A new article: Guardians of order, protectors of democracy

A new article: Guardians of order, protectors of democracy

This blog explores the supposed differences between the security services and police officers. Do they really understand the same problems so differently?

In the 1970s, when the Cold War was still raging, the Netherlands were confronted with new threats. Bombs and hand grenades exploded on a fairly regular basis, violent groups such as the Red Youth, the German Rote Armee Fraktion, and South Moluccan youngsters resorted to train hijackings, gunfights, and hostage takings.

In order to prevent and contain these new threats, the Dutch security service, Binnenlandse Veiligheidsdienst (BVD), was more or less compelled to cooperate more closely with the police and justice department, the most important partner among them being the police force.

Although ever since the institutionalization of the first domestic (civil) security service in 1919, intelligence officials and police officers cooperated in the domestic security domain, especially in their effort to counter political extremism, political violence and terrorism was a new and more urgent problem. It necessitated them to renew and to intensify their cooperation.

This was a daunting task. As the head of the Dutch security service Andries Kuipers argued, the police and the security service were different organizations, with distinct organizational cultures, interests and mentalities. The security service embraced a ‘long term perspective’, where the police focused on ‘individual legal offenses’. It might occur that the intelligence interest, which was to study a certain movement for a while, might be crossed by police activities, he explained.

The supposed differences between police officers and intelligence officials is theorized in the literature in the intelligence studies to some extent. In 2003, Bruce Berkowitz wrote a commentary in the Washington Post, in which he discerned three distinctions between police detectives and intelligence officers. First, they pursue different goals, Berkowitz argues. Detectives ‘aim at meeting a specific legal standard’, such as ‘probable cause’, whereas the main purpose of intelligence officers is to inform policy makers and politicians. Second, ‘the clock for detectives and intelligence analysts runs differently’, he adds. Police detectives collect evidence after a crime has been committed, and therefore time is on their side; painting a full picture is their ideal. Intelligence officers, on the other hand, try to prevent military invasions, terrorist attacks, and other violations of national security from taking place, and therefore have to go with bits and pieces, while time is ticking. Finally, ‘intelligence agencies have to deal with opponents who take countermeasures’, whilst the police don’t, Berkowitz argues.

These (and other) differences have been identified by other authors too, for example by Frederic Manget.

I wondered, however, whether these differences actually played out in the Netherlands. In this article, I analysed on the basis of minutes of meetings between the Dutch security service and the police forces in the 1920s and 1930s, to what extent these differences surfaced. During these meeting the Central Intelligence service, Centrale Inlichtingendienst (CI), and the municipal police forces discussed the threats they perceived in the domain of political extremism and how to counter them.

Having studied six conferences in the 1920s and 1930s, I came to the conclusion that the differences between the police and the security service were significantly smaller than expected. Berkowitz ‘archetypical’ differences were present only to some extent. The divergent goals that are supposed to structure their activities in countering political extremism, have not been identified in the Dutch case. The representatives of the security service and the police commissioners and inspectors that were present during these meetings, were all haunted by a clear and present threat: possible revolution. All of them agreed that the intelligence activities were directed against revolutionary organizations and individuals. They did disagree on the extent to which right extremism was a threat, however. In contrast to the security service, the police did not see much harm in fascist and national socialist organizations.

The police were not focused on the collection of evidence however, as Berkowitz would argue. More importantly, the police focused on the protection of public order in their local practice – they were more interested in measures, rules, and decisions that would help them counter revolutionary organizations in a practical sense, than in studying phenomena on a national level and informing politicians and authorities. The security service was a veritable ‘study bureau’, taking a long-term perspective and taking into account the interest of authorities, whereas the police wanted to take immediate action against revolutionary agitators who posed a tangible problem to public order and rest.

I hope to explore this relationship between intelligence officials and their police colleagues more closely. In the meantime, read the complete article (in Dutch).

The article on which this blog is based has been published in Cahiers Politiestudies (editor-in-chief Elke Devroe).