“The Third Option” – US Covert Action with Loch Johnson (Part 1 of 2)
What You’ll Learn
- What is covert action
- Four types of covert action
- Foreign policy options: “War Power,” “Treaty Power,” and “Spy Power.”
- Examples of CA: Guatemala (1954), Indochina (1965), Afghanistan (2001), Iran (2020)
- The value of learning from past mistakes
And much, much more …
There is perhaps no better guest to join Andrew in this week’s exploration of covert action than Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia Loch Johnson. Loch’s latest book, The Third Option: Covert Action and American Foreign Policy, examines the history of the complicated and sometimes controversial usage of covert action by the U.S. international affairs.
Loch’s decades-long career in foreign policy and intelligence has brought him to the forefront of some of the most seminal moments within US intelligence reform: he served as special assistant to the chair of the Church Committee, staff director of the House Subcommittee on Intelligence Oversight, and worked directly with the chair of the Aspin-Brown Commission.
In this two-part episode of SpyCast, Andrew and Loch unpack what makes a covert action operation successful, and how we can learn from intelligence failures and past mistakes.
How many people have a society named after them? Loch does!
Quote of the Week
"History doesn't like to be shaped, it has a power all of its own, but we try to shape it at least at the margins, and we do that through covert action, sometimes called the third option…and it really comes in four packages. Package number one is propaganda… And then comes political covert actions…Thirdly is economic covert action…And then fourthly, and most dramatically, are paramilitary operations. These are war-like activities." – Loch Johnson.
- The Third Option, L. Johnson (Oxford, 2022)
- Covert Action, E. Rosenbach & A. Peritz, Belfer Center (2009) [Background Memo]
- Looking back at the Church Committee, National Constitution Center (2019) [Blog Post]
- The Iran-Contra Affair, B. Craig, The Miller Center (2017) [Article]
- The Spymaster’s Prism: CIA Legend Jack Devine (2021)
- First Casualty: Inside the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11 (2021)
- Author Debriefing: The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service (2012)
- A Covert Action: Reagan, the CIA and Poland, S. Jones (W.W. Norton, 2018)
- The Church Committee Confronts America's Spy Agencies, L. Johnson (UP of Kentucky, 2015)
- The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and the Bay of Pigs, J. Rasenberger (Scribner, 2012)
- Executive Secrets: Covert Action and the Presidency, W. Daugherty (UP of Kentucky, 2006)
- Covert Action, G. Treverton (1987)
- The Disturbing Story Of The Heart Attack Gun Invented By The CIA During The Cold War, M. Dunn, All That’s Interesting (2022)
- Iran-Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power, US National Archives (2015)
- ‘Covert Action’ By U.S. To Assist Ukraine Could Be In Play, MSNBC News (2022)
- Commission on the U.S. Intelligence Community (1994-1996)
- Senate Select Committee with Respect to Intelligence Activities (1976)
- “Huge C.I.A. Operation Reported in U.S. against Antiwar Forces," S. Hersh, NYT (1974)
- FBI Records: COINTELPRO (1956-1971)
- Note on U.S. Covert Actions
- A 90s cartoon, evil beings threaten humanity, only the Wild C.A.T.s can save them: i.e., Covert Action Teams!
- “Covert action” as a concept has become part of the entertainment industry