The Special Operations Group (as the unit was initially titled) was in fact controlled by the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA) and his staff at the Pentagon. This arrangement was necessary since SOG needed some listing in the MACV table of organization and the fact that MACV's commander, General William Westmoreland, had no authority to conduct operations outside territorial South Vietnam. This command arrangement through SACSA also allowed tight control (up to the presidential level) of the scope and scale of the organization's operations. The mission of the organization was
"to execute an intensified program of harassment, diversion, political pressure, capture of prisoners, physical destruction, acquisition of intelligence, generation of propaganda, and diversion of resources, against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam."
Colonel Clyde Russell (SOG's first commander) had difficulty in creating an organization with which to fulfill his mission since, at the time, United States Special Forces were unprepared either doctrinally or organizationally to carry it out. At this point the mission of the Special Forces was the conduct of guerrilla operations behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion by conventional forces, not in the conduct of agent, maritime, or psychological operations. Russell expected to take over a fully functional organization and assumed that the CIA (which would maintain a representative on SOG's staff and contribute personnel to the organization) would see the military through any teething troubles. His expectations and assumptions were incorrect. The contribution of the South Vietnamese came in the form of SOG's counterpart organization (which used a plethora of titles, finally ending with the Strategic Technical Directorate [STD]).
After a slow and shaky start, the unit got its operations underway. Originally, these consisted of a continuation of the CIA's agent infiltrations. Teams of South Vietnamese volunteers were parachuted into the north, but the majority were captured soon after their insertions. Maritime operations against the coast of North Vietnam picked up after the delivery of Norwegian-built "Nasty" ClassFast Patrol Boats to the unit, but these operations also fell short of expectations.