The title begs a question – if they are legitimate, why do they need to be justified?  The answer, in part, is because, in today’s highly connected world, covert operations become compromised in much shorter time periods than in the past and, in today’s political environment, the compromise becomes confirmed openly.  The question is really more basic – Does our nation need covert operations, operations which, by nature, are ones which afford “plausible deniability” because they are beyond the realm of what is commonly accepted, legal, or because they do, in fact, shock the conscience.  Why does anyone believe they are covert in the first place?


Are covert operations, operations which are, by definition, ones which we do not intend to be associated with, legitimate means for nations to use to achieve their ends?  I would maintain that, in some circumstances, they are, just as I would argue that, in some circumstances, the authority of the executive, acting as commander in chief in time of war does, in fact, extend to using means to protect our country and its citizens, when the threat is clear and imminent, which go beyond everyday societal norms.  When that decision is taken, however, the decision authority must stand ready to justify the actions taken first to the oversight committees of the Senate and Congress and, ultimately, in the court of American public opinion if need be. 


A further question is, if we confirm as so many in the past have done, that covert ops are legitimate, what are the appropriate means to employ in their conduct.  By their nature, these operations are those which we, as a nation, will disavow association with.  As such, the means must be disavowed as well.  This is a harsh but necessary reality.  Those who serve in this field will never openly where a medal signifying the regard of their nation for service rendered.  They will, or should, never be afforded the pleasure of writing their memoirs detailing their sacrifices in service to their country.  By its nature, such services are not those in which our military should be employed, yet “Title 60” operations continue to be called for. 


This administration needs to decide.  Are covert operations a legitimate means for our nation to pursue its ends in our current international environment.  If the answer is yes, then they must be prepared to answer some additional questions, either in response to their own consciences or in response to leaks.  Were the means you authorized in response to the threats justified.  A direct public response is only necessary when plausible deniability cannot be maintained.  Such an end will occur when full disclosure to the entire select oversight committees, and their complicity, is not assured.  If the threat is indeed imminent and the danger clear, leaks will be minimized and those which do occur can be dealt with in the court of American public opinion.  This is, for better or worse, the poor choice we have in today’s hyper-connected world. 


For those who believe that covert operations are illegitimate and can never be justified in the protection of our nation, I would simply say, ignorance is bliss.