Access to Dutch Intelligence Secrets?

Cees Wiebes

Historians, political scientists, journalists and other researchers in the Netherlands often tend to complain about the accessibility of the official archives of the Dutch intelligence community. The often repeated grievance is that these archives are very difficult to inspect. But are these complaints justified? Are these peculiar intelligence archives really behind closed doors and in vaults as many pundits stipulate? In this paper I would like to portray a more balanced view of the situation and will sketch the possibilities to do research in the archives of the Dutch intelligence community which in my modest opinion are far better compared to Norway.

In the next 15-20 minutes I will focus on the opportunities for research in the archives of the Dutch security and intelligence service (BVD/AIVD), the military intelligence and security service (MIVD), the deceased foreign intelligence service (Dutch CIA) which existed until 1993 and the deceased Stay Behind (SB) organization which was closed down in 1992. This paper will pay attention to various archival holdings where a researcher can find historical materials related to the activities, operations and analysis of different intelligence organizations (some of them are already deceased). One important fact should be mentioned: many intelligence files can be accessed via the Dutch Freedom of Information Act.

Holdings of the predecessor of security service which was established in 1945 were almost completely transferred to the Dutch National Archives. Files older than 75 years can be inspected without any hindrance. Younger files can be consulted after a special request for access. A breakthrough in this respect was that there were two official histories written by an in-house historian and it was agreed upon that the files he used would become public. Something which did not happen in Norway with the history of the PST. The Dutch security service (contrary to their Norwegian counterpart) also released formerly top secret materials about a counter-intelligence operation on Norwegian soil which lasted for 10 years and in which a Dutch scientist, the PST, the CIA, MI-6, the KGB and GRU played a prominent role. I will sketch briefly this brilliant operation. The files of the present domestic security service are in the process of being transferred to the Netherlands National Archives.

The holdings of the military intelligence and security services are still partly closed although the files of the Navy intelligence service regarding the Dutch colonial possession in Asia, New Guinea, and the intelligence ‘battle’ with Indonesia between 1945 – 1962 regarding this island were released. These files also contain many documents from Australian, US and UK intelligence archives. However, via the Dutch FOIA many documents from the MIVD are released. One example I will deal with shortly are the Dutch submarine intelligence operations off the Norwegian coast in the Barents Sea.

Most of the files, operations and analysis of the deceased Dutch CIA (BID and later IDB) can be found in various archives in The Hague and Amsterdam. The archives of the Cabinet Office (responsible for the foreign intelligence service) can be inspected without any hindrance in our National Archives. They contain hundreds of documents including analyses and operational reports. Since I co-authored the unofficial history of this foreign intelligence service and I got hold via the Dutch FOIA of hundreds of documents. I deposited them in my own archival collection at the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam where they can be consulted. My archival collection also contains hundreds of documents stemming from Australian, US and UK intelligence archives. One part of the work of the foreign intelligence service were the intelligence operations with Dutch merchant ships on the North flank of NATO in close cooperation with Norwegian, Canadian, US and UK intelligence services. I will give a brief outline of these intelligence operations and activities.

Finally, the files of the Dutch stay behind organization are partly to be found in the archives of the Cabinet office. But much of the materials are destroyed. Alas, hardly any information can be found about the cooperation with the Norwegian Stay behind outfit. However, an unofficial history of the Dutch SB was published

Finally, the archives of the Netherlands Foreign Office also contain quite a lot of intelligence and defense related documents which were sent to The Hague via the military attaches and diplomats working at Dutch embassies. They can be inspected at our National Archives.

As regards on-line access. One website is particular interest: it contains thousands of released intelligence documents from the various intelligence and security services but also documents from the holdings of the ministerial intelligence oversight committee and the intelligence coordinating committee.

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Dr. Cees Wiebes

(1950) studied political science/international relations at the Department of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. From 2005 he worked for 8 years as a senior analyst at the Expertise and Analysis Department of the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism, The Hague. He retired on November 1, 2013. His areas of expertise are the undertakings (past & present) of the Netherlands and major Western intelligence and security services, intelligence alliances; problems regarding intelligence liaison and parliamentary oversight; relationship between intelligence and foreign policy making & execution and (inter)national terrorism. He is an (co)author of more than 20 books and monographs; 22 contributions to books, more than 20 academic articles in journals like International Affairs, Review of International Studies, The Scandinavian Economic History Review 1999 Zeitschrift für Sozialgeschichte des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts, The International History Review, Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte and Intelligence and National Security.

Recent books: (with Matthew Aid) Secrets of Signals Intelligence (London, 2001); Intelligence and the war in Bosnia 1992 - 1995 (Berlin, 2003) (with Bob de Graaf), ‘Fallen off the Priority List: Was Srebrenica an Intelligence Failure?’, in: T. R. Walton, The Role of Intelligence in Ending the War in Bosnia in 1995, (New York, 2014) Samen met de CIA (Together with the CIA), (Amsterdam, 2016) and ‘Blindfolded in the Dark. The Intelligence Position of Dutchbat in the Srebrenica Safe Area’, in: Perspectives on Military Intelligence from the First World War to Mali, (The Hague, 2017).

He is one of the founders of the Netherlands Intelligence Studies Association (NISA); honorary secretary of the NISA from 1991 – 2001 and former member of the academic board supervising the writing of the official history of the Netherlands Security Service (BVD). Present positions: independent intelligence scholar and Senior Research Fellow at the Ad de Jonge Center for Intelligence and Security Studies Institute, University of Leiden.

Tina Andersen