George Kennan

George Kennan

George Kennan


George Kennan authored a policy document—NSC 10/2—that characterized covert action as those activities “so planned and conducted that any U.S. government responsibility

Question 1:
George Kennan authored a policy document—NSC 10/2—that characterized covert action as those activities “so planned and conducted that any U.S. government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons and that if uncovered the U.S. government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them” (Scott and Rosati 2007).

Is this a realistic expectation for any covert action? Meaning, can we really expect the U.S. hand to remain “hidden” even if the action is discovered? If this is not realistic then why continue with the policy of plausible deniability? Or are there measures that can be put in place to make it a continued viable policy?

Question 2:
Compare the following case studies: Afghanistan and the Congo 1960-1961. Base your analysis with the questions provided in the “Lecture Notes” for Week 1:


As the war continued between the Afghan fighters (Mujahidin) and the Soviet Army, the US intelligence community was somewhat divided as to the real situation on the ground. This led to a general reluctance by the CIA to commit resources to back the Mujahidin. CIA’s aversion to risk is particularly interesting because it demonstrates that the CIA itself is not always the driving force in covert actions – rather, it can be the Administration or the President who decides that a more proactive approach is needed. In 1980, President Carter signed a finding to provide support to the Afghan fighters, but its policy objectives were limited to harassing the Soviets. It was only under the Reagan administration that the policy objectives were broadened and promoted the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Afghanistan. Once the policy goal was enunciated, the planning followed, with large expenditures devoted to supplying the Mujahidin with anti-aircraft and other tactical armaments. Like some covert actions, this operation had a multilateral component, as it was dependent on financial and logistical support from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Another important factor was the U.S. emphasis on “plausible deniability,” by keeping the US role in training and logistical support as secretive as possible.

Congo 1960-1

The assassination of Congo’s President Patrice Lumumba is often claimed to be a CIA operation. This is a prime example where the CIA might not have actually conducted the operation itself, but its knowledge of the operation raised suspicion of its involvement. Lumumba, according to declassified cables and other information, was seen as a Soviet sympathizer and there were fears that his government would tip Africa towards the Soviet Union. CIA Director Dulles believed that this was an immediate concern and that Lumumba must be removed as soon as possible. The CIA hatched a rather elaborate plot to place poison on Lumumba’s toothbrush. But before the poison could be planted, Lumumba was toppled in a military coup and eventually killed by firing squad, commanded by a Belgian officer. The CIA was widely believed to be behind the entire killing and while this does not appear to be true, there are indications that the CIA Station Chief in the Congo was completely aware of the upcoming coup and Lumumba’s ultimate demise. After Lumumba’s death, the Congo deteriorated under the three-decade rule of Joseph Mobuto.

(1) What was the objective of each operation? Was there an overriding policy imperative or were they missions to gain access to the adversary’s information?

(2) What oversight or legal review occurred during their planning?

(3) Who or which organizations were accountable for the operations? What turf issues arose prior to or during the operations?

(4) What resources were necessary to successfully carry them out?

(5) What was the cost/benefit analysis of each operation? Weigh their risks, especially when they are publicly exposed.

(6) In evaluating each operation, what objectives were achieved and what unintended consequences occurred?

Question 3:

Please review this hypothetical situation and indicate (a) whether covert action is appropriate (b) identify the risks and benefits of a covert action (c) identify legal hurdles and (c) decide whether the President should inform all the relevant Congressional intelligence committees or limit knowledge to the “Gang of Eight.” Take into consideration political ramifications and possible blowback.

Concern has built up over Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power and his actions against the Syrian opposition. Through a variety of sources, the CIA believes it has a reliable asset inside the regime that could either organize a coup or “eliminate” the leader. The President has asked you to give him an honest assessment on the possibilities for both.