on September 26, 2002
Stephen Knott starts this fast paced book by recounting the myth that covert operations in America began with the Cold War, and searches for the truth or falsity of this belief. Then Knott recounts the history of covert operations in America, beginning during the Revolutionary war with George Washington. Knott points out how the founding fathers understood the value of secrecy and espionage run by the executive branch to maintain secrecy and deniability.
Knott explains how Washington created a contingency fund to pay for spies and secret diplomacy. Jefferson bribed Indians to gain territory and started to overthrow the Pasha of the Barbary pirates. Madison planned covert operations to gain Spanish Florida, to gain land, stop Indian attacks, and get Spain out of North America. Then Knott describes the efforts of Joel Poinsett for President Madison in Argentina and Chile where he tried to incite independence from Spain, and cut down the influence of the British. Eventually Poinsett worked in Mexico on behalf of President Monroe. Andrew Jackson sent Robert Anthony to Mexico to try and get Texas, to help protect New Orleans. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln supported covert efforts throughout Europe and Canada supporting the Union through propaganda in newspapers.
Knott concludes the book by showing how during the nineteen-seventies, congressmen wanted to control covert operations and set up a congressional oversight in the belief that this is what the founding fathers would have wanted. But, as we have seen, the founding fathers believed in covert operations with no congressional oversight, because even then congress could not keep a secret. Knott's book is full of surprising anecdotes detailing the use of covert operations by the founding fathers.