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Definition The term “clandestine” in military operations refers to actions or activities that are intentionally conducted in secret, often with an aim to gather intelligence or engage in covert actions. The purpose of such operations is to maintain secrecy and avoid detection or attribution to the responsible party. Examples of clandestine activities include espionage, specialized […]


The term “clandestine” in military operations refers to actions or activities that are intentionally conducted in secret, often with an aim to gather intelligence or engage in covert actions. The purpose of such operations is to maintain secrecy and avoid detection or attribution to the responsible party. Examples of clandestine activities include espionage, specialized reconnaissance, and covert sabotage.

Key Takeaways

  1. Clandestine military operations refer to secret, covert, or undercover missions that aim to obtain sensitive information, carry out targeted actions, or achieve strategic objectives while avoiding detection.
  2. These operations often involve the use of specialized tactics, techniques, and equipment that enable operatives to maintain a low profile and avoid detection, such as intelligence gathering, infiltration, and working undercover with local assets or indigenous forces.
  3. As clandestine operations typically require a high level of secrecy and precision, they are most often conducted by specially trained military units or intelligence agencies, like special forces or espionage agents, to ensure operational success and minimize the risk of compromise.


The term “clandestine” holds significant importance in military operations as it refers to actions that are conducted with an element of secrecy and concealment, in order to avoid detection or attention from adversaries.

These operations are crucial for collecting intelligence, carrying out special missions, or performing essential tasks without revealing the military force’s intent, presence, or capabilities to the enemy.

By employing clandestine tactics, military forces can successfully achieve strategic objectives, protect sensitive information, and maintain the element of surprise, ultimately contributing to operational security and the overall success of a mission.


Clandestine operations play a pivotal role in military strategy, predominantly to gain an upper hand in conflicts or to protect sensitive information from being exposed. The purpose of these covert undertakings is to achieve predetermined objectives while reducing the risk of exposing involved personnel or operational intent. By maintaining a high degree of secrecy and stealth, these operations can gather valuable intelligence, engage in sabotage or subversion, and support friendly forces indirectly.

Employing clandestine tactics ensures that the opposition remains unaware of what is transpiring, providing a strategic advantage to the planner and allowing for the successful execution of the mission. The use of undercover agents, specialized equipment, and secure communication methods are essential elements in carrying out clandestine operations effectively. Agents may be required to blend seamlessly into foreign societies, using false identities to acquire crucial data without causing suspicion.

Additionally, employing specialized equipment such as suppressed firearms or surveillance devices can facilitate these covert actions without alerting adversaries. Encryption and secure communication channels further protect sensitive data and issued orders. As these operations often entail considerable risk, strict emphasis is placed on maintaining operational security, ensuring that the covert efforts remain concealed and undetected while achieving military objectives.

Examples of Clandestine

Operation Ivy Bells (1971-1981): This was a clandestine joint operation conducted by the United States Navy and the National Security Agency (NSA) during the Cold War. The goal of the operation was to place wiretaps on Soviet communication cables under the Sea of Okhotsk to gather intelligence and monitor Soviet naval activities. The operation remained secret until 1981 when it was compromised due to espionage by a former NSA employee.

Operation Ajax (1953): This was a covert operation conducted by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and British Intelligence (MI6) to overthrow Iran’s then-Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. It was orchestrated in response to Mosaddegh’s efforts to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, which threatened Western oil interests. The operation successfully removed Mosaddegh from power and restored the Iranian monarchy under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Israeli Operation Wrath of God (1972-1988): This was a covert operation carried out by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad in response to the Munich massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympics. The objective of the operation was to track down and eliminate members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, who were responsible for the kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. The operation continued for several years and involved a series of clandestine assassinations and bombings targeting individuals linked to the terror attack.

Clandestine Military Operations FAQ

1. What are clandestine military operations?

A clandestine military operation refers to a secret or covert action conducted by military forces to achieve a specific objective, often without detection or direct attribution to the government or military organization conducting the operation.

2. Why are clandestine operations conducted by military forces?

Clandestine military operations allow governments and military organizations to pursue their strategic objectives while maintaining plausible deniability, reducing the risk of open conflict, and minimizing negative public opinion or international backlash.

3. What is the difference between clandestine and covert operations?

Although the terms “clandestine” and “covert” are often used interchangeably, they have slightly different meanings. Clandestine operations emphasize secrecy in their execution, focusing on remaining undetected during the operation. Covert operations, on the other hand, prioritize concealing the identity of the sponsor, making it difficult to attribute their involvement even if the operation is detected.

4. What are some examples of clandestine military operations?

Examples of clandestine military operations include special reconnaissance missions, intelligence gathering, sabotage, targeted strikes, and support to resistance movements. Specific historical examples include Operation Entebbe, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound by U.S. Navy SEALs, and various activities conducted by Special Operations Forces during conflicts around the world.

5. What personnel and units are typically involved in clandestine operations?

Clandestine operations are typically carried out by specialized units and personnel, such as Special Operations Forces, intelligence agencies, and dedicated support elements. These individuals are often highly trained in various aspects of unconventional warfare, including reconnaissance, communications, demolitions, and resistance support.

Related Military Operation Terms

  • Covert operations
  • Classified information
  • Intelligence gathering
  • Secret missions
  • Undercover agents

Sources for More Information

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