Discretion and Foreign Policy

  • Steven G. KovenEmail author


Internationally oriented security organizations operate with broad discretion under a web of relative secrecy. The nature of clandestine operations somewhat insulates these organizations from public oversight. At the same time, the need for vigilant supervision of the relatively hidden activities is ever greater. This chapter describes the creation and evolution of internationally oriented security organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency. These organizations are responsible for numerous successes but also many embarrassments where false information was reported, human rights violations occurred, or the will of Congress subverted. These represent examples of bureaucratic overreach that weakened, rather than strengthened, the US reputation as a nation of laws, not men. The chapter describes how falsified body count reports in the Vietnam War, “harsh interrogations” at Abu Ghraib, and illegal supply of weapons to Nicaragua all were carried out in relative secrecy until the actions could no longer be concealed. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how whistleblowing and the ensuing media attention can reverse illegal or simply counterproductive behavior of government agents.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

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