Secrecy's subjects: Special operators in the US shadow war

Elspeth Van Veeren*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

1 Citation (Scopus)
71 Downloads (Pure)


This article sets out a framework for studying the power of secrecy in security discourses. To date, the interplay between secrecy and security has been explored within security studies most often through a framing of secrecy and security as a 'balancing' act, where secrecy and revelation are binary opposites, and excesses of either produce insecurity. Increasingly, however, the co-constitutive relationship between secrecy and security is the subject of scholarly explorations. Drawing on 'secrecy studies', using the US 'shadow war' as an empirical case study, and conducting a close reading of a set of key memoirs associated with the rising practice of 'manhunting' in the Global War on Terrorism (GWoT), this article makes the case that to understand the complex workings of power within a security discourse, the political work of secrecy as a multilayered composition of practices (geospatial, technical, cultural, and spectacular) needs to be analysed. In particular, these layers result in the production and centring of several secrecy subjects that help to reproduce the logic of the GWoT and the hierarchies of gender, race, and sex within and beyond special operator communities ('insider', 'stealthy', 'quiet', and 'alluring' subjects) as essential to the security discourse of the US 'shadow war'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-414
Number of pages29
JournalEuropean Journal of International Security
Issue number3
Early online date21 Oct 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Oct 2019



  • secrecy
  • Global War on Terrorism
  • shadow war
  • gender, race and sex
  • memoirs

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