Exercise Thunderbolt

Assessing core individual competencies in the counterintelligence and special operations domain to regional and international standards.

The exercise war-games scenarios and tests counterintelligence and special operations intelligence readiness and preparedness at the individual level as prescribed by international and regional competency frameworks. As a full field training exercise (FTX), the exercise is oriented towards qualified human domain specialists or those shortly to qualify and undertaking the culminating exercise (CULEX) as a competency assessment for professional membership.

The exercise places particular emphasis on compliance with professional standards, ethics and law.

Target Audience

Participants should familiarise themselves with their language option and the subject of counter-terrorism. The exercise should not be attempted without having completed specialist regional and international training in counter-intelligence, psychological operations and strategic deception or having accrued three years international experience in each of those fields. Historically, the exercise has attracted the following representation:

Internationals: Representatives from EU, UN and other international agencies, missions and institutions. Nationals: National intelligence, military and law-enforcement delegates attending on behalf of European states.
Non-Profits: Functionaries in a position of public trust representing the media, NGOs, charitable and other third sector organisations. Others: Professionals from the private sector, academia and other organisations.

Exercise Format

In a one week intensive exercise Ex. THUNDERBOLT is designed to assess regional skills and knowledge in counterintelligence and special operations throughout European states. Throughout the individual competency assessment a variety of assessment methods have been used including:

  1. Practical: Participants are exposed to a live situation in the real world and are required to solve problems and take actions in response to ongoing events.
  2. Simulation: Participants are required to answer questions, resolve problems and perform tasks based on changing circumstances provided within a realistic simulated environment.
  3. Observation & Sampling: Participants are observed taking on a particular role within a counterintelligence or special operations cell with their output deliverables scrutinised.

Exercise Overview

Ex. THUNDERBOLT is loosely based on the events surrounding the IDF operation of the same name, often referred to as Op. Entebbe or Op. Jonathan. However, sufficient material has been altered so prior knowledge will not aid participants. Over a week, participants will develop and implement a strategic deception plan targeted along a European coastline. Participants will work long hours under stressful conditions and will be expected to combine techniques from multiple covert intelligence disciplines in the implementation of policy.

The exercise begins with an introduction and background briefing from the instructors, after which students will be divided up into operational cells to assign roles amongst themselves. Participants will be forced to adapt to constantly changing operational conditions over long hours in a high-pressure environment.

The first day involves the analysis of material, deception planning and the allocation of duties for the forthcoming week to meet operational objectives. Events then take place forcing the teams to support a counter-terrorism mission. Participants are expected to employ a range of covert deception activities legally and ethically in order to meet tactical, operational and strategic needs without compromising the wider deception strategy.

Participants will face ethical, legal, administrative and operational challenges throughout the exercise and will be expected to respond under the challenge of limited resources. Students will be expected to provide updates to SF operational management teams, the CI/HUMINT operations manager and other necessary counter-terrorism and deception stakeholders twice daily. By the end of the exercise participants will be expected to demonstrate clear tangible support to the counter-terrorism mission whilst meeting the deception strategy.

The final day involves monitoring events in real-time, reflecting and evaluating as a group. Throughout the exercise instructors look for an awareness of legal regulation and ethical guidelines governing deception and adherence to them under duress, satisfying multiple conflicting goals, prioritising critical objectives and adherence to policy and best practice.

Dates & Times

The exercise begins on the fourth Monday in July each year and runs for 5 consecutive days. Applications take approximately 4 weeks to process and security vetting may take up to 6 months to complete for applicants who lack a current security clearance.


Exercises are fully accredited for compliance with international standards. For further details on Institute requirements, international standards and accreditation, view the Accreditation page.

Fees & Discounts

Including accommodation, but not including sustenance, the exercise is delivered at a cost of €1500. Payment is accepted by bank transfer, card or PayPal. The following discounts are available:

Member's Rate: If you have a current membership, log in with your user ID and password to receive a €75 discount when making your payment online.

Group Rate: If you are booking on behalf of a group, further incentives may apply. Please contact the head of the training and directing staff for further details.

After the exercise has been evaluated for competency, those passing the exercise and meeting other requirements for registration are celebrated at an annual awards ceremony. Ceremonies are black-tie events held in venues of historical importance to mark the admission of graduates into the Institute and to celebrate outstanding achievements of previous graduates.