Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Roles and Mission of CIA and Special Operations Forces (SOF)

USSOCOM was established by Congress in 1987 (P.L. 99-661, 10 U.S.C. §167). USSOCOM’s
stated mission is to plan, direct and execute special operations in the conduct of the War on
Terrorism in order to disrupt, defeat, and destroy terrorist networks that threaten the United

The CIA was established by the National Security Act of 1947 (P.L. 80-253) to collect
intelligence through human sources and to analyze and disseminate intelligence from all sources.
It was also to “perform such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the
national security as the President or the National Security Council may direct.” This opaque
phrase was, within a few months, interpreted to include a range of covert activities such as those
that had been carried out by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. Although
some observers long maintained that covert actions had no statutory basis, in 1991 the National
Security Act was amended (by P.L. 102-88) to establish specific procedures for approving covert
actions and for notifying key Members of Congress.

The statutory definition of covert action (“activity or activities of the United States Government
to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of
the United States Government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly....”) is broad and
can include a wide range of clandestine efforts—from subsidizing foreign journals and political
parties to participation in what are essentially military operations. In the case of paramilitary
operations, there is a clear potential for overlap with activities that can be carried out by DOD. In
general, the CIA would be designated to conduct operations that are to be wholly covert or
disavowable. In practice, responsibilities for paramilitary operations have been assigned by the
National Security Council on a case-by-case basis.


2 Taken from United States Special Operation Forces Posture Statement 2003-2004, U.S. Special Operations Command, pp. 4-10.

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