Treverton, Gregory F.
June 1987
Foreign Affairs;Summer87, Vol. 65 Issue 5, p995
Academic Journal
This article analyzes the U.S. government's covert action policy in the wake of the Iran-Contra Affair. Spying may be the world's second oldest profession, but for the U.S. it was only the cold war that led to the creation of an intelligence service in peacetime, and to covert operations. Wartime success and postwar threat were the backdrop for the creation of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The first line of U.S. response to the onset of the cold war was covert: the surge of assistance to Europe through the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. But the second line was renewed interest in what was then called covert psychological warfare as a way to respond to the Soviet Union by means that were less than war but more than nothing. Evaluating covert action in retrospect is speculative, for it is bedeviled by the imponderable of what might have been. In all likelihood, covert operations will become known, and the U.S. will be judged for having undertaken them. Thus, the practical lessons lead into moral issues. The issues are hardly unique to covert intervention, though they are powerfully present there, and they are often obscured in policymaking by the presumption that covert actions will remain secret. Overt interventions raise similar moral and instrumental concerns. These concerns are not absolute, they must be considered against the gravity of the threat and the adequacy of other available responses.


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