Covert Intervention as a Moral Problem

Charles R. Beitza1

CHARLES R. BEITZ is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College, and the author of Political Themy and International Relations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), and Political Equality, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989).


Today's international community may well view covert action and democracy as mutually exclusive policies. This article examines the practice of covert action in American foreign policy in light of events of the mid-1970s and 1980s, focusing on the scandalous misuse of executive authority and lack of accountability associated with covert means. Often manipulative and sometimes anonymous, covert operations raise critical morality concerns in a democratic society. Whether “any form of accountability is likely to be sufficient to bring the unauthorized use of executive power under control” is the crucial issue to be addressed when examining the practicality of covert actions by the executive branch.