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Covert Action: An Instrument of Foreign Policy
AIR WAR COLL MAXWELL AFB AL
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The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief introduction to covert action for those on the periphery of, or interested in, this aspect of intelligence activity. The objective is to examine, using open source information, the nature of covert action, the purposes it serves, why it must be kept secret, whether it is legal and ethical, and what makes it work. This paper is by no means exhaustive. Covert action has many definitions, but a useful one is the attempt by a government to influence events in another state or territory without revealing its involvement. Title VI of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 1991 defines covert action as 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. There is a subtle but distinct difference between covert and clandestine, in that clandestine operations seek to obscure the activity itself, while in covert operations it is more important to hide the sponsoring role of the United States. Covert action can be thought of as a continuum, between relatively benign propaganda operations and paramilitary activity. Political action lies in between.
APPROVED FOR PUBLIC RELEASE