Covert Operations and Clandestine Collection

Whether or not a government should engage in covert action is a moral question, but there are practical concerns as well. For one, the symbiosis between covert action and clandestine collection is a vital part of success.


Without access to intelligence, covert operations are crippled. It would be impossible 광주흥신소 to sabotage criminals, disenchanted nuclear scientists or terrorist groups without human intelligence.


Paramilitary Covert Operations involve the use of trained operatives to conduct dangerous and challenging missions in hostile environments. They are often used to support a covert action mission and collect foreign intelligence vital to national security policymakers. Paramilitary operations officers are part of a select cadre of highly motivated people who thrive on camaraderie and selfless service in demanding and dangerous settings. Ultimately, however, their hard work can become mired in inefficiency and supervisory practices that hinder the success of their mission. Improving workflows and eliminating unnecessary redundancies may be the best way to strengthen the paramilitary structure without compromising efficiency.

Historians agree that from a pure cost-benefit standpoint, the covert paramilitary operations conducted by the US Central Intelligence Agency at the outset of the Cold War were dismal failures. Manpower and money were committed in tremendous amounts, but the stated objectives of supporting anti-Communist resistance efforts in Europe were never met. Soviet counterintelligence penetrated CIA-sponsored resistance groups and emigre organizations at will, and competing faction leaders sometimes used CIA equipment to advance their own political agendas rather than the anti-Communist cause.

William Colby’s successful operation in Norway, which was not linked to resistance support, proved the value of paramilitary activities that did not rely upon or answer to local resistance leaders. The success of the Norwegian operation gave a new lease on life to a capability that the OSS had proved during World War II was valuable and cost-effective.광주흥신소


The CIA is not alone in its use of covert political activities. Many members of the military’s special-forces units participate in such activities. Whether aimed at training and operating proxy forces or the influencing of foreign political systems, these efforts must ultimately be judged as part of policy. The pitfalls of bad policy decisions in this realm can be severe and affect the reputation of the institution as well as its individual operatives.

Covert operations are broadly defined as the effort to influence political, economic and military conditions abroad without revealing or highlighting the role of the sponsoring government. As a result, the legal emphasis in such operations is on plausible deniability: that is, it is important to hide the hand of the government rather than demonstrate it.

In this respect, covert action differs from clandestine collection, which is typically conducted by analysts and focuses on evaluating information collected by agents in the field. Some Members of Congress have sought to require congressional notification prior to, or within 48 hours of, the initiation of covert action; Presidents have successfully resisted these proposals. The collection features a variety of documents associated with the control and management of these activities, including the director of CIA nomination hearings for Stansfield Turner, James Woolsey and George Tenet. It also highlights the tension between these intelligence agencies and members of Congress, as evidenced by numerous Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearings.


The psychological component of covert operations, such as airdropping propaganda leaflets or loudspeaker broadcasts, is a key ingredient in many successful political actions. By influencing the thoughts and attitudes of adversaries, psychologists can encourage them to act in ways that benefit their sponsoring governments.

A covert action’s success can be measured in a number of ways, but there is no objective way to determine whether an operation was a success or failure. Rather, the determination of an operation’s success depends on the perception of salient observers who are able to evaluate its goals against the objectives that its proponents set. An operation’s success can also be determined by the extent to which there is minimal criticism of it among relevant domestic and international audiences.

Although the CIA’s psychological wars have been the focus of most historical studies of covert operations, new insights can be gained by examining the wider range of policy and intelligence planning during the Truman administration. Using recently declassified documents, Sarah-Jane Corke examines the inner workings of the Washington interagency as it struggled to grapple with new threats and develop the means to address them. Her work offers important insight into the changing nature of the world’s challenges and America’s response to them. This is a valuable contribution to the literature on the Cold War and the history of American covert action.


Covert action includes a variety of clandestine activities that manipulate the economy of foreign nations. These activities are typically aimed at an adversary’s production capability or scientific-technological (research and development) base, reducing their ability to compete in global markets. These economic measures may be a part of paramilitary or political operations or stand alone. They can involve paramilitary raids to destroy factories, on-site sabotage by agents or sympathizers or semiopen measures like purchasing products on global markets in order to deprive an adversary of those goods.

These activities require a high degree of discretion and are usually conducted by intelligence operatives, though the military’s Special Forces also take part in some covert actions. In the United States, under current law (Hughes-Ryan Amendment), any such covert action is authorized only after a written document known as a presidential finding establishes that it supports identifiable foreign policy objectives of the nation. The president also must notify congressional intelligence committees of any ongoing covert activity.

Oversight is important for covert action, as it prevents intelligence agencies from wasting time and resources on actions that are unlikely to achieve their goals or could cause unintended consequences. At a time when the nation’s political mood favors smaller government and diminished budgets, it’s important to examine the national security needs of the future and determine whether covert action should remain an instrument of U.S. foreign policy.