Tomorrow is an ignominious anniversary. On that date in 1961, about 1,400 American-trained Cuban exiles launched a secret invasion of Cuba in an effort to overthrow the Fidel Castro regime. After landing on the island’s southern coast at the Bay of Pigs, the invading guerrillas were routed by government forces. The humiliating disaster gave rise to a rare, publicly available Justice Department analysis of presidential power to wage covert war.
In the aftermath of bloody and inconclusive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has relied heavily on covert operations. Drone strikes, the signature tools of the “light footprint” war the United States is increasingly fighting, have devastated Al Qaeda’s senior leadership. Special forces raids have produced key intelligence coups. The CIA has steadily transformed itself from an organization combating the intelligence efforts of foreign countries into a key operational tool in the fight against terror groups. But many observers worry that such tactics create more enemies than they kill and lack the accountability of more overt military conflict. As the long war continues, covert action is the new normal.