Covert Action Policy May Need Updating, Says CRS

U.S. intelligence policy on covert action, including presidential authorization and congressional notification requirements, is “less than clear,” according to a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service, and may need to be updated to encompass activities performed by the Department of Defense.

Covert action generally refers to CIA operations undertaken abroad against foreign targets in which U.S. sponsorship is concealed. But increasingly, some DoD special operations seem to fit the criteria for covert action.

“Senior U.S. intelligence community officials have conceded that the line separating CIA and DOD intelligence activities has blurred, making it more difficult to distinguish between the traditional secret intelligence missions carried out by each,” according to the new CRS report.

The Department of Defense contends that there is a difference between its “clandestine operations,” which do not entail any unique oversight requirements, and CIA “covert actions,” which cannot be conducted without a written presidential finding and congressional notice, mandated by a 1991 statute.

As explained by CRS, “a clandestine operation is an operation sponsored or conducted by governmental departments or agencies in such a way as to assure secrecy or concealment. Such an operation differs from a covert action in that emphasis is placed on concealment of the operation rather than on the concealment of the identity of the sponsor.”

In certain DoD special operations, however, “an activity may be both covert and clandestine.”

The CRS report presents a menu of policy questions for lawmakers to consider in evaluating whether to modify U.S. policy on covert action.

A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News.

See “Covert Action: Legislative Background and Possible Policy Questions,” November 2, 2006.

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