Throughout American history, presidents have used secret intelligence resources to support U.S. foreign and security policy abroad. These resources have been designed to use secret agents and operations to carry out policy in such a way that the direct hand of the United States was hidden and that the president could deny knowledge of the operation. These operations are not for collecting and analyzing intelligence. In the United States, this kind of activity has come to be called covert action; some who oppose such action call it [dirty tricks.]
U.S. covert action operations are primarily run by secret agents who are recruited to carry out particular tasks rather than to serve as spies. They may be recruiting and training guerrilla fighters, carrying out political or economic operations, they may be involved in deception operations to fool an enemy, or they could be circulating disinformation—usually false information wrapped around a nugget of truth—to discredit an adversary or enhance our own image. Guerrillas in turn could be carrying out sabotage operations or partisan warfare. The aim of the covert action operator is to hide the hand of the United States in the operations. The CIA has learned over time, however, that any covert action is probably doomed to failure unless it is part of some larger scheme of foreign policy. Covert action operations, by themselves, are rarely successful.
Special operations work in much the same way, except that the United States uses its own troops to carry out unconventional warfare, usually in