Covert action

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Concept.png Covert action 
(Low-intensity warfare)Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Covert operation.jpg
Interest of• Frank Kitson
• Military Reconnaissance Force
• Victor Ostrovsky
• U.S. Special Operations Command
The attempt by a government or group to influence events in another state or territory without revealing its own involvement.

Not to be confused with CovertAction Magazine, a publication focused on such operations by the CIA.

Covert action or covert operation are terms used synonymously by the American intelligence community to describe "the attempt by a government or group to influence events in another state or territory without revealing its own involvement".[1] In contrast, a "clandestine" operation seeks to hide the identity the operation itself.

Historically, the Central Intelligence Agency mounted covert operations, while Special Forces conducted clandestine operations.[2][3] Internally the Special Activities Center (SAC) is responsible for covert and paramilitary operations within the CIA.[4]

That the activity is done covertly, ie hidden from the target country also means that laws of that country will be broken, as well as international law.[5]

United States


According to National Security Act Sec. 503 (e), covert action is, "An activity or activities of the United States Government to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the United States Government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly." Proper covert actions are undertaken because policymakers—not the intelligence agencies—believe that secret means are the best way to achieve a desired end or a specific policy goal.[6]

Covert action encompasses a broad spectrum of activities, but may include:

  • Propaganda: Intelligence agencies covertly disseminate specific information to advance foreign policy goals. United States law prohibits, however, the use of intelligence agencies to influence domestic media and opinion.
  • Political/Economic Action: Intelligence agencies covertly influence the political or economic workings of a foreign nation.
  • Paramilitary Operations: Intelligence agencies covertly train and equip personnel to attack an adversary or to conduct intelligence operations. These operations normally do not involve the use of uniformed military personnel as combatants.
  • Lethal Action: During times of war or armed conflict, the U.S. may need to use covert lethal force against enemies who pose a threat. The U.S. formally banned the use of political assassinations in 1976.

One distinction between covert action and other overt activities, such as traditional diplomatic or military operations, is that U.S. officials could plausibly deny involvement in the activity. This "plausible deniability," however, is predicated upon the covert action remaining secret.


From Secrets in Plain View: Covert Action the u.S. Way, by M.E.Bowman (International Law Studies - Volume 72):[7]

Prior to World War II, the United States was, perhaps, the least experienced spy master of the developed nations. [...]

Because covert action amounts to interference with sovereign rights, nations always seek to distance themselves from the activity. The reason is axiomatic-covert actions inherently, and universally, are fractious political issues that flaunt a universal need for rules of international behavior. Nevertheless, from time to time, all nations find it necessary to cloak official processes from public view; certainly, that was never more true than during the era of the Cold War. Adversaries and ideology aside, the Cold War interest in avoiding nuclear conflict promoted a relatively high tolerance for covert action as well as understood "rules" for the genre. "Plausible deniability" was a key goal; indeed, in that bipolar world it became rule number one. [...]

Communist insurgencies and communist,inspired political subversion had become ubiquitous reality during the tedious process of rebuilding, or building anew, from a war,ravaged world. Polarized political views, coupled with a tenuous peace, made traditional foreign policy slow and cumbersome in a fast,developing world. By contrast, covert action beckoned policy makers with a promise of swift, high,impact alternatives ideally suited for post,war containment policy. The result, observed Henry Kissinger, is that all Presidents since World War II "have felt a need for covert operations in the gray area between formal diplomacy and military intervention."

Strategy of Tension

Full article: Strategy of Tension

While the strategy of tension was organised through NATO and handled by intelligence networks originating in each country - thus not the classical example of sending spies abroad to get things done, it non the less was covert action and used the same tactics. Since WW2, Operation Gladio has applied a strategy of tension, most notably in Italy but also in other countries, to promote fear an uncertainty and render the population pliable. This has been ramped up since 9-11 and the 21st century has seen a spate of false flag attacks used to promote the idea of a worldwide "war on terror". The original Gladio has been replaced by Gladio B, demonising "Muslim terrorists".

External Resources


Paramilitary Operations Officer - job offer from the CIA: "We're on the forefront of world-altering events – as they happen. So working here isn't just a job, it's a mindset and a lifestyle."



Page nameDescription
Document:Bloody US-Directed Raid Destabilizes Philippine PoliticsAmerican fingerprints are all over a botched commando raid in the southern Philippines that left dozens dead and shocked the country.
Nation-buildingState constructing.
Nord Stream/SabotageDestruction of Europe's energy supply, under different circumstances it would be considered a declaration of war.
The Sinking of the AtlasGerman cargo ship sunk by French agents in 1958. Blamed on fictional Red Hand terrorist organization.
The Sinking of the SS San FlavianoBritish oil tanker sunk in 1958 by the CIA bombing under false flag. The purpose was make foreign companies like Shell suspend operations and in Indonesia, to weaken the Indonesian economy and destabilize the government.


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