National Strategy Information Center 1995
Transaction Publishers 2001
Roy Godson may be a Georgetown University Professor, but his knowledge of the intelligence world is clearly more than academic.He was himself implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal, an episode that informs the analysis in this book.
Godson divides intelligence into four main elements, collection, analysis, covert action and counter-intelligence. The latter two areas, arguably the murkiest of all, form his subject matter. Each has two sections devoted to it, one considering the history of the discipline since 1945, and another setting out its basic principles.
Covert action is essentially the art of clandestine political intervention in the affairs of other states. (It's worth noting that the author's father, Joe Godson, has been accused of covert intevention in British politics during his time as Labour attache in London in the 1950s.)
Godson considers methods ranging from covert funding, propaganda and disinformation, to terrorism, guerrilla warfare and coups d'etat.
He argues that the moral test for covert action is whether the domestic public would accept it if it knew about it.He acknowledges US support for authoritarian regimes, but claims that the US has been a democratising influence on them.
His examples of the most nefarious covert action practises are usually drawn from the actions of non-American agencies. His discussion of terrorism, for example, never considers whether that term could be applied to any US-sponsored activities.
Godson's verdict on Iran-Contra is that it failed because the President was not prepared to defend support for the Contras in Congress. (Other Iran-Contra veterans associated with the neo-conservative movement have reportedly drawn a different lesson, that covert action can successfully be prosecuted without Congressional knowledge.)
Iran-Contra is also cited as an example of the dangers of using covert action as a half-measure when more overt alternatives are unpalatable. This judgement may well be relevant to current US debates about covert action in the Middle East.
In his discussion of counter-intelligence, Godson argues for 'offensive counter-intelligence' that does not merely catch spies, but turns them in order to manipulate the perceptions of their masters. This emphasis clearly overlaps with the propaganda/disinformation aspects of covert action.
Godson warns of the dangers of disinformation finding its way back into the US public sphere. Again, this is interesting given the authors closeness to neo-conservative circles that have been at best courting this danger over Iraq, and at worst running covert actions against the American people.
Dirty Tricks or Trump Cards is not a balanced portrait of US activities, but it is a remarkable insight, from an intelligence practitioner, into the range of political interventions of which intelligence agencies are capable.