Covert intervention as a moral problem

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7 August 2015

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The CIA has been greatly involved in the collection of intelligence as well as being engaged in covert action for the benefit of the United States. According to the 1991 Intelligence Authorization Act covert action is simply described as a particular “activity of the government of the United states that is meant to influence, economical, political, or military situations in the world, in that the role of the United States will not be acknowledged by many or publicly.” Under covert action, the exact intentions or the reasons behind the actions are not known by the foreign countries hence secrecy is the main component of covert actions.

Covert actions and the role of the CIA

Covert actions simply involves activities that include supporting political parties, covert propaganda, private groups, economic operations and even individuals through advice or subsidization with an aim of supporting or overthrowing the existing regime in a foreign country. There is a difference between covert actions and clandestine collection efforts whereby the covert actions are mainly designed for influencing conditions in foreign countries while the clandestine efforts are aimed at providing the intelligence community of the United States with information that can be used in designing the covert actions.

The CIA is the body that is responsible for the purpose of obtaining intelligence and providing policymakers with relevant information for the purpose of designing covert actions on foreign countries. Apart from being the provider of the intelligence information to policymakers, the CIA is also the same body that is engaged in carrying out the covert actions as well as advising policymakers with regard to the intelligence they have gathered. The CIA as an intelligence body that is also involved in carrying out the covert action in foreign countries always strives to build and maintain its reputation both in the eyes of the United States citizens and foreign countries.

To be able to maintain its reputation and put itself as an agency that is committed to serving the country and its citizens while at the same time promoting international relations, the CIA has to reach a compromise. The protecting the American citizens and the country at large as well as providing information for other foreign countries requires transparency. Under the covert actions and operations, there is a lot of secrecy and the only time information gets to reach the public is when operations have gone sour. This means that the CIA has an interest of protecting itself from critics within the public and avoids blame by the public while at the same time carrying out its operations.

The CIA is also closely involved with administration officials and policymakers whereby the intelligence from the CIA is questioned and analyzed by the policymakers when making decisions. However, over the years, the CIA has been faced with the challenge of lack of commitment on the part of the policymakers to take time and read the intelligence provided by the agency. Instead, most policymakers have been keen on intelligence that is related to current risks.

The unwillingness or the inability of policymakers to spend a lot of time in analyzing longer-range issues has been a source of frustration. The CIA have the duty to provide intelligence as they receive it and also take part in covert actions as they are assigned hence the need to have a balance between the two. The CIA has to ensure that it provides relevant information to policymakers because in the long run, it is the agency that is always blamed when covert actions to not go as planned. Therefore, the CIA has great interest in the intelligence and the covert actions that they take part in since the agency has to prove its worth and demonstrate that it performs its duties.

Being the provider of intelligence and at the same time the user of the intelligence requires a lot of integrity to ensure that there is no biasness whereby the CIA provide information that it is aware will work in its favor. As a way of ensuring that the covert actions that the carry out and get involved in are successful to build their image in the eyes of the public, the CIA may tend to manipulate the information and intelligence they provide to policymakers. It is quite difficult to be certain with the kind of intelligence that the CIA provides to the policymakers as not being biased due to the reason that they are the same users of the information that they have gathered.

The CIA as an intelligence agency and one that is held in high reputation would not want the public image that they have built get ruined by the kind of intelligence and covert actions they undertake. Therefore, based on the reason that the CIA is the provider and user of the intelligence they gather as well as the aim of protecting the agency from bad public image and reputation, it can be said that there is a conflict of interest.

Furthermore, based on the issue that the intelligence the CIA gathers is provided to policy makers and in most occasions the policymakers do not take their time in reading and analyzing intelligence that is set for longer-use, the CIA has to ensure that the information they provide to the policymakers would not compromise the agency. Therefore, it can also be said that there is conflict of interest whereby the CIA, the provider and user of intelligence, has to ensure that policymakers to not make wrong decisions that will compromise the agency.

The CIA also has the mandate of promoting democracy both locally and internationally but this is not the case with the intelligence gathered as well as the covert actions they undertake. There is a lot of secrecy whereby the public is left out on covert actions issues and intelligence hence it can be said that the CIA is practicing double standards. Democracy requires people to be well informed, something that is not the case with regard to the covert actions and intelligence gathered by CIA.


The CIA has greater duty of protecting the public, the United States government and its interest while at the same time maintaining a reputable public image both locally and internationally. There are times when the CIA has to provide some intelligence in certain situations while at times it has to avoid letting the public know of what is going on based on the reason that the image of the agency may be destroyed in case the covert actions do not go as planned and no positive results achieved. Therefore, the CIA, apart from being an intelligence agency that provides intelligence and gets involved in covert actions, has the duty of protecting itself from the public, both locally and internationally. This could result in biasness in the kind of intelligence that it provides to policymakers as well as how it carries out the covert actions, hence conflict of interest.


Beitz, Charles R. “Covert intervention as a moral problem.” Ethics & International Affairs 3, no. 1 (1989): 45-60.

Berger III, Joseph B. “Covert Action: Title 10, Title 50, and the Chain of Command.” JFQ: Joint Force Quarterly no. 67 (2012 4th Quarter 2012): 32-39.

By Bill Gertz, The Washington Times. “Military, CIA shun 9/11 panel on covert operations.” Washington Times, The (DC) (September 9, 2011): 1. Regional Business News

Jeffreys-Jones, Rhodri. “Covert Action in the Cold War: US Policy, Intelligence, and CIA Operations.” Journal of American History 97, no. 4 (2011): 1173-1174.

Little, Douglas. “Mission Impossible: The CIA and the Cult of Covert Action in the Middle East.” Diplomatic History 28, no. 5 (November 2004): 663-701

Meyer, Joel T. “Supervising The Pentagon: Covert Action And Traditional Military Activities In The War On Terror.” Administrative Law Review 59, no. 2 (Spring2007 2007): 463-478.

Prouty, L. Fletcher. The secret team: the CIA and its allies in control of the United States and the world. Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2011.

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StudyScroll. (2015). Covert intervention as a moral problem [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 28 January, 2023]

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"Covert intervention as a moral problem" StudyScroll, Aug 7, 2015.

"Covert intervention as a moral problem" StudyScroll, 7-Aug-2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 28-Jan-2023]

StudyScroll. (2015). Covert intervention as a moral problem. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 28-Jan-2023]

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