A black operation or black op is a covert operation by a government, a government agency, or a military organization. This can include activities by private companies or groups. Key features of a black operation are that it is clandestine and it is not attributable to the organization carrying it out. The main difference between a black operation and one that is merely clandestine 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 ("false flag" operations).
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, the Central Intelligence Agency, Mossad, MI6, Research and Analysis Wing, MSS, and the intelligence services of other nations.
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"Black" may be used as a generic term for any government activity that is hidden or secret. For example, some activities by military and intel 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.
- In 2007 the Central Intelligence Agency declassified secret records detailing illegal domestic surveillance, assassination plots, kidnapping, and infiltration and penetration of 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 May 2007 ABC News, and later the Daily Telegraph, reported that United States president George W. Bush had authorized the 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 Bush Administration knew of their plans to publish the information and raised no objections.
- Smith, Jr., W. Thomas (2003). Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc. p. 31. ISBN 0-8160-4666-2.
- 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 mispresented in one way or another so as not to be attributed to the people who really engineered it."
- "Tallinn government surveillance cameras reveal black bag operation". Intelnews. December 16, 2008. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
- Rood, Justin (June 15, 2007). "FBI to Boost ‘Black Bag’ Search Ops". ABC News. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
- "The CIA Code Thief Who Came in from the Cold". matthewald.com. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
- "Dirty Secrets Of The "Black Budget"". Business Week. February 27, 2006. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
- Shachtman, Noah (February 1, 2010). "Pentagon’s Black Budget Tops $56 Billion". Wired. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
- Tisdall, Simon (June 22, 2007). "CIA to release cold war 'black files'". The Guardian. Retrieved June 7, 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 Telegraph. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
- Montopoli, Brian (May 23, 2007). "ABC News Comes Under Fire For Iran Report". CBS News. Retrieved January 26, 2014.