Special Operations (PM)
Activities Staff (SAS)
Agency - Official home page
Within the Central Intelligence Agency, covert action
is housed inside the Directorate of Operations, headed
by a deputy director for operations (DDO). This
directorate consist of, among other subdivisions,
a unit for political and economic covert action (the
Covert Action Staff, or CAS), for paramilitary (PM)
covert action (the Special Operations unit), for counterintelligence
(the CI staff [CIS]), and for several geographic desks
responsible for the collection of foreign intelligence.
For our purposes, we will examine the Special Operations
The Directorate of Operations also houses special
groups for conducting counterterrorism and counternarcotics,
for tracking nuclear proliferation, and other tasks.
Administrated by the DO, the PM group (Special Operations)
maintains an elite cadre (Special Activities Staff)
that are are highly skilled in weaponry; covert transport
of personnel and material by air, sea, and land.;
guerrilla warfare; the use of explosives; and escape
and evasion techniques. They are prepared to
respond quickly to a myriad of possible needs, from
parachute drops and communications support to assistance
with counternarcotics operations and defector infiltration.
For PM tasks (special operations missions)
and its other responsibilities, the Special Operations
staff attempts to recruit assets with the appropriate
specialized skills, though the geographic desks remain
the principal units involved in the recruitment of
personnel in so-called denied areas (Libya, Iraq,
Iran, etc.). Special operations also provides
special air, ground, maritime and training support
for the Agency's intelligence gathering operations.
A special case within the realm of PM operations
is the murder of individual enemies: the assassination
option, sometimes referred to euphemistically as "executive
action" or "termination with extreme prejudice".
Insofar as the Church Commission was able to ascertain,
this option has been resorted to infrequently, and,
at least with heads of state, never successfully.
Source: America's Secret Power: The CIA in a
Democratic Society, by Loch Johnson
Defining ‘Overt’, ‘Clandestine’, and ‘Covert’
Overt Operation: An operation conducted openly, without concealment.
An operation sponsored or conducted by governmental
departments or agencies in such a way as to assure
secrecy or concealment. A clandestine operation differs
from a covert operation in that emphasis is placed
on concealment of the operation rather than on concealment
of identity of sponsor. In special operations, an
activity may be both covert and clandestine and may
focus equally on operational considerations and intelligence-related
An operation that is so planned and executed as to conceal
the identity of or permit plausible denial by the sponsor.
A covert operation differs from a clandestine operation
in that emphasis is placed on concealment of identity
of sponsor rather than on concealment of the operation.