Log in to get started!

Don't have an account yet? You can create one below.

Student Instructor
As seen through night vision, soldiers conduct a night raid mission
POP-UP CASES

Intelligence: Covert Action

This pop-up case is part of the series: Tools of Foreign Policy

Overview

Covert action entails taking secret measures aimed at influencing political, economic, or military conditions abroad, all while concealing the U.S. role in those measures. This can include political or economic actions, propaganda campaigns, or funding and training paramilitary groups. Covert action allows a country to address national security concerns where other tools would be too risky but, if discovered, it can risk retaliation or public controversy. In this hypothetical scenario, the United States needs to decide if and how it should use covert action to address a national security threat.

Background

First, cover the fundamentals of this foreign policy tool with World101's lesson, What Is Intelligence? Then, put these principles into practice with Model Diplomacy's hypothetical decision point below.

 

Decision Point (Hypothetical)

Mypos, a longtime U.S. adversary controlled by a fascist dictatorship, has begun making military threats against its neighbors. Arondale, a close U.S. partner in the region, fears a Myposian takeover is imminent. Over the past year, the United States and its allies have been unable to halt Mypos’s ambitions to destabilize and dominate the region. Although previous National Security Council (NSC) meetings have concluded that the option of war is off the table at this moment, the U.S. president would like to deliberate whether the United States should take alternative actions. Intelligence suggests that a small resistance movement in Mypos exists. However, with the country's fascist dictator gaining a following in countries surrounding Mypos, the U.S. president has convened an NSC meeting to decide if and how the United States should pursue covert action to minimize Mypos’s control over the region.

NSC members should consider one of the following policy options:

  • Initiate a propaganda campaign that covertly disseminates anti-fascist messaging through the media in countries under or near Mypos's control. Although this option could minimize the growing popularity of Mypos’s fascist leader and does not risk collateral damage, the campaign would take time to unfold, leaving Arondale at risk of a takeover from Mypos.

  • Covertly influence Mypos’s government through political and economic action, supporting the political opposition and initiatives against the country's leadership. This option could help strengthen the opposition in the country and  possibly shift Mypos’s policies closer to U.S. interests. However, this option would not necessarily stop a Myposian takeover of Arondale.

  • Initiate a paramilitary operation, sending intelligence agents to conduct raids and covertly train and equip members of the Myposian opposition to remove Mypos's dictator from power. This option could minimize anti-American and fascist influence in the region and the threat of Mypos taking over Arondale. However, it could destabilize the people and institutions of Mypos, create anti-American sentiment abroad, and could be unpopular if Americans found out. This option also requires the most personnel, funds, and resources.

More Pop-Up Cases

A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.

In 2013, reports emerged that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad had deployed chemical gas as a weapon in Ghouta, Syria, during the country’s ongoing civil war. Months prior, U.S. President Barack Obama had referred to this type of attack as a “red line” that, if crossed, would move the United States to act militarily. The United States now had a choice: whether to uphold its word and respond with military action at the risk of escalating a violent conflict.

Published:
Inmates shadows at a prison

Two American citizens have been unjustly detained abroad, and although one was returned, another remains in Russia. The United States needs to decide what action to take when an American citizen’s life is swept up in a geopolitical conflict.

Published:
The UN Security Council

The UN Security Council, created more than fifty years ago, has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Some experts argue that the current structure of the UN Security Council, formed in the aftermath of World War II, does not reflect today’s geopolitical reality. As a result, the legitimacy, effectiveness, and representativeness of the Security Council has been subjected to ongoing debate. The United States will need to decide where it stands on the issue of UN Security Council reform.

Published:

Do you find pop-up cases helpful?

We are looking for feedback from instructors!

If you have used a pop-up case in the classroom, please fill out our pop-up case survey or email us at [email protected] and let us know how it went. And be sure to follow us on Twitter at @Model_Diplomacy to hear about our most recent pop-up cases the moment they come out.

For Instructors

Pop-Up Case Guidelines View the Pop-Up Case Guidelines for some inspiration for how to structure your conversation.

Classroom handouts

PDF / 2.81 MB