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The Origins of Covert Action

David F. Rudgers
Journal of Contemporary History
Vol. 35, No. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 249-262
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/261206
Page Count: 14
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The Origins of Covert Action
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Abstract

Covert action - the clandestine manipulation of affairs in foreign countries - has been a unique aspect of the USA's postwar international conduct and a practice that has done much to define the image of the Central Intelligence Agency. Despite efforts to give the concept a venerable lineage, it is primarily a product of the early Cold War years. Faced with the prospect of Soviet subversion in unstable western Europe, President Truman, Secretaries Marshall and Forrestal, and their advisers concluded that the USA needed a similar capacity. The idea was effectively articulated and put in place by George Kennan and implemented by OSS veterans in the newly-created CIA. Its seeming success in influencing the 1948 Italian elections made covert action a growth industry for the CIA as the Cold War intensified. Over time, the policy-makers who instituted covert action as a tool of statecraft had second thoughts about its development, while the abrupt and unanticipated end of the Cold War with the fall of the Soviet Union has raised questions about its overall utility and effectiveness. Such questions remain controversial, but they must be seriously addressed as the Cold War fades into history.

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