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

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.

More Pop-Up Cases

Taiwanese and U.S. Flags

China’s growing military and economic strength, coupled with its increasingly aggressive posture in East Asia, have raised questions about U.S. policy toward Taiwan. Should the United States maintain its longstanding policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan, or should it clarify its stance?

Sunlight behind clouds

As the threat of climate change continues to grow, some policymakers are starting to consider solar geoengineering: reflecting sunlight in the atmosphere to counter global warming. The idea could offer a vital tool against climate change, but it could be risky, especially without worldwide coordination on its use. How should the United States approach solar geoengineering?

Zelenskiy speaks with an American Delegatiion

Ukraine has withstood Russia’s initial invasion, but a new phase of the war has begun. How should Ukraine define success as it seeks to repel Russian forces?


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