Covert actions are now crucial to U.S. foreign policy. After the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington should rely more on CIA-driven covert operations and less on military force in the world’s hotspots.
Ukraine could be a case in point. For covert action means not just collecting information (espionage), but also political or paramilitary efforts that help support political organizations, local media and on occasion, insurgents. Under the CIA’s charter, the government maintains plausible deniability for all these actions.
I’ve long advocated for greater use of this tool of statecraft — and not only because I ran the CIA’s Afghanistan Task Force during the successful effort to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan in 1986-87, along with many other covert operations during my 32 years at the intelligence agency.
The ability to conduct activities below the radar is key. There has been a spike in instability across regions where the United States and its allies have major national security interests. Yet Washington is less able to exert influence through force.
President Barack Obama noted this in his May 28 West Point speech, saying the United States is unlikely to engage in another ground war any time soon. Washington can rely on the CIA (working with Special Operations Forces) to provide clandestine intelligence, training and, where necessary, political funding and paramilitary support for foreign groups aligned to U.S. interests.