Special Activities Division: Wikis


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The Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency

The Special Activities Division (SAD) is a division of the United States Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) National Clandestine Service (NCS) responsible for covert operations, black operations and other "special activities". These include covert political action and paramilitary special operations. Within SAD there are two separate groups, one for paramilitary operations and another for political action.[1] The Political Action Group within SAD is responsible for covert activities related to political influence, psychological warfare, and economic warfare. The rapid development of technology has also added computer or cyberwarfare to their mission. A large covert operation usually has components that involve many or all of these categories, as well as paramilitary operations.[2]

Special Operations Group (SOG) is the element within SAD responsible for paramilitary operations. These operations include collection of intelligence in hostile countries and regions, and all high threat military or intelligence operations that the U.S. government does not wish to be overtly associated with.[3] As such, members of the unit (called Paramilitary Operations Officers) normally do not carry any objects or clothing (e.g., military uniforms) that would associate them with the United States government.[4] If they are compromised during a mission, the government of the United States may deny all knowledge.[5]

SAD/SOG Paramilitary Operations Officers (PMOO) are a majority of the recipients of the Distinguished Intelligence Cross and the Intelligence Star, the two highest medals for valor in the CIA. They also make up the majority of those honored on the Memorial Wall at CIA headquarters.[6]



SAD provides the President of the United States with an option when overt military and/or diplomatic actions are not viable or politically feasible. SAD can be directly tasked by the President of the United States or the National Security Council at the President's direction. This is unlike any other U.S. special mission force. However, SAD/SOG has far fewer members than most of the other special missions units, such as Delta Force or SEAL Team Six.[7][8][9] As the action arm of the NCS, SAD/SOG conducts military direct action missions such as raids, ambushes, sabotage, assassinations [10][11][12][13][14][15][16] and unconventional warfare (e.g. training and leading guerrilla and military units of other countries in combat). SAD/SOG also conducts special reconnaissance, that can be either military or intelligence driven, but is carried out by Paramilitary Operations Officers when in "denied areas". Paramilitary Operations Officers are also fully trained case officers and as such conduct clandestine human intellgence (HUMINT) operations throughout the world.[17] SAD/SOG officers are selected exclusively from the most elite U.S. military units.[9]

The political action group within SAD conducts the deniable psychological operations, also known as black propaganda, as well as "Covert Influence" to effect political change as an important part of any Administration's foreign policy.[1] Covert intervention in a foreign election is the most significant form of political action. This could involve financial support for favored candidates, media guidance, technical support for public relations, get-out-the-vote or political organizing efforts, legal expertise, advertising campaigns, assistance with poll-watching, and other means of direct action. Policy decisions could be influenced by assets, such as subversion of officials of the country, to make decisions in their official capacity that are in the furtherance of U.S. policy aims. In addition, mechanisms for forming and developing opinions involve the covert use of propaganda.[2]

Propaganda includes leaflets, newspapers, magazines, books, radio, and television. All of which are geared to convey the U.S. message appropriate to the region. These techniques have expanded to cover the Internet as well. They may employ officers to work as journalists, recruit agents of influence, operate media platforms, plant certain stories or information in places it is hoped it will come to public attention, or seek to deny and/or discredit information that is public knowledge. In all such propaganda efforts, "black" operations denote those in which the audience is to be kept ignorant of the source; "white" efforts are those in which the originator openly acknowledges himself; and "gray" operations are those in which the source is partly but not fully acknowledged.[2]

Some examples of political action programs were the prevention of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) from winning elections between 1948 and during the late 1960s; overthrowing the governments of Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Indonesia in 1957, as well as providing funds and support to the trade union federation Solidarity following the imposition of martial law in Poland after 1981.[18]

SAD's existence became better known as a result of the "Global War on Terror". Beginning in autumn of 2001, SAD/SOG Paramilitary teams arrived in Afghanistan to hunt down al-Qaeda leaders, facilitate the entry of U.S. Army Special Forces and lead the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan against the ruling Taliban. SAD/SOG units also defeated Ansar al-Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003[19][20] and trained, equipped, organized and led the Kurdish peshmerga forces to defeat the Iraqi army in northern Iraq.[17][19] Despite being the most covert unit in U.S. Special Operations, numerous books have been published on the exploits of CIA paramilitary officers, including Conboy & Morrison (1999) "Feet to the Fire: CIA Covert Operations in Indonesia", 1957-1958 by Kenneth J. Conboy and James Morrison[21] and Warner (1996) "Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America's Clandestine War in Laos.[22] Most experts consider SAD/SOG the premiere force for unconventional warfare (UW), whether that warfare consists of either creating or combating an insurgency in a foreign country.[7][23][24]

In the 2003 book, "Special OPS: America's elite forces in 21st century combat", the author states:

"Highly classified, the SAD is regarded as the preeminent special operations unit in the world. Members are the elite of the elite; "the best period." This results from the sources from which the organization recruits its members: Special missions units (SMUs); such as Delta Force and NSWDG (United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group)..." [25]

There remains some conflict between the National Clandestine Service and the more clandestine parts of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM),[26] such as the Joint Special Operations Command. This is usually confined to the civilian/political heads of the respective Department/Agency. The combination of SAD and USSOCOM units has resulted in some of the most notable successes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.[24] SAD/SOG has several missions. One of these missions is the recruiting, training, and leading of indigenous forces in combat operations.[24] SAD/SOG and its successors have been used when it was considered desirable to have plausible deniability about U.S. support (this is called a covert operation or "covert action").[17] Unlike other special missions units, SAD operatives combine special operations and clandestine intelligence capabilities in one individual.[9] These individuals can operate in any environment (sea, air or ground) with limited to no support. These Paramilitary Operations Officers are from the Special Operations Group (SOG) of SAD.[7]

Covert action

Under U.S. law, the CIA is authorized to collect intelligence, conduct counterintelligence and to conduct covert action by the National Security Act of 1947.[1] President Ronald Reagan issued Executive Order 12333 titled "United States Intelligence Activities" in 1984. This order defined covert action as "special activities", both political and military, that the U.S. government would deny and granted them exclusively to the CIA. The CIA was also designated as the sole authority under the 1991 Intelligence Authorization Act and mirrored in Title 50 of the United States Code Section 413(e).[1][24] The CIA must have a "Presidential Finding" issued by the President of the United States in order to conduct these activities under the Hughes-Ryan amendment to the 1991 Intelligence Authorization Act.[27] These findings are then monitored by the oversight committees in both the U.S. Senate, called the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the U.S. House of Representatives, called the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI).[28]

Every U.S. President since George Washington has used covert action as a part of their broader foreign policy, whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative.[29] A majority of these covert action operations were successful.[30] Most of the operations that were not successful were directed by the President over the objections of the CIA.[30] Some of the most controversial "covert action" programs, such as the Iran-Contra affair, were not primarily the work of the CIA.[31] Covert action programs are also much less expensive than overt political or military actions.[1] The Pentagon commissioned a study to determine whether the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) should conduct covert action paramilitary operations. Their study determined that the CIA should maintain this capability and be the "sole government agency conducting covert action". The DoD found that, even under U.S. law, it does not have the legal authority to conduct covert action, nor the operational agility to carry out these types of missions.[32]

Selection and training

Emblem of the Joint Special Operations Command

SAD/SOG has several hundred officers, almost all of them former members of Special operations forces (SOF) and most from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)[33]. These units include the U.S. Army's Delta Force, Navy DEVGRU, Marine Force Recon, Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, MARSOC, Army Rangers, Air Force Combat Controllers, and Air Force Pararescuemen. The CIA's formal position for these individuals is "Paramilitary Operations Officers". These officers are then fully trained as clandestine intelligence operatives, otherwise known in the vernacular as "spies".[9] The primary strengths of SAD/SOG Paramilitary Officers are agility, adaptability, and deniability. They often operate in small teams, typically with six operators, all with extensive military special operations expertise and specialized skills that do not exist in any other unit.[9] They are also fully trained intelligence case officers with all the clandestine skills to collect HUMINT that come with that training. These officers often operate in remote locations behind enemy lines to carry out direct action (including raids and sabotage), conduct espionage by HUMINT assets, counter-intelligence, guerrilla or unconventional warfare (UW), and hostage rescue missions. There are three elements within the Special Operations Group of SAD, the Air Branch, Maritime Branch, and Ground Branch. Together, SAD/SOG has a complete combined arms covert military. Paramilitary Operations Officers are the core of each branch and routinely move between the branches to gain expertise in all aspects of SOG. [34] As such, Paramilitary Operations Officers are trained to operate in all of these areas and environments. Because these officers are taken from the most elite units in the U.S. military and then provided with extensive additional training to be CIA clandestine intelligence officers and SAD/SOG operatives in all these environments, many U.S. security experts assess them as the elite of the U.S. special missions units.[35]

SAD, like most of the CIA, requires a bachelor's degree to be considered for employment. Many have advanced degrees such as master's and law degrees.[36] While, in the past, candidates have come from notable schools, such as many Ivy League institutions, the majority of recruits today come from middle-class backgrounds.[37] SAD officers are trained at Camp Peary, Virginia (also known as "The Farm") and at privately owned training centers around the United States. They also train its personnel at Harvey Point, a facility outside of Hertford, North Carolina.[38][39] In addition to the twelve months of training in the Clandestine Service Trainee (CST) Program[40] to be a clandestine intelligence officer, Paramilitary Operations Officers are trained to a high level of proficiency in the use and tactical employment of an unusually wide degree of modern weaponry, explosive devices and firearms (foreign and domestic), hand to hand combat, high performance driving (on and off road), apprehension avoidance (including picking handcuffs and escaping from confinement), improvised explosive devices, Military Free Fall parachuting, combat and commercial SCUBA and closed circuit diving, proficiency in foreign languages, entry operations and vehicle hot-wiring, Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), extreme survival and wilderness training, combat EMS medical training, tactical communications and tracking.


World War II

While the World War II Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was technically a military agency under the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in practice it was fairly autonomous of military control and enjoyed direct access to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Major General William Joseph Donovan was the head of the OSS. Donovan was a soldier and Medal of Honor recipient from World War One. He was also a lawyer and former classmate of FDR at Columbia Law School.[41] Like the subsequent CIA, OSS included both human intelligence functions and special operations paramilitary functions. Its Secret Intelligence division was responsible for espionage, while its Jedburgh teams, a joint U.S.-U.K.-French unit, were an ancestor of groups that create guerrilla units, such as the U.S. Army Special Forces and the CIA. OSS' Operational Groups were larger U.S. units that carried out direct action behind enemy lines. Even during WWII, the idea of intelligence and special operations units not under strict military control was controversial. OSS operated primarily in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) and to some extent in the China-Burma-India Theater, while General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was extremely reluctant to have any OSS personnel within his area of operations.

From 1943-1945, the OSS also played a major role in training Kuomintang troops in China and Burma, and recruited other indigenous irregular forces for sabotage as well as guides for Allied forces in Burma fighting the Japanese army. OSS also helped arm, train and supply resistance movements, including Mao Zedong's People's Liberation Army in China and the Viet Minh in French Indochina, in areas occupied by the Axis powers. Other functions of the OSS included the use of propaganda, espionage, subversion, and post-war planning.

One of the greatest accomplishments of the OSS during World War II was its penetration of Nazi Germany by OSS operatives. The OSS was responsible for training German and Austrian commandos for missions inside Nazi Germany. Some of these agents included exiled communists and socialist party members, labor activists, anti-Nazi POWs, and German and Jewish refugees. At the height of its influence during World War II, the OSS employed almost 24,000 people.[42]

OSS Paramilitary Officers parachuted into many countries that were behind enemy lines, including France, Norway and Greece. In Crete, OSS paramilitary officers linked up with, equipped and fought alongside Greek resistance forces against the Axis occupation.

OSS was disbanded shortly after World War II, with its intelligence analysis functions moving temporarily into the U.S. Department of State. Espionage and counterintelligence went into military units. The paramilitary and related functions went into an assortment of ad hoc groups such as the Office of Policy Coordination. Between the original creation of the CIA by the National Security Act of 1947 and various mergers and reorganizations through 1952, the wartime OSS functions generally went into CIA. The mission of training and leading of guerrillas generally stayed in the United States Army Special Forces, but the missions that were required to remain covert went to the paramilitary arm of the CIA. The direct descendant of the OSS' special operations is the CIA's Special Activities Division.


After the Chinese invasion of Tibet in October 1950, the CIA inserted SAD paramilitary teams into Tibet to train and lead Tibetan resistance fighters against the People's Liberation Army of China. These teams selected and then trained Tibetan soldiers in the Rocky Mountains of the United States.[43] The SAD teams then advised and led these commandos against the Chinese, both from Nepal and India. In addition, SAD Paramilitary Officers were responsible for the Dalai Lama's clandestine escape to India, narrowly escaping capture and certain execution by the Chinese government.[43]

According to a book by retired CIA officer John Kenneth Knaus, entitled "Orphans Of The Cold War: America And The Tibetan Struggle For Survival", Gyalo Thondup, the older brother of the 14th (and current) Dalai Lama, sent the CIA five Tibetan recruits. These recruits were then trained in paramilitary tactics on the island of Saipan in the Northern Marianas.[44] Shortly afterwards, the five men were covertly returned to Tibet “to assess and organize the resistance” and selected another 300 Tibetans for training. These activities were very successful in their resistance to the communist Chinese. U.S. assistance to the Tibetan resistance ceased after the 1972 Nixon visit to China, after which the U.S. and Communist China normalized relations.[45]


The CIA sponsored a variety of activities during the Korean War. These activities included maritime operations behind North Korean lines. Yong Do Island, connected by a rugged isthmus to Pusan, served as the base for those operations. These operations were carried out by well-trained Korean guerrillas. The four principal U.S. advisers responsible for the training and operational planning of those special missions were Dutch Kramer, Tom Curtis, George Atcheson and Joe Pagnella. All of these Paramilitary Operations Officer operated through a CIA front organization called the Joint Advisory Commission, Korea (JACK), headquartered at Tongnae, a village near Pusan, on the peninsula’s southeast coast.[46] These paramilitary teams were responsible for numerous maritime raids and ambushes behind North Korean lines, as well as prisoner of war rescue operations. These were the first maritime unconventional warfare units that trained indigenous forces as surrogates. They also provided a model, along with the other CIA-sponsored ground based paramilitary Korean operations, for the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) activities conducted by the U.S. military and the CIA/SAD in Vietnam.[7][46] In addition, CIA paramilitary ground-based teams worked directly for U.S. military commanders, specifically with the 8th Army, on the "White Tiger" initiative. This initiative included inserting South Korean commandos and CIA Paramilitary Operations Officers prior to the two major amphibious assaults on North Korea, including the landing at Inchon.[7]

Cuba (1961)

Map showing the location of the Bay of Pigs

The Bay of Pigs Invasion (known as "La Batalla de Girón", or "Playa Girón" in Cuba), was an unsuccessful attempt by a U.S.-trained force of Cuban exiles to invade southern Cuba with support from U.S. government armed forces, to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The plan was launched in April 1961, less than three months after John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency in the United States. The Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, trained and equipped by Eastern Bloc nations, defeated the exile combatants in three days.

The sea-borne invasion force landed on 17 April, and fighting lasted until 19 April 1961. CIA Paramilitary Operations Officers Grayston Lynch and William "Rip" Robertson led the first assault on the beaches, and supervised the amphibious landings.[47] Four American aircrew instructors from Alabama Air National Guard were killed while flying attack sorties.[47] Various sources estimate Cuban Army casualties (killed or injured) to be in the thousands (between 2,000 and 5,000).[48] This invasion followed the successful overthrow by the CIA of the Mosaddeq government in Iran in 1953[49] and Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954,[50] but was a failure both militarily and politically.[51] Bad Cuban-American relations were made worse by the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.


The National Liberation Army of Bolivia (ELN-Ejército de Liberación Nacional de Bolivia) was a communist guerrilla force that operated from the remote Ñancahuazú region against the pro-U.S. Bolivian government. They were joined by Che Guevara in the mid-1960s.[52][53] The ELN was well equipped and scored a number of early successes against the Bolivian army in the difficult terrain of the mountainous Camiri region.[54] In the late 1960s, the CIA deployed teams of SAD Paramilitary Operations Officers to Bolivia to train the Bolivian army in order to counter the ELN.[54] These SAD teams linked up with U.S. Army Special Forces and Bolivian Special Forces to track down and capture Guevara, who was a special prize because of his leading role in the Cuban Revolution.[54] On October 9, 1967, Guevara was executed by Bolivian soldiers on the orders of CIA paramilitary operative Félix Rodríguez shortly after being captured, according to CIA documents.[55] In his book titled "Shadow Warrior: The CIA Hero of a Hundred Unknown Battles", Rodriguez claims that Guevara was executed over his objections by the Bolivian military on orders from their higher command.[54]

Vietnam and Laos

South Vietnam, Military Regions, 1967

The original OSS mission in Vietnam under Major Archimedes Patti was to work with Ho Chi Minh in order to prepare his forces to assist the United States and their Allies in fighting the Japanese. After the end of World War II, the United States ignored the attempts of Ho Chi Minh to maintain a friendly relationship. The lack of engagement between the U.S. and Vietnamese independence groups that were resisting the return of French colonial control after the end of WWII, angered Vietnamese groups.[56]

CIA Paramilitary Operations Officers trained and led Hmong tribesmen in Laos and Vietnam. This effort was considered a significant success, and the actions of these officers were not known for several years. Air America was the air component of the CIA's paramilitary mission in Southeast Asia and was responsible for all combat, logistics and search and rescue operations in Laos and certain sections of Vietnam.[57] The ethnic minority forces numbered in the tens of thousands and they conducted direct actions mission, led by Paramilitary Operations Officers, against the communist Pathet Lao forces and their North Vietnamese allies.[7]

Elements of SAD were seen in the CIA's Phoenix Program. One component of the Phoenix Program was involved in the capture and assassination of suspected Viet Cong (National Liberation Front - NLF) members.[58] Between 1968 and 1972, the Phoenix Program captured 81,740 National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF or Viet Cong) members, of whom 26,369 were killed. This was a large proportion of U.S. killings between 1969 and 1971. The program was also successful in destroying their infrastructure. By 1970, communist plans repeatedly emphasized attacking the government's "pacification" program and specifically targeted Phoenix agents. The NLF also imposed quotas. In 1970, for example, communist officials near Da Nang in northern South Vietnam instructed their agents to "kill 400 persons" deemed to be government "tyrant[s]" and to “annihilate” anyone involved with the "pacification" program. Several North Vietnamese officials have made statements about the effectiveness of Phoenix.[59][60]

MAC-V SOG (Studies and Observations Group) (which was originally named the Special Operations Group, but was changed for cover purposes), was created and active during the Vietnam War. While CIA was just one part of MAC-V SOG, it did have operational control of some of the programs. Many of the military members of MAC-V SOG joined the CIA after their military service. The legacy of MAC-V SOG continues within SAD's Special Operations Group.[61]

Maritime activities against USSR

In 1973, SAD/SOG built and deployed the USNS Glomar Explorer (T-AG-193), a large deep-sea salvage ship, on a secret operation. This operation was called Project Azorian (erroneously called Project Jennifer by the press). It's mission was to recover a sunken Soviet submarine, K-129, which had been lost in April 1968.[62][63] Once the operation was exposed in the press, the official account was that a mechanical failure caused two-thirds of the submarine to break off during recovery.[64] They did acknowledge that they recovered two nuclear-tipped torpedoes, cryptographic machines and the bodies of six Soviet submariners.[65] However, "Red Star Rogue" claims that all of K-129 was recovered[66] and that the official account was an "elaborate cover-up".[67]

Also in the 1970s, the US Navy, the National Security Agency (NSA) and SAD/SOG conducted Operation Ivy Bells and a series of other missions to place wire taps on Soviet underwater communications cables. These operations were covered in detail in the 1998 book Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage.[68] In the 1985 edition of "Studies in Intelligence", the CIA's in-house journal that outsiders rarely get to see, the CIA describes the "staggering expense and improbable engineering feats" that culminated in the August 1974 mission.[69]


In 1979, the US-backed Anastasio Somoza Debayle dictatorship in Nicaragua fell to the socialist Sandinistas. Once in power, the Sandinistas disbanded the Nicaraguan National Guard, who had committed many human rights abuses, and arrested and executed some of its members. Other former National Guard members helped to form the backbone of the Nicaraguan Counterrevolution or Contra. SAD/SOG paramilitary teams were deployed to train and lead these forces against the Sandinista government. These paramilitary activities were based in Honduras and Costa Rica. Direct military aid by the United States was eventually forbidden by the Boland Amendment of the Defense Appropriations Act of 1983. The Boland Amendment was extended in October 1984 to forbid action by not only the Defense Department, but also to include the Central Intelligence Agency.[70][71]

The Boland Amendment was a compromise because the U.S. Democratic Party did not have enough votes for a comprehensive ban on military aid. It covered only appropriated funds spent by intelligence agencies. Some of Reagan's national security officials used non-appropriated money of the National Security Council (NSC) to circumvent the Amendment. NSC officials sought to arrange funding by third-parties. These efforts resulted in the Iran-Contra Affair of 1987, which concerned Contra funding through the proceeds of arms sales to the Islamic Republic of Iran. No court ever made a determination whether Boland covered the NSC and on the grounds that it was a prohibition rather than a criminal statute, no one was indicted for violating it. Congress later resumed aid to the Contras, totaling over $300 million. The Contra war ended when the Sandinistas were voted out of power by a war-weary populace in 1990.[71][72] Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was re-elected as President of Nicaragua in 2006 and took office again on January 10, 2007.

El Salvador

CIA personnel were also involved in the Salvadoran civil war.[73] Unable to stop the leftist insurgency, CIA paramilitary teams and U.S. Army Special Forces set up and trained counterinsurgency units (some commentators contend these were patterned after the "Phoenix Program" in Vietnam; see Death Squad) to combat FMLN members and sympathizers.[74] Some allege that the techniques used to interrogate prisoners in El Salvador foreshadowed those later used in Iraq and Afghanistan.[75] In fact, when a similar counter-insurgency program was proposed in Iraq, it was referred to as "the Salvador Option".[76] On Sunday, March 15, 2009 an FMLN candidate, Mauricio Funes, was elected President.[77]


Republic of Somalia

SAD sent in teams of Paramilitary Operations Officers into Somalia prior to the U.S. intervention in 1993. On 23 December 1992, Paramilitary Officer Larry Freedman became the first casualty of the conflict in Somalia. Freedman was a former Army Delta Force operator and Special Forces soldier who had served in every conflict that the U.S. was involved in, both officially and unofficially, since Vietnam.[78][78] Freedman was killed while conducting special reconnaissance in advance of the entry of U.S. military forces. His mission was completely voluntary, as it required entry into a very hostile area without any support. Freedman was awarded the Intelligence Star on January 5, 1993 for his "extraordinary heroism".[79]

SAD/SOG teams were key in working with JSOC and tracking high value targets (HVT), known as "Tier One Personalities". Their efforts, working under extremely dangerous conditions with little to no support, led to several very successful joint JSOC/CIA operations.[80] In one specific operation, a Paramilitary Operations Officer codenamed "Condor", working with a CIA Technical Operations Officer from the Directorate of Science and Technology, managed to get a cane with a beacon in it to Osman Ato, a wealthy businessman, arms importer, and Mohammed Aideed, a money man whose name was right below Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s on the Tier One list. Once Condor confirmed that Ato was in a vehicle, JSOC's Delta Force launched a capture operation.

"a Little Bird helicopter dropped out of the sky and a sniper leaned out and fired three shots into the car’s engine block. The car ground to a halt as commandos roped down from hovering Blackhawks [sic], surrounded the car and handcuffed Ato. It was the first known helicopter takedown of suspects in a moving car. The next time Jones saw the magic cane, an hour later, Garrison had it in his hand. “I like this cane,” Jones remembers the general exclaiming, a big grin on his face. “Let’s use this again.” Finally, a tier one personality was in custody."[80] President Bill Clinton withdrew U.S. forces on May 4, 1993.[81]

In June 2006, the Islamic Courts Union seized control of southern Somalia, including the country's capital Mogadishu, prompting the Ethiopian government to send in troops to try to protect the transitional government. In December, the Islamic Courts warned Ethiopia they would declare war if Ethiopia did not remove all its troops from Somalia. Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, leader of the Islamic Courts, called for a jihad, or holy war, against Ethiopia and encouraged foreign Muslim fighters to come to Somalia. At that time, the United States accused the group of being controlled by al-Qaeda, but the Islamic Courts denied that charge.[82]

In 2009, U.S. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) reported that al-Qaeda had been training terrorists in Somalia for years. Until December 2006, Somalia's government had no power outside of the town of Baidoa, 150 miles from the capital. The countryside and the capital were run by warlords and militia groups who could be paid to protect terrorist groups.[82]

CIA officers kept close tabs on the country and paid a group of Somali warlords to help hunt down members of al-Qaeda according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, issued a message calling for all Muslims to go to Somalia.[82] On January 9, 2007, a U.S. official said that ten militants were killed in one air strike.[83]

On 14 September 2009, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a senior al-Qaeda leader in East Africa as well as a senior leader in Shabaab, al Qaeda's surrogate in Somalia, was killed by elements of U.S. Special Operations. According to a witness, at least two AH-6 Little Bird attack helicopters strafed a two-car convoy. Navy SEALs then seized the body of Nabhan and took two other wounded fighters captive.[84][85] JSOC and the CIA have been trying to kill Nabhan for some time including back in January 2007, when an AC-130 Gunship was called in on one attempt. A US intelligence source stated that CIA paramilitary teams are directly embedded with Ethiopian forces in Somalia, allowing for the tactical intelligence to launch these operations.[86] Nabhan was wanted for his involvement in the 1998 United States embassy bombings, as well as leading the cell behind the 2002 Mombasa attacks.[84]


Karzai with Special Forces and CIA Paramilitary in late 2001.

During the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Paramilitary Operations Officers were instrumental in training, equipping and sometimes leading Mujaheddin forces against the Red Army. Although the CIA in general and a Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson in particular, have received most of the attention, the key architect of this strategy was Michael G. Vickers. Vickers was a young Paramilitary Operations Officer from SAD/SOG. The CIA's efforts have been given credit for assisting in ending the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.[87]

SAD paramilitary teams were active in Afghanistan in the 1990s in clandestine operations to locate and kill or capture Osama Bin Laden. These teams planned several operations, but did not receive the order to execute from President Bill Clinton because the available intelligence did not guarantee a successful outcome weighed against the extraordinary risk to the SAD/SOG teams that would execute the mission.[17] These efforts did however build many of the relationships that would prove essential in the 2001 U.S. Invasion of Afghanistan.[17]

In 2001, SAD units were the first U.S. forces to enter Afghanistan. Their efforts organized the Afghan Northern Alliance for the subsequent arrival of USSOCOM forces. The plan for the invasion of Afghanistan was developed by the CIA. The first time in United States history such a large scale military operation was planned by the CIA.[88] SAD, U.S. Army Special Forces and the Northern Alliance combined to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan with minimal loss of U.S. lives. They did this without the need for U.S. military conventional forces.[17][89][90][91]

The Washington Post stated in an editorial by John Lehman in 2006:

"What made the Afghan campaign a landmark in the U.S. Military's history is that it was prosecuted by Special Operations forces from all the services, along with Navy and Air Force tactical power, operations by the Afghan Northern Alliance and the CIA were equally important and fully integrated. No large Army or Marine force was employed".[92]

In a 2008 New York Times book review of Horse Soldiers, a book by Doug Stanton about the invasion of Afghanistan, Bruce Barcott wrote:

"The valor exhibited by Afghan and American soldiers, fighting to free Afghanistan from a horribly cruel regime, will inspire even the most jaded reader. The stunning victory of the horse soldiers — 350 Special Forces soldiers, 100 C.I.A. officers and 15,000 Northern Alliance fighters routing a Taliban army 50,000 strong — deserves a hallowed place in American military history".[93]

Tora Bora

In December 2001, SAD/SOG and the Army's Delta Force tracked down Osama bin Ladin in the rugged mountains near the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan.[94] The combined American special operations task force was largely outnumbered by al-Qaeda forces and they were denied additional US troops by higher command.[95] The task force also requested munitions to block the avenues of egress of bin Ladin, but that request was also denied.[96] The team uncovered evidence in the subsequent site exploitation that bin Ladin's ultimate aim is to obtain and detonate a nuclear device in a terrorist attack.[88]

Obama's Surge

In September 2009, the CIA planned on "deploying teams of spies, analysts and paramilitary operatives to Afghanistan, part of a broad intelligence "surge" ordered by President Obama. This will make its station there among the largest in the agency's history." This presence is expected to surpass the size of the stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars.[97] The station is located at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and is led "by a veteran with an extensive background in paramilitary operations". The majority of the CIA's workforce is located among secret bases and military special operations posts throughout the country.[98][99]

Also in 2009, General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, planned to request an increase in teams of CIA operatives, including their elite paramilitary officers, to join with U.S. military special operations forces. This combination worked well in Iraq and is largely credited with the success of that surge.[98][100] There has been basically three options described in the media: McChrystal's increased counterinsurgency campaign; a counter-terror campaign using special operations raids and drone strikes; and withdrawal. The most successful combination in both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has been the linking up of SAD and military special forces to fight along side highly trained indigenous units. One thing all of these options have in common is a requirement for greater CIA participation. [100]

Camp Chapman attack

On 30 December 2009, a suicide bomber attacked Forward Operating Base (FOB) Chapman, a major CIA base in Khost, and killed seven CIA officers, including the chief of the base, as well as two employees of Blackwater Worldwide [101].[102][103][104][105] Camp Chapman, named for Sergeant First Class Nathan Chapman, is one of the most secretive and highly guarded locations in Afghanistan and a major hub of the Special Activities Division, used for joint operation with military special operations forces and Afghan commandos.[106] On January 14, 2010, Hakimullah Mehsud was killed by a drone stike in response to this attack.[107] On 6 February 2010, President Obama attended a memorial ceremony at the CIA headquarters to honor those killed in the attack. The President said "...to those watching around the world, I say: Let their sacrifice be a summons. To carry on their work. To complete this mission. To win this war".[108]

According to the current and former intelligence officials, Gen McChrystal also had his own preferred candidate for the Chief of Station job, a good friend and decorated CIA paramilitary officer.[109] The officer had extensive experience in war zones, including two previous tours in Afghanistan with one as the Chief of Station, as well as tours in the Balkans, Baghdad and Yemen. He is well known in CIA lore as "the man who saved Hamid Karzai's life when the CIA led the effort to oust the Taliban from power in 2001". President Karzai is said to be greatly indebted to this officer and was pleased when the officer was named chief of station again. According to interviews with several senior officials, this officer "was uniformly well-liked and admired. A career paramilitary officer, he came to the CIA after several years in an elite Marine unit".[110]


On November 5, 2002, a missile launched from a CIA-controlled Predator drone killed al-Qaeda members traveling in a remote area in Yemen. SAD/SOG paramilitary teams had been on the ground tracking their movements for months and called in this air strike.[12] One of those in the car was Al-Haitham al-Yemeni, al-Qaeda's chief operative in Yemen and a suspect in the October 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole. Five other people, believed to be low-level al-Qaeda members, were also killed to include an American named Kamal Derwish.[13][111] Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz called it "a very successful tactical operation" and said "such strikes are useful not only in killing terrorists but in forcing al-Qa'ida to change its tactics".[13]

Haitham, a native of Yemen known for his bomb-making skills, had been tracked in the hope that he would help lead the United States to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. However, with the May 2005 capture in northwest Pakistan of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, thought to be al-Qaeda's No. 3 man, CIA officials worried Haitham would soon go into hiding, and decided to kill him. "It's an important step that has been taken in that it has eliminated another level of experienced leadership from al-Qa'ida," said Vince Cannistraro, former head of counter-terrorism for the CIA and current ABC News consultant. "It will help weaken the organization and make it much less effective."[112][113] Haitham was on the run, pursued by several security forces who were looking for him and Muhammad Hamdi al-Ahdal, another suspect in the USS Cole bombing case.[14]

In 2009, the Obama administration authorized continued lethal operations in Yemen by the CIA.[114] As a result, the SAD/SOG and JSOC have joined together to aggressively target al-Qaeda operatives in that country, both through leading Yemenese special forces and intelligence driven drone strikes.[114] A major target of these operations is Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American born imam with ties to both Nidal Hassan, the alleged Fort Hood attacker, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas 2009 attempted bomber of Northwest Airline flight 253.[115]


Iraq header 2.jpg

SAD Paramilitary teams entered Iraq before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Once on the ground they prepared the battle space for the subsequent arrival of U.S. military forces. SAD teams then combined with U.S. Army Special Forces (on a team called the Northern Iraq Liaison Element or NILE).[19] This team organized the Kurdish Peshmerga for the subsequent U.S.-led invasion. This joint team combined to defeat Ansar al-Islam, a Islamist group allied to al-Qaeda, which several battle-hardened fighters from Afghanistan had joined after the fall of the Taliban, in a battle for control over the northeast of Iraq. This battle was for an entire territory that was completely occupied by Ansar al-Islam and was executed prior to the invasion in February 2003. If this battle had not been as successful as it was, there would have been a considerable hostile force in the rear of the U.S./secular Kurdish force in the subsequent assault on the Iraqi army to the south. The U.S. side was represented by Paramilitary Operations Officers from SAD/SOG and the Army's 10th Special Forces Group. This battle has not been fully covered by the international media, but was a significant direct attack and victory on a key U.S. opponent. It resulted in the deaths of a substantial number of militants and the uncovering of a crude laboratory that had traces of poisons and information on chemical weapons at Sargat.[19][116] Sargat was the only facility that had traces of chemical weapons discovered in the Iraq war.[20][117]

SAD/SOG teams also conducted high risk special reconnaissance missions behind Iraqi lines to identify senior leadership targets. These missions led to the initial assassination attempts against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his key generals. Although the initial air strike against Hussein was unsuccessful in killing the dictator, it was successful in effectively ending his ability to command and control his forces. Other strikes against key generals were successful and significantly degraded the command's ability to react to and maneuver against the U.S.-led invasion force.[19][118] SAD operations officers were also successful in convincing key Iraqi army officers to surrender their units once the fighting started and/or not to oppose the invasion force.[20]

NATO member Turkey refused to allow its territory to be used by the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division for the invasion. As a result, the SAD/SOG, U.S. Army Special Forces joint teams,the Kurdish Peshmerga and the 173d Airborne Brigade were the entire northern force against the Iraqi army during the invasion. Their efforts kept the 5th Corps of the Iraqi Army in place to defend against the Kurds rather allowing them to contest the coalition force coming from the south. This combined U.S. Special Operations and Kurdish force defeated the Iraqi army.[19] Four members of the SAD/SOG team received CIA's rare Intelligence Star for "extraordinary heroism".[20]

The mission that captured Saddam Hussein was called "Operation Red Dawn". It was planned and carried out by JSOC's Delta Force and SAD/SOG teams (together called Task Force 121). The operation eventually included around 600 soldiers from the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division.[119][120] Special operations troops probably numbered around 40. Much of the publicity and credit for the capture went to the 4th Infantry Division soldiers, but CIA and JSOC were the driving force. "Task Force 121 were actually the ones who pulled Saddam out of the hole" said Robert Andrews, former deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. "They can't be denied a role anymore."[119]

CIA paramilitary units continued to team up with the JSOC in Iraq and in 2007 the combination created a lethal force many credit with having a major impact in the success of "the Surge". They did this by killing or capturing many of the key al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq.[121][122] In a CBS 60 Minutes interview, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward described a new special operations capability that allowed for this success. This capability was developed by the joint teams of CIA and JSOC.[123] Several senior U.S. officials stated that the "joint efforts of JSOC and CIA paramilitary units was the most significant contributor to the defeat of al-Qa'ida in Iraq".[121][124]

On October 26, 2008, SAD/SOG and JSOC conducted an operation in Syria targeting the "foreign fighter logistics network" bringing al-Qaeda operatives into Iraq (See 2008 Abu Kamal raid).[125] A U.S. source told CBS News that "the leader of the foreign fighters, an al-Qaeda officer, was the target of Sunday's cross-border raid." He said the attack was successful, but did not say whether or not the al-Qaeda officer was killed.[126] Fox News later reported that Abu Ghadiya, "al-Qa'ida's senior coordinator operating in Syria", was killed in the attack.[127] The New York Times reported that during the raid U.S. forces killed several armed males who "posed a threat".[128]


SAD/SOG has been very active "on the ground" inside Pakistan targeting al-Qaeda operatives for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Predator strikes and along with USSOCOM elements they have been training Pakistani Special Service Group Commandos.[129] Before leaving office, President George W. Bush authorized SAD's successful killing of eight senior al-Qaeda operatives via targeted air strikes.[130] Among those killed were the mastermind of a 2006 plot to detonate explosives aboard planes flying across the Atlantic Rashid Rauf and the man thought to have planned the Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing on 20 September 2008 that killed 53 people.[131][132] Since taking office, President Barack Obama authorized the continuation of these operations and on 23 January, SAD/SOG successfully killed 20 terrorists in a hideout in northwestern Pakistan. Some experts assess that President Obama has been more aggressive in conducting paramilitary operations in Pakistan than his predecessor.[133] A Pakistani security official stated that other strikes killed at least 10 insurgents, including five foreign nationals and possibly “a high-value target” such as a senior al-Qaeda or Taliban official.[134] On February 14, the CIA drone killed 27 taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in a missile strike in south Waziristan, a militant stronghold near the Afghan border where al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri were believed to be hiding[135].

MQ-9 Reaper

In a National Public Radio (NPR) report dated February 3, 2008, a senior official stated that al-Qaeda has been "decimated" by SAD/SOG's air and ground operations. This senior U.S. counter-terrorism official goes on to say, "The enemy is really, really struggling. These attacks have produced the broadest, deepest and most rapid reduction in al-Qaida senior leadership that we've seen in several years."[136] President Obama's CIA Director Leon Panetta stated that SAD/SOG's efforts in Pakistan have been "the most effective weapon" against senior al-Qaeda leadership.[137][138]

These covert attacks have increased significantly under President Obama, with as many at 50 al-Qaeda militants being killed in the month of May 2009 alone.[139][140] In June 2009, sixty Taliban fighters were killed while at a funeral to bury fighters that had been killed in previous CIA attacks.[141] On July 22, 2009, National Public Radio reported that U.S. officials believe Saad bin Laden, a son of Osama bin Laden, was killed by a CIA strike in Pakistan. Saad bin Laden spent years under house arrest in Iran before traveling last year to Pakistan, according to former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell. It's believed he was killed sometime this year. A senior U.S. counter-terrorism said U.S. intelligence agencies are "80 to 85 percent" certain that Saad bin Laden is dead.[142]

On August 6, 2009, the CIA announced that Baitullah Mehsud was believed to have been killed by a SAD/SOG drone strike in Pakistan.[143] The New York Times said, "Although President Obama has distanced himself from many of the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism policies, he has embraced and even expanded the C.I.A.’s covert campaign in Pakistan using Predator and Reaper drones".[143] The biggest loss may be to "Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida". For the past eight years, al-Qaeda had depended on Mehsud for protection after Mullah Mohammed Omar fled Afghanistan in late 2001. With Mehsud dead, al-Qaeda could be in trouble. "Mehsud's death means the tent sheltering Al Qaeda has collapsed," an Afghan Taliban intelligence officer who had met Mehsud many times told Newsweek. "Without a doubt he was Al Qaeda's No. 1 guy in Pakistan," adds Mahmood Shah, a retired Pakistani Army brigadier and a former chief of the Federally Administered Tribal Area, or FATA, Mehsud's base.[144]

Airstrikes from CIA drones struck targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan on 8 September 2009. Reports stated that seven to ten militants were killed to include two top al-Qaida leaders. One was Mustafa al-Jaziri, an Algerian national described as an "important and effective" leader and senior military commander for al-Qaida, and Ilyas Kashmiri, considered "one of al-Qaida's most dangerous commanders". The success of these operations are believed to have caused senior Taliban leaders to significantly alter their operations and cancel key planning meetings.[145][146]

The CIA is also increasing its campaign using Predator missile strikes on al-Qaeda in Pakistan. The number of strikes so far this year, 37, already exceeds the 2008 total, according to data compiled by the Long War Journal, which tracks strikes in Pakistan.[98] In December 2009, the New York Times reported the President Obama ordered an expansion of the drone program with senior officials describing the program as "a resounding success, eliminating key terrorists and throwing their operations into disarray".[147] The article also cites a Pakistani offical who stated that about 80 missile attacks in less than two years have killed “more than 400” enemy fighters, a number lower than most estimates but in the same range. His account of collateral damage, was strikingly lower than many unofficial counts: “We believe the number of civilian casualties is just over 20, and those were people who were either at the side of major terrorists or were at facilities used by terrorists.” [147]

On 6 December 2009, a senior al-Qaeda operative, Saleh al-Somali, was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan. He was responsible for their operations outside of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and formed part of the senior leadership. Al-Somali was engaged in plotting terrorist acts around the world and "given his central role, this probably included plotting attacks against the United States and Europe".[148][149] On 31 December 2009, senior Taliban leader and strong Haqqani ally Haji Omar Khan, brother of Arif Khan, was killed in the strike along with the son of local tribal leader Karim Khan.[150]

In January 2010, al-Qaeda in Pakistan announced that Lashkar al-Zil leader Abdullah Said al Libi was killed in a drone missile strike. Neither al-Qaeda nor the US has revealed the date of the attack that killed Libi.[151] On January 14, 2010, subsequent to the suicide attack at Camp Chapman, the CIA located and killed the senior Taliban leader in Pakistan, Hakimullah Mehsud. Mehsud had claimed responsibility in a video he made with the suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi.[107]

On 5 February 2010, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and CIA's SAD/SOG conducted a joint raid and apprehended Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Baradar was the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the beginning of the Afghan War more than eight years ago until that date. He ranked second to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder and was known to be a close associate of Osama bin Laden. Mullah Baradar was interrogated by CIA and ISI officers for several days before news of his capture was released.[152] This capture sent a message that taliban leadership are not safe in Afghanistan or Pakistan.[153] "The seizure of the Afghan Taliban's top military leader in Pakistan represents a turning point in the U.S.-led war against the militants", U.S. officials and analysts said.[154] Per Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik, several raids in Karachi in early February netted dozens of suspected Afghan militants.[154] In other joint raids that occurred around the same time, Afghan officials said that the Taliban “shadow governors” for two provinces in northern Afghanistan had also been detained. Mullah Abdul Salam, the Taliban’s leader in Kunduz, and Mullah Mir Mohammed of Baghlan were captured in Akora Khattack.[155]

On 20 February, Muhammad Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, was one of four people killed in the drone strike in Pakistan's tribal region in North Waziristan, according to two Pakistani intelligence sources.[156]


In the early 1950s, the CIA and Britain's MI6 were ordered to overthrow the government of Iran, Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq, and install Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah.[157] This event was called Operation Ajax.[158][159] The senior CIA officer was named Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., the grandson of American president Theodore Roosevelt. The operation utilized all of SAD's components to include political action, covert influence and paramilitary operations. The paramilitary component included training anti-Communist guerrillas to fight the Tudeh Party if they seized power in the chaos of Operation Ajax.[160] Although a significant tactical/operational success, Operation Ajax is considered very controversial with many critics.[161]

In January 1978, the Iranian Revolution began with major demonstrations against the Shah. After strikes and demonstrations paralysed the country and its economy, the Shah fled and Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to Tehran in January 1979.[162] On 11 February, rebel troops overwhelmed troops loyal to the Shah in armed street fighting. Iran officially became an Islamic Republic on 1 April 1979 when Iranians overwhelmingly approved a national referendum.[163]

In November 1979, a group of Islamist students and militants took over the American embassy in support of the Iranian Revolution.[164] Operation Eagle Claw was the United States military operation that unsuccessful attempted to rescue the 52 hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran on April 24, 1980. Several SAD/SOG teams infiltrated into Tehran to support this operation.[165]

On July 7, 2008, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist and author Seymour Hersh wrote an article in the New Yorker stating that the Bush Administration had signed a Presidential Finding authorizing the CIA to begin cross border paramilitary operations from Iraq and Afghanistan into Iran. These operations would be against Quds Force, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, public and private sector strategic targets, and “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror. Also enrolled to support CIA objectives were the Jundallah, Mujahideen-e-Khalq, known in the West as the M.E.K.,and the Baluchis insurgents.[166] “The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” a person familiar with its contents said, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.”[166]

Worldwide mission

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after his capture

The CIA has always had a Special Activities Division, which secretly carries out special operations mission. However, since September 11, 2001 the US government has relied much more on SAD/SOG because fighting terrorists does not usually involve fighting other armies. Rather, it involves secretly moving in and out of countries like Pakistan, Iran and Somalia where the American military is not legally allowed to operate.[167] If there are missions in these countries that are denied to U.S. military special operations forces, SAD/SOG units are the primary national special missions units to execute those operations.[168]

In the "Global War on Terror", SAD has the lead in the covert war being waged against al-Qaeda.[9][11] SAD/SOG paramilitary teams have apprehended many of the senior leaders. These include: Abu Zubaydah,[169] the chief of operations for al-Qaeda; Ramzi Binalshibh,[170] the so called the "20th hijacker",[171];[171] the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed;[172] Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, alleged to be the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing and leader of al-Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf prior to his capture in November 2002[173]; and Abu Faraj al-Libi, al-Qaeda's "field general" believed to have taken the role of No. 3 in al-Qaeda following the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan,[174] Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the number two taliban commander and the highest level taliban commander apprehended in the Afghan War.[175] Prior to the beginning of the "War on Terror", SAD/SOG located and captured many notable militants and international criminals, including Abimael Guzman and Carlos the Jackal. These were just three of the over 50 caught by SAD/SOG just between 1983 and 1995.[176]

In 2002, the George W. Bush Administration prepared a list of "terrorist leaders" the CIA is authorized to assassinate, if capture is impractical and civilian casualties can be kept to an acceptable number. The list includes key al-Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as other principal figures from al-Qaeda and affiliated groups. This list is called the "high value target list".[177] The U.S. president is not legally required to approve each name added to the list, nor is the CIA required to obtain presidential approval for specific attacks, although the president is kept well informed about operations.[177]

SAD/SOG teams have been dispatched to the country of Georgia, where dozens of al-Qaeda fugitives from Afghanistan are believed to have taken refuge with Chechen separatists and thousands of refugees in the Pankisi Gorge. Their efforts has already resulted in 15 Arab militants linked to al-Qaeda being captured.[12]

The SAD/SOG teams have also been active in the Philippines, where 1,200 U.S. military advisers helped to train local soldiers in "counter-terrorist operations" against Abu Sayyaf, a radical Islamist group suspected of ties with al-Qaeda. Little is known about this U.S. covert action program, but some analysts believe that "the CIA’s paramilitary wing, the Special Activities Division (SAD), has been allowed to pursue terrorist suspects in the Philippines on the basis that its actions will never be acknowledged".[12]

On 14 July 2009, several newspapers reported that DCIA Leon Panetta was briefed on a CIA program that had not been briefed to the oversight committees in Congress. Panetta cancelled the initiative and reported its existence to Congress and the President. The program consisted of teams of SAD paramilitary officers organized to execute targeted assassination operations against al-Qaeda operatives around the world in any country. According to the Los Angeles Times, DCIA Panetta "has not ruled out reviving the program".[11] There is some question as to whether former Vice President Richard Cheney instructed the CIA not to inform Congress.[178] Per senior intelligence officers, this program was an attempt to avoid the civilian casualties that can occur during predator drone stikes using hellfire missiles.[179]

SAD/SOG paramilitary officers executed the clandestine evacuation of U.S. citizens and diplomatic personnel in Somalia, Iraq (during the Persian Gulf War) and Liberia during periods of hostility, as well as the insertion of Paramilitary Operations Officers prior to the entry of U.S. military forces in every conflict since World War Two.[180] SAD officers have operated covertly since 1947 in places such as North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Libya, Iraq, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Chile, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Pakistan.[181]

Innovations in special operations

The Fulton system in use

The Fulton surface-to-air recovery system (STARS) is a system developed in the early 1950s by CIA paramilitary officers for retrieving persons on the ground from a MC-130E Combat Talon I aircraft. It uses a harness and a self-inflating balloon that carries an attached lift line. An MC-130E engages the line with its V-shaped yoke and the individual is reeled on board.[182] Operation COLDFEET was a very successful mission in 1962 in which two military officers parachuted into a remote abandoned Soviet site in the Arctic. The two were subsequently extracted by the Fulton sky hook. The team gathered evidence of advanced research on acoustical systems to detect under-ice US submarines and efforts to develop Arctic anti-submarine warfare techniques.[183]

Sergeant Major (SGM) Billy Waugh is a legendary Special Forces soldier and paramilitary operations officer in SAD/SOG. During his time at MACV-SOG in Vietnam, he developed and conducted the first combat High Altitude-Low Opening (HALO) jump, "In October 1970, my team made a practice Combat Infiltration into the NVA owned War Zone D, in South Vietnam, for reassembly training, etc. This was the first one in a combat zone." [184] HALO is a method of delivering personnel, equipment, and supplies from a transport aircraft at a high altitude via free-fall parachute insertion. HALO and HAHO (High Altitude-High Opening) are also known as Military Free Fall (MFF). In the HALO technique, the parachutist opens his parachute at a low altitude after free-falling for a period of time to avoid detection by the enemy. Waugh also led the last combat special reconnaissance parachute insertion into enemy territory occupied by communist North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops on June 22, 1971.[185]

Famous paramilitary officers

  • William Colby was another famous OSS Paramilitary Officer. Colby parachuted behind enemy lines into France and Norway during World War II. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions. After the war, Colby went to Columbia Law School and practiced law in William Donovan's law firm. He became bored quickly and accepted a position with the CIA, where he ended up serving in many important positions culminating in his becoming the Director of Central Intelligence in 1973. Colby died in 1996 in a boating accident. The circumstances surrounding his death were viewed as suspicious by many.[188][189][190][191]
  • Douglas Mackiernan was the first of over 70 officers of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to be killed in the line of duty. Publicly working under diplomatic cover as a State Department employee, he worked as a covert intelligence officer for the CIA in its earliest days after its creation in 1947. His assignment in Tihwa, Sinkiang included the collection of intelligence about Russian nuclear activities in Western China and Chinese intentions on the Korean Peninsula. Mackiernan was killed in April, 1950 accidentally by Tibetan outposts as he was trying to flee into Tibet with information on these intentions.[192]
  • Tony Poe was a former World War II U.S. Marine and legendary Paramilitary Operations Officer during the Vietnam War. He is sometimes labeled as the model for the character Colonel Kurtz in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now.[21][193] Poe was awarded the Intelligence Star twice, a very rare occurrence.[194] Poe gained the respect of the Hmong forces with practices that were barbaric even by native standards. The Hmong fighters brought him the ears of dead enemy soldiers, and he mailed the ears to the U.S. embassy in Vientiane to prove the body counts. He dropped severed heads onto enemy locations twice in a grisly form of psy-ops. He was also wounded several times in combat and is still held in very high esteem by the Hmong community in the United States.[195]

Famous political action officers

  • Virginia Hall Goillot started as the only female paramilitary officer in the OSS. She was severely injured and lost a leg during combat in WWII. She parachuted into France to organize the resistance with her prosthesis strapped to her body. She was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. She married an OSS officer named Paul Goillot and the two joined the CIA as paramilitary operations officers in SAD. Once aboard, Mrs. Goillot made her mark as a political action officer playing significant roles in the Guatemala and Guyana operations. These operations involved the covert removal of the governments of these two countries, as directed by the President of the United States.[204]
  • E. Howard Hunt (October 9, 1918 – January 23, 2007) was an Ivy league educated Naval officer who joined the CIA in 1949 after serving with the OSS in WWII. Hunt was a political action officer in what came to be called their Special Activities Division.[205] He became station chief in Mexico City in 1950, and supervised William F. Buckley, Jr., who worked for the CIA in Mexico during the period 1951–1952. Buckley, another SAD political action specialist, only served briefly in the CIA but went on to be considered the father of the modern American conservative movement. Buckley and Hunt remained lifelong friends.[206] Hunt ran Operation PBSUCCESS, which overthrew the government in Guatemala in 1954, was heavily involved in the Bay of Pigs Invasion operation, frequently mentioned in the JFK assassination, and was one of the operatives in the Watergate scandal.[207] Hunt made a tape in 2007 describing his knowledge of the assassination of President Kennedy.[208][209] Hunt was also a well known author with over 50 books to his credit. These books were published under several alias names and several were made into motion pictures.[210]

CIA Memorial Wall

The CIA Memorial Wall is located at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It honors CIA employees who died in the line of duty.[211] As of June 9, 2008, there were 90 stars carved into the marble wall,[212] each one representing an officer. A majority of these were paramilitary officers.[211] A black book, called the "Book of Honor," lays beneath the stars and is encased in an inch-thick plate of glass.[212] Inside this book are stars, arranged by year of death, and the names of 55 employees who died in CIA service alongside them.[211][212] The other 35 names remain secret, even in death.[211]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Daugherty (2004)
  2. ^ a b c http://www.americanforeignrelations.com/A-D/Covert-Operations.html
  3. ^ Robberson, Tod (27 October 2002). "CIA commandos remain covert". Dallas Morning News. http://www.globalsecurity.org/org/news/2002/021027-cia1.htm. 
  4. ^ Woodward, Bob (18 November 2001). "Secret CIA Units Playing a Central Combat Role". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/CIA18.html. 
  5. ^ Special Operations Forces (SOF) and CIA Paramilitary Operations: Issues for Congress, CRS-2 http://ftp.fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/RS22017.pdf
  6. ^ Gup, Ted (2000). The Book of Honor: Cover Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Southworth (2002)
  8. ^ (PDF) Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. United States Department of Defense. 2008-10-17. pp. 512. http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/new_pubs/jp1_02.pdf. Retrieved 2008-11-29. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Waller, Douglas (2003-02-03). "The CIA Secret Army". TIME (Time Inc). http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101030203/.
  10. ^ Mazzetti, Mark; Helene Cooper (26 February 2009). "CIA Pakistan Campaign is Working Director Say". New York Times: p. A15. 
  11. ^ a b c Miller, Greg (14 July 2009). "CIA Secret Program: PM Teams Targeting Al Qaeda". Los Angeles Times: p. A1. 
  12. ^ a b c d "Al-Qaeda stalked by the Predator". The Times. 2002-11-10. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article826047.ece?token=null&offset=12&page=2. 
  13. ^ a b c "U.S. kills al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen". USA Today. 2002-11-05. http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2002-11-04-yemen-explosion_x.htm. 
  14. ^ a b "CIA 'killed al-Qaeda suspects' in Yemen". BBC News. 2002-11-05. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2402479.stm. 
  15. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/27/washington/27intel.html?hp
  16. ^ Mazzetti, Mark; Shane Scott (14 July 2009). "CIA Had Plan To Assassinate Qaeda Leaders". New York Times: p. A1. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f Coll (2004)
  18. ^ Daugherty (2004), p.83
  19. ^ a b c d e f Woodward (2004)
  20. ^ a b c d Tucker (2008)
  21. ^ a b Conboy (1999)
  22. ^ Warner" (1996)
  23. ^ "Special OPS: America's elite forces in 21st century combat" By Fred J. Pushies, pg. 20 - Google Books
  24. ^ a b c d Stone & Williams (2003)
  25. ^ Special OPS: America's elite forces in 21st century combat, Fred J. Pushies, MBI Publishing, 2003, page 20. http://books.google.com/books?id=TLu2K11cXSMC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=&f=
  26. ^ Vickers, Michael G (2006-06-29) (PDF). Testimony of Michael G. Vickers on SOCOM's Mission and Roles to the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats, and Capabilities. United States House of Representatives. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/congress/2006_hr/060629-vickers.pdf. 
  27. ^ Daugherty (2004), p.25
  28. ^ Daugherty (2004), p.28
  29. ^ Daugherty (2004), p.23.
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Further reading

  • Air America and The Ravens- by Chris Robbins — Both are the history of CIA/IAD's war in Laos, providing biographies and details on such legendary CIA PMCOs as Wil Green, Tony Poe, Jerry Daniels, Howie Freeman, Bill Lair, and the pilots, ground crew and support personnel managed by IAD/SOG/AIR BRANCH under the proprietaries Bird Air, Southern Air Transport, China Air Transport and Air America—and the U.S. Air Force forward air controllers (RAVENS) who were brought in under CIA/IAD command and control as "civilians" to support secret combat ops in Laos.
  • Raiders of the China Coast by Frank Holober — History of CIA/IAD paramilitary operations in the Taiwan Straits, 1947–1955, with details on such PMCOs as Ernie Tskikerdanos.
  • Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, Bowden, Mark (1999), Atlantic Monthly Press. Berkeley, California (USA). ISBN 0871137380 about operation Gothic Serpent
  • Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw, Bowden, Mark (2001), ISBN 0871137836 about the hunt for Pablo Escobar
  • Bush at War by Bob Woodward, 2001, detailing the initial invasion of Afghanistan and the role of SAD.
  • First In: An Insiders Account of how the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan by Gary Schroen, 2005.
  • Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and AL Qaeda: A personal account by the CIA's field Commander by Gary Berntsen and Ralph Pezzulla, 2005.
  • Kill bin Laden, by Dalton Fury, St. Martin's Press, October 2008.
  • Wild Bill Donovan: The Last Hero, by Anthony Cave Brown, New York: Times Books, 1982.
  • Safe For Democracy: The Secret Wars Of The CIA, John Prados, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2006.
  • Inside Delta Force, Haney, Eric L. (2002), New York: Delacorte Press, 325. ISBN 9780385336031.
  • Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda, Naylor, Sean (2005), Penguin Group, New York about Operation Anaconda; details, among other things, the actions of SAD Paramilitary officers during this chaotic 2002 battle in Afghanistan.
  • Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran, Seymour M. Hersh, July 7, 2008. (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/07/080707fa_fact_hersh)
  • Orphans Of The Cold War: America And The Tibetan Struggle For Survival, John Kenneth Knaus, 1999 IBN 1891620851.
  • Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, Doug Stanton, 2009.
  • Masters of Chaos: The Secret History of the Special Forces, Linda Robinson, 2004.
  • The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11, Ron Suskind, Simon and Schuster, 2006.
  • ''National Geographic: CIA Confidential, Afghanistan and Pakistan, (http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/series/cia-confidential/all/Overview).
  • American spy: my secret history in the CIA, Watergate, and beyond, E. Howard Hunt; with Greg Aunapu; foreword by William F. Buckley, Jr. (2007)
  • "T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: Publishing History". T. E. Lawrence Studies. Jeremy Wilson. undated. http://telawrence.net/telawrencenet/works/spw/publication_history.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  • "Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Triumph and Tragedy". T. E. Lawrence Studies. Jeremy Wilson. 2004, 2006. http://telawrencestudies.org/telawrencestudies/writings_and_criticism/7_pillars_wilson_1.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 

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