The following job description, taken from the U.S. Government Organization Manual, 1959-1960, page 143, is a typical government definition of the term, "special operations". It also defines the work I was in from 1955 through 1963, whether it was with the Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Special Operations).
"Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Special Operations) is the principal staff assistant to the Secretary of Defense in the functional fields of intelligence, counterintelligence (except as otherwise specifically assigned), communications security, Central Intelligence Agency relationship and special operations, and psychological warfare operations. He performs functions in his assigned fields of responsibility such as: (1) recommending policies and guidance governing Department of Defense planning and program development; (2) reviewing plans and programs of the military departments for carrying out approved policies and evaluating the administration and management of approved plans and programs as a basis on which to recommend to the Secretary of Defense necessary actions to provide for more effective, efficient, and economical administration and operations and the elimination of duplication; (3) reviewing the development and execution of plans and programs of the National Security Agency and related activities of the department of Defense; and (4) developing Department of Defense positions and providing for Department of Defense support in connection with special operations activities of the United States Government. In the performance of his functions, he coordinates actions, as appropriate, with the military departments and other Department of Defense agencies having collateral or related functions and maintains liaison with the Department of State, the Director of Central Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States Information Agency, and other United States and foreign government organizations on matters in his assigned fields of responsibility. In the course of exercising full staff functions, he is authorized to issue instructions appropriate to carrying out policies approved by the Secretary of Defense for his assigned fields of responsibility. He also exercises the authority vested in the Secretary of Defense relating to the direction and control of the National Security Agency and related activities of the Department of Defense. The Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Special Operations) is appointed by the Secretary of Defense."