Covert Action: Strengths and Weaknesses

William J. Daugherty

in The Oxford Handbook of National Security Intelligence

Published in print March 2010 | ISBN: 9780195375886
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Covert Action: Strengths and Weaknesses


This article discusses the strengths and weaknesses of covert action as a tool for American foreign policy. It examines the strengths and weaknesses of covert action against the yardstick of success and against the yardstick of policy coherence. The succeeding section discusses other strengths and weakness of covert action programs. While the covert action program is marked by strengths and weaknesses, it will always remain as a tool for foreign policy. Whether it works in any given situation will continue to depend on many factors that are beyond the control of the president and of the intelligence professionals. Covert action is argued to work best when it is applied at the margins, when it provides an extra bit of “push” in the direction local events are already heading. It is most problematic when the program is intended to generate a major shift in the direction of events on the ground, or create a new direction in entirety. Smaller is cheaper, less noticeable and hence less threatening to the opposition government or security apparatus, and more secure in terms of the tradecraft required in recruiting and handling agents.

Keywords: strengths; weaknesses; covert action; American foreign policy; success; policy coherence

Article.  8802 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; International Relations

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