In the shadows: The art and history of covert ops

Jessica Evans Avatar
covert ops

U.S. Navy SEALs train with Special Boat Team 12 on the proper techniques of how to board gas and oil platforms.

Once upon a time, in a world cloaked in secrecy and danger, there were special missions called covert ops. These are the hidden operations of spies and soldiers – men and women who risk their lives silently behind enemy lines. With a special blend of cunning and skill, these operatives pursue their mysterious goals, like shadows of the night.

Covert ops are secret missions that have a big impact on military strategy and the landscape of the world. These risky missions often lead to critical wins and give an edge both on and off the battlefield. Let’s explore how lesser-known missions have changed the way wars are fought – and won. The heroes of our story, the covert agents, embarked on thrilling adventures of espionage, sabotage, and even targeted assassinations. Slipping in and out of disguise, they danced on a razor’s edge, always careful not to reveal their true identities.

Defining covert ops

So what makes an op covert? Well, it’s a combination of factors – training, equipment and mindset.

Training is essential for an op to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to carry out covert operations. This means our heroes need to be proficient in surveillance, intelligence gathering and communication. They also need to know how to slip in and out of tons of settings unnoticed, so disguises are often used. But the best operatives are those who know none of this happens in a vacuum. They realize that team work makes it all happen.

Of course, the best teams in the world need the right gear, too. Specialized tools and the latest tech helps operatives communicate securely, gather intelligence discreetly, and remain undetected.

The most critical factor in making an op covert is an operative’s mindset. It’s not just discipline, either. It’s being adaptable, remaining focused, and being able to adjust plans quickly to avoid detection, while remaining calm under pressure. The most successful operatives can blend with their surroundings and maintain a low profile but still stay super away of where they are and potential threats. They must also be able to control their emotions and personal feelings, as any slip-up could compromise the mission and put themselves and their team at risk.

Covert ops throughout history

Covert ops have been used by countries and armies for as long as humankind has been at war. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans had spies and agents to get information and mess with their enemies. Covert ops were really important in World War I and World War II, too.

Before the CIA existed, there was the Office of Strategic Services, which did a lot of secret missions during World War II. They worked in Europe and Asia, and some famous missions were Operation Ajax and Operation Anthropoid.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union used covert ops a lot. They wanted to push their own goals without starting a big war. Some famous secret missions were the CIA’s Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba and the Soviet support to overthrow Afghanistan’s government in 1978. Covert ops really affected world politics and how countries planned their military actions.

Famous covert ops that changed history

Several covert ops stand out for their impact on history and their daring execution. Here are a few examples:

Operation Mincemeat (WWII): This British intelligence operation involved planting false information on a dead body to deceive the Germans about the location of the upcoming Allied invasion of Europe. The ruse was successful, leading the Germans to divert their forces away from the actual invasion site.

Operation Neptune Spear (2011): This high-stakes U.S. Navy SEAL mission resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.

Iranian Hostage Rescue (1980): Known as Operation Eagle Claw, this daring U.S. military mission aimed to rescue 52 American hostages held in Iran. Unfortunately, the operation ended in failure, resulting in the deaths of eight American service members and further damaging U.S.-Iran relations.

operation mincemeat covert ops
Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu, two of the British intelligence officers involved in the planning of Operation Mincemeat, shown in front of the vehicle transporting the body of Glyndwr Michael for pick up by submarine.

The role of clandestine missions in modern warfare

In today’s complex global landscape, covert ops continue to play a vital role in military strategy. These missions allow nations to achieve their objectives while minimizing the risk of escalation or negative public perception.

Engaging in secret operations can be helpful when fighting against things like terrorists or cyber attacks, which regular military force might not be able to stop easily. But, these ops can also bring up questions about what is right and wrong. That’s because they usually involve skirting the law – or at least the line of the law, and they might not be sanctioned if the wider public knew about that. Because of that, the true nature of a covert operation may remain hidden for years or even decades, leaving the public in the dark about the actions taken in their name.

The lasting impact of veiled assignments

Throughout history, undercover missions played a significant role in shaping the course of wars and international relations. These secretive missions, while risky and sometimes controversial, have allowed nations to achieve strategic victories and advance their interests in ways that conventional warfare cannot. As the nature of global conflict evolves, it’s safe to say clock and dagger situations will continue to be a critical part of military strategy.

Understanding the details of covert ops proves the opportunity to dive deep into complicated and sometimes confusing world of international conflicts. By studying the successes and failures of past covert operations, we can better appreciate the strategic, tactical, and ethical considerations that come into play when nations choose to operate in the shadows. Learning from these experiences can help our armed forces be ready for whatever happens next in the world of war.