Covert Action: Legislative Background and Possible Policy Questions [April 10, 2013] [open pdf - 234KB]
"Some observers assert that since 9/11 the Pentagon has begun to conduct certain types of counterterrorism intelligence activities that may meet the statutory definition of a covert action. The Pentagon, while stating that it has attempted to improve the quality of its intelligence program in the wake of 9/11, has contended that it does not conduct covert actions. Congress in 1990 toughened procedures governing intelligence covert actions in the wake of the Iran-Contra affair, after it was discovered that the Reagan Administration had secretly sold arms to Iran, an avowed enemy that had it branded as terrorist, and used the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance, also referred to by some as 'Contras.' In response, Congress adopted several statutory changes, including enacting several restrictions on the conduct of covert actions and establishing new procedures by which Congress is notified of covert action programs. In an important change, Congress for the first time statutorily defined covert action to mean 'an activity or activities of the United States Government to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the United States Government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly.' The 1991 statutory changes remain in effect today. This report examines the legislative background surrounding covert action and poses several related policy questions."
CRS Report for Congress, RL33715