Rüdiger Bergien Constantin Goschler (Chair of the panel)

Dynamics of Distrust. Secret Intelligence and the Public Sphere in the Western World since 1945


Intelligence agencies in liberal democracies are ambivalent institutions. While they are considered vital for security reasons, they do not fully comply with customary expectations of democratic control. The increasing emphasis on transparency in liberal democracies over the last decades has produced a growing tension regarding the inherently arcane nature of intelligence agencies. While most researchers focus on political attempts to extend parliamentary control of secret intelligence, we propose another starting point. It is based on the initial hypothesis that the institutionalization of public distrust has become a counterpart for the unattainable transparency of secret intelligence. While distrust is normally considered a shortcoming, in this panel we will show how distrust became instrumental in dealing with conflict. Consequently, we can speak of an ongoing bargaining process between acceptance of the arcane nature of intelligence agencies and public distrust. A fragile and constantly shifting equilibrium has become institutionalized, one which easily could be destroyed and result in a destructive spiral of distrust, potentially threatening trust in liberal democracy at large. Shifting the analytical thrust to mistrust implies intelligence agencies are not only considered objects of attempts to control, but also as actors trying to manage public mistrust. The proposed panel shall analyze the changing relations between trust in democracy and distrust in secret intelligence from 1945 to the present, focusing on Germany, Britain, the United States and the Netherlands. The aim is to offer a historical explanation of the dynamics of distrust and thus to contribute to a better understanding of the complex role of secret intelligence in liberal democracies.

Simon Willmetts (Leiden)
CIA Covert Action and the End of the Liberal Consensus in the 1960s

1960s America is typically regarded as an era in which the liberal consensus of the previous decade gave way to an age of social fracture. This paper will explore how public scandals surrounding CIA covert actions in the sixties both facilitated and were facilitated by this growing age of fracture. This presentation will argue that public perceptions and popular representations of the CIA in the 1960s offer an oblique bellwether of wider social and cultural attitudes towards the US government and its foreign policy, ultimately charting the shift from and age of consensus to an age of dissent

Constantin Goschler (Bochum)
Secret Intelligence and the Public Sphere in Germany and Britain since 1945

The claim for public trust in democracy often collides with the public distrust in secret intelligence, since by their very nature, they cannot meet democratic transparency standards. Therefore, trust in the democratic system perhaps is dependent on mistrust in secret intelligence. Looking at the case studies of Germany and Britain, this presentation will compare the dynamics, which from time to time threatened or even destroyed the fragile arrangements created to balance the arcane sphere of intelligence and public mistrust.

Rüdiger Bergien (Berlin)
"Managing Mistrust? The Federal Intelligence Service in the West German Media Society“

This contribution examines the role of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in the (West-) German media landscape since the 1960s. It is generally believed that the service has continuously been regarded lowly by mass media and had to struggle with its image as a costly band of amateurs. However, this examination of press coverage of “BND scandals” reveals the German mass media showed restraint in their reporting, especially in comparison with intelligence coverage by Anglo-American investigative journalists. national (security) politics in West German political culture?

Dr. Jens Wegener (Philadelphia)
The Illusion of Transparency: Intelligence in America's War on Crime
Petra Terhoeven (Göttingen)