Covert Operations

Covert operations involve a wide range of activities that fall into broad categories such as political action, paramilitary activity, and psychological warfare. They must be so planned that if they are uncovered the United States can plausibly deny involvement.


In the period of CIA struggles to cope with the threat of worldwide Soviet domination, many covert operations involved creating stay-behind networks in western Europe in case the US was overrun by the Russians. This effort produced mixed results.

Political Actions

The purpose of covert operations is to influence political conditions abroad without the U.S. government having to publicly acknowledge the action. This would include direct intervention in an election or more subtle interventions such as financial backing for opposition candidates, media advice, technical support for public relations, advertising campaigns and poll 서울흥신소 -watching.

Even when successful these operations can have long term negative consequences both domestically and internationally, as the Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba and the Iran/contra affair illustrate. In addition, it can be difficult to keep these operations secret for long a period of time as the press in most liberal democracies can be relentless and if an operation is revealed there will probably be parliamentary inquiries in one or more countries.

Often covert operations are undertaken to back up an existing public policy. However, this can have unintended and sometimes dangerous consequences. For example the supply of arms to anti-government groups in Nicaragua ran into the problem that the weapons were being diverted by the rebels for other purposes. This had serious ramifications in the region and ultimately led to the Iran/contra scandal.

The CIA and the military have often worked together on covert actions, as it makes sense for intelligence agencies to have access to the same resources. This symbiosis has been weakened since the post-Iran-contra reforms of 1991. Under these, all agencies must meet two requirements before 서울흥신소 undertaking a covert action: it must be justified in writing as a presidential finding and that the administration must notify congressional intelligence committees of the action.


Despite the many examples of military interventions that have failed, governments continue to use counterinsurgency strategies. These tactics are aimed at defeating clandestine insurgent forces and rebuilding the institutions of stable government among non-combatant civilian populations. This is a long-term commitment, and the intervening countries are obligated to produce visible results.

A key to success in counterinsurgency is to understand the enemy’s motivation. This requires intelligence gathering from multiple sources, including the civilian population and insurgents themselves. For this reason, counterinsurgents often employ anthropologists and sociologists, as well as historians, finance and business experts, psychologists, organizational network analysts, and scholars from a variety of other fields.

Insurgents often prompt disorder by disrupting economic, social and political structures. These disruptions help to demoralize the citizenry and undermine the strength of the host-nation government. To prevent disorder, the counterinsurgent must develop the ability to predict and deter. This involves acquiring intelligence about the insurgents, which may require mirroring their behavior or the employment of spies.

The most important line of operations in counterinsurgency is security. This is a two-pronged strategy, which involves improving living conditions for the civilian population and ensuring that the governing institution can withstand any attacks. This is difficult in countries with weak state institutions, and it can be self-defeating if the governmental structure is seen as illegitimate by the population.

Economic Warfare

Economic warfare is state interference in international economic relations for the purpose of improving a country’s relative military, political, or economic position. It differs from other types of international economic policies in that the interfering nation seeks a better position in the hierarchy of power rather than simply increasing its own accretion to that rank.

A course of economic warfare may serve any number of purposes simultaneously, and it may even be designed to achieve a combination of these functions at the expense of others. The precise balance among these various functions depends on the overall goals of the implementing state.

As with other covert operations, the goal of economic warfare is not to destroy an enemy but to degrade its ability to make war by preventing the production of critical raw materials and severing the nation’s supply chains. A wide range of policy measures can be used for this purpose including blockade, blacklisting, preclusive purchasing, rewards and the capturing or control of enemy assets or infrastructure.

These policies can be effective, but they must also be implemented carefully. For example, imposing a sanctions regime against an enemy country can lead to increased infant mortality and poverty in its population, along with other adverse consequences. The scale of these effects can be enormous, making the use of economic warfare a risky proposition.

Human Rights

Covert operations have often brought with them human rights violations. The CIA-sponsored overthrows of Jacobo Arbenz and Salvador Allende produced dictatorships with bloody tactics and a record of human rights abuses, while the CIA’s support of insurgencies including Nicaraguan rebels and Afghani mujahideen led to war crimes, such as killing noncombatants and recovering wounded soldiers (hors de combat). In addition, CIA-financed economic warfare has led to human rights violations involving torture, rape, and arbitrary detention.

Covert action has been seductive, promising action on intractable international situations without the awkward questions of war powers and noninterference in foreign affairs that impose constraints on direct intervention. The history of such actions, however, has been mixed.

Critics argue that, at best, they have a limited impact and may not be worth the costs of American lives, funds, and damaged international relations. At worst they create the potential for corruption and damage the morale of an agency that is supposed to be dedicated to democracy and humanitarian concerns.

As with the issues of terrorism and nuclear proliferation, the human cost of covert activities is hard to quantify. Congressional oversight committees should be required to discuss the human rights impact of every covert operation and make a determination whether it is justified. Furthermore, the CIA should review all current “assets” to determine if they have been implicated in human rights abuses and take steps to stop any payments or transfer of resources to entities that have committed such crimes.