A "covert" operation differs from a "clandestine" operation in that the former seeks to hide the identity of the operation's sponsor,
while the latter seeks to hide the operation itself. See Joint Pub 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, 1 December 1989. A clandestine operation, if properly conducted, remains totally concealed. The authorities in the target area never know that anything happened. A covert operation, on the contrary, must have a product. For this reason the service carrying out a covert operation knows from the start that it cannot keep the activity itself a secret; it aims instead for plausible denial.
Historically, the Central Intelligence Agency mounted covert operations, while the Special Forces conducted clandestine operations. Unlike Special Forces clandestine operations, since 1974 CIA covert operations required a Presidential finding and notification to the US Congress.
After the end of the cold war, many covert operations conceived and frequently carried out by the United States seem, in retrospect, to be acts of near folly, if not worse. But these operations were carried out by intelligent well-trained men whose dedication and
patriotism were beyond reproach.