Friday, November 9, 2007

Covert Political Operations

On covert political operations from A Short Course in the Secret War by Christopher Felix:

It is a misfortune that most of what has been written about secret operations is concerned almost exclusively with intelligence operations and their related functions. The result is a very misleading picture of the secret war--sometimes effecting even those actively engaged in it. For the central and decisive battles of the secret war are fought in the vast realm of covert political operations...

Secret intelligence is essential, indispensable; it is also, a previously pointed out, inseparable from political operations. But it is not, and should not be allowed to become an end in itself. The ultimate national aim in the secret war is not simply to know. It is to maintain or to expand national power and to contain or to reduce the enemy's power; it is the exercise of power, itself a dynamic and not a static thing.
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The exercise of power, the transformation of intelligence and policy into power by means of action, takes place daily and visibly in strategic policy, economic policy, diplomacy, defense, propaganda--all the overt aspects of international relations. It also takes place daily, but invisibly, in the secret war in the form of covert political operations.

The range, both functional and geographical, of secret political operations is almost unlimited.
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The first great post-Second World War engagement between East and West in the sphere of covert political operations was the Italian national elections of April 1948. With all of Eastern Europe already in the Soviet grasp, with civil war raging in Greece, the West awoke to the fact that Italy could be lost to the Soviets by political action. Hastily improvised operations, a number of which could barely be dignified by the adjective covert--certainly the vigorous speaking tours of the American Ambassador to Italy were anything but covert--narrowly saved Italy for the West that year...
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...the secret war is not waged by intelligence agents, but by agents whose function is, in the broadest sense, political.

The functional range of covert political operations is so vast as to defy listing. It runs from the simple, obvious "spontaneous demonstration"--in Tokyo or Caracas, in New York or New Dehli--through the quarrels of an international labor organization, the speeches at an international conference of intellectuals, the resolutions of a congress of lawyers, the organizational maneuvers of churchmen, the patient and persistent pressures of exiles, and a staggering variety of publications, to the Viet Cong guerrilla hidden in the jungles of South Vietnam and a Cuban prisoner captured at the Bay of Pigs.
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These varied activities have a common political objective: the organization, exploitation, and direction of existing human passions and purposes so that they contribute, no matter how indirectly, to the fortunes of one or the other side in conflict. It is the substance of power, wherever and in whatever form it may exist, which the political agent pursues, recognizing that all organized or social human activity has a political content and significance.

If this seems obscure it is because of general acceptance of a too narrow definition of what is "political." As used in covert political operations, "political" is not limited to the complex of activities surrounding the gaining and holding of public office, of the constitutionally designated seats of power. It refers instead to a much wider concept--to politics as the general and infinitely varied struggle for and the exercise of power in human society. Under this concept all organized or social human activity represents potential or actual power ultimately transformable into control of the state and society.

To claim that the scholar, the artist, the philosopher are apolitical is to deny the interrelation between human thought and action...By the same token, the allegation that the businessman with foreign investments is apolitical because he "doesn't mix in politics" is naive and implies two things which are patently untrue: that national wealth is not part of national power, and that the businessman will under no circumstances seek his government's protection for his business.
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It is this political--in the broad sense of power--characteristic of all organized and social human activity which imposes the extraordinary variety of secret political operations. My own diverse but not unusual experience in this field has run the gamut from organizing a literary evening in New York to directing the operation of a clandestine radio transmitter; from providing speakers for five different groups in the same national election to arranging for a gift to an important tribal leader; from organizing a political committee of exiles for the infiltration and invasion of their native land to reorganizing the same group some years later to eliminate their military activities; from supervising a dozen publications in half a dozen languages to rewriting a manifesto; from persuading twelve men representing as many different nationalities to agree on a single point to working a resolution through a congress of three hundred men representing thirty-five different nations; from subsidizing summer camps for children to running an escape chain out of Soviet-occupied territory.
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The heart of the secret war in our time, however, lies in the political conflict. Intelligence is essential and cannot for a moment be neglected. But we advance or we retreat, we make gains or suffer losses in proportion to our mastery of the details of the political struggle--meaning the living characteristics of men, the ever-changing human relationships within and among societies, from which flow the tides of power.

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