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Covert Action: Cold War Dinosaur or "Tool" for the 21st Century?

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Covert action, as a viable means to achieve strategic ends, has always been surrounded by controversy. Emotions ranging from romantic mystique to outrage and condemnation are invoked whenever covert action is discussed. During the height of the Cold War, while Mission Impossible and Secret Agent dominated television viewing, covert operations were frequently the instrument of choice to achieve foreign policy objectives. However, just as television is an unrealistic representation of covert action, the current geopolitical situation is a far cry from the global environment of the 1950s and 1960s. Just as a carpenter must select the right tool based on the job and materials used, the strategist must select the proper tool to accomplish his or her foreign policy objectives. The appropriateness of the policy tool is based not only on the capabilities and limitations of the particular instrument, but the context of its employment. The current international and domestic context has dramatically increased the risk and potentially limited the use of covert action as an instrument of power. To analyze the impact of these contextual changes, the author clearly defines the capabilities and limitations of covert action as a policy tool. He also sets forth six basic criteria for the initiation of covert operations 1 Covert action must support a clearly defined policy, 2 Covert action cannot contradict or violate established policy, 3 Covert action should be employed with other overt elements of power, 4 The objective for the covert action must be reasonable with respect to the scope of the operation and must compliment the other elements of power, 5 Covert action must conform to American values with respect to both the mission and third party governments and organizations involved, and 6 Covert operations must have strong bipartisan support within the executive branch and congressional oversight.

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  • Government and Political Science

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