Blowback (intelligence)

Blowback is a term originating from within the (American) Intelligence community, denoting the unintended consequences, the unwanted (side-)effects or suffered repercussions of a covert operation that fall back on those responsible for the aforementioned operations. 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 publicin whose name the intelligence agency actedare unaware of the effected secret attacks that provoked revenge (counter-attack) against them.[1]


Originally, blowback was CIA internal coinage denoting the unintended, harmful consequencesto friendly populations and military forceswhen 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 HistoryOverthrow of Premier Mossadeq of IranNovember 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. Recent accounts of how blowback functioned in the War on Terror relation to US and UK intelligence and defense propaganda and became an important issue in a 21st Century media environment are discussed by Dr Emma Louise Briant in her book Propaganda and Counter-terrorism which presents first hand accounts and discussions of deliberate and unintended consequences of blowback, oversight and impacts for the public.[4][5]


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.[6] 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.[7][8][9]

With its takeover of Gaza after the 1967 war with Egypt, Israel hunted down secular Palestinian Liberation Organization factions but dropped the previous Egyptian rulers' harsh restrictions against Islamic activists.[10] In fact, Israel for many years tolerated and at times encouraged Islamic activists and groups as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the PLO and its dominant faction, Fatah.[10][11] Among the activists benefited was Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, who had also formed the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya in 1973, a charity recognized by Israel in 1979. Israel allowed the organization to build mosques, clubs, schools, and a library in Gaza.[10][12]

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.[13]

Syria and ISIS

During the Syrian Civil War, United States and Saudi Arabia supported and aided anti-Assad armed groups.[14][15] Some of those groups later shifted loyalty to ISIS.[16]

Yevno Azef and Russian Imperial secret police

Yevno Azef organized assassinations including those of the director of Imperial Russia's police and later Minister of the Interior Vyacheslav Plehve (1904), the Tsar's uncle Grand Duke Sergius Alexandrovich (1905). By 1908, Azef was playing the double role of a revolutionary assassin and police spy who received 1000 rubles a month from the authorities.

See also

Look up blowback in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.



  1. Blowback The Nation
  2. Risen, James (18 June 2000). "WORD FOR WORD/ABC'S OF COUPS; Oh, What a Fine Plot We Hatched. (And Here's What to Do the Next Time)". The New York Times.
  3. IngentaConnect American Militarism and Blowback: The Costs of Letting the Pentagon Dominate Foreign Policy
  4. Briant, Emma (2015). Propaganda and Counter-terrorism: Strategies for Global Change. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-9105-6.
  5. Briant (April 2015). "Allies and Audiences Evolving Strategies in Defense and Intelligence Propaganda". The International Journal of Press/Politics. 20 (2): 145–165.
  6. Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose (1994) "Smugglers linked to Contra arms deals," The Telegraph plc.
  7. Blowback, or Impossible Dilemmas of Declining Powers Immanuel Wallerstein
  8. [Hamas History Tied To Israel] United Press International
  9. 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.""
  10. 1 2 3 Higgins, Andrew (2009-01-24). "How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas". Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  11. 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 . . ."
  12. Tabraz, S.S. (2006). "'Homecoming' of Hamas". Economic and Political Weekly. 41 (7): 566–568. JSTOR 4417817.
  13. Context of '1986-1992: CIA and British Recruit and Train Militants Worldwide to Help Fight Afghan War', History Commons.
  14. Official says CIA-funded weapons have begun to reach Syrian rebels; rebels deny receipt, CNN.
  15. Saudi edges Qatar to control Syrian rebel support, Reuters.
  16. 'Thank God for the Saudis': ISIS, Iraq, and the Lessons of Blowback, The Atlantic.
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