Recently, intelligence and security services have been in the spotlight rather regularly, ranging from the leaks of Edward Snowden to the overt attacks of his intelligence community by the American president Donald Trump. In the Netherlands, a new act for the intelligence and security services has been drafted. This has stirred a debate about the proper powers these agencies should have and how oversight and control can be effectively institutionalized.
Although modern times ask for modern intelligence and security services, the questions this debate raises are in themselves not new at all. What do intelligence and security services do, to what problems do they pose a solution? How should they be organized, and what kind of (special) powers do they need? Who consumes intelligence, who manages it, how to exercise oversight and control? The answers to many of these questions are given by security services themselves, but also by ministers, members of parliament, civil servants, and – despite their secrecy – also by journalists and citizens.
The dissertation 'Vijandbeelden; De veiligheidsdiensten en de democratie, 1912-1992' (in Dutch), I therefore analyzed how these core questions relating to the existence of intelligence and security services in democracies have been answered in the Dutch context, for the larger part of the twentieth century. Different political, bureaucratic, and societal actors – each with their own ‘images of the enemy’ in mind – have over time shaped the threat perceptions, the organization and/or legitimacy, and thus the character of the security services.
This has resulted in a narrative analysis, which has shown how between 1912 and 1992 the security service developed from a very secretive, small-scale, and politically insignificant ‘documentation bureau’, into a front soldier in the Cold War fight against communism – a true expert on communist intelligence operations in the West and, more particularly, Dutch communist’s capabilities and intentions – only to become in the 1980s a multifaceted, bureaucratically integrated, and socially legitimatized professional organization. This analysis of the mechanisms, which shape the way intelligence is put into practice and how it is legitimized, offers relevant insights. Not only for improving our understanding of the past, but also for the discussions about intelligence today.