Re: Covert vs Clandestine, was Re: WAR: appropriate first use (was: If we do get Afghanistan...)

From: Michael M. Butler (
Date: Sat Nov 24 2001 - 23:13:29 MST

Technotranscendence wrote:
> Okay, I'll buy your distinction.

It's not mine; it's a paraphrase of official US Military doctrine, gleaned
from things like the SEAL Team Leader handbook. I do diverse recreational reading.

Fact of the matter is, if the action isn't _extremely_ "surgical", or
extremely isolated (Manhattan/SILVERPLATE), or both, even the "covert" label is
wishful thinking. Mystiques and glamours and ego and spin and post-action disinformation
to placate bosses and homefront hoi polloi are evolutionarily stable strategies.

John le Carre and others have scratched the seamy surface fictionally for years.

There is a vast amount of wiggle room, ineptness, expediency and groupthink
_everywhere_, not excluding the spook world.

Everybody _wants_ to be doing stuff so slick it never gets out. Doesn't mean
they're actually doing it. Everybody's an idiot sometimes (weak form of Dilbert Law).

Another factor is that no "professional" wants to "live in a toilet" (not my term; I hear
this is common parlance in the diplomatic _and_ spook community for much of the third
world), this metaphor keeps such folks attention-avers, so they (have to) delegate to
locals and we get leaks and messes--"if you want it done right, do it yourself" hinges
crucially on what "it" is, and how _much_ you *really* want it.

"Professional" is frequently a euphemism for "Careerist".

Thought experiment: Spend a day and watch both versions of _Apocalypse Now_
in chronological order. :) Whatever you can say of Kurz--he wanted it _bad_.
Then there's the legend of Keyser Soeze in _The Usual Suspects_. Tough hombres
with long attention spans. Not nice people.

Anyway, I consider it utterly conceivable that some operatives, somewhere, some time,
might have pickled or spiked sombody's nuke, and that the owner of said nuke remained
blissfully unaware that their suitcase or oil drum had been neutered.

That's my kind of clandestine. :) But it might be just my bourgeois fantasy.

> However, most of what are put into the
> first bin -- covert operations -- are actually only covert from US public.
> If the CIA is funding or training a local group to overthrow some government
> wherever, usually the people in that country know the US government is
> behind it. (See _Informing Statecraft: Intelligence for a New Century_ by
> Angelo Codevilla for more on this. My review of it is at

Yes, see my comments above; and also, if the CIA/whoever has ever done
anything in living memory, anyone who looks or acts out of place is looked on
with suspicion. This is prudent immune system behavior, but it's hard on
tourists, service volunteers and the naive.

A firm hand on the bullshit valve is an essential part of domestic and foreign affairs.
There is also the "burden of nescience" and the "burden of omniscience" to consider
(terms from R. A. Wilson, I think).

Zeteticism with equanimity is hard, we're not wired deeply for it.


My moronic mnemonic for smart behavior: "DICKS" == 
diplomacy, integrity, courage, kindness, skepticism.

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