Covert operation

From Academic Kids

Covert operations are military or political activities that are not only clandestine (undertaken in a manner that disguises the identity of the perpetrators) but also covert, i.e. denied by the governments that undertake them. They are employed in situations where openly operating against a target would jeopardize the operation's success. In the case of enemies, there may be issues regarding military strength, treaties, laws, moral principles, or aversion to negative media attention. Operations may be directed at allies and friends to secure their support or to influence their policy against an enemy. Covert operations differ from espionage by attempting to influence events in another country rather than gathering information about it.

The best-known organizations specializing in covert operations today are the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense (The Pentagon) of the United States, but covert operations have been employed by many national and sub-national governments and other organizations for centuries, with or without a formal intelligence agency. They are an established and often controversial component of foreign policy throughout the world.

Law enforcement agencies also use covert operations to infiltrate suspected criminal organizations.


Forms of covert operations

Covert action takes many different forms reflecting the diverse circumstances in which it is used. There are paramilitary operations, in which a state trains, supports, or advises a military force in another country. There is political subversion, in which a state supports or advises a political group in another country or directs propaganda at its population. In disinformation operations, a government provides forged documents to another government to turn that government against an enemy. Some of the most controversional covert actions are those directed against individuals, such as kidnappings, assassinations, and coups d'état.

A common tactic in covert operations is to establish a front business or organization through which agents can operate unrecognized. Air America, the CIA-owned airline that supplied Hmong fighters in Laos during the Second Indochina War, is an example of such a front organization.

Examples of covert operations

Representations of covert operations in popular culture

Covert operations have often been the subject of popular novels, films, TV series, etc.


See Spy fiction.


See Spy film.



1. Shultz, Richard H., Jr. The Secret War against Hanoi: Kennedy's and Johnson's Use of Spies, Saboteurs, and Covert Warriors in North Vietnam. HarperCollins, 1999. ISBN 0060194545.

See also


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