A black operation or black op is a covert or clandestine operation by a government agency, a military unit, or a paramilitary organization; it can include activities by private companies or groups. Key features of a black operation are that it is secret and it is not attributable to the organization carrying it out.
A single such activity may be called a black bag operation; that term is primarily used for covert or clandestine surreptitious entries into structures to obtain information for human intelligence operations. Such operations are known to have been carried out by the FBI, CIA, KGB, Mossad, MI6, ASIS, COMANF, DGSE, AISE, CNI, MSS, R&AW, DGFI, SVR, FSB, and the intelligence services of other nations.
The main difference between a black operation and one that is merely secret is that a black operation involves a significant degree of deception, to conceal who is behind it or to make it appear that some other entity is responsible (e.g. false flag operations).
Black may be used as a generic term for any government activity that is hidden or secret. For example, in the United States, some activities by military and intelligence agencies are funded by a classified “black budget”, of which the details, and sometimes even the total, are hidden from the public and from most congressional oversight.
- The Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior was sunk by French secret services.
- In May 2007, ABC News, and later The Daily Telegraph, reported that United States president George W. Bush had authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to undertake “black operations” in Iran in order to promote regime change as well as to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. ABC News was subsequently criticized for reporting the secret operation, with 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney saying he was “shocked to see the ABC News report regarding covert action in Iran”, but ABC said the CIA and the George W. Bush administration knew of their plans to publish the information and raised no objections.
- In June the same year, the CIA declassified secret records—part of a collection of highly guarded documents called the “Family Jewels”—detailing illegal domestic surveillance, assassination plots, kidnapping, and other “black” operations undertaken by the CIA from the 1950s to the early 1970s. CIA Director General Michael Hayden explained why he released the documents, saying that they provided a “glimpse of a very different time and a very different agency”.
- In October 2016, The Week reported that the Special Group has been used to carry out black operations outside India by the Indian government, with one instance being the training of some members of the militant organization Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
In popular culture
The theme of black operations is a popular genre within fictional literature and Hollywood films. Both the spy film and spy fiction genres have had a significant following for many decades including such films as Apocalypse Now and Zero Dark Thirty and such authors as John le Carré and Tom Clancy. These “black operations” have also been a key point in video games. One such example is Activision’s aptly titled Call of Duty: Black Ops, set in the mid-to-late 1960s, where the player performs covert operations such as carrying out an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro and leading an assault on the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Another example is Half-Life and its expansion pack Opposing Force, which both feature uniformed government forces dubbed “Black Ops” as hostile factions. In the anime and manga series Naruto, a black ops unit called the Anbu features heavily, and several major characters are or were formerly members.
- Smith Jr., W. Thomas (2003). Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency. New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 31. ISBN 0-8160-4666-2.
- “Tallinn government surveillance cameras reveal black bag operation”. Intelnews. December 16, 2008. Retrieved December 3, 2012.
- Rood, Justin (June 15, 2007). “FBI to Boost ‘Black Bag’ Search Ops”. ABC News. Retrieved December 3, 2012.
- “The CIA Code Thief Who Came in from the Cold”. matthewald.com. Retrieved December 3, 2012.
- Popular Electronics, Volume 6, Issue 2–6. Ziff-Davis Publishing Co., Inc. 1974, p. 267. “There are three classifications into which the intelligence community officially divides clandestine broadcast stations. A black operation is one in which there is a major element of deception.”
- Djang, Chu, From Loss to Renewal: A Tale of Life Experience at Ninety, Authors Choice Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, p. 54. “(A black operation was) an operation in which the sources of propaganda were disguised or misrepresented in one way or another so as not to be attributed to the people who really engineered it.”
- “Dirty Secrets Of The “Black Budget“. Business Week. February 27, 2006. Archived from the original on December 31, 2011. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
- Shachtman, Noah (February 1, 2010). “Pentagon’s Black Budget Tops $56 Billion”. Wired. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
- Ross, Brian; Esposito, Richard (May 22, 2007). “Bush Authorizes New Covert Action Against Iran”. ABC News. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
- Shipman, Tim (May 27, 2007). “Bush sanctions ‘black ops’ against Iran”. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
- Montopoli, Brian (May 23, 2007). “ABC News Comes Under Fire For Iran Report”. CBS News. Archived from the original on February 18, 2011. Retrieved January 26, 2014.
- Tisdall, Simon (June 22, 2007). “CIA to release cold war ‘black files‘“. The Guardian. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
- Dubey, Ajit K.; Ahuja, Namrata Biji (October 9, 2016). “Close encounters of the covert kind”. The Week. Retrieved May 11, 2020.
SG has also been used for black ops abroad. During the Indian Peacekeeping Force’s operations in Sri Lanka’s Tamil stronghold of Jaffna, SG provided training to members of the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.