TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Covert ActionCovert action is one of the least understood counterterrorism tools used by theUnited States government. Led by the White House and overseen by Congress,covert action advances certain national interests overseas under the cloak ofdeep secrecy and deniability. According to National Security Act Section 503(e), covert action is:An activity or activities of the United States Government toinfluence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, whereit is intended that the role of the United States Government will notbe apparent or acknowledged publicly.Legal covert actions are undertaken because policymakers—and not the intelligenceagencies—believe that secret methods are the best way to accomplishspecific policy goals.• Covert actions in the counterterrorism realm range from the seeminglybenign, such as the US training other nations’ police forces tofight terrorism, to large-scale paramilitary operations, such as haveoccurred in Afghanistan over the last 30 years. 63• Covert actions are not exclusive to related overt actions, and in factfrequently run in tandem with overt US actions such as military ordiplomatic maneuvers.Covert action encompasses a broad spectrum of activities, but may include:• Propaganda: Intelligence agencies covertly disseminate specific informationor perform influence operations to advance foreign policygoals. American law prohibits, however, the use of intelligence agenciesto influence domestic media and opinion.• Political/Economic Action: Intelligence agencies covertly influence thepolitical or economic workings of a foreign nation.Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs | Harvard Kennedy School41

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