Skip to main content

The secret struggle for the global south: espionage, covert action and state security during the cold war

Most books on intelligence focus on the United States and its English-speaking allies. Academics have been increasingly troubled by the Anglo-centric tradition of intelligence studies, characterized both by its reluctance to embrace new non-English sources and a slowness to consider the critical Cold War battle-grounds of the Global South in locations such as Indonesia, Chile, Syria, or Angola. Even the study of Soviet and Eastern European intelligence has been predominantly shaped by Western primary sources or accounts by journalists and Soviet Bloc defectors.

Today, a new generation of exciting literature, based on recently-declassified Eastern Bloc archival documents, is on the rise. Nevertheless, our understanding of Soviet and Eastern European activities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, an area of intense competition during the Cold War, remains limited. To date, most studies of Soviet intelligence have focused on the role of intelligence during key Cold War moments, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Prague Spring or the Soviet decision to intervene in Afghanistan. However, recognizing that intelligence officers served in a variety of capacities, including as representatives of cultural and media institutions, educators, and military instructors, this workshop aims to investigate how the practice of secret intelligence was entangled with the performative aspects of Soviet cultural power in the Third World. Much of the recent literature on ‘socialist internationalism’ in the Third World has focused on teachers, doctors, diplomats, academics and economic advisors, neglecting the struggle for security.

In parallel, scholarly interest in the history of Western – US, UK, French or Dutch – security and intelligence assistance to the Global South is also on the rise. With academics increasingly interested in how foreign intelligence and domestic security actors deployed covert action, engaged in intelligence liaison, provided security training and utilized cultural institutions for exercising influence in the Global South or the Third World.

For the first time, this workshop bring together experts on Western, Soviet and regional security actors to understand and compare the nature of Western and Eastern Bloc intelligence and security involvement in the Third World during the Cold War. The participants will investigate how these exchanges affected policies, practices and peoples ‘back home’: in the USSR, Eastern Europe and Western countries. It aims to look at the role of students, dissidents, military trainees, security and intelligence officers, diplomats and violent non-state actors in First/Second-Third World exchanges and seeks to investigate their roles in the development of security regimes in the Global South. We also seek to consider Third World conceptions of this intelligence and security landscape in which the major Cold War competitors operated. The participants will draw on newly available sources and new methodologies, including recently declassified materials from Eastern Europe, Russia, as well as Western archives and private collections.

PROGRAMME