In the world of special operations there exist two distinct worlds – clandestine and covert. Most of us have heard these words spoken before, and the majority of people think they are interchangeable.

They absolutely are not.

The world of clandestine operations is that of the typical special operations arena, JSOC included. A clandestine operation simply means something is going to go down pretty soon and all preparation and forewarning of the operation must be in complete secrecy, but it’s okay to say that we did it after the task was completed.

Good examples of this are most SOF raids against high value targets that go down overseas – it is not good combat etiquette to release a press release the night before stating “A Joint U.S. Special Operations task force will launch an operation on the night of June 15th, 2013 to the home of Abu Hamza, a known al-Qaeda financier.” As you can tell, this makes no operational sense.

Examples of clandestine operations:

  • The raid on bin Laden in Pakistan is a perfect example of a clandestine operation. The team trained in secrecy and very few individuals knew about it. If an inkling of information or rumor came out, then UBL would have left Abbottabad way before the helicopters landed. And after our forces killed him we told the world it was us who popped him in his dome, because the need for secrecy had ended.
  • Although the invasion of Iraq was no secret, the world and Saddam knew American forces were massed in Kuwait ready to make the push north. What was clandestine and needed to be kept in secrecy were the SOF operations in Western Iraq, such as the Rangers’ combat jumps, the securing of Haditha Dam, and other operations in the western deserts outside of Tikrit.

The other side of the coin is covert operations. Everything about them must be in secrecy – the preparation, the execution, and the responsibility. The world would see the outcome, but they can never know who was responsible. The political implications could/would be catastrophic, but the cause to undertake the operation must have been paramount. These operations could range anywhere from sabotage (hacking into Iran’s nuclear reactor and causing a meltdown), assassinations, and, most commonly, covert regime change actions.

CIA.svgThis responsibility, of course, falls in the hands of the Central Intelligence Agency and the men and women of the Clandestine Services. Now, in the CIA there are really two types of “shakers and movers” (people getting their hands dirty on the ground). These are the Case Officers, what the American public normally refers to as the typical CIA Spy travelling abroad in secrecy working with local informants to garner intelligence. And then there are the Paramilitary Officers of the Special Activities Division. An organization with only a few hundred officers responsible for tactical paramilitary operations as well as covert political action. Within SAD is the Special Operations Group (SOG), where these paramilitary officers operate out of.

The vast majority of Paramilitary Officers have strong military special operations backgrounds but most have spent a significant time in a JSOC special missions unit (Delta or ST6). There are two types of Paramilitary Operations Officers employed by the CIA: the “blue badgers” and the” green badgers.” Blue badgers are those who are actual CIA employees, who have undertaken the same hiring pipeline as the rest of the CIA employees. Blue badgers (actual CIA employed Paramilitary officers) start off going through “The Farm” the CIAs tradecraft school in Virginia that all new case officers/core collectors attend. Following the 18-month course, they move on to the paramilitary side of the training curriculum at Harvey Point (“The Point”) in North Carolina.  The green badgers are actually contractors of the CIA employed on a temporary basis. Many retired Delta and DEVGRU members get picked up as green badgers to perform paramilitary duties in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

The majority of the stars on the CIA’s Memorial Wall and the Book of Honor are paramilitary officers killed in the line of duty. Some of those names include:

ChiefWilliam “Chief” Carlson: William started off his special operations career in C Co, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Chief was an expert at tactics, weapons, navigation, parachuting, and scuba diving. Moreover, he was a quiet professional always willing to go the extra mile to help his fellow Rangers. Chief left the Rangers in 1988 and joined Special Forces serving with distinction in 1st Special Forces Group in Okinawa, Japan. After several years on an Operational Detachment, Chief was selected to serve in 1st Special Operations Detachment – Delta. While a member of Delta Force, Chief distinguished himself among the Army’s most professional warriors and was called upon to hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan immediately following 9/11.

In 2003, Chief retired from the US Army. Chief had every right to retire peacefully and enjoy his family. Instead, a deep sense of duty and patriotism called him to return to the same unforgiving mountains of Afghanistan to hunt Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network. Chief died doing what he loved and what his nation trained him to do. Chief was killed in action by terrorists on October 25, 2003. He was serving as a member of a joint Central Intelligence Agency/Special Operations clandestine operations team tasked with tracking those responsible for 9/11.

freedmanLarry “SuperJew” Freedman: On 23 December 1992, CIA Paramilitary Officer Larry Freedman was the first casualty of the conflict in Somalia. Freedman was a former Army Delta Force operator and Special Forces soldier. Freedman served in Vietnam for two years and earned two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart and then served in every conflict that America was involved in both officially and unofficially. Freedman was killed while conducting special reconnaissance in advance of the entry of U.S. military forces into Somalia. His mission was completely voluntary, as it required entry into a very hostile area without any support. His actions provided US forces with crucial intelligence in order to plan their eventual amphibious landing. Freedman was awarded the Intelligence Star on 5 January 1993 for his heroic actions. He served in the Vietnam War, the Iran Hostage Rescue, Nicaragua, Grenada in 1983, Libya, Panama in 1989, the Gulf War, and Somalia.

muellerChristopher Mueller: Mueller enlisted in the Navy in 1991 and was subsequently accepted into the SEAL program, from which he graduated in November 1993, and was assigned to Coronado, CA. In his time in the SEALs, Mueller trained foreign forces throughout the Pacific Rim including Korea, Thailand and Australia. After leaving the Navy in 1998 to attend college at UCSD, he was hired by the CIA in late 2002/early 2003 as a Paramilitary Operations Officer. His first deployment was to Iraq during the invasion in March of 2003. After Iraq he was deployed to Afghanistan from May to June in 2003, and then a second time to Afghanistan later that year in September 2003. He lost his life fighting side-by-side next to fellow paramilitary officer William Carlson on October 25, 2003.

Tyson NickTyson C. Nick: In December of 2012, SGM (Retired) Tyson Nick was killed in action repelling an enemy attack in Jalalabad, Afghanistan while attempting to save a downed soldier. Tyson recently retired after 24 years of service with the 1st Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and Delta Force. He was contracting with the CIA at the time of his death.

SGM T. Nick left behind a wife and three children, including a two year old son. A trust fund has been established called the Tyson Nick Memorial Trust at Regions Bank in Raleigh.

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This article was written by Iassen Donov for


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