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A covert operation is a military operation intended to conceal the identity of (or allow plausible denial by) the sponsorand intended to create a political effect which can have implications in the military, intelligence or law enforcement arenas—affecting either the internal population of a country or individuals outside it.
Covert operations aim to secretly fulfill their mission objectives without anyone knowing who sponsored or carried out the operation, or in some cases, without anyone knowing that the operation has even occurred.
Covert operations and clandestine operations are different.
A clandestine operation is an intelligence or military operation carried out in such a way that the operation goes unnoticed by the general population or specific enemy forces.
Under U.S. law, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) must lead covert operations unless the president finds that another agency should do so and properly informs the Congress. Normally, the CIA is the U.S. government agency legally allowed to carry out covert action.The CIA's authority to conduct covert action comes from the National Security Act of 1947. President Ronald Reagan issued Executive Order 12333 titled United States Intelligence Activities in 1984. This order defined covert action as "special activities", both political and military, that the US Government could legally deny. The CIA was also designated as the sole authority under the 1991 Intelligence Authorization Act and in Title 50 of the United States Code Section 413(e). The CIA must have a "Presidential Finding" issued by the President of the United States in order to conduct these activities under the Hughes-Ryan amendment to the 1991 Intelligence Authorization Act. These findings are then monitored by the oversight committees in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. As a result of this framework, the CIA "receives more oversight from the Congress than any other agency in the federal government". The Special Activities Division (SAD) is a division of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, responsible for Covert Action and "Special Activities". These special activities include covert political influence and paramilitary operations.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is a civilian foreign intelligence service of the federal government of the United States, tasked with gathering, processing, and analyzing national security information from around the world, primarily through the use of human intelligence (HUMINT). As one of the principal members of the United States Intelligence Community (IC), the CIA reports to the Director of National Intelligence and is primarily focused on providing intelligence for the President and Cabinet of the United States.
The National Security Act of 1947 was a major restructuring of the United States government's military and intelligence agencies following World War II. The majority of the provisions of the Act took effect on September 18, 1947, the day after the Senate confirmed James Forrestal as the first Secretary of Defense.
Ronald Wilson Reagan was an American politician who served as the 40th president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Prior to his presidency, he was a Hollywood actor and union leader before serving as the 33rd governor of California from 1967 to 1975.
Covert operations and clandestine operations are distinct. The Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Joint Publication JP1-02), defines "covert operation" as "an operation that is so planned and executed as to conceal the identity of or permit plausible denial by the sponsor. A covert operation differs from a clandestine operation in that emphasis is placed on concealment of identity of sponsor rather than on concealment of the operation". The United States Department of Defense definition has been used by the United States and NATO since World War II.
The Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms is a compendium of terminology used by the United States Department of Defense (DOD).
A military operation is the coordinated military actions of a state, or a non-state actor, in response to a developing situation. These actions are designed as a military plan to resolve the situation in the state or actor's favor. Operations may be of a combat or non-combat nature and may be referred to by a code name for the purpose of national security. Military operations are often known for their more generally accepted common usage names than their actual operational objectives.
Plausible deniability is the ability of people to deny knowledge of or responsibility for any damnable actions committed by others in an organizational hierarchy because of a lack of evidence that can confirm their participation, even if they were personally involved in or at least willfully ignorant of the actions. In the case that illegal or otherwise disreputable and unpopular activities become public, high-ranking officials may deny any awareness of such acts to insulate themselves and shift blame onto the agents who carried out the acts, as they are confident that their doubters will be unable to prove otherwise. The lack of evidence to the contrary ostensibly makes the denial plausible; that is, credible, although sometimes it merely makes it unactionable. The term typically implies forethought, such as intentionally setting up the conditions to plausibly avoid responsibility for one's (future) actions or knowledge. In some organizations, legal doctrines such as command responsibility exist to hold major parties responsible for the actions of subordinates involved in heinous acts and nullify any legal protection that their denial of involvement would carry.
In a covert operation, the identity of the sponsor is concealed, while in a clandestine operation the operation itself is concealed. Put differently, clandestine means "hidden", while covert means "deniable". The term stealth refers both to a broad set of tactics aimed at providing and preserving the element of surprise and reducing enemy resistance and to a set of technologies (stealth technology) to aid in those tactics. While secrecy and stealthiness are often desired in clandestine and covert operations, the terms secret and stealthy are not used to formally describe types of missions.
Stealth technology, also termed low observable technology, is a sub-discipline of military tactics and passive and active electronic countermeasures, which covers a range of methods used to make personnel, aircraft, ships, submarines, missiles, satellites, and ground vehicles less visible to radar, infrared, sonar and other detection methods. It corresponds to military camouflage for these parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Military tactics encompasses the art of organising and employing fighting forces on or near the battlefield. They involve the application of four battlefield functions which are closely related – kinetic or firepower, mobility, protection or security, and shock action. Tactics are a separate function from command and control and logistics. In contemporary military science, tactics are the lowest of three levels of warfighting, the higher levels being the strategic and operational levels. Throughout history, there has been a shifting balance between the four tactical functions, generally based on the application of military technology, which has led to one or more of the tactical functions being dominant for a period of time, usually accompanied by the dominance of an associated fighting arm deployed on the battlefield, such as infantry, artillery, cavalry or tanks.
Technology is the collection of techniques, skills, methods, and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation. Technology can be the knowledge of techniques, processes, and the like, or it can be embedded in machines to allow for operation without detailed knowledge of their workings. Systems applying technology by taking an input, changing it according to the system's use, and then producing an outcome are referred to as technology systems or technological systems.
Covert operations are employed in situations where openly operating against a target would be disadvantageous. These operations are generally illegal in the target state and are frequently in violation of the laws of the sponsoring country.[ citation needed ] Operations may be directed at or conducted with allies and friends to secure their support for controversial components of foreign policy throughout the world. Covert operations may include sabotage, assassinations, support for coups d'état, or support for subversion. Tactics include the use of a false flag or front group.
A country's foreign policy, also called foreign relations or foreign affairs policy, consists of self-interest strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and to achieve goals within its international relations milieu. The approaches are strategically employed to interact with other countries. The study of such strategies is called foreign policy analysis. In recent times, due to the deepening level of globalization and transnational activities, the states will also have to interact with non-state actors. The aforementioned interaction is evaluated and monitored in attempts to maximize the benefits of multilateral international cooperation.
Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening a polity, effort, or organization through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. One who engages in sabotage is a saboteur. Saboteurs typically try to conceal their identities because of the consequences of their actions.
The activity of organizations engaged in covert operations is in some instances similar to, or overlaps with, the activity of front organizations. While covert organizations are generally of a more official military or paramilitary nature, like the DVS German Air Transport School in the Nazi era, the line between both becomes muddled in the case of front organizations engaged in terrorist activities and organized crime.
Undercover operations (such as sting operations or infiltration of organized crime groups) are conducted by law enforcement agencies to deter and detect crime and to gather information for future arrest and prosecution.
Covert operations have often been the subject of popular films ( Zero Dark Thirty , Argo , The Falcon and The Snowman , The Kremlin Letter ), novels, TV series, and comics.
The Company is a fictional covert organization featured in the American TV series Prison Break . Also other series that deal with covert operations are Mission: Impossible , Alias , Burn Notice , The Unit , The State Within , Covert Affairs , Air Wolf , 24 , The Blacklist , Scandal, Strike Back series, and the Vagabond.
Espionage or spying is the act of obtaining secret or confidential information without the permission of the holder of the information. Spies help agencies uncover secret information. Any individual or spy ring, in the service of a government, company or independent operation, can commit espionage. The practice is clandestine, as it is by definition unwelcome. In some circumstances it may be a legal tool of law enforcement and in others it may be illegal and punishable by law. Espionage is a method of intelligence gathering which includes information gathering from non-disclosed sources.
Operation Mockingbird is an alleged large-scale program of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that began in the early 1950s and attempted to manipulate news media for propaganda purposes. It funded student and cultural organizations and magazines as front organizations.
The Special Activities Center (SAC) is a division of the United States Central Intelligence Agency responsible for covert operations. The unit was named Special Activities Division prior to 2016. Within SAC there are two separate groups: SAC/SOG for tactical paramilitary operations and SAC/PAG for covert political action.
A black operation or black op is a covert or clandestine operation by a government agency, a military unit or a paramilitary organization; it can include activities by private companies or groups. Key features of a black operation are that it is secret and it is not attributable to the organization carrying it out.
The Strategic Support Branch (SSB) was a United States intelligence organization created by the Department of Defense (DoD) with support from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The SSB's mission was to provide an intelligence capability for field operation units, and U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF), in support of anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism missions in war zones and beyond. The SSB has been dissolved with many of its activities and capabilities transferred to DIA's Defense Clandestine Service.
The Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) was the covert operation wing of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Created as a department of the CIA in 1948, it actually operated independently until October 1950. OPC existed until 1 August 1952, when it was merged with the Office of Special Operations (OSO) to form the Directorate of Plans (DDP).
The Hughes–Ryan Amendment was an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, passed as section 32 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974. The amendment was named for its co-authors, Senator Harold E. Hughes (D-Iowa) and Representative Leo Ryan (D-CA). The amendment required the President of the United States to report all covert actions of the Central Intelligence Agency to one or more Congressional committees.
The Directorate of Operations (DO), less formally called the Clandestine Service, is one of the smallest components of the US Central Intelligence Agency. It was known as the Directorate of Plans from 1951 to 1973; as the Directorate of Operations from 1973 to 2005; and as the National Clandestine Service (NCS) from 2005 to 2015.
The United States Army Intelligence Support Activity (USAISA), frequently shortened to Intelligence Support Activity or Mission Support Activity, and nicknamed The Activity,the Army of Northern Virginia, or Office of Military Support, is a United States Army Special Operations unit originally subordinated to the US Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) but now part of the Joint Special Operations Command. It is tasked to collect actionable intelligence in advance of missions by other US special operations forces, especially 1st SFOD-D and DEVGRU in counter-terrorist operations.
P2OG stands for Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group, a U.S. intelligence agency that would employ "black world" tactics.
Executive oversight of United States covert operations has been carried out by a series of sub-committees of the National Security Council (NSC).
The Intelligence Authorization Act was implemented in order to codify covert, clandestine operations and defines requirements for reporting such operations to the Congress. The American Constitution states, in Article 1, Section 9, that "a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time." The act was passed along with the Intelligence Oversight Act of 1980, which allowed Congress and members of the agency to be included in important decisions and operations carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Intelligence Authorization Act was also an attempt to limit the authority and secrecy within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) regarding foreign and domestic affairs, though its applications extends to each of the intelligence agencies, not just to the CIA.
Intelligence cycle management refers to the overall activity of guiding the intelligence cycle, which is a set of processes used to provide decision-useful information (intelligence) to leaders. The cycle consists of several processes, including planning and direction, collection, processing and exploitation, analysis and production, and dissemination and integration. The related field of counterintelligence is tasked with impeding the intelligence efforts of others. Intelligence organizations are not infallible but, when properly managed and tasked, can be among the most valuable tools of management and government.
National governments deal in both intelligence and military special operations functions that either should be completely secret, or simply cannot be linked to the sponsor. It is a continuing and unsolved question for governments whether clandestine intelligence collection and covert action should be under the same agency. The arguments for doing so include having centralized functions for monitoring covert action and clandestine HUMINT and making sure they do not conflict, as well as avoiding duplication in common services such as cover identity support, counterespionage, and secret communications. The arguments against doing so suggest that the management of the two activities takes a quite different mindset and skills, in part because clandestine collection almost always is on a slower timeline than covert action.
The Dulles–Jackson–Correa Report was one of the most influential evaluations of the functioning of the United States Intelligence Community, and in particular, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The report focused primarily on the coordination and organization of the CIA and offered suggestions that refined the US intelligence effort in the early stages of the Cold War.
At various times since the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal government of the United States has produced comprehensive reports on CIA actions that marked historical watersheds in how CIA went about trying to fulfill its vague charter purposes from 1947. These reports were the result of internal or presidential studies, external investigations by congressional committees or other arms of the Federal government of the United States, or even the simple releases and declassification of large quantities of documents by the CIA.
The CIA publishes organizational charts of its agency. Here are a few examples.
In 1966, the Navy created Task Force 157 as a covert division to control their clandestine intelligence operations, specifically human intelligence operations (HUMINT). This covert unit was reformed in 1977, leading to multiple reconstruction attempts, finally ending with the formation of the United States Special Operations command (USSOCOM).