How far would the CIA and the military’s elite Special Operations units go to avoid political oversight for their covert activities?

To the end of the world, it seems.

Congress is suspecting that the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) haven’t been transparent when it comes to briefing lawmakers about their covert operations. More specifically, lawmakers are concerned that JSOC hasn’t been properly categorizing Advance Force Operations (AFO) and Operational Preparation of the Battlefield (OPB) missions.

Legally, AFO and OPB can both be considered as covert or clandestine action. As such, the CIA and JSOC are bound by law to brief Congress about any ongoing AFO or OPB operations.

A concept first developed in the 1990s by Delta Force, AFO is conducted in countries of interest that could become future areas of operations. AFO units deploy to the country and conduct OPB. What would this mean today? For example, a Delta team from G Squadron deploying to an eastern European country that could be attacked by Russia and taking ‘atmospherics’; or an Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) team deploying inside Iran and setting up safe houses.

The units that specialize in AFO all fall under JSOC — with one technical exception. These units are: Delta Force’s G Squadron, SEAL Team 6’s Black Squadron, the Ranger Reconnaissance Company (RRC) — the RRC nominally falls under the 75th Ranger Regiment — and the Intelligence Support Activity (ISA).

Joint CIA/JSOC team in Afghanistan.

To better understand the issue, one needs to grasp the legal parameters wherein the CIA and the military operate, and also the difference between covert and clandestine action.

The military operates under Title 10 (the National Guard components fall under Title 32 when not mobilized). CIA, on the other hand, operates under Title 50. By design, Title 50 allows for more operational flexibility, an essential ingredient in AFO or OPB operations.