Covert Action: Legislative Background and Possible Policy Questions [October 11, 2007]   [open pdf - 101KB]

"Published reports have suggested that in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Pentagon has expanded its counter-terrorism intelligence activities as part of what the Bush Administration terms the global war on terror. Some observers have asserted that the Department of Defense (DOD) may be conducting certain kinds of counterterrorism intelligence activities that would statutorily qualify as 'covert actions,' and thus require a presidential finding and the notification of the congressional intelligence committees. Defense officials assert that none of DOD's current counter-terrorist intelligence activities constitute covert action as defined under the law, and therefore, do not require a presidential finding and the notification of the intelligence committees. Rather, they contend that DOD conducts only 'clandestine activities.' Although the term is not defined by statute, these officials characterize such activities as constituting actions that are conducted in secret, but which constitute 'passive' intelligence information gathering. By comparison, covert action, they contend, is 'active,' in that its aim is to elicit change in the political, economic, military, or diplomatic behavior of a target. Some of DOD's activities have been variously described publicly as efforts to collect intelligence on terrorists that will aid in planning counter-terrorism missions; to prepare for potential missions to disrupt, capture or kill them; and to help local militaries conduct counter-terrorism missions of their own. Senior U.S. intelligence community officials have conceded that the line separating Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and DOD intelligence activities has blurred, making it more difficult to distinguish between the traditional secret intelligence missions carried out by each. They also have acknowledged that the U.S. Intelligence Community confronts a major challenge in clarifying the roles and responsibilities of various intelligence agencies with regard to clandestine activities. This report examines the statutory procedures governing covert action and associated questions to consider."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RL33715
Public Domain
Retrieved From:
Federation of American Scientists (FAS): http://www.fas.org/main/home.jsp
Media Type:
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