The Holland Bureau: Cutting the AIVD: Provincialism over Protection

As the VVD-PvdA coalition agreement goes through the process of party and parliamentary deliberation, some significant issues are coming out, particularly the likely effect on the security services, writes Giles Scott-Smith of The Holland Bureau.

On the soft drug front, Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan has already worked the loopholes to insist that the city’s 220 coffeeshops – about one third of the national total – will stay open for everybody. An estimated 1.5 million tourists (out of 7m tourists annually) make use of the city’s coffeeshop scene, and it was hard to see Amsterdam giving this up due to VVD conservatism.

Discussions between van de Laan and Minister of Justice Opstelten have apparently being on for a year about this, and the Amsterdam boss – by emphasising that he will tightly monitor coffeeshop management – has got his way. The city will keep its age-old identity as a soft drug oasis in a desert of conservatism……..


And then there’s the AIVD. The coalition agreement is hard on the service, removing the task of gathering information abroad and transferring the the responsibility for domestic protection and security to the police (an effort to finally cure the long hangover from the 2002 Fortuyn assassination?).

Information from abroad will have to come through ‘cooperation with foreign services’. These proposals, buried in Appendix I on p. 49, have caused some consternation among the national security crowd.

The AIVD was only formed in 2002. In 1994 the Inlichtingendienst Buitenland (IDB) was closed down as a post-Cold War ‘peace dividend’ gesture. Even though the record of the foreign service was patchy, it was a big step to take. It took 9/11 and the shock of the ‘Hofstad group’ and the Theo van Gogh murder to reverse this with the arrival of the AIVD, merging security with intelligence. But you can’t simply recreate an intelligence capacity overnight.


With post-9/11 budget growth providing more personnel and training, it took until 2010 for AIVD chief Gerard Bouman to introduce the concept of ‘Forward Defence’, a form of early warning / prevention that involved the service developing its international intelligence-gathering capabilities.

Threats to state and society were no longer being generated from within the borders of the Netherlands, but they were coming in via various groups and sole operators from South Asia, the Arabian Sea region, North Africa. ‘Forward Defence’ means monitoring and defusing these threats before they reached the Netherlands.

A worthy cause? Not according to the new government, although the signs have been there for a while [See THB’s ‘The Fat Years Could Be Over’ from December 2011].


Reports this week have focused on the fact that ‘cooperation with other services’ can only take place if you have something to trade. As stated in the Nederlands Dagblad on Wednesday, ‘Those who have nothing to offer also receive nothing as well.’

A lack of an intelligence capacity can mean not just a threat to national security but also a potential loss of vital economic information and a weak position in diplomatic negotiations. The Telegraaf has reported on the effects within the service now that its facing a ‘second-rank’ future through an anticipated budget cut of €80m by 2018.

Most interesting amongst these reports was an interview on Radio 1 with the first chief of the AIVD, Sybrand van Hulst, on Thursday. Referring to the Regeerakkoord as ‘naieve’, Van Hulst emphasised that intelligence liaison and cooperation, based as it is on mutual trust, respect, and proven experience, takes years to build up.

Above all, maintaining the capability allows for access to ‘international platforms’ through which intelligence-sharing occurs. The new policy will isolate the Netherlands on all fronts, losing the ability to track WMD developments and international terrorist financing.


Intriguingly, van Hulst even said that the Netherlands already had a credibility problem on the WMD proliferation issue due to the fact that Pakiastani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan had learned his trade here during the 1970s.

Aside from the fact that this will undermine the Dutch contribution to ’international order and security’, two examples were used in the interview to illustrate the potential fall-out.

1) In 1995 the Srebrenica disaster took place. Later investigations turned up the fact that two NATO allies had not passed on vital information to the Dutch prior to the Serb attack. Was this reluctance partly caused by the removal of the IDB the year before?

2) In 2003 the lack of direct information sources from the Dutch services fed into the mistaken political decision to support the US-led attack on Iraq without a UN mandate.

The two examples are striking, but not decisive. The existence of the IDB would not have overcome French sympathies for the Serbs. And as for Iraq – the MIVD did question the validity of the information coming in from London on Iraqi WMD, but was ignored by the clique surrounding Minister-President Balkenende.

Making use of these two painful episodes will probably have no effect. The judgement is clearly that the threats that caused to the growth of the AIVD in the 2000s no longer exist to any great extent. The AIVD cuts fit within the broader retreat from international engagement by the Netherlands (diplomatic cuts, defence cuts, development aid cuts) that has been occurring in recent times.

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