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Although there had been some covert U.S. operations in Indochina during Truman's administration, as set forth in NSC directives 10/2 and 10/5, which had been continued by Eisenhower, the approval of NSC 5412 on March 15, 1954, marked the official recognition and sanctioning of a much larger program of anti-Communist activities in Indochina and throughout the world.
NSC 5412, "National Security Council Directive on Covert Operations," continued to be the U.S. Government's basic directive on covert activities until the Nixon administration's NSC 40 in 1970.
NSC 5412 defined "covert operations" as "...all activities conducted pursuant to this directive which are so planned and executed that any U.S. Government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons and that if uncovered the U.S. Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them. Specifically, such operations shall include any covert activities related to: propaganda, political action; economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition; escape and evasion and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states or groups including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups; support of indigenous and anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world; deceptive plans and operations; and all activities compatible with this directive necessary to accomplish the foregoing. Such operations shall not include: armed conflict by recognized military forces, espionage and counterespionage, nor cover and deception for military operations."
NSC 5412 was declassifed in 1977, and is located at the National Archives, RG 273.
The NSC 5412/2 Special Group, often referred simply as the Special Group, was an initially secret, but later public, subcommittee of the United States National Security Council responsible for coordinating government covert operations. Presidential Directive NSC 5412/2, issued December 28, 1954, assigned responsibility for co-ordination of covert actions to representatives of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the President respectively.
The Federation of American Scientists list of national security documents for the Eisenhower administration does not show a directive 5412/2. It does however show a 5412/1 with a classified title (one of only three such documents for the entire administration).
A National Security Archive chronology of the Bay of Pigs Invasion indicates a membership in December 1960 Allen Dulles, Chairman of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); Gordon Gray, National Security Advisor; James Douglas, Acting Secretary of Defense; and Livingston T. Merchant, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.
The covert actions oversight group was renamed the 303 Committee after National Security Action Memorandum No. 303 on June 2, 1964. McGeorge Bundy, National Security Advisor, became Chairman for the committee.
The successor to the Special Group was the 40 Committee.
The 40 Committee was a division of the Executive branch of the United States government whose mandate was to review proposed major covert actions. In 1970 the 40 Committee played a major role in so called "Track I" efforts to prevent Salvador Allende from taking office following the Chilean popular vote of September 4, 1970.
The Committee was a successor to earlier covert oversight and planning groups, variously known as the Special Group 10/2, 5412 Panel, NSC 5412/2 Special Group, Special Group (until 1964), 303 Committee (to 1969), existing since 1954 at the latest.
On February 18, 1976, 40 committee was replaced by the Operations Advisory Group, in accordance with Executive Order 11905 issued by Gerald Ford. The new group was composed of the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs, the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Director of Central Intelligence.
The following year, on May 13, 1977 President Jimmy Carter issued Executive Order 11985 which updated the previous order such that the Operations Advisory Group thereafter would be known as the NSC Special Coordination Committee
Under the Reagan administration, the Special Coordination Committee was replaced by the National Security Planning Group which included the Vice-President, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Assistant for National Security Affairs, and the Director of the CIA.
In 2002–2003, during the Bush Administration, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith created a special-purpose group encompassing and focusing on all military and intelligence efforts involving Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Near East countries, as well as all activities falling under the rubric of the Global War on Terror. This group has been said to have been responsible for stovepiping selective raw intelligence data, bypassing analysis processes as well as bypassing customary cooperation and coordination with NSA, Mossad, and other intelligence entities in order to shape decisions as to the war with Iraq. Its functions were morphed in the Office of Special Plans, which was subsequently investigated for manipulations of intelligence, unlawful activities, and espionage.