Covert action: a systems approach
Wood, Kristen N.
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Covert action is a complex tool; planning and conducting effective covert operations can be a challenging process. Throughout history, covert actions have been applied with great effect in support of state policies, but also sometimes with devastating consequences for the sponsor. This thesis takes a systems approach to the study of covert action to help explain the divergence between effective and ineffective operations. It is demonstrated that, because of the complexities inherent in this policy tool, covert action can be best understood as a system, that is, by focusing on the interactions and interplay of the system’s components. Four concepts of systems are examined in relation to historic U.S. and international examples—the system diagram, system effects, feedback, and tradeoffs. This holistic view of covert action may help policymakers better assess the viability and implications of a covert strategy and allow for better integration of covert action into foreign policy. Ultimately, this thesis aims to advance discourse by developing a formal theory of covert action based on the systems approach and offers six favoring conditions that can assist policymakers when planning and executing covert strategies.
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