Covert Operations

Covert operations include political action, paramilitary activities, psychological warfare, and economic warfare. They are dangerous, risky, and recurrently end up with unintended consequences.


They can undermine domestic political support for the president and Congress’s authority to project force into international situations. And they require a very difficult balance between presidential discretion and the need for effective oversight.


Covert operations, broadly defined as any activity conducted by a government to manipulate political conditions abroad without exposing its direct involvement, are one of the most important instruments of national power. These include fostering rebellions with the help of mercenaries (often referred to as “plausible deniability”), recruiting and training rebels and guerillas (often called “agent provocateurs”). Such act 서울흥신소 ivities have a long history in warfare; for example, the fomentation of rebellion by French agents was a major factor in Napoleon’s defeat, and British efforts to assist guerrillas in South Africa played an important role in Britain’s victory in World War II.

Such activities also serve to constrain the range of potential escalation in disputes with hostile states by keeping the intervener out of the direct military arena. This is especially useful for powerful states that have the ability to conduct extensive military operations themselves.

Because of their nature, covert actions require secrecy and in some cases ambiguity to function effectively. Hence, they may not receive the same level of scrutiny as openly declared policy initiatives and may have to be carried out on a very rapid time frame. In addition, the need to maintain plausible deniability means that covert activities may have to be adjusted in the light of changing intelligence information. Nevertheless, these activities can be used to respond to threats such as weapons proliferation and terrorism.

Methods 서울흥신소

Despite the media and Hollywood’s insistence that covert operations are fun and exciting, they carry heavy baggage. The main problem with them is the difficulty of protecting oneself against unforeseen consequences both foreign and domestic. The dangers of covert actions extend beyond the traditional espionage and terrorist operations of the past to include information warfare, infrastructure sabotage, and contingency military intelligence collection.

Moreover, the need to maintain secrecy means that the operation is less vetted in advance than an openly conceived policy might entail. This inevitably leads to missteps and can be the source of political controversies if not handled properly.

The Bay of Pigs fiasco and other revelations prompted a change in oversight procedures. In 1974, Congress passed the Hughes-Ryan Act which stipulated that the President would be required to detail in advance his decision to engage in a covert action campaign through a written document known as a finding. It also mandated that he must notify key members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in a timely manner.

However, these changes have not been enough to address the issue of oversight. There are still too many opportunities for a determined administration to manipulate the system through clever legal manipulation. Ultimately, the only way to solve this is for voters to elect leaders who will abide by the spirit of the law rather than its letter.


Covert operations are a vital part of the national security arsenal. They help to prevent disputes from escalating into full-blown wars and are used by many powerful nations, including the United States and Russia. However, they can also be harmful. Unlike overt government activities, which are open to the public, covert operations can be difficult to scrutinize and are often conducted by secret agents. To prevent abuse, a system of procedural safeguards has been put in place to ensure that those who sponsor covert actions do not use their power for malicious purposes.

However, this system of oversight is not foolproof and has been the subject of some criticism. Firstly, it is difficult to legislate changes that improve the current system without sacrificing either oversight or efficiency. This delicate balancing act between the needs of the state and democratic aims can be especially hard to achieve when it comes to implementing covert intervention.

One reform that has been suggested is to separate covert action from clandestine collection, which could allow planners and operators some additional latitude. But this would come at a cost to the morale of the intelligence community and, as Poznansky points out, it can even backfire on the organization.

He cites the case of the Bay of Pigs as an example where a bad policy decision made in isolation from analysis resulted in ineffective operations and sullied the reputation of the entire organization.


Covert operations are a valuable tool for the state to use when it needs to address intractable international situations that would otherwise be difficult to resolve within the awkward framework of war powers, nonintervention in the internal affairs of foreign states, and coping with ways to get at nonstate actors. The success of these programs depends, ultimately, on the competence and integrity of those in charge; it is not enough to understand the principles of tradecraft or to study history of successful or failed operations.

A common misconception is that the essence of covert action is its use of propaganda and other forms of political manipulation, rather than physical force. But this misreads the legal emphasis on concealing the hand of the government conducting the operation; plausible deniability is merely one component of covert action. Other components include the recruitment and employment of mercenaries, which has been a part of warfare for centuries, and the fomentation of rebellions, a strategy that has a long history as a weapon of war, from British plots with royalist agents against Napoleon to the CIA’s operations in the Middle East and Latin America.

In a democratic system, the only way to manage a covert organization is by monitoring its leaders and overseeing its activities. The records in this collection show that the executive branch has always found it challenging to monitor these activities, with the exception of a brief period under Gerald R. Ford when the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board provided this service. Yet even this has proven to be of limited value, as demonstrated by the Iran-Contra scandal and other problems that have plagued the CIA in recent years.