Stephen F. Knott


Knott, Stephen F. "Covert Action Comes Home: Daniel Webster's Secret Operations Against the Citizens of Maine." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 5, no. 1 (Spring 1991): 77-87.

"President John Tyler and his Secretary of State Daniel Webster engaged in one of the most blatant abuses of presidential covert authority in American history. They authorized a covert campaign designed to influence political sentiment within the United States.... The setting for this event involved negotiations over the disputed boundary between the state of Maine and Canada. Secretary of State Daniel Webster was caught in the uncomfortable position of trying to prevent hostilities with Britain over this issue while at the same time to avoid being accused of appeasement.... By influencing public sentiment in Maine, Webster hoped to win the consent of the state's commissioners for compromise, as well as persuade the rest of the nation of the propriety of compromise.... Webster's high risk gamble paid handsome dividends, and his reputation as a giant of nineteenth-century American politics endures to this day."


Knott, Stephen. "Executive Power and the Control of American Intelligence." Intelligence and National Security 13, no. 2 (Summer 1998): 171-176.

Responding to an earlier essay by Loch Johnson -- "The CIA and the Question of Accountability," Intelligence and National Security 12, no. 1 (Jan. 1997): 178-200 -- Knott argues that Congressional involvement in oversight of previously executively controlled secret activities is a phenomenon of the Vietnam-Watergate era. In fact, the author states, "[e]vidence now abounds that Congress has actually wrested control of the CIA away from the executive branch," a circumstance that "fails to recognize a distinction between the highly sensitive and discreet world of clandestine operations and more routine government functions."

Johnson takes issue with Knott's arguments and conclusions in "Intelligence and the Challenge of Collaborative Government," Intelligence and National Security 13, no. 2 (Summer 1998): 177-182. He concludes that Knott's "disdain for the Congress drips from his pen like a corrosive acid that would eat away all vestiges of accountability."

Clark comment: It is in the latter observation -- and this from a writer who accuses the other of hyperbole -- that the real point of friction between Knott and Johnson can be found: This is at heart a dispute over the Constitution's "invitation to struggle," despite Johnson's protestations otherwise.


Knott, Stephen F. "The Great Republican Transformation on Oversight." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 13, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 49-63.

Knott develops the idea of "the abandonment by congressional Republicans of the prnciple of executive control of the nation's intelligence community.... [S]ince taking control of Congress in January 1995, Republican-dominated intelligence committees have strengthened the new oversight regime and displayed an aversion to executive secrecy that would make Frank Church proud....

"The [Anthony] Lake affair demonstrated in bold relief that the traditional Republican defense of the idea that the President should have his own national security 'team' had been abandoned by the party." And with regard to Newt Gingrich's "Iraq Liberation Act of 1998," "[i]n forcing the President to accept congressionally sponsored covert initiatives..., the Republicans have expanded the role of Congress in intelligence oversight to new, ill-defined, and dangerous levels."

[CIA/90s/SummingUp; Oversight][c]

Knott, Stephen F. Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Clark comment: The focus of this work is the use by U.S. presidents of covert operations in approximately the first 100 years (1776-1882) of American history. However, the presidents who served between 1849 and 1861 are not covered. Knott finds that covert operations did not begin with the Cold War, but rather date back to the Founders. The author concludes with a section on modern-day dilemmas surrounding covert activities, and argues that it is the President who is best situated to decide on whether to pursue the covert option in U.S. foreign policy.

Secret and Sanctioned was named one of the "Outstanding Academic Books of 1996," by the editors of Choice, the publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries. Rozell, Choice, Jan. 1997, comments that Knott's "most valuable and well-documented insight is that covert activity has its roots in the origins of the republic, not in the Cold War.... Bolstered by meticulous research, this book stands as an effective challenge to the 'imperial presidency' thesis."

Jeffreys-Jones, I&NS 12.4, concedes that Knott has established that "covert operations are not an invention of the post-World War II 'imperial presidency.'" Nevertheless, the author has failed "to consult adequately the published historical literature," especially "some of the most significant works on the American Constitution," in his arguments regarding the intent of the Founders.

For Cohen, FA 75.5 (Sep.-Oct. 1996), part of the book "is an interesting if fairly conventional account" of covert actions from Washington through Lincoln; the remainder is "a polemic against congressional micromanagement ... of the intelligence community." This latter part is "a rehash of old debates," and the author's "preoccupation with the controversies of the present mars the book's treatment of the past." Nevertheless, the first six chapters represent "a useful account of successful cloak-and-dagger work that predates this century." Similarly, Johnson, APSR 91.1, suggests that "[d]espite the commendable value of his historical research, Knott is on less firm ground when he turns to the modern era."

[CA/90s; Historical/U.S./To1861; Overviews/U.S./90s][c]

Knott, Stephen F. "Thomas Jefferson's Clandestine Foreign Policy." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 4, no. 3 (Fall 1990): 325-355.

"While serving successively as an American envoy to France, Secretary of State, and President of the United States, Jefferson authorized a variety of operations designed to acquire information on the activities of foreign governments; in certain instances, he authorized covert operations intended to influence the workings of those governments. Jefferson stretched the outer limits of presidentially-authorized clandestine activity ... by authorizing a diverse range of covert operations including the bribing of foreign leaders, the toppling of a foreign government, and providing indirect but tangible assistance to insurgents designed to remove the old world powers from the North American continent."


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