In “Covert Communication: The Intelligibility and Credibility of Signaling in Secret,” Austin Carson and Keren Yarhi-Milo introduce a theoretical framework to illustrate how leaders can use covert action to signal their state’s resolve to local allies and strategic adversaries. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that states intervene covertly to conceal their role in military operations and minimize the amount of information they reveal to third parties, the authors argue—and demonstrate empirically via case studies of Soviet and American interventions in Angola and Afghanistan during the Cold War—that states can and do use covert action to send intelligible and credible messages regarding their intentions. These actions take place on an international political “backstage” wherein “states share a basic communicative grammar regarding activity in the covert realm that allows leaders to send targeted messages to external actors” (125). Overall, the article is persuasive, clear, and makes a new and important contribution to the bourgeoning literature on covert action. The case studies are intriguing and incorporate a variety of recently declassified documents. As a foundational piece on covert signaling, the article raises three important questions that could pose fruitful avenues for future research.

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