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Blowback (intelligence)

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Title: Blowback (intelligence)  
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Blowback (intelligence)

Blowback is unintended consequences of a covert operation that are suffered by the aggressor. To the civilians suffering the blowback of covert operations, the effect typically manifests itself as “random” acts of political violence without a discernible, direct cause; because the public—in whose name the intelligence agency acted—are unaware of the effected secret attacks that provoked revenge (counter-attack) against them.[1]


  • Etymology 1
  • Examples 2
    • Nicaragua and Iran-Contra 2.1
    • Israel and Hamas 2.2
    • Afghanistan and Al Qaeda 2.3
    • Syria and ISIS 2.4
  • See also 3
    • People 3.1
  • References 4


Originally, blowback was CIA internal coinage denoting the unintended, harmful consequences—to friendly populations and military forces—when a given weapon is used beyond its purpose as intended by the party supplying it. Examples include anti-Western religious figures (e.g. Osama bin Laden) who, in due course, attack foe and sponsor; right-wing counter-revolutionaries who sell drugs to their sponsor’s civil populace (see CIA and Contras cocaine trafficking in the US); and banana republic juntas (see Salvadoran Civil War) who kill American reporters or nuns (e.g. Dorothy Kazel).

In formal print usage, the term blowback first appeared in the Clandestine Service History—Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran—November 1952–August 1953, the CIA's internal history of the 1953 Iranian coup d'état, sponsored by the US and UK, which was published in March 1954.[2][3] Blowback from this operation would indeed occur with the Iranian Revolution and the Iran hostage crisis.


Nicaragua and Iran-Contra

In the 1980s blowback was a central theme in the legal and political debates about the efficacy of the Reagan Doctrine, which advocated public and secret support of anti-Communist counter-revolutionaries. For example, by secretly funding the secret war of the militarily-defeated, right-wing Contras against the left-wing Sandinista government of Nicaragua, which led to the Iran-Contra Affair, wherein the Reagan Administration sold American weapons to US enemy Iran to arm the Contras with Warsaw Pact weapons, and their consequent drug-dealing in American cities.[4] Moreover, in the case of Nicaragua v. United States, the International Court of Justice ruled against the United States’ secret military attacks against Sandinista Nicaragua, because the countries were not formally at war.

Reagan Doctrine advocates, such as the Heritage Foundation, argue that support for anti-Communists would topple Communist régimes without retaliatory consequences to the United States and help win the global Cold War.

Israel and Hamas

Another often cited example is Israeli support of Islamic movements in the 1970s and 1980s intended to weaken the PLO, and leading to the creation of Hamas.[5][6][7]

With its takeover of Gaza after the mosques, clubs, schools, and a library in Gaza.[8][10]

Afghanistan and Al Qaeda

Examples of blowback include the CIA’s financing and support for Afghan insurgents to fight an anti-Communist proxy guerilla war against the USSR in Afghanistan; some of the beneficiaries of this CIA support joined al-Qaeda's terrorist campaign against the United States.[11]

Syria and ISIS

During the Syrian Civil War, United States and Saudi Arabia supported and aided anti-Assad armed groups.[12][13] Some of those groups later shifted loyalty to ISIS.[14]

See also



  • Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, by Chalmers Johnson, ISBN 0-8050-6239-4
  1. ^ Blowback
  2. ^
  3. ^ IngentaConnect American Militarism and Blowback: The Costs of Letting the Pentagon Dominate Foreign Policy
  4. ^ Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose (1994) "Smugglers linked to Contra arms deals," The Telegraph plc.
  5. ^ Blowback, or Impossible Dilemmas of Declining Powers Immanuel Wallerstein
  6. ^ [Hamas History Tied To Israel] United Press International
  7. ^ ANALYSIS Unintended Consequences Pose Risks for Mideast Policy, Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 7, 2009 "Good intentions go only so far in the Middle East, and today's battles often can be traced to choices made by the Israeli government or the Bush administration that ended up backfiring. In the 1980s, for instance, the Israeli government decided to weaken the secular Fatah movement headed by Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat by promoting the rise of Islamic parties as a counterweight, on the theory that Islamic groups would not have the same nationalistic impulses. So Fatah's social networks were dismantled by the Israeli government, but it went easy on Islamic charitable networks. This decision fueled the rise of Hamas as a political force, with its network of health clinics and social services that far exceeded the abilities of the often-corrupt Fatah movement. "There's no question there was a degree of blowback," Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator and the author of "The Much Too Promised Land.""
  8. ^ a b c
  9. ^ Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad Matthew Levitt & Dennis Ross, Yale University Press, 2007, p. 24. "Scholars and historians on both sides . . . agree that from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s the [Muslim] Brotherhood benefited from the Israeli government's support of non-violent Islamist Palestinian factions, believing these groups would function as a useful counterweight to the secular nationalist Palestinian groups . . ."
  10. ^
  11. ^ Context of '1986-1992: CIA and British Recruit and Train Militants Worldwide to Help Fight Afghan War', History Commons.
  12. ^ Official says CIA-funded weapons have begun to reach Syrian rebels; rebels deny receipt, CNN.
  13. ^ Saudi edges Qatar to control Syrian rebel support, Reuters.
  14. ^ 'Thank God for the Saudis': ISIS, Iraq, and the Lessons of Blowback, The Atlantic.
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