None of this is to say that any particular program of direct strikes caused the CIA to miss catching the Arab Spring. It these sorts of programs, however, that form a larger trend of the Agency adopting “traditional military actions and operations” to an unprecedented degree, and it has been to the detriment of the Agency’s unique function and competence. The Agency’s agility may have critical in bringing military assets rapidly to bear in the dynamic days immediately after September 11, 2001. Long term, however, these programs are largely unnecessary. The military is perfectly capable of operating these programs effectively while maintaining their security. It has been reported extensively that JSOC maintains its own capabilities to conduct such actions and maintain OPSEC. Indeed, according to Col. Charles Beckwith in his book about the founding of Delta Force, the constituent units within JSOC were originally stood up to conduct precisely these kinds of operations, such as the direct action raid in Abbottobad now so famous, and they were always understood to be operating under military authorities. It is somewhat puzzling that after 30 years, it appears that someone only recently realized many central JSOC activities apparently need to “borrow” authorities from CIA.
Regardless of whether it is JSOC military activity under CIA authorities, or CIA seconding the military’s capabilities to conduct an operation, undoubtedly these practices have fueled the critics of the Agency who see it as becoming “too militarized”. This is too clumsy a phrase to serve as effective critique. The problem is really somewhat different. The war on terror has reportedly seen the CIA adopt a “plug and play” approach to its paramilitary operations, hiring large numbers of former military personnel of all stripes to do their job just as if they were still in uniform.
Subversion, sabotage, psychological operations, the manipulation of our enemy’s perception of his world and even of his own organization, have all taken a back seat to kinetic strikes. The results have been less than impressive, and the value added, arguably, has been nil.
(B)Covert action means an 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, but does not include:(Continued at the link below)
(1) Activities the primary purpose of which is to acquire intelligence, traditional counterintelligence activities, traditional activities to improve or maintain the operational security of United States Government programs, or administrative activities;
(2) Traditional diplomatic or military activities or routine support to such activities;...
The definition goes on to list other exceptions, but what primarily concerns us are the main definition and the first two exemptions. It is also noteworthy that only the CIA, unless during a time of declared war, or under jurisdiction The War Powers Act, can perform covert action.