Covert Operations, Part IV

Title:                      Covert Operations, Part IV

Author:                 Paul W. Blackstock

Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co.,

LCCN:    74011567

Z6724.I7 B55


  • Strategic Intelligence

Date Updated:  March 29, 2017


No bibliography on intelligence agencies and operations would be complete without a section covering the wide range of clandestine or secret political actions which have come to be called “covert operations” in the post-World War II period. All these interchangeable terms have been used to describe the “strategic services” carried out during World War II by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and its American counterpart, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Great Britain’s wartime leader, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, created the Special Operations Executive not only in order to collect intelligence, but mainly “to set Europe ablaze.” Both the SOE and the OSS supported resistance movements in Nazi-occupied Europe which conducted widespread sabotage using guerrilla tactics. Inevitably these operations took on political overtones both in terms of the long-range foreign policy objectives of the sponsoring powers and in the effect they had on domestic political struggles within the occupied countries.

Covert operations may be defined as intervention by any state in the internal affairs of another in order to extend political influence and control, and in time of war to hasten the military defeat of the target state. Since all such operations are hostile by definition, they can only be conducted secretly by agencies which have personnel trained in the use of traditional espionage and counterespionage techniques. For this reason they are usually directed by a clandestine operations division of a national intelligence or security police agency, or by a combination of such agencies. Secret political actions are “sensitive” because if they are exposed or “blown” an international crisis or scandal may easily result, since no government officially admits that it has been intervening in the internal affairs of other states. For example, the United States was deeply embarrassed by the CIA-led Bay of Pigs fiasco in the spring of 1961.

Nevertheless, in addition to being an “intelligence arm of the president,” (in the sense that it collects information by clandestine means on a large scale), the CIA has also in practice carried out a wide range of covert operations. It has secretly intervened in a number of trouble spots or crises to extend U.S. influence and control and to thwart real or imaginary Communist seizures of power during the cold war. Its director during this period, the late Allen Dulles, regarded such operations as an integral part of the “Cold War mission” of the agency. In the 1960s American intervention in Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia usually began with secret CIA-controlled missions and later escalated above the covert threshold into open intervention and military forms of warfare. It is this role of the CIA which has given rise to much sharp criticism, both at home and abroad, and this criticism is reflected in many of the works listed in this section. In spite of their importance in international relations, there are very few theoretical or even descriptive works dealing with the subject of covert operations as an instrument of foreign policy. These are listed and annotated in Chapter 16, “General Works and Surveys.” Guerrilla and revolutionary warfare frequently begin as covert operations either directed by clandestine intelligence services or dependent on them for vital information on which to base their, operations. However, the enormous literature on guerrilla warfare and insurgency has been excluded from this bibliography, since it is a separate field in itself. For the same reason both Soviet and Western partisan warfare and resistance movements during World War I have also been excluded, although the direction of such movements was clandestine.

Certain political-military deception operations were of strategic importance during World War II. They were mounted by a variety of intelligence agencies, and since they were conducted clandestinely, properly belong to the category of covert operations. A special subsection lists the most important works dealing with these operations as individual cases, such as the strategic deception which accompanied German planning for the attack on the Soviet Union (BARBAROSSA) or the so-called Double-Cross System by which British intelligence captured and controlled for strategic deception all important German agents infiltrated into Great Britain during the period.

Wartime political-military deception has its counterpart in times of peace. A wide variety of techniques are employed for both domestic and foreign political or “political warfare” purposes, ranging from calculated leaks of false or misleading information to the press to the forging of books and documents which are then exploited through the news media. These operations are usually conducted by the clandestine services divisions of central intelligence agencies by special sections which for convenience are labelled “disinformation” agencies. Although the general field of political warfare and deception is excluded from this bibliography, Chapter 21, “Disinformation, Deception, Frauds, and Forgeries,” lists some of the more important works dealing with this form of covert operations.

In spite of continuous and in some cases escalating use of covert operations as an instrument of foreign policy by the major powers since World War II, there has been a dearth of scholarly or systematic studies in this area, with the exception of the general works previously listed. Almost everything written on the subject has been confined to books or articles dealing with CIA or Soviet agencies, usually in the form of sensational exposes produced for cold war purposes. In the case of the CIA there have also been a number of books or articles which carry on the self-serving tradition of Allen Dulles’s The Craft of Intelligence[1] (see Chapter 4, section A). In one of these both espionage and covert operations are lumped together under the confusing and dissembling title of “overseas operations.” For example, see Chapter 4, “Overseas Operations,” in Lyman Kirkpatrick’s The U.S. Intelligence Community[2] (cited in Chapter 5, section A). The best single source of documentation concerning U.S. covert operations in the Vietnam War remains The Pentagon Papers[3] (see chapter 5, section A). There are, of course, scattered references through the voluminous secondary literature on the war in Vietnam which is beyond the scope of this specialized bibliography.







[1] Dulles, Allen W. (2006). The Craft of Intelligence: America’s Legendary Spy Master on the Fundamentals of Intelligence Gathering for a Free World. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press

[2] Kirkpatrick, Lyman B. (1973). The U.S. Intelligence Community: Foreign Policy And Domestic Activities. New York, Hill and Wang

[3] Sheehan, Neil (1971), Hendrick Smith, E.W. Kenworthy, and Fox Butterfield. The Pentagon Papers: As Published By The New York Times, Based On Investigative Reporting By Neil Sheehan. New York: Bantam Books

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