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The Impact of Secret Operations on the Constitution and Early Presidential Practice

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Master's thesis

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This thesis will examine the development of secret operations before and during the War of American Independence to determine the impact on the Constitution and early presidential practice. Secret operations allowed the small American army to avoid entrapment and eventually defeat an army superior in every military element. From the early disastrous spy rings like the one conducted by Captain Nathan Hale, to the sophisticated Culper Ring, the Americans developed an expertise in secret operations that had an impact on the conduct of the War of American Independence. We will trace this development along with that of the leading spymaster, General George Washington, until the conclusive Battle of Yorktown. The impact of secret operations and counterintelligence operations can be clearly seen in the debates at the Constitutional Convention as well as in the document this convention produced. The Constitution of the United States was a document itself produced in secret and bears the vestiges of the delegates wartime experiences. Thus, their fears of foreign intrigue and penetration led to such apparently arcane elements as the Electoral College and the keeping of secret journals in the legislative branch. We will consider the presidential practice of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison in secret operations. Additionally, we will focus on the beginning of the presidential Contingency Fund for diplomatic missions and secret operations during the Washington Administration. We conclude by revisiting legislative oversight of current secret operations. Using the historical information previously developed, we conclude that the executive branch is better suited to conduct these operations with some congressional oversight but not a veto.

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  • Military Intelligence

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