Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The Development of a Secret State. The Intelligence & Security Services and their contribution to the National Security State, 1945-1989

Subproject of "Historicizing Security. Enemies of the State, 1813 until present".

Constant Hijzen
NWO Vidi NWO Vidi

Intelligence after 1945

The Dutch government in exile concluded during the Second World War that the pre war security apparatus had failed. The explanation for the failure, according to the members of government in London, was that foreign policy, and consequently the security policies, were based on the principle of passive neutrality. The Netherlands perceived itself as a small country that did not interfere with the Realpolitik of the world powers, since such aspirations would only lead to war. Therefore, the country maintained a small sized army. Other security instruments, such as the intelligence and security services and the police, functioned on a decentralized and small scale basis. The underlying idea was that this modest national security apparatus would guarantee the status of the Netherlands as a neutral country that was too small and too peaceful to provoke aggressive responses by other powers. 

However, as a consequence of this policy, the government had not provided for an ‘early warning’-mechanism, nor had it started serious preparations for the scenario that other countries would not respect this position of neutrality. When Nazi-Germany invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1945, the Netherlands had to issue their defeat already after five days of fighting. As opposed to other countries, no intelligence or security service arranged a stay behind network, that would be able to keep the government in exile posted on circumstances in occupied homeland. In short, security policies had failed. 

Therefore, the government-in-exile concluded that it was necessary to build up a larger, centralized, and more professional security infrastructure after the war. Already during the War, in London, the Dutch military authority and the Dutch government prepared the establishment of the first post-war security service, The Bureau of National Security (Bureau Nationale Veiligheid). This bureau traced German spies and Dutch collaborators involved in German spy networks. Its main task was to tidy up the country. 

Dutch administrators and politicians had in the meantime started discussing the need for a more permanent intelligence and security apparatus. In 1946 the Central Security Service (Centrale Veiligheidsdienst) and the Foreign Intelligence Service (Buitenlandse Inlichtingendienst) were institutionalized. They were both assigned the task to collect relevant political, economic, and other relevant intelligence which contributed to the protection of the democratic order and the security of the state. These new central government agencies were moreover commissioned to spy on and to counter espionage-activities from Warsaw Pact countries and to monitor rightwing and leftwing extremist organizations in the Netherlands. 

Bureaucratic infighting, personal animosities, and different views on national security led to a contentious process of institutionalization. The actors in the national security field held different views on the essence of the intelligence work and the targets and dangers it had to counter. Was intelligence a judicial activity or a police activity? The Ministry of Justice considered espionage or internal subversive activities a crime. So senior civil servants of the ministry of Justice claimed that the intelligence work belonged to their domain. The Ministry of Home Affairs however claimed that intelligence was not a matter of detection and prosecution, but rather an activity that preceded judicial activities. Early warning, deradicalization or neutralizing activities should be put in the internal security domain, and not tasked to the Ministry of Justice. After hot debates and many turf battles the government erected by confidential decree the Domestic Security Service (Binnenlandse Veiligheidsdienst) in August 1949. This did not end the debate on national security or on the measures that were to be carried out in this field. 

Research angle

What strikes us most, is that the decisionmaking process on national security was not first of all inspired by external, or even internal threats, but as much by bureaucratic turf battles, existing, traditional beliefs and views on national security, as well as by idiosyncratic ideas and interests of key individuals in the field.

In this project, we will address the following questions: 

  • How did a professional ‘secret state’, consisting of a system of intelligence & security services, as well as the underlying assumptions on national security threats and interests came into existence after 1945?
  • Which national security measures were carried out (establishment of bureaus, organisations as well as concrete measures such as ‘internment lists’, occupational bans in government institutions), and what where the underlying threat assumptions?
  • Was this process of constructing a secret state made subject to parliamentary or public control? How did parliament, opposition, society react to these security measures?
  • To what extent did the secret state permeate the rest of society; and, the other way around, to what extent did the secret state changing public views on security and threats?
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