State secrecy, public assent, and representational practices of U.S. covert action

Oliver Kearns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous theories of state secrecy have presumed that its role in public discourse is shaped by the intent and practices of the state. This is reflected in scholarship on U.S. covert action representations, which theorises that secrecy is articulated by the state such that it rationalises covertness as an exceptionalist act, prompting assent towards U.S. violence. Through the example of a 2014 drone strike in Pakistan, the article argues that contemporary U.S. counterterrorism breaches this analytic: covertness is not articulated by the state but is inferred from state silence and rumours and debris in news representations. This suspected secrecy frames ambiguities in the reported public evidence, highlighting the uncertain scope and purpose of that secrecy and undermining any legitimisation of covert action. An ethical orientation focused on the enigmatic quality of covert operations comes closer to restless acquiescence than complicity with state discourse, re-framing the question of contesting state violence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-290
Number of pages15
JournalCritical Studies on Security
Issue number3
Early online date26 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • secrecy
  • representation
  • covert action
  • dissent
  • drone strikes
  • legitimisation


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