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Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History

Take an exciting look at the secret world of spies, double agents, and much more with this absolutely fascinating course that explores how espionage has played a significant role in the unfolding of history.
Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 60.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining introduction This course is an entertaining introduction to the subject. Securing secret information is clearly important because it's a valuable asset which can be used to make decisions about acquiring and maintaining an advantage in some way. Although espionage can have financial and commercial applications, this course primarily focuses on political and military purposes. It may be easy to consider political conflict and armed struggle as a binary situation between 2 clearly defined opposing forces. This course presents the ambiguity, self-interest, and deception that permeates competing hostile human interactions between opposing groups. It's almost as if spying has no hard and fast rules, maybe because the stakes are so high and an individual's life and freedom are often at risk.
Date published: 2023-11-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Meh. I don't know. I don't feel like I learned a ton from this course besides some enjoyable anecdotes. It's a fun course, but it's not wildly informative
Date published: 2022-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! This course was extremely interesting and VERY well presented. Prof VGL is an outstanding lecturer. He presents his material very clearly with insight, enthusiasm, and with a good measure of humor. I learned much from this course, and have already ordered a couple books that VGL recommended for additional reading during the course. I look forward to listening/watching to more courses from this professor. Super job!!!
Date published: 2022-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have listened to four lecture series by Professor Liulevicius.They convey so much information concisely and in detail. His passion for his topics is evident. I highly recommend any history class he teaches. My son is completing his PHD in Modern Eastern European History this year and I hope he can lecture as good as Vejas.
Date published: 2022-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative This is an aspect of history that is not as well known as it should be. The secret world is all around us and behind everything and this course elucidates it well. The tradecraft explanations could be expanded upon but the narrative history is top notch. There are a lot of heroes that never get the credit they deserve and this course rectifiys that to a degree. The bibliography is great as well.
Date published: 2022-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Espionaje and covert operations This subject about espionage and covert operations is new to me, I truly learned and understand terminology, historic spies, and great stories. Enjoyed professor V. Liulevicius narrative of this subject Excellent course hopefully there will be more
Date published: 2021-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Offers a good overview of the subject Very interesting coverage of the great game. Gave me a insight into my own tiny part in the game.
Date published: 2021-08-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Needs video and more in-depth coverage. This was very interesting. However I wish there was a video version. Furthermore, there should be more lectures in total, to cover more in depth and update. This is why I give the course 4 stars and not 5. I hope the the Great Courses and Prof. Liulevicius professor will think about this!!
Date published: 2021-02-03
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Take a detailed tour of the millennia-long history and enduring legacy of a top-secret subject in Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History. Delivered by master historian and Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, these 24 thrilling lectures survey how world powers have worked in the shadows to gain information or subvert enemies. Filled with stories that are both marvelous and mysterious, and insights that will change the way you think about some of world history's most defining events, this course lets you peer inside a subject whose truths most of us are unaware of.


Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

To study the deepest impulses in human nature, we see the lure of wealth and conquest, the deep-seated urge for fame and glory, the quest for higher ends, a basic human determination.


University of Tennessee

Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Liulevicius served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Professor Liulevicius has won many awards and honors, including the University of Tennessee's Excellence in Teaching Award and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. At the university he teaches courses on modern German history, Western civilization, European diplomatic history, Nazi Germany, World War I, war and culture, 20th-century Europe, nationalism, and utopian thought. Dr. Liulevicius has published numerous articles and two books: War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I and The German Myth of the East, 1800 to the Present.

Professor Liulevicius participated in The Great Courses Professor Chat series. Read the chat to learn more about diplomacy and war

By This Professor

Turning Points in Modern History
A History of Eastern Europe
The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin
History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration
The Secret World of Espionage
Communism in Power: From Stalin to Mao
Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History


Introducing the Secret World

01: Introducing the Secret World

Professor Liulevicius welcomes you to the world of spies by giving you essential background information for the lectures ahead. You'll decode the secret language of terms such as "covert operations," "HUMINT," "agent," and "disinformation"; explore the various motives of professional spies; and outline the broad themes of espionage's grand history.

32 min
Ancient Espionage

02: Ancient Espionage

Travel to the ancient world and investigate the earliest stories of espionage. You'll see conflicting views of intelligence work on display in the Bible, examine Sun Tzu's views on espionage from The Art of War, learn how Greeks and Romans saw intelligence as vital to warfare, and more.

32 min
Medieval and Renaissance Spying

03: Medieval and Renaissance Spying

What was espionage like during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance? How was it linked to the growth of the state system? Why were Marco Polo and Niccolò Machiavelli so important to the evolution of espionage? How did secret societies such as the Ninjas of Japan and the Assassins of Syria practice their covert craft?

31 min
Spies of the Elizabethan Age

04: Spies of the Elizabethan Age

Discover why Sir Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, is considered the "father of intelligence" in England. Learn how he approached his role as a royal spymaster and how he crafted the Babington Plot of 1585. Then, witness English espionage stave off the notorious Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

30 min
Spies in the Age of Discovery

05: Spies in the Age of Discovery

With the age of discovery and the Enlightenment came an increased need to compete for secrets and information. After spending time with the elaborate spy networks of Russia's Ivan the Terrible and France's Cardinal de Richelieu, meet two of the period's most intriguing spies: the libertine Casanova and the cross-dressing Chevalier d'Eon.

30 min
Espionage in the American Revolution

06: Espionage in the American Revolution

Continue on to the American Revolution. In this lecture, Professor Liulevicius reveals the critical roles played by spies and organizations, including the Sons of Liberty, the Knowlton Rangers (America's first military intelligence organization), the agent Anna Smith Strong, the infamous Benedict Arnold, and the ambitious Scottish volunteer James Aitken.

30 min
Spying of the European Great Powers

07: Spying of the European Great Powers

Go back to Europe and investigate the covert operations and spy networks of Europe's great powers during the 19th century. As you learn about the role of espionage in revolutionary and post-revolutionary France, Russia, and Germany, you'll see how it was used to help keep entire societies under tight surveillance.

31 min
U.S. Civil War Spies in Blue and Gray

08: U.S. Civil War Spies in Blue and Gray

The American Civil War spurred developments in the history of espionage. Among those you focus on here are the Pinkerton detectives, the Confederacy's Secret Service Bureau, female spies including Elizabeth "Crazy Bet" van Lew, the contributions of African Americans, and the impact of new technologies such as the telegraph and the railroad.

30 min
The Great Game of Empires

09: The Great Game of Empires

In the 19th century, as European powers scrambled to carve out overseas empires, espionage became increasingly more institutionalized. Revisit this tense and competitive period, where covert operations played a central role in everything from the British colonization of India and the rise of Russian Socialism to the Spanish-American and Russo-Japanese wars.

30 min
Spy Phobia before World War I

10: Spy Phobia before World War I

Sidney Reilly's career as the "Ace of Spies." The covert origins of the Boy Scouts. The infamous Dreyfus Affair. Spy novels such as Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent. These are just a few of the topics you'll investigate in this intriguing lecture on society's spy phobia from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

31 min
Mata Hari and Company in World War I

11: Mata Hari and Company in World War I

Investigate the new possibilities that World War I opened up for both female spies and for codebreakers. Topics include the lives and careers of the femme fatale Mata Hari and the British nurse Edith Cavell, as well as the increasing shift in espionage from human intelligence to communication interception.

30 min
Subversion—Lawrence of Arabia and Lenin

12: Subversion—Lawrence of Arabia and Lenin

Many covert operations during World War I aimed to subvert states from within through revolution. Focus on three of the most important: the Arab Revolt encouraged by Lawrence of Arabia, Lenin's Russian Revolution, and the Zimmerman telegram, the interception of which led to America's entry into this global conflict.

30 min
Radical Challenge—The Interwar Years

13: Radical Challenge—The Interwar Years

Professor Liulevicius takes you deep inside Bolshevik Russia as it defends itself against foreign spies and conducts a secret war with British intelligence (involving the super spy Sidney Reilly). Then, he shows you how America's own fear of Communist spies led to the birth of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

31 min
Soviets and Nazis—Surveillance and Terror

14: Soviets and Nazis—Surveillance and Terror

Turn to a different form of espionage - one directed specifically at a nation's own population. The best examples of this can be found in Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Nazi Germany, both of which built unprecedented modern "surveillance societies" that took internal espionage to frightening new levels of intensity.

31 min
Converts to Espionage

15: Converts to Espionage

Why do spies commit themselves to espionage? Is it about power? Prestige? Patriotism? Discover the diverse motives behind choosing the spy's life by looking at Kim Philby and the Cambridge spy ring of the 1930s, the Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers, the American spy Tyler G. Kent, and the German spy William Sebold.

31 min
Launching World War II

16: Launching World War II

Learn the important role espionage played in the buildup to World War II. You'll travel to various fronts around the globe and explore the adventures and deceptive operations of Polish codebreakers in Europe, Japanese spies in Manchuria and Hawaii, and a range of Fascist and Communist spies operating during the Spanish Civil War.

31 min
Covert Operations and Codes in World War II

17: Covert Operations and Codes in World War II

Follow along as Allied forces use a range of organizations - including Churchill's Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services - to defeat the Axis powers. Then, take at look at Operation MAGIC's efforts to crack German and Japanese codes, assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler, and other covert operations.

34 min
Atomic Spies and Spy Hunts

18: Atomic Spies and Spy Hunts

Shed light on the cold war tensions between East and West by looking at espionage's role in the dramatic race to build an atomic bomb, the rise of America's Central Intelligence Agency, and spy hunts and spy trials on both sides of the Iron Curtain - including the infamous trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

31 min
Cold War Chill

19: Cold War Chill

Continue your look at cold war espionage. You'll follow the drama of the U-2 spy plane incident, witness the CIA's role in international crises, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, discover how agents like Colonel Penkovsky and Kim Philby infiltrated the highest echelons of power, and more.

31 min
World Crises

20: World Crises

Survey the new intelligence organizations that sprouted up around the world in the second half of the 20th century. How did China's intelligence agency cooperate, then break ties, with the Soviet Union? What was the relationship between the CIA and Iran's equivalent, the Savak? Why has Israel's Mossad acquired such legendary status?

30 min
Spies in Fiction and Film

21: Spies in Fiction and Film

Focus on spies who were the literary creations of men who had themselves been involved in intelligence work. After you explore the roots of espionage in literature, compare and contrast Ian Fleming's popular superspy, James Bond, with the disillusioned protagonists of novels by Graham Greene and John Le Carré.

32 min
End of the Cold War

22: End of the Cold War

Why could intelligence agencies not foresee the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe's Communist bloc? What four events were significant in ending the cold war? Why was 1985 deemed "The Year of the Spy" in the United States? Learn the answers to these and other questions here.

30 min
Post—Cold War Spying

23: Post—Cold War Spying

Take stock of the last two decades of global espionage. Survey the changing targets of American and Russian intelligence operations, delve into massive intelligence failures surrounding covert agents like Robert Hanssen and events such as 9/11, and observe the impact of transnational terror networks on the "secret world" of the spy.

30 min
The Future of Espionage

24: The Future of Espionage

Are we sliding into a culture of surveillance? Is government secrecy rising? What role should espionage play in a democracy? In this final lecture - which covers everything from the assassination of Osama bin Laden to Wikileaks - take a provocative look at where espionage may be in the coming decades.

31 min