Special Activities Division

Special Activities Division

The Special Activities Division (SAD) [cite news
first =Bob
last =Woodward
authorlink =
coauthors =
year =2001
month =November 18
title =Secret CIA Units Playing a Central Combat Role
newspaper =Washington Post
pages =A01
url =http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/CIA18.html
] is a division of the Central Intelligence Agency's former Directorate of Operations, now the National Clandestine Service, responsible for covert paramilitary operations, effected when the U.S. Government does not wish to be overtly associated with such activities [cite news
newspaper = Dallas Morning News
date = October 27, 2002
title = CIA commandos remain covert
author = Robberson, Tod
url = http://www.globalsecurity.org/org/news/2002/021027-cia1.htm
] . As such, members of the unit, when on missions, normally do not carry any objects or clothing (e.g., military uniforms) that would associate them with the United States. SAD has been changed to Special Services Office in recent years.

Even after creation of the National Clandestine Service, there remains tension between the NCS and the Department of Defense, over roles and missions in direct action such as raids, sabotage and assassinations, unconventional warfare (i.e., training and leading guerillas), Foreign internal defense [cite web
last = US Department of Defense
authorlink = United States Department of Defense
title = Joint Publication 1-02 Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms
date=12 July 2007
url = http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/new_pubs/jp1_02.pdf
accessdate = 2007-11-21
] (i.e., training and sometimes leading counterguerilla forces) and deniable psychological operations, the latter also known as black propaganda. Special reconnaissance is another area that can be under either military or intelligence, as well as certain counterintelligence operations.


While the WWII Office of Strategic Services (OSS) technically was a military agency under the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in practice, it was fairly autonomous of military control, and indeed enjoyed direct access to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Like the subsequent CIA, OSS included both human intelligence functions including espionage and operational roles. Its Secret Intelligence division was responsible for espionage, while its Operation Jedburgh teams, a joint US-UK-French function were a distinct ancestor of groups that would create guerilla units. OSS' Operational Groups were larger US units that carried out direct action (DA) 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.

OSS was disbanded shortly after WWII, with its intelligence analysis functions moving temporarily into the US 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. One function, the training and leading of guerillas, generally stayed in the US Army, first its Psychological Operations Division and then United States Army Special Forces. CIA has recruited or borrowed Special Forces personnel for some operations, but tension remains between the military and CIA over paramilitary operations.

Contact between the US and Vietnamese independence groups resisting the return of French control reflected the chaotic direction in Washington, as the original OSS mission under Major Archimedes Patti dealt with Ho Chi Minh and other figures who would become enemies [cite book
title = Why Vietnam? Prelude to America's Albatross
author = Archimedes L.A. Patti
publisher =University of California Press
year = 1980
ISBN-10 = 0520041569
] .

Certain elements of SAD are believed to be an outgrowth of the CIA's Phoenix Program and the SOG (Studies and Observations Group), both of which were created and active during the Vietnam War. While CIA was a minority in SOG, it did have operational control of Phoenix.

The unit's existence became known in the autumn of 2001, when U.S. special operations forces arrived in Afghanistan to hunt down Al Qaeda leaders and aid the Northern Alliance against the troops of the ruling Taliban. The CIA paramilitary teams, in conjunction with Special Operations Forces and the Afghan military, provided intelligence for U.S. air strikes.

Current Status

The division has several hundred personnel, most of them former members of Delta Force, Navy SEALs, DEVGRU, Army Rangers, Army Special Forces and USMC Force Recon teams. The CIA's formal position for these individuals is "Paramilitary Operations Officer". Other members of the SAD are drawn from within the ranks of the CIA's National Clandestine Service division.

There remains conflict between the division and the more clandestine parts of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) [cite web
author = Vickers, Michael G.
title = 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
date = June 29, 2006
url = http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/congress/2006_hr/060629-vickers.pdf
] , such as the Joint Special Operations Command and the frequently-renamed Intelligence Support Activity.

The primary strengths of SAD paramilitary officers are agility, adaptability, and deniability. They often operate in small teams, typically with six men with military training and knowledge of foreign languages. These officers often operate clandestinely in remote locations behind enemy lines to carry out direct action (including raids, assassinations and sabotage), support of espionage by HUMINT assets, counter-intelligence, sabotage, guerilla or unconventional warfare (UW), and hostage rescue missions.

They also play a large part in recruiting, training, and leading indigenous forces in operations. This is a continuing source of friction with the US Department of Defense, which has organizations designed for such functions. Historically, SAD and its successors have been used when it was considered desirable to have plausible deniability about US support of the force.

SAD officers are trained at Camp Peary (also known as "The Farm") in Virginia, and at privately owned training centers around the United States. According to a Time Magazine article "America's Secret Army", within the international intelligence and special operations community the SAD is considered to be the most unique and one of the most skilled Special Operations forces in the world.

Johnny Micheal Spann, the first American casualty in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, was a member of the Special Activities Division. [ [http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/jmspann.htm Johnny Michael Spann, Captain, United States Marine Corp & CIA Paramilitary Officer] ]

SAD officers have operated covertly since the mid 1970s in places such as Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Libya, Iraq, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Chile, Bosnia, Serbia, Somalia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

ee also

*Clandestine HUMINT and Covert Action
*Plausible deniability
*Special reconnaissance
*Psychological operations (United States)
*Direct action (military)
*Foreign internal defense
*United States Army Special Forces
*United States Special Operations Command
*Gary Schroen


Further reading

*Shooting at the Moon by Roger Warner - The history of CIA/IAD'S 15-year involvement in conducting the secret war in Laos, 1960-1975, and the career of CIA PMCO (paramilitary case officer) Bill Lair.
*Decision for Disaster (Grayston Lynch) - Bay of Pigs Account by one of two principal PMCOs (paramilitary case officers) who went ashore with the Brigade, Gray Lynch)
*Feet to the Fire by Conboy & Morrison - The history of CIA/IAD's paramilitary operations in Indonesia in the 1950s, detailing the activities of IAD's Ground Air and Maritime Branches, and highlighting the roles of legendary PMCOs Tom Fosmire, Anthony Posephny ("Tony Poe"), Jim Glerum and others.
*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 US 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.

External links

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