by Adam Elkus
Nonstop covert operations against America’s enemies occur simultaneously in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. But as the counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan give way to a worldwide shadow conflict, popular discussion of covert operations erroneously assume that these discrete capabilities are largely without precedent. Perhaps more perniciously, covert operations are often equated with direct action—the capture and killing of terrorists and insurgents. But covert operations are more than simply direct action writ large, and they have a distinguished historical pedigree. While daring exploits make the news, they also obscure the utility and limitations of covert action as a tool of policy.