Covert action presents a potential policy for decision makers who want something quicker or more muscular than diplomacy but less expensive and obtrusive than military force. In contrast with intelligence, which entails collecting and analyzing information, covert action is an active instrument of foreign policy. The three main categories of covert action include propaganda, political action, and paramilitary action. Another separate category is economic action, which involves destabilizing the target state’s economy in some way. Because of the inherent secrecy of covert action, outside scholars have no way of knowing how much they do or do not know about the topic at hand and it also makes it hard to verify the information, since the information comes from a variety of sources. Covert action literature is particularly strong in case studies of particular operations. There is also a well-developed subsection within the field that focuses on covert action since the end of the Cold War, the role that the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) played during World War II, and covert actions undertaken by other states. However, there are several issues in the covert action literature. These issues include the assessment of the success or failure of particular operations and of the policy instrument as a whole, the tangible and intangible costs incurred by covert action, the ethical questions raised by conducting covert actions as well as the particular methods used and its impact on democracy, the oversight of covert action, and the evolution of US law covering covert action.
Jennifer D. Kibbe
Richard J. Aldrich
Intelligence can be considered a process, a product, and an institution. Institutions in particular point toward the idea of national security, since intelligence services are curiously bound up with both state sovereignty and the core executive. Preemption is perhaps the most important idea that has served to enhance the importance of intelligence. One of the most enduring definitions of intelligence is that it is a special form of information that allows policy makers, or operational commanders, to make more effective decisions. Quite often this intelligence is secret in nature, consisting of information that an opponent does not wish to surrender and actively seeks to hide. And although it is widely accepted that intelligence studies as a field is under-theorized, some areas have received more attention than others. Perhaps because policy makers have seen warning against surprise attack as one of the highest priority intelligence requirements, this area has been the most fully conceptualized. In addition, intelligence agencies themselves have frequently advanced the claim that their ability to lend a general transparency to the international system improves stability. Also, these agencies not only gather intelligence on world affairs but also seek to intervene covertly to change the course of events. Another controversial aspect of intelligence involves the cooperation between intelligence and security services.
Joseph M. Brown
State terrorism is a contentious topic in the field of terrorism studies. Some scholars argue that the concept of terrorism should only be applied to the behavior of nonstate actors. Others argue that certain government behaviors may be understood as terrorism if the intent of state violence and threats is to stoke fear and influence the behavior of a wider audience. Three possible conceptualizations of state terrorism are worth exploring: government sponsorship of nonstate actors’ terrorism, terrorism perpetrated by government agents outside a legal framework, and “inherent” state terrorism—acts perpetrated by the state in the everyday enforcement of law and order that, if perpetrated by nonstate actors, would clearly qualify as terrorism. Each of these conceptualizations yields insight about state behavior, highlighting particular uses of violence and threats as instruments of state policy. Depending on one’s conceptualization of state terrorism, common policies and functions of government possess an underlying terroristic logic. Analytical tools developed in the field of terrorism studies may be useful in helping us understand state behavior, when violence and threats appear to have a broader communicative function in influencing an audience beyond the immediate target.