Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Executive Secrets

Executive Secrets: Covert Action and the Presidency

Foreword by MARK BOWDEN
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 328
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Executive Secrets
    Book Description:

    A frank and refreshing evaluation of several Chief Executives, their Directors of Central Intelligence, and even some lover in the hierarchy, Executive Secrets shines light on the development and execution of foreign policy through the understanding of the tools available, of which covert action may be least known and understood. This book is a great tool for the press, the public, and many political appointees in the National Security System. A History Book Club Selection with a foreword by Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7196-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Mark Bowden

    Those of us who have lived long enough ought to be able to summon a sense of humor regarding the country’s current impatience with the quality of its Central Intelligence Agency. Ever since the Islamo-facist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the nation’s attitude toward its intelligence community has been one of disappointment, if not scorn. Why didn’t we know? Why hadn’t we acted more aggressively to prevent the attacks? Why were we so unprepared to respond? Why did we lack the language skills, contacts, influence, and ability to infiltrate the deadly cells of our enemy? Just...

    (pp. xv-xxiv)
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    The intelligence discipline known as covert action has been employed as an instrument of statecraft by our nation’s leaders since Revolutionary days. It added significantly to our nation’s growth and security in the early years; served both ably and poorly as a tool to contain the expansion of communism and to counter Soviet adventurism on four continents during the cold war; and enabled some peoples of the world to remain free and, undoubtedly, kept others under the foot of dictators for the four decades that were the cold war, albeit in the cause of a greater good. Covert action has...

  7. ONE The Role of Covert Action in Intelligence and Foreign Policy
    (pp. 9-22)

    There are three disciplines, or missions, inherent within the intelligence profession, which are separated by purpose and methodology: intelligence collection and analysis, counterintelligence/counterespionage, and covert action. To better understand the unique role of covert action within the intelligence constellation, it is useful first to define the other two disciplines, each of which possesses certain characteristics both individual and shared. With this comparison clearly in mind, the reader will more easily see how and why the general discipline of covert action is so different from the other two. A later chapter will detail the various types of operations and missions within...

  8. TWO The “Romances” of Covert Action
    (pp. 23-46)

    It is perhaps ironic that the instrument of statecraft known as covert action has come to be seen by many in modern times as an odious practice unworthy of the world’s leading democratic government. Somehow the knowledge that covert action was employed to further the interests of the American colonies before they became the United States—notably by George Washington as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and by patriots Ben Franklin and James Monroe serving as diplomats to France and Spain—has evaporated from our national memory. Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe relied on covert action programs as an...

  9. THREE Covert Action Policy and Pitfalls
    (pp. 47-58)

    Whether a covert action program ultimately succeeds, fails, or lands somewhere in between is often rooted in the degree to which a president and his advisor understand the limits and capabilities of covert action operations. Covert action can be a highly effective tool of presidential statecraft when knowledgeably employed. But no matter how appropriate or effective a covert action program may be in any foreign policy scheme, the absolute first imperative must be that it is conceived and managed in full compliance with the Constitution, federal statutes, executive orders, and CIA internal regulations—including the requirement that Congress be fully...

  10. FOUR The Military and Peacetime Covert Action
    (pp. 59-70)

    Following the creation of the CIA and the Department of Defense, there were suggestions within the Truman administration that Defense assume responsibility for covert action operations. After all, during World War II the armed forces undertook operations that are now recognized as classic covert action, such as propaganda and deception (called “psyops” in military argot, for psychological warfare), political action, and behind-the-lines paramilitary action, including with indigenous native groups, sabotage, raids, and assassinations. Assigning covert action to Defense seemed logical. But that department wanted no part of this nontraditional military role. Hence, through default, covert action landed in the lap...

  11. FIVE The Discipline of Covert Action
    (pp. 71-90)

    The intelligence discipline of covert action consists of three well-established methodological, or operational, subsets and one newly emerging category. Traditional covert action operations involve propaganda, political action, and paramilitary operations. Propaganda is the least visible, least expensive, least threatening, and most subtle of the covert action methodologies. It also usually requires the greatest amount of time to be effective. Political action ranges from low key, simple, and inexpensive events to the highly visible and provocative. Paramilitary operations run the gamut from low-cost, discreet training for foreign military and security forces to the clandestine exfiltration of defectors, and on to hugely...

  12. SIX Approval and Review of Covert Action Programs in the Modern Era
    (pp. 91-112)

    Until the mid-1970s, there was very little congressional oversight of the CIA, and particularly of covert action programs. Senior members of Congress who chose to be briefed would be informed of programs in the very broadest of terms sufficient to justify funding requests, although often they deliberately chosenotto be briefed on programs while nonetheless approving the requisite funds. Clark Clifford, close advisor to President Truman and other chief executives, commented that “Congress chose not to be involved and preferred to be uninformed.” Likewise, former CIA general counsel and distinguished intelligence historian Walter Pforzheimer recounted that “We allowed Congress...

  13. SEVEN Harry S Truman
    (pp. 113-130)

    With the end of World War II, the European continent was at peace for the first time in nearly six years. President Harry S Truman, just weeks into his administration, decided that the U.S. intelligence apparatus created during and for the war was no longer desirable. Despite pleadings from advisors, Truman truncated the intelligence community, disbanding many elements and limiting the size and charter of those that remained. However, Soviet mischief soon produced in the president’s mind serious concerns about the willingness of the Soviet Union, and Joseph Stalin in particular, to sustain and promote a peaceful world. In a...

  14. EIGHT Dwight D. Eisenhower
    (pp. 131-150)

    As a core element of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s cold war strategy, covert action in the Eisenhower administration “attain[ed] an importance among the CIA’s missions that would not be equaled until the Reagan administration in the eighties.”² For many years, the myth persisted that Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had conceived and managed the administration’s foreign policy while Eisenhower played golf. But as declassified documents from that era began to receive scholarly attention, it became irrefutably clear that Eisenhower was very much in control of his administration’s foreign and national security policies. Moreover, it became evident that he never...

  15. NINE John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson
    (pp. 151-166)

    Following his inauguration, John F. Kennedy dismantled the advisory group established in the NSC-5412 series and began permanently to chair meetings with his senior advisors (still loosely referred to as the “Special Group” or the “5412 Group,” despite the official demise of that body). Kennedy’s direct involvement, so different from Eisenhower’s policy of remaining in the background, significantly eroded the concept of presidential plausible deniability. The only other oversight mechanism available to provide an independent review of covert action programs, the President’s Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence, was also abolished by Kennedy shortly after he assumed office. With these...

  16. TEN Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford
    (pp. 167-182)

    Richard M. Nixon had acquired a broad understanding of and appreciation for covert action while serving as Eisenhower’s vice president, and as president he held no reservations about its use. Indeed, one can reasonably speculate that covert action greatly appealed to the secretive, suspicious chief executive who kept tight control of all aspects of American foreign policy, and to his equally secretive national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, as well. The principal proof of Nixon’s personal involvement in covert action lies within four thousand hours of White House tapes showing that he “made excessive and sometimes self-defeating use of covert operations.”²...

  17. ELEVEN Jimmy Carter
    (pp. 183-192)

    James Earl Carter possessed a liberal’s visceral dislike of the CIA, all that it stood for, all that it did, and how it did it—especially in regard to covert action. Carter and others in his administration had “accepted at face value allegations of CIA’s role in plotting murder and other crimes,” a belief that was possibly abetted, consciously or otherwise, by the fact that Vice President Walter Mondale, also more liberal than centrist in political philosophy, had been a member of the Church Committee investigating Agency abuses. Thus Carter professed to be “deeply troubled” by much of what the...

  18. TWELVE Ronald W. Reagan
    (pp. 193-212)

    For Ronald W. Reagan and his DCI, William J. Casey, covert action was not an adjunct endeavor but a fundamental component of an activist foreign policy and a means of thwarting Marxist regimes outside of the Warsaw Pact. Reagan expanded all of Carter’s Findings and added numerous Findings of his own. The years 1981–1989 saw the CIA managing presidentially directed and congressionally approved covert action programs around the globe. Among the numerous covert action programs conducted during the Reagan administration, those that have been officially acknowledged by the U.S. government as of fall 2003 include operations for Afghanistan, Angola,...

  19. THIRTEEN George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton
    (pp. 213-220)

    George H.W. Bush is the only president to have also served as intelligence chief (save, perhaps, George Washington). As such, he understood the value and processes of not only intelligence but, particularly, covert action. This was of enormous help to President Reagan when Bush was his vice president, with the thirty-five-plus covert action Findings extant during that administration. Although the first year of Bush’s administration saw him managing a full plate of covert action programs, the fall of the Berlin Wall along with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist threat changed that. By early January 1990, the...

    (pp. 221-224)

    If nothing else, this work should prove beyond question that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about covert action, even by so-called intelligence and foreign policy “experts.” Likewise, the reasons underlying this degree of misunderstanding should be equally clear: (a) critics who don’t like covert action, for whatever reason, continue to write materials that are wrong, deliberately distorting facts or ignoring data that are contradictory to their personal opinions; (b) misinformed writers continue to assert that presidents use covert action because it avoids congressional oversight; (c) critics continue to cite programs that were conducted nearly a half-century ago as...

  21. NOTES
    (pp. 225-256)
    (pp. 257-276)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 277-298)