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Intelligence: Covert Action

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


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.


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.

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