On the psychology of intelligence services

Why does a state have to spy on rival or friendly states? What is a psychological intelligence service? and what is it's purpose? By HELMUT MÜLLER ENBERGS

Translated by Stefanie Jaekel and Christine Crawford.

The term "intelligence service psychology" has only been in existence since 2003, when Psychologist Sven Max Litzcke (from Hannover) introduced it as the title of a series of books. However, this concept has existed for over two thousand years and addresses the following question: Why would it be necessary to spy on rival or friendly states or organisations? Behind this simple question lies a whole world of possible answers, but so far, there is no valid answer.

In principle, the search for answers should not be carried out in public. Those countries which are under surveillance or the threat of surveillance, would immediately attempt to put measures in place to prevent others spying on them. This strategy ensures that any such discussions are kept private. Although this question may be a reality for a great many states, there is no chair, to enable such debates to take place.

Litzcke's books also focus on this dilemma: How much should be made public, without revealing the secrets of espionage; and how much should be made public to meet scientific standards?

The first question to address is whether our country still needs an intelligence service and what this intelligence service has to do. Each state, our country as well, is designed to secure its existence.

Max Weber wrote, that a political institution whose administrative staff successfully enforce law and order, utilise the legitimate monopoly of physical force. A modern state is characterised by a territory, the monopoly of power, specialist officials and bureaucratic rule.1 Max Weber seeks to deal with military attacks, attempts to keep up with other countries economically and guards its secrets. Also, a state has to prevent any attempt to change the rules or system against its will.

Frank Oppenheimer wrote, than an intelligence service is also an institution, "which was imposed by a victorious group of people against a defeated group of people, with the sole purpose of regulating the reign and withstanding internal rebellions and external attacks."2

A state will assess its geostrategic position and the associated risks. It will always know the economic, political and military strength of its neighbours, whether they are allies or enemies and also all the factors that may jeopardize internal security and stability.3 This is true, both during periods of peace and war.4

Immanuel Kant believed that the state of peace is not a natural state, but rather a "state of war", during which there is no actual fighting, but the threat exists.5 A state relies on adequate knowledge, which it attempts to keep secret from third parties, as well as working hard to acquire such knowledge. As a result, a state deliberately violates the standards or laws of another country.6

A state has one or more intelligence services, which are given powers to break the law in order to gain the information. As long as there are states, the role of the intelligence services should be valid far into the future.

Despite the use of technology, actual human spies are required. These people take considerable personal risks when they procure messages illegally from abroad, which can result in punishment.

Intelligence service psychology is the art of inspiring people to to do the actual spying – and for the Federal Republic it serves the purpose of protecting or defending existence and order. Strictly speaking, intelligence service psychology directly applies a discipline of psychology.

Consequently, existing psychology concepts are applied to the specific needs of the intelligence services, for instance: education, training, personnel selection and development, as well as organizational development.

Within the German-speaking countries, the Ministry of National Security's university dealt with this topic intensively. There it was known as "operational psychology" with a corresponding chair, which was not known until the end of the GDR.

The Ministry of National Security developed a unique "spy theory" for selecting, testing and recruiting leaders for intelligence work.7 The success of the Federal Republic's espionage (3000 state security agents) was partly due to the extensive leadership training given to officers.

This research – partly based on relevant promotions and diploma theses - was not tied to the current research on 'intelligence service psychology' for ethical reasons. This can be seen within the recently published fifth volume of "intelligence service psychology".8

It deals with issues such as: the types of stress employees are under within an intelligence service, the effect this has on them and the significance of first impressions at personal assessments.

Another article focuses on corruption, looking at the claim that at the beginning "everyone can be bought, it all just depends on the price".

The conclusion to this is: "Everyone can be influenced and distracted from their own interests and goals with the help of skills and financial input." Granted, the research on "intelligence service psychology", is still fairly niche and not extensive; however it is an area with a real future.

[1] Cf. Weber, Max: Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundriss der verstehenden Soziologie. Published by Johannes Winckelmann. Tübingen 1980, p. 38 f.
[2] Cf. Oppenheimer, Franz: Der Staat. Eine soziologische Studie. Berlin 1990, p. 14.
[3] Cf. Stürmer, Michael: Deutsche Fragen, oder, die Suche nach der Staatsräson. Historisch-politische Kolumnen. München 1988, p. 191.
[4] Cf. Topitsch, Ernst: Stalins Krieg. Die sowjetische Langzeitstrategie gegen den Westen als rationale Machtpolitik. München 1985, p. 12; Semjonow, Jurij Nikolaeyich: Die faschistische Geopolitik im Dienste des amerikanischen Imperialismus. Berlin 1955, p. 196.
[5] Cf. Kant, Immanuel. Zum ewigen Frieden. Published by Theodor Valentiner. Stuttgart 1981, p. 23; Voigt, Rüdiger: Weltordnungspolitik. Wiesbaden 2005, p. 21.
[6] Cf. the argument of the Federal Public Prosecutor before the German Federal Court of Justice affecting his decision on the 28th April 1994. In: Marxen, Klaus; Werle, Gerhard (publisher) with assistance from Schäfter, Petra; Thiemrodt, Ivo: Strafjustiz und DDR-Unrecht. Band 4/1. Teilband: Spionage. Berlin 2004, pp. 279-335, here 306 f.
[7] Cf. Müller-Enbergs, Helmut: Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter des Ministeriums für Staatssicherheit. Teil 2: Anleitungen für die Arbeit mit Agenten, Kundschaftern und Spionen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Berlin 1998.
[8] The fifth volume is no longer edited by Sven Max Litzcke. He publishes a new series of books titled "Studies in Intelligence Collection and Intelligence Analysis" since 2008, but by the Brühler psychologist Raimund Jokiel. Jokiel, Raimund; Wiesen, Marcus; Mark, Andreas M. (Publisher): Nachrichtendienstpsychologie 5. Brühl 2010.


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