Paramilitary operations – “PM ops” in American spytalk – may be defined as secret war-like activities. They are a part of a broader set of endeavors undertaken by intelligence agencies to manipulate events abroad, when so ordered by authorities in the executive branch. These activities are known collectively as “covert action” (CA) or, alternatively, “special activities,” “the quiet option,” or “the third option” (between diplomacy and overt military intervention). In addition to PM ops, CA includes secret political and economic operations, as well as the use of propaganda. Often
used synergically, each form is meant to help nudge the course of history – insofar as this is possible – in a direction favorable to the United States. Since the creation of the modern U.S. “intelligence community” by way of the National Security Act of 1947, PM ops have been conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), known by insiders as “The Agency.”
This article offers a brief history of America’s paramilitary activities, with special attention to the relationship between intelligence analysis – the attempts by the CIA and its fifteen companion agencies to understand contemporary world events and forecast how they will unfold – and the use of paramilitary forces to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals.