experts and add a range of affiliated research institutes.[159] In this regard, the agencies successively grew out of their original military contexts, becoming state institutional systems. For this reason, and through networking with think tanks, the Anglo-American agencies of the 1970s became what seemed to be “less of a ‘cloak and dagger’ affair and more like a branch of the social sciences.”[160]

From the perspective of contemporary history, the increasing knowledge orientation of intelligence services appears at first glance to correspond to the secular trend of a scientification of the social and political. The extent to which these agencies participated in this scientification and how their practices of information analysis changed in the process has yet to be systematically investigated, however.[161]

Against the backdrop of the current conflict between secret intelligence and liberal societies – reaching its tentative climax in the NSA leaks – intelligence history of the future should have the overarching objective of embedding secret services in historiographical approaches that aim to historicize “information” or “knowledge societies.” Secret services not only occupy a central place in this history; they illustrate in a particular way the pathologies and fundamental conflicts of societies that increasingly perceive themselves as knowledge- and information-based.[162]

Translated from the German by David Burnett.

German Version: Rüdiger Bergien, Geschichte der Nachrichtendiesnte / Intelligence History, Version: 1.0, in: Docupedia-Zeitgeschichte, 05.01.2021.

Recommended Reading

Christopher Andrew, The Secret World. A History of Intelligence (London: Yale University Press, 2019)

Christopher R. Moran, and Christopher J. Murphy (eds.), Intelligence Studies in Britain and the US. Historiography since 1945 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013)

Michael Herman, Intelligence Power in War and Peace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Eva Horn, Der geheime Krieg. Verrat, Spionage und moderne Fiktion (Frankfurt a. M.: S. Fischer , 2007)

Wolfgang Krieger, Geschichte der Geheimdienste. Von den Pharaonen bis zur NSA (München: C. H. Beck, 2014)

Michael Warner, The Rise and Fall of Intelligence. An International Security History (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2014)

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  1. The phrase is found in Armin Wagner and Matthias Uhl, BND contra Sowjetarmee. Westdeutsche Militärspionage in der DDR (Berlin: Links, 2007), p. 10.
  2. Christopher Andrew and David Dilks (eds.), The Missing Dimension: Governments and Intelligence Communities in the Twentieth Century (London: Palgrave, 1984), p. 3; see also Simon Willmetts, “Reconceiving Realism. Intelligence Historians and the Fact/Fiction Dichotomy,” in: Christopher R. Moran and Christopher J. Murphy (eds.), Intelligence Studies in Britain and the US. Historiography since 1945 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), pp. 146-171, here p. 146.
  3. Stuart Farson, “Schools of Thought. National Perceptions of Intelligence,” in: Journal of Conflict Studies 9, no. 2 (1989), pp. 52-104, here p. 52, online at [July 29, 2021].
  4. Two are particularly noteworthy here: Intelligence and National Security, established in 1985, and the International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, launched in 1987.
  5. E.g., the International Intelligence History Association (IIHA), [July 29, 2021], founded in Germany.
  6. While intelligence studies at universities were virtually nonexistent in the 1970s, by now more than half of the top twenty-five universities in the United States offer bachelor’s- and master’s-level classes on intelligence-related subjects. See Alessandro Scheffler Corvaja, Brigita Jeraj and Uwe M. Borghoff, “The Rise of Intelligence Studies. A Model for Germany?,” in: Connections 15, no. 1 (2016), pp. 79-106, here p. 80, online at [July 29, 2021].
  7. Cf. Wolfgang Krieger, “German Intelligence History. A Field in Search of Scholars,” in: Intelligence and National Security 19, no. 2 (2004), pp. 185-198.
  8. Cf. Helmut Müller-Enbergs and Armin Wagner, “Eine ‚geheime‘ deutsche Geschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts. Zehn Biographien der Epoche,” in: id. (ed.), Spione und Nachrichtenhändler. Geheimdienst-Karrieren in Deutschland 1939-1989 (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2016), pp. 7-37.
  9. Cf. Richard J. Aldrich, “‚Grow your own’. Cold War Intelligence and History Supermarkets,” in: Intelligence and National Security 17, no. 1 (2002), pp. 135-152; Simon Willmetts, “The Cultural Turn in Intelligence Studies,” in: Intelligence and National Security 34, no. 6 (2019), pp. 800-817.
  10. Cf. Jens Gieseke, “Intelligence History und ihre Quellen: Beobachtungen aus einer Studie über das Ministerium für Staatssicherheit der DDR und die westdeutschen Grünen,” in: Thomas Großbölting and Sabine Kittel (eds.), Welche „Wirklichkeit“ und wessen „Wahrheit“? Das Geheimdienstarchiv als Quelle und Medium der Wissensproduktion (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2019), pp. 83-103, here p. 83.
  11. Cf. Peter Jackson, “Political Culture and Intelligence Culture. France before the Great War,” in: Simon J. Ball et al. (eds.), Cultures of Intelligence in the Era of the World Wars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), pp. 37-64, here p. 37.
  12. Cf. Zakia Shiraz, “Globalisation and Intelligence,” in: Robert Dover, Huw Dylan and Michael S. Goodman (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Security, Risk and Intelligence (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), pp. 265-280, here p. 272.
  13. For an argument in favor of such an approach, see Willmetts, “The Cultural Turn,” p. 803.
  14. See the contributions and especially the introduction in Philip H. J. Davies and Kristian C. Gustafson, Intelligence Elsewhere. Spies and Espionage outside the Anglosphere (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013); Sophia Hoffmann, “Why is there no IR scholarship on Intelligence Agencies? Some Ideas for a new Approach,” in: ZMO Working Papers, no. 23 (2019), pp. 1-13, online at [July 29, 2021].
  15. Müller-Enbergs and Wagner, “Eine ‚geheime‘ deutsche Geschichte,” pp. 28f.
  16. The “long lines” of development of intelligence history have been outlined by Wolfgang Krieger, Geschichte der Geheimdienste. Von den Pharaonen bis zur NSA (Munich: Beck, 2014); Michael Warner, The Rise and Fall of Intelligence. An International Security History (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014) and more recently by Christopher Andrew, The Secret World. A History of Intelligence (London: Penguin, 2018).
  17. In his efforts to counteract the Spanish empire, Walsingham not only set up a system of intelligence gathering and counterintelligence, he also employed cryptographers to decipher encoded messages of the enemy. See Andrew, The Secret World, p. 158.
  18. Cf. Krieger, Geschichte der Geheimdienste; Warner, The Rise and Fall, pp. 24-29.
  19. On the history of the OSS and its formative influence on postwar American history, see Michael Warner, “Prolonged Suspense. The Fortier Board and the Transformation of the Office of Strategic Services,” in: Journal of Intelligence History 2, no. 1 (2002), pp. 65-76; see also Thomas Wolf, Die Entstehung des BND. Aufbau, Finanzierung, Kontrolle (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2018), pp. 105-107.
  20. Cf. Richard J. Aldrich, GCHQ. The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency (London: William Collins, 2010), p. 59.
  21. With reference to West Germany in the late 1940s and early 1950s: Klaus-Dietmar Henke, Geheime Dienste. Die politische Inlandsspionage der Organisation Gehlen 1946-1953 (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2018), p. 56.
  22. Cf. Michael Herman, Intelligence Power in Peace and War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 37.
  23. Cf. Warner, The Rise and Fall, p. 16; see also Farson, “Schools of Thought,” p. 28.
  24. Cf. Peter Gill, Stephen Marrin and Mark Phythian (eds.), Intelligence Theory. Key Questions and Debates (London: Routledge, 2009); David Kahn, “An Historical Theory of Intelligence,” in: Intelligence and National Security 16, no. 3 (2001), pp. 79-92.
  25. Michael Warner, “Wanted. A Definition of Intelligence,” in: Christopher M. Andrew, Richard J. Aldrich and Wesley K. Wark (eds.), Secret Intelligence. A Reader (London: Routledge, 2009), pp. 3-1, here p. 3.
  26. Herman, Intelligence Power, p. 35.
  27. This argument is found in Olivier Chopin, “Intelligence Reform and the Transformation of the State. The End of a French Exception,” in: Journal of Strategic Studies 40, no. 4 (2017), pp. 532-553, here p. 540.
  28. For the Netherlands, Constant W. Hijzen, “The Perpetual Adversary. How Dutch Security Services Perceived Communism (1918-1989),” in: Historical Social Research 38, no. 1 (2013), pp. 166-199; for France, Sébastien Laurent, Politiques de l’Ombre. État, Renseignement et Surveillance en France (Paris: Fayard, 2009); Gérald Arboit, Des Services Secrets pour la France. Du Dépôt de la Guerre à la DGSE (1856-2013) (Paris: CNRS Éd., 2014).
  29. See, esp., Gerhard Sälter, Phantome des Kalten Krieges. Die Organisation Gehlen und die Wiederbelebung des Gestapo-Feindbildes „Rote Kapelle“ (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2016); Jost Dülffer, Geheimdienst in der Krise: Der BND in den 1960er-Jahren (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2018); Agilolf Keßelring, Die Organisation Gehlen und die Neuformierung des Militärs in der Bundesrepublik (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2017); Wolf, Die Entstehung; Henke, Geheime Dienste.
  30. Cf. Uwe Spiekermann, “Introduction,” in: id. and Patricia C. Sutcliffe (eds.), The Stasi at Home and Abroad. Domestic Order and Foreign Intelligence (Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 2014) (Bulletin of the German Historical Institute, Supplement 9), pp. 11-31, here p. 14, online at [July 29, 2021].
  31. Cf. Christopher Andrew, “Intelligence, International Relations and Under-theorisation,” in: Intelligence and National Security 19, no. 2 (2004), pp. 170-184, here p. 176.
  32. Cf. Hoffmann, “Why Is There No IR Scholarship,” p. 6; Jonathan Luke Austin, “We Have Never Been Civilized: Torture and the Materiality of World Political Binaries,” in: European Journal of International Relations 23, no. 1 (2017), pp. 49-73.
  33. Cf. Rüdiger Bergien, Im „Generalstab der Partei“: Organisationskultur und Herrschaftspraxis in der SED-Zentrale (1946-1989) (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2016), pp. 169-212.
  34. Cf. David M. Barrett, The CIA and Congress. The Untold Story from Truman to Kennedy (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005); overarching: Loch K. Johnson, Spy Watching. Intelligence Accountability in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).
  35. Philip H.J. Davies, “Intelligence Culture and Intelligence Failure in Britain and the United States,” in: Cambridge Review of International Affairs 17, no. 3 (2004), pp. 495-520, here p. 496.
  36. Cf. Abram N. Shulsky and Gary J. Schmitt, Silent Warfare. Understanding the World of Intelligence (Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 2002), pp. 1-3; Warner, “Wanted,” p. 7.
  37. Gieseke, “Intelligence History und ihre Quellen,“ p. 103.
  38. Cf. Frank Owen, The Eddie Chapman Story (New York: Messner, 1954).
  39. Cf. Richard J. Aldrich, “CIA History as Cold War Battleground: The Forgotten First Wave of Agency Narratives,” in: Moran and Murphy (eds.), Intelligence Studies in Britain, pp. 19-46.
  40. Cf. Paul Maddrell, “What We Have Discovered about the Cold War Is What We Already Knew. Julius Mader and the Western Secret Services During the Cold War,” in: Cold War History 5, no. 2 (2005), pp. 235-258.
  41. This category includes the published memoirs of former CIA director Allan W. Dulles (The Craft of Intelligence, New York: Harper & Row, 1963) as well as a history of German counterintelligence inspired by the BND: Gert Buchheit, Der deutsche Geheimdienst. Geschichte der militärischen Abwehr (Munich: List, 1966).
  42. Cf. Tity de Vries, “The 1967 Central Intelligence Agency Scandal. Catalyst in a Transforming Relationship between State and People,” in: The Journal of American History 98, no. 4 (2012), pp. 1075-1092.
  43. Cf. Loch K. Johnson, “The Church Committee Investigation of 1975 and the Evolution of Modern Intelligence Accountability,” in: Intelligence and National Security 23, no. 2 (2008), pp. 198-225.
  44. Cf. Johnson, Spy Watching, pp. 145-154; Malcolm Byrne, Iran-Contra. Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2014).
  45. Cf. Erin Blakemore, “Over 12 Million Pages of CIA Documents Are Now Accessible Online,” in: Smithsonian Magazine, January 18, 2017, [July 29, 2021].
  46. Cf. „U.S. Declassified Documents Online, Gale Primary Sources o.D., [July 29, 2021].
  47. Cf. National Security Archive, [July 29, 2021].
  48. Cf. Calder Walton, “Historical Amnesia. British and U.S. Intelligence, Past and Present,” in: Secrecy and Society 2, no. 1 (2018), p. 1-30, here pp. 10-12, online at [July 29, 2021].
  49. Christopher R. Moran, “The Pursuit of Intelligence History. Methods, Sources, and Trajectories in the United Kingdom,” in: Studies in Intelligence 55, no. 2 (2011), pp. 33-55, here p. 43.
  50. Cf. Gill Bennett, “Declassification and Release Policies of the UK’ s Intelligence Agencies,” in: Intelligence and National Security 17 (2002), pp. 21-32.
  51. Cf. Richard J. Aldrich, “Policing the Past. Official History, Secrecy and British Intelligence since 1945,” in: English Historical Review 119, no. 483 (2004), pp. 922-953.
  52. Cf. Kim Philby, My Silent War (Liverpool: Macgibbon & Kee, 1968); see also John Lewis Gaddis, “Intelligence, Espionage, and Cold War Origins,” in: Diplomatic History 13, no. 2 (1989), pp. 191-212.
  53. The first French historian to take the topic of espionage seriously is generally considered to be Alain Dewerpe, Espion. Une Anthropologie Historique du Secret d'État Contemporain (Paris: Gallimard, 1994). Symptomatic of the lack of interest in intelligence history in Germany is the fact that the fourteen-volume mammoth work Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, published between 1979 and 2009, did not contain a separate entry on espionage, intelligence and signals monitoring. Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, 14 vol., edited by Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt, Munich 1984-2009.
  54. On the German case, see Markus Goldbeck, Mielkes Erbe. Eine Geschichte der Stasi-Unterlagen-Behörde (1989-2005) (Frankfurt a.M.: Campus, 2021).
  55. See, e.g., Georg Herbstritt and Erich Schmidt-Eenboom (eds.), Das Gesicht dem Westen zu. DDR-Spionage gegen die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Bremen: Ed. Temmen, 2003); latest: Jens Gieseke and Andrea Bahr, Die Staatssicherheit und die Grünen. Zwischen SED-Westpolitik und Ost-West-Kontakten (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2016).
  56. Cf. Paul Maddrell, Spying on Science. Western Intelligence in Divided Germany 1945-1961 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
  57. Cf. Helmut Müller-Enbergs, „Rosenholz“. Eine Quellenkritik (Berlin 2007).
  58. On how the records of the MfS were handled after 1978, see Goldbeck, Mielkes Erbe.
  59. With respect to Romania: Paul Maddrell, “The Opening of the State Security Archives of Central and Eastern Europe,” in: International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 27, no. 1 (2014), pp. 1-26.
  60. See, e.g., Jonathan Haslam, Near and Distant Neighbors. A New History of Soviet Intelligence (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015); Matthias Uhl, “The Professionalization of Soviet Military Intelligence and its Influence on the Berlin Crisis under Khrushchev,” in: Thomas Wegener Friis, Kristie Macrakis and Helmut Müller-Enbergs (eds.), East German Foreign Intelligence. Myth, Reality and Controversy (London: Routledge, 2010).
  61. Cf. Christopher Andrew and Vasili N. Mitrochin, Das Schwarzbuch des KGB. Moskaus Kampf gegen den Westen (Berlin: Propyläen, 1999). These volumes are based on the private archive of Mitrochin containing thousands of document copies and pertaining to the foreign operations of the KGB and its predecessors, the MGB, NKVD and Cheka. The forthcoming monograph of Stanford historian Amir Weiner promises to make significant advances: Amir Weiner, KGB. Ruthless Sword, Imperfect Shield, forthcoming.
  62. Some newer studies do, however, offer insight into the repressive practices and counterintelligence operations of the KGB at the regional level and in the periphery using still existing files in the archives of former Soviet republics, e.g., in Vilnius and Kiev. See also the research project of Evgenia Lezina at the Leibniz Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam: “Die politischen und Machtressourcen der sowjetischen Staatssicherheit. Strukturen, Praktiken und Methoden des KGB im letzten Jahrzehnt der Sowjetunion,” [July 29, 2021].
  63. Cf. Christian Mentel, “Der kritische Blick auf sich selbst. Zur Verantwortung der historiografischen Zunft in der Behördenforschung,” in: Marcus Böick and Marcel Schmeer (eds.), Im Kreuzfeuer der Kritik. Umstrittene Organisationen im 20. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt a.M.: Campus Verlag, 2020), pp. 139-161; Christian Mentel and Niels Weise, Die zentralen deutschen Behörden und der Nationalsozialismus. Stand und Perspektiven der Forschung, edited by Frank Bösch, Martin Sabrow and Andreas Wirsching, Munich/Potsdam 2016.
  64. Cf. Helmut R Hammerich, „Stets am Feind“. Der Militärische Abschirmdienst (MAD) 1956-1990 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2019).
  65. On the BfV: Constantin Goschler and Michael Wala, „Keine neue Gestapo“. Das Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und die NS-Vergangenheit (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 2015); an overview of the publications of the Independent Historical Commission on the History of the BND available so far can be found on the project website: [July 29, 2021].
  66. Cf. Armin Wagner, “Rezension von: Ronny Heidenreich, Die DDR-Spionage des BND. Von den Anfängen bis zum Mauerbau, Berlin 2019,“ in: sehepunkte 20, no. 2 (2020), February 15, 2020, online at [July 29, 2021].
  67. Cf. Christopher M. Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (London: Allen Lane, 2009).
  68. Cf. Keith Jeffery, MI6. The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949 (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010).
  69. Cf. Michael S. Goodman, The Official History of the Joint Intelligence Committee, vol. 1: From the Approach of the Second World War to the Suez Crisis (London: Routledge, 2014).
  70. Cf. John Ferris, Behind the Enigma. The Authorised History of GCHQ, Britain’s Secret Cyber-Intelligence Agency (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020).
  71. Cf. Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes. The History of the CIA (New York: Lane, 2007); Matthew M. Aid, The Secret Sentry. The Untold History of the National Security Agency (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009); Gordon Thomas, Gideon’s Spies. The Secret History of the Mossad (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999).
  72. This is bearing in mind, of course, that organizations have long been an overlooked object of study in modern history despite or because of their omnipresence, see Marcus Böick and Marcel Schmeer, “Aus dem toten Winkel ins „Kreuzfeuer der Kritik“? Organisationen in der zeithistorischen Theorie und Praxis,” in: id. (eds.), Im Kreuzfeuer der Kritik, pp. 9-65.
  73. Cf. Aldrich, GCHQ.
  74. Cf. Armin Müller, Wellenkrieg. Agentenfunk und Funkaufklärung des Bundesnachrichtendienstes 1945-1968 (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2017).
  75. Cf. Andrew, The Defence of the Realm.
  76. See, e.g., the contributions in Thomas Grotum (ed.), Die Gestapo Trier. Beiträge zur Geschichte einer regionalen Verfolgungsbehörde (Cologne: Böhlau-Verlag, 2018); Michael Wildt, Nachrichtendienst, politische Elite und Mordeinheit. Der Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers SS (Hamburg: Hamburger Ed., 2003).
  77. Cf. Weiner, KGB.
  78. Wolf, Die Entstehung, p. 502.
  79. Cf. Burton Hersh, The Old Boys. The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA (New York: Scribner, 1992).
  80. Cf. Christopher Grey, Decoding Organization: Bletchley Park, Codebreaking and Organization Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); see also Jana Costas and Christopher Grey, “Bringing Secrecy into the Open. Towards a Theorization of the Social Processes of Organizational Secrecy,” in: Organization Studies 35, no. 10 (2014), pp. 1423-1447; following Grey, Wolf, Die Entstehung, esp. p. 21f.
  81. From 1954 to 1974, the CIA’s counterintelligence unit was run by infamous “cold warrior” James Jesus Angleton, see chapter 10 (“In the Wilderness”) in Johnson, Spy Watching; on the Directorate of Science and Technology: Jeffrey T. Richelson, The Wizards of Langley. Inside the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology (Boulder: Westview Press, 2001).
  82. Eva Horn, Der geheime Krieg. Verrat, Spionage und moderne Fiktion (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Taschenbuch-Verlag, 2007), p. 127.
  83. Cf. ibid.
  84. Karen Hagemann, “Militär, Krieg und Geschlecht. Ein Kommentar zur Militärgeschichtsschreibung in der MGZ,“ in: Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift 76, Special Edition (2017), pp. 175-184, here p. 184, online at [July 29, 2021].
  85. Cf. Andrew, The Defence of the Realm, p. 550.
  86. Cf. Gabriele Gast, Kundschafterin des Friedens. 17 Jahre Topspionin der DDR beim BND (Frankfurt a.M.: Eichborn, 1999).
  87. Cf. Herman, Intelligence Power, p. 63.
  88. Cf. Horn, Der geheime Krieg, pp. 243-257.
  89. Cf. Robert Chadwell Williams, Klaus Fuchs. Atom Spy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987).
  90. Cf. Eckard Michels, Guillaume, der Spion. Eine deutsch-deutsche Karriere (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2013).
  91. Herman, Intelligence Power, p. 63.
  92. Horn, Der geheime Krieg, p. 79.
  93. Or so a former KGB officer recalled: Oleg Kalugin, Spymaster. My Thirty-two Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West (New York: Basic Books, 2009), p. 164f.
  94. Cf. Paul Maddrell, “The Economic Dimension of Cold War Intelligence-Gathering. The West’s Spies in the GDR’s Economy,” in: Journal of Cold War Studies 1, no. 3 (2013), pp. 76-107.
  95. For a recent, comprehensive account, see Ronny Heidenreich, Die DDR-Spionage des BND. Von den Anfängen bis zum Mauerbau (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2019); sowie Keith R. Allen, Interrogation Nation. Refugees and Spies in Cold War Germany (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).
  96. Cf. Hermann Wentker, “Die DDR in den Augen des BND (1985-1990). Ein Interview mit Dr. Hans-Georg Wieck,“ in: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 56, no. 2 (2008), pp. 323-358, online at [July 29, 2021]; see also Jens Gieseke, Die ostdeutsche Volksmeinung (in Vorbereitung), see [July 29, 2021].
  97. Cf. Sönke Neitzel, Abgehört. Deutsche Generäle in britischer Kriegsgefangenschaft 1942-1945 (Berlin: Propyläen, 2005); id. and Harald Welzer, Soldaten. Protokolle vom Kämpfen, Töten und Sterben (Frankfurt a.M.: Büchergilde Gutenberg, 2011); Harald Welzer, Sönke Neitzel and Christian Gudehus (eds.), „Der Führer war wieder viel zu human, viel zu gefühlvoll“. Der Zweite Weltkrieg aus der Sicht deutscher und italienischer Soldaten (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Taschenbuch-Verlag, 2011).
  98. Cf. Raymond Garthoff, “US Intelligence in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” in: Intelligence and National Security 13, no. 3 (1998), pp. 18-63; Amy B. Zegart, “The Cuban Missile Crisis as Intelligence Failure,” in: Policy Review (2012), pp. 23-39, online at [July 29, 2021].
  99. For a concise summary, see Christopher Andrew, “Reflections on Intelligence Historiography since 1939,” in: Gregory F. Treverton and Wilhelm Agrell (eds.), National Intelligence Systems. Current Research and Future Prospects (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 38-57; Michael Warner, “Reflections on Technology and Intelligence Systems,” in: Intelligence & National Security 27, no 1 (2012), pp. 133-153.
  100. Cf. Aldrich, GCHQ, p. 375.
  101. An instructive look at the structures of BND analysis in the 1960s and the collective disposition of employees working there is nevertheless offered by Andreas Hilger and Armin Müller, „Das ist kein Gerücht, sondern echt.“. Der BND und der „Prager Frühling“ 1968 (Marburg: Unabhängige Historikerkommission zur Erforschung der Geschichte des Bundesnachrichtendienstes 1945-1968, 2014), pp. 77-100; an insightful look at the working methods of CIA intelligence analysis can be found in a fascinating study by Rob Johnston, Analytic Culture in the U.S. Intelligence Community. An Ethnographic Study (Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency Center for the Study of Intelligence, 2005), online at [July 29, 2021].
  102. Cf. James Wirtz, The Tet Offensive. Intelligence Failure in War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991).
  103. Cf. Bruce Berkowitz, “U.S. Intelligence Estimates of the Soviet Collapse. Reality and Perception,” in: International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 21, no. 2 (2009), pp. 237-250.
  104. An in-depth account is offered by Robert Jervis, Why Intelligence Fails. Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010); see also John Hollister Hedley, “Learning from Intelligence Failures,” in: International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 18, no. 3 (2005), pp. 435-450.
  105. Cf. Horn, Der geheime Krieg, p. 127.
  106. Cf. Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor. Warning and Decision (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962); see also the classic work of Richard K. Betts, “Analysis, War, and Decision. Why Intelligence Failures Are Inevitable,” in: World Politics 31, no. 1 (1978), pp. 61-89.
  107. These factors are elucidated in Paul Maddrell, “Introduction. Achieving Objective, Policy-Relevant Intelligence,” in: id. (ed.), The Image of the Enemy. Intelligence Analysis of Adversaries since 1945 (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2015), pp. 1–27.
  108. Cf. Amy B. Zegart, Spying Blind. The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007); with a view to factors rooted in organizational culture, see Milo Jones and Philippe Silberzahn, Constructing Cassandra. Reframing Intelligence Failure at the CIA, 1947-2001 (Stanford: Stanford Security Studies, 2013).
  109. Cf. Heidenreich, Die DDR-Spionage.
  110. Cf. Christopher M. Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only. Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush (New York: HarperCollins, 1995).
  111. Douglas Porch, The French Secret Services. From the Dreyfus Affair to the Gulf War (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), p. 405.
  112. On the concept of intelligence culture, see the contributions in Ball, Gassert and Gestrich (eds.), Cultures of Intelligence in the Era of the World Wars; Mark Phythian, “Cultures of National Intelligence,” in: Robert Dover, Michael S. Goodman and Claudia Hillebrand (eds.), Routledge Companion to Intelligence Studies (London: Routledge, 2014), pp. 33-41.
  113. Loch K. Johnson, America’s Secret Power. The CIA in a Democratic Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 18.
  114. An alternative viewpoint posits that covert action is an instrument of the foreign and security policy of a state, implemented by intelligence agencies but also by the military and other organs. Herman, Intelligence Power, p. 55f.
  115. Cf. Kevin A. O’Brien, “Interfering with Civil Society. CIA and KGB Covert Political Action During the Cold War,” in: International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 8, no. 4 (1995), pp. 431-456, here p. 432.
  116. Cf. Johnson, America’s Secret Power, p. 17.
  117. Krieger, Geschichte der Geheimdienste, p. 251f.
  118. Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain. The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 (London: Penguin, 2013).
  119. Cf. Susanne Muhle, Auftrag Menschenraub. Entführungen von Westberlinern und Bundesbürgern durch das Ministerium für Staatssicherheit der DDR (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015).
  120. Cf. Enrico Heitzer, Die Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit (KgU). Widerstand und Spionage im Kalten Krieg 1948-1959 (Cologne: Böhlau, 2015).
  121. Cf. Richard J. Aldrich, The Hidden Hand. Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence (London: Murray, 2001); Sarah-Jane Corke, US Covert Operations and Cold War Strategy. Truman, Secret Warfare, and the CIA, 1945-1953 (London: Routledge, 2008).
  122. E.g., in Herman, Intelligence Power, p. 55.
  123. Cf. Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only, pp. 169-172; O’Brien, “Interfering with Civil Society,” p. 441.
  124. See ibid, pp. 441-443; for the foreign policy context see Bernd Stöver, Die Befreiung vom Kommunismus. Amerikanische Liberation Policy im Kalten Krieg 1947-1991 (Cologne: Böhlau, 2002).
  125. Cf. Michael Lemke, “Kampagnen gegen Bonn. Die Systemkrise der DDR und die West-Propaganda der SED 1960-1963,” in: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 41, no. 2 (1993), pp. 153-174, online unter [July 29, 2021].
  126. Cf. Christopher Andrew, “Reflections on Intelligence Historiography since 1939,” in: Wilhelm Agrell and Gregory F. Treverton (eds.), National Intelligence Systems, Current Research and Future Prospects (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 38-57, here p. 45f.
  127. Cf. Gieseke and Bahr, Die Staatssicherheit und die Grünen.
  128. Cf. Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes; id., Tim Weiner, Enemies. A History of the FBI (New York: Random House, 2012); Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, The CIA and American Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989); on the CIA’s influence on U.S. cultural institutions and actors, see also Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer. How the CIA Played America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008); on COINTELPRO; David Cunningham, There’s Something Happening Here. The New Left, the Klan, and FBI Counterintelligence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004); James Kirkpatrick Davis, Spying on America. The FBI’s Domestic Counterintelligence Program (New York: Praeger, 1992).
  129. Cf. Henke, Geheime Dienste, 2 vols.; Dülffer, Geheimdienst in der Krise.
  130. Cf. Goschler and Wala, „Keine neue Gestapo“.
  131. Cf. Christopher Moran, Classified. Secrecy and the State in Modern Britain (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Willmetts, “The Cultural Turn.”
  132. Cf. Wolfgang Krieger, “Die historische Entwicklung der demokratischen Kontrolle von Geheimdiensten,” in: Wolbert Smidt et al. (eds.), Geheimhaltung und Transparenz – Die demokratische Kontrolle von Geheimdiensten. Ein internationaler Vergleich (Münster, 2007), pp. 13-30.
  133. In the words of Carl Hayden, the chair of the Armed Services Committee of the United States Congress: “How would it be possible to keep the American people fully informed and at the same time keep our Communist enemies in Moscow in the dark?” Quoted in David M. Barrett, The CIA and Congress. The Untold Story from Truman to Kennedy (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005), p. 231f.
  134. Cf. Jost Dülffer, Geheimdienst in der Krise. Der BND in den 1960er-Jahren (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2018).
  135. On developments in the U.S.: Johnson, Spy Watching; on the Federal Republic: Dülffer, Geheimdienst in der Krise; on Britain: Mark Phythian, “The British Experience with Intelligence Accountability,” in: Intelligence and National Security 22, no. 1 (2007), pp. 75-99.
  136. Cf. Loch K. Johnson, “A Shock Therapy of Congressional Accountability for Intelligence,” in: id. (ed.), Handbook of Intelligence Studies (London: Routledge, 2007), pp. 343-360.
  137. Cf. Constantin Goschler “Intelligence, Mistrust, and Transparency: A Case Study of the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution, in: Stefan Berger and Dimitrij Owetschkin (eds.), Contested Transparencies, Social Movements and the Public Sphere, Cham: Palgrave MacMillan, 2019, pp. 153-171.
  138. On the Profumo affair: Moran, “The Pursuit,” p. 36; in Iran-Contra: James T. Currie, “Iran-Contra and Congressional Oversight of the CIA,” in: International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 11, no. 2 (1998), pp. 185-210; on the NSA leaks: Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide. Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State (New York: Metropolitan Booky Henry Holt, 2014).
  139. Cf. Richard J. Aldrich, “Regulation by Revelation? Intelligence, Transparency and the Media,” in: Robert Dover and Michael S. Goodman (eds.), Spinning Intelligence. Why Intelligence Needs the Media, why the Media Needs Intelligence (London: Hurst, 2009), pp. 13-37, here p. 13.
  140. Cf. Constantin Goschler, Christopher Kirchberg and Jens Wegener, “Sicherheit, Demokratie und Transparenz. Elektronische Datenverbundsysteme in der Bundesrepublik und den USA in den 1970er und 1980er-Jahren,” in: Frank Bösch (ed.), Wege in die digitale Gesellschaft. Computernutzung in der Bundesrepublik 1955-1990 (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2018), pp. 64-86.
  141. See, e.g., Marcus M. Payk, “Globale Sicherheit und ironische Selbstkontrolle. Die James-Bond-Filme der 1960er-Jahre,” in: Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History, Online-Edition, 7, no. 2 (2010), [July 29, 2021], printed: pp. 314-322. Here also further literature in the comments.
  142. Moran and Murphy, “Intelligence Studies Now and Then”, p. 12.
  143. Or so argues Horn, Der geheime Krieg, p. 34.
  144. Cf. Willmetts, “Reconceiving Realism,” comment 27.
  145. Cf. Trevor McCrisken and Christopher R. Moran, “James Bond, Ian Fleming and Intelligence: Breaking down the Boundary between the ‘real’ and the ‘imagined’,” in: Intelligence and National Security 33, no. 6 (2018), pp. 804-821, here p. 808; Amy B. Zegart, “‘Spytainment’. The Real Influence of Fake Spies,” in: International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 23 (2010), pp. 599-622.
  146. Cf. Goschler and Wala: „Keine neue Gestapo“, p. 331; Hammerich, „Stets am Feind“, pp. 451-456.
  147. Cf. McCrisken and Moran, “James Bond, Ian Fleming and Intelligence,” p. 808.
  148. See, e.g., the contributions in Moran and Murphy (eds.), Intelligence Studies in Britain.
  149. Cf. Simon Willmetts, In Secrecy’s Shadow. The OSS and CIA in Hollywood Cinema 1941-1979 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016).
  150. See, e.g., Dietmar Kammerer, “Surveillance in Literature, Film and Television,” in: Kirstie Ball, Kevin D. Haggerty and David Lyon (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies (London: Routledge, 2012), pp. 99-106; John Macgregor Wise, Surveillance and Film (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016).
  151. Cf. Aldrich, GCHQ, p. 38.
  152. Cf. Jon Agar, “Putting the Spooks Back in? The UK Secret State and the History of Computing,” in: Information & Culture. A Journal of History 51, no. 1 (2016), pp. 102-124, here p. 114. One acre is 4046.85642 square meters.
  153. Cf. Warner, “Reflections on Technology.”
  154. On similar contacts, even across the system divide, see Rüdiger Bergien, “Programmieren mit dem Klassenfeind. Die Stasi, Siemens und der Transfer von EDV-Wissen im Kalten Krieg,” in: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 67, no. 1 (2019), pp. 1-30.
  155. Cf. Colin B. Burke, America’s Information Wars. The Untold Story of Information Systems in America’s Conflicts and Politics from World War II to the Internet Age (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), pp. 213-215.
  156. Warner, The Rise and Fall, p. 62.
  157. Cf. Aldrich, GCHQ, p. 25.
  158. Cf. Tim B. Müller, Krieger und Gelehrte. Herbert Marcuse und die Denksysteme im Kalten Krieg (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2010).
  159. Cf. Müller, Wellenkrieg, pp. 276-278; David C. Engerman, Know your Enemy. The Rise and Fall of America’s Soviet Experts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
  160. Shulsky and Schmitt, Silent Warfare, p. XII, 1; cited in Władysław Bułhak, “Similar But Not the Same. In Search of a Methodology in the Cold-War Communist Intelligence Studies,” in: id./Thomas Wegener Friis (eds.), Need to Know. Eastern and Western Perspectives (Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2014), pp. 19-43, here p. 21f.
  161. See, however, Ronald E. Doel and Allan A. Needell, “Science, Scientists, and the CIA. Balancing International Ideals, National Needs, and Professional Opportunities,” in: Intelligence and National Security 12, no. 1 (1997), pp. 59-81.
  162. Cf. Jürgen Danyel, “Zeitgeschichte der Informationsgesellschaft,“ in: Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History, Online-Edition 9, no. 2 (2012), [July 29, 2021], printed pp. 186-211.