Everyone in the United States has heard of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which was borne from the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) in the dark covert alleys of war-torn Europe in the 1940s. The agency has come a long way from the cloak-and-dagger images of WWII and the Cold War with Russia. However, few know the full scope of what the agency does abroad to protect and promote American interests.

The CIA is not a military organization but a foreign intelligence service of the United States and part of our federal government.

The CIA’s Mission

It is tasked with gathering, processing, and analyzing national security information worldwide, primarily through human intelligence (HUMINT). As one of the principal members of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), the CIA reports to the Director of National Intelligence and primarily focuses on providing intelligence to the President of the United States and his Cabinet.

Unlike the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a domestic security service, the CIA has no law enforcement function and mainly focuses on overseas intelligence operations.

The agency is supposed to be strictly an offshore organization, prohibited from conducting operations on US soil but SOFREP has had credible sources from within JSOC and the NSA  tell us that the agency routinely uses foreign business proxies to spy on US soil, essentially legally bypassing the restriction.

What do we mean by this?

Imagine a wealthy Indian hotel chain owner with properties within the US who is working as a CIA asset (what they call spies). This hotel owner is being paid millions of agency dollars to record audio and video footage from “guests of interest” (e.g., imagine a cheating spouse) and reports back these activities that could be used as leverage to gain information. But back to the mission…

“The Agency,” as it is known to many, has three principal activities:

  1. Collecting information about foreign governments, corporations, and individuals. This involves various espionage activities abroad to gather vital details on foreign activities that could impact U.S. security and interests.
  2. Analyzing and providing intelligence on national security issues. The CIA synthesizes and analyzes the collected data to produce comprehensive reports. These reports help inform U.S. government decisions related to foreign policy and national security.
  3. Covert action. At the President’s Request, the CIA can use its resources to carry out secret activities abroad to influence events in favor of the United States’ interests. These actions range from propaganda operations to supporting allies and undermining or destabilizing foreign governments.

This third point has fueled many successful thrillers. Books like The Bourne Identity, Red Sparrow, and Body of Lies come immediately to mind.

The Special Activities Center

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the Central Intelligence Agency lies in a relatively obscure yet critical component known as the Special Activities Center, or SAC. This elite division embodies the proverbial “third way” – a strategic alternative to the conventional dichotomy of diplomacy and overt military intervention. Operating under the veil of secrecy, SAC’s purview extends into covert action and paramilitary operations, making it the cornerstone of the nation’s shadow operations.

Covert vs Clandestine

Though nuanced, the distinction between covert and clandestine operations is vital to understanding the SAC’s modus operandi. Covert actions are designed to remain unattributed to the United States and aim to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad without any trace back to the country. Clandestine operations, however, prioritize the secrecy of the operation itself, focusing on intelligence collection where the operation is concealed but not necessarily the actor’s identity. This fine line delineates the SAC’s strategic engagements across the globe.

Comprising several specialized branches, the SAC operates as a multi-faceted entity within the CIA. Each branch, including the Ground Branch, Air Branch, Maritime Branch, and enigmatic Political Action Group, is tailored to execute various missions that span sabotage, intelligence gathering, psychological operations, and covert political maneuvers. These operations are undertaken with the utmost discretion, ensuring plausible deniability to safeguard national interests and maintain international stability.

The recruitment and training regimen for SAC operatives is as rigorous as secretive. They draw from the elite echelons of the military’s special operations community and other specialized domains. These individuals are sculpted into the vanguard of America’s shadow warfare capabilities, ready to be deployed to any corner of the globe where their unique skill sets are required.

Despite shrouding their operations in secrecy, the legacy of the SAC and its antecedent, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), is indelibly linked to the annals of U.S. military and intelligence history. Their contributions, often unseen and unrecognized, continue to play a pivotal role in shaping the strategic contours of the global landscape.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the SAC’s origins, operations, and organizational structure, unraveling the layers of this clandestine division of the CIA.

Origins and Evolution

The genesis of the Special Activity Center draws deeply from the legacy of World War II espionage and guerrilla warfare, with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) laying the groundwork for modern covert operations. The OSS, established during the tumult of the Second World War, was America’s first foray into the organized espionage arena, conducting sabotage, subversion, and intelligence gathering behind enemy lines. The SAC would later inherit and refine the spirit and tactics of the OSS, marking a continuum in America’s covert operational capabilities.

Covert and Clandestine Operations

In international politics and conflicts, the SAC represents the “third option,” a path less visible than diplomacy or military might but equally potent. Covert and clandestine operations, the two pillars of SAC’s strategy, serve as the United States’ silent arsenal, influencing global events from the shadows. These operations are meticulously planned and executed to leave no fingerprints, ensuring that the role of the U.S. remains obscured, thus avoiding international repercussions.

The SAC’s Multidimensional Approach

Ground Branch

The Ground Branch is the SAC’s terrestrial arm, composed of operatives with backgrounds in elite military units. Think Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force, and Marine Raiders. These operatives are skilled in a range of covert operations, including sabotage, targeted killings, and intelligence collection. The Ground Branch’s operations are marked by their stealth and precision, often carried out alone in hostile territories under darkness.

Case Study: The Rescue of Jessica Lynch

The role of the CIA’s Ground Branch in the rescue of Jessica Lynch, while not publicly detailed in specific operational terms, is a part of the broader context of intelligence and special operations forces (SOF) synergy in conducting high-profile missions.

Jessica Lynch
PVT Lynch seconds after being located by US SOF personnel.

Jessica Lynch, a U.S. Army Private First Class, was captured by Iraqi forces on March 23, 2003, after her convoy was ambushed in Nasiriyah, Iraq, during the early stages of the Iraq War. Her rescue on April 1, 2003, by U.S. forces was highly publicized and underscored the capabilities of the U.S. military and intelligence community to conduct joint operations.

While specific details about the CIA Ground Branch’s involvement in the Lynch rescue are scarce due to the classified nature of their operations, it’s known that the rescue was a collaborative effort involving multiple branches of the U.S. military and Ground Branch intelligence assets in the immediate area of operations.

Here’s how operatives in the Ground Branch were involved based on general knowledge of their capabilities and knowledge of this and similar operations.

Intelligence Gathering: Before the rescue, a significant amount of intelligence work was needed to pinpoint Private Lynch’s exact location.  Operatives from the Ground Branch played a key role in gathering human intelligence and signals intelligence to locate Lynch within Saddam Hospital in Nasiriyah, where she was being held.

Surveillance: The Ground Branch is known for its expertise in covert surveillance operations. In the Lynch case, they conducted discreet surveillance to confirm her presence in the hospital and to monitor Iraqi military activity in the area, ensuring that the special operations forces rescue team had the most accurate and up-to-date information on her whereabouts and condition.

Planning and Coordination: The rescue operation required meticulous planning and coordination among various U.S. military and intelligence community components. The CIA, including Ground Branch operatives, played a key role in the planning process, providing intelligence support and advising on the hospital’s layout, security measures, and approach for the rescue and egress from the area.

Direct Support: The rescue itself was carried out by multiple special operations forces teams, with CIA operatives, including members of the Ground Branch, providing direct support during the operation. This help came in the form of coordinating communications and assisting in Lynch’s extraction once she was secured. Upon entering the facility, an Iraqi physician was persuaded by an operator to take him to Lynch’s room. Upon finding her and establishing her identity, the man identified himself as an American soldier and said, “We’re here to take you home.” Lynch replied, “I’m an American soldier too.” She was quickly examined by a doctor from the 75th Ranger Regiment, strapped to a litter, and whisked to a waiting helicopter operated by the 160th Special Operations Air Regiment (SOAR).

The operation to rescue Jessica Lynch showcases the integrated capabilities of the U.S. military and the intelligence community, with various elements coming together to execute a high-risk mission successfully. Much of the Ground Branch’s precise role in this operation remains classified. Still, their involvement underscores the critical importance of intelligence and special operations forces working together in complex military operations.

Air Branch

Serving as the SAC’s eyes in the sky, the Air Branch operates a fleet of aircraft disguised as civilian airliners, drones, and other aerial vehicles for surveillance and covert insertion. This branch enables the SAC to extend its reach globally, providing critical support for operations that require aerial insertion, extraction, or remote intelligence gathering. Their fleet, often operating from hidden bases or using front companies, plays a pivotal role in maintaining the element of surprise and ensuring operational success in hostile environments.

Case Study: “Air America”

The CIA’s Air Branch established “Air America” as a passenger and cargo airline in 1946. The agency covertly owned and operated the airline from 1950 to 1976. It supplied and supported covert operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, providing controversial support for drug smuggling in Laos and other paramilitary and Special Operations activities.

In April 1960, a contingent of CIA Air Branch operatives made their way to Miami, Florida, on a mission to scout for members of the Frente Revolucionario Democratico (FRD), a group of Cuban exiles opposed to Castro’s regime. These exiles, having left Cuba following Castro’s rise to power, were seen as the perfect candidates to spearhead a rebellion back in their homeland. With a budget of $13 million at their disposal, they managed to enlist 1,400 of these exiles to form what would be known as Brigade 2506.

This brigade was covertly transported to Useppa Island, a secluded isle off Florida’s coast, which the CIA had discreetly acquired for their use.

Kennedy Letter
Document from US National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy to President Kennedy.



The involvement of the CIA’s Air Branch in the Bay of Pigs Invasion is a prime example of how air power, or the lack thereof, can significantly impact the outcome of covert operations. The limitations in planning, execution, and international political considerations led to a significant defeat for the United States and the Cuban exile force, marking one of the early and most notable failures in CIA’s history. The event underscored the complexities of providing covert air support in a politically sensitive operation and the ramifications of underestimating an adversary’s resilience and capabilities.

More recently white unmarked, with plain FAA N registration numbers, Boeing jets could be seen shuttling around agency operatives in and out of Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots globally. Like most of the branches within SAC they typically contract out these services to a number of US companies as a layer of protection and deniability.

Maritime Branch

The SAC’s Maritime Branch underscores the CIA’s capability to project power and conduct operations across the world’s oceans and waterways. Drawing recruits from naval special warfare and marine reconnaissance units, this branch specializes in amphibious operations, including underwater demolitions, covert insertions, and sabotage against maritime targets. Their operations are critical in securing littoral areas and conducting reconnaissance on naval activities, often under the guise of civilian maritime traffic to maintain plausible deniability.

Political Action Group

Perhaps the most shadowy of the SAC’s components, the Political Action Group (PAG) wields influence far beyond the battlefield. Specializing in the arts of psychological warfare, economic sabotage, and covert political influence, the PAG works to sway political outcomes in favor of U.S. interests without direct military intervention.

By manipulating mainstream media and social media, financing opposition movements, or staging cyber-attacks, this group plays a crucial role in shaping the geopolitical landscape in a manner that is both subtle and profound.

It’s well known within the agency that companies like Meta, Apple, and Google have contracts with the CIA and are allowed special access to data.

Steve Jobs was a routine visitor to the CIA’s headquarters.

Jobs FBI Letter
Request for information for Jobs Pentagon file


 Global Response Staff (GRS)

The CIA’s Global Response Staff (GRS) is another critical component of the agency’s operational capability, functioning as a specialized security wing tasked with protecting CIA personnel and assets in high-threat environments. GRS is composed of highly skilled operatives, many of whom have backgrounds in U.S. special operations forces, such as the SEALs, Delta Force, and Marine Force Recon, as well as law enforcement agencies like the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. These individuals bring a wealth of experience in combat, surveillance, and protective operations, making them adept at navigating the complexities of covert fieldwork.

Primary Mission

The primary mission of GRS is to ensure the safety of CIA case officers when deployed in dangerous regions where the U.S. operates. Everyone assumes that case officers are Jason Bourne-like, but in reality, few are comfortable carrying or using weapons. This is where GRS agents come in.

Agents provide security during meetings with covert assets and covert vehicle convoys; they conduct snatch-and-grab operations, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and respond to emergencies such as attacks on U.S. facilities.

GRS teams are known for their ability to blend into their surroundings, often using local dress and stolen vehicle plates to avoid detection while keeping a protective watch over their case officers.

GRS teams are deployed globally to covert CIA bases and are ready to move into potentially hostile areas with minimal support. Their expertise in fieldcraft and tactical acumen allows them to adapt to changing situations on the ground, providing a dynamic shield for CIA operations worldwide.

GRS’s work is shrouded in secrecy, with many of its operations classified to protect the methods and identities of those involved. However, GRS’s importance to the CIA’s overall mission cannot be overstated. In the unpredictable landscape of global intelligence and counterintelligence, GRS is a bulwark against threats to U.S. personnel and interests, ensuring that the nation’s clandestine efforts can proceed without interruption.

GRS Case Study: Benghazi 2012

The story of the Global Response Staff in Benghazi, Libya, is one of bravery and controversy embedded within a tragic event that highlights the dangers faced by American diplomats and intelligence operatives abroad. Their role at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, came into sharp focus following a series of attacks that night.


In 2012, Libya was in a state of turmoil following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

To this day, it is unclear why Hilary Clinton’s State Department (DOS) and the CIA supported the overthrow of Gaddafi, as it’s still a failed state decades later.

Also of note, it’s widely believed that this event seriously disturbed Russian dictator Vladimir Putin as a crescendo of America’s foreign policy going off the rails.

The resulting power vacuum in Libya led to widespread violence and the rise of powerful warlords and militant groups.

The U.S. maintained a diplomatic mission in Benghazi, which included a State Department compound and a nearby CIA annex, and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducting kill and capture missions in Benghazi.

While not the capital, Benghazi was the area that existing Libyan power players operated within and why the CIA, JSOC, and Department of State were all operating in the region, albeit on different competing and uncoordinated missions.

A SOFREP source within the White House said the rivalry between the CIA and DOS had gotten so bad that message traffic was routinely hand-couriered back and forth between compounds to track who said what and when.

The Attack

On the evening of September 11, 2012, Islamist militants launched an assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound. The attack began with the compound being overrun and set ablaze, leading to the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and Information Officer Sean Smith.

fire in Benghazi
Inside the US Consulate Compound on September 11, 2012


GRS Response

GRS operatives stationed at the CIA annex, roughly a mile from the diplomatic compound, quickly mobilized to respond to the attack when DOS agents called the GRS compound for help.

Despite initial orders to stand down by the CIA Chief of Base, which have been a point of contention and investigation, the GRS team leader, former Navy SEAL Ty Woods, decided to intervene, against orders, in an attempt to rescue the Ambassador and other personnel.

The team fought their way into the compound and managed to evacuate all of the surviving State Department staff back to the CIA annex but were unable to locate Ambassador Stevens.

After the initial rescue, the CIA base came under attack by militants over several hours, and in the early hours of September 12, one of the mortar attacks resulted in the deaths of CIA contractors and former Navy SEALs Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty.

Aftermath and Controversy

The attacks and the U.S. government’s response to them, both during and after the events, sparked significant controversy and political debate. Questions were raised about the security preparedness of U.S. facilities in Benghazi, the intelligence regarding potential threats, the military’s response time, and the communication among various government agencies.

Several investigations by the U.S. Congress and an Independent Review Board examined the circumstances leading to and following the attacks. While improvements were recommended for security procedures and inter-agency communication, the events in Benghazi continue to be a subject of discussion and analysis, particularly regarding the role and actions of the GRS operatives.

The full play-by-play account of Benghazi can be read in SOFREP’s New York Times Bestselling book, Benghazi, The Definitive Report.

Recruitment, Training, and Operations

The pathway to becoming a CIA paramilitary operative is arduous, with candidates undergoing a rigorous selection process for each branch. Usually, candidates have served in a Special Operations unit for longer than four years and have seen combat. Typically, they are recommended by existing operators for the job, and like Air Branch, the bulk of billets are filled by trusted private military companies (formerly Blackwater, Ogara Group, and MVM to name a few) who feed them qualified candidates who work on programs as green-badged security contractors.

Green badgers are typically managed by senior paramilitary operators overseeing them who work directly for the CIA. These senior managers are called “blue badgers” by insiders, indicating the color of their agency security badge.

Selection tests their physical endurance, psychological resilience, tactical proficiency, and the ability to adapt to the dynamic environment of the CIA’s unique mission.

The training regimen, often conducted at undisclosed locations across the eastern US, like Camp Peary, frequently referred to as “The Farm,” encompasses a broad spectrum of skills ranging from advanced combat tactics, defensive and offensive driving, two-person tactics, survival skills, advanced espionage techniques, medical training, and language proficiency.

This comprehensive preparation ensures that SAC operatives are among the most versatile and capable assets in the CIA’s arsenal, ready to undertake missions in the most challenging and hostile environments around the globe.

Notable Engagements

The SAC’s history is dotted with notable engagements that have significantly impacted international affairs, though many of these operations remain classified. From supporting resistance movements behind enemy lines during World War II as the OSS to playing a decisive role in the early stages of the Afghanistan conflict post-9/11, SAC operatives have been at the heart of some of the most critical moments in recent history. Though often unrecognized, their contributions have been instrumental in shaping the course of nations and the global order.

One such operative whose name is known is Johnny Micheal Spann, a CIA officer who tragically became the first American casualty in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Spann’s assignments within the Agency were part of their clandestine operations, and he was involved in paramilitary activities at the time of his death during a prisoner uprising at the Qala-i-Jangi fortress in northern Afghanistan, where he was involved in questioning Taliban prisoners.

Summary of SAC

The Special Activities Center, with its myriad components and elite operatives, is a testament to the United States’ commitment to maintaining its strategic interests globally, using means outside the traditional confines of diplomacy and military force.

The SAC’s ability to conduct operations in the shadows, influencing events and outcomes from behind the scenes, is a crucial facet of America’s national security strategy. As geopolitical dynamics evolve, the SAC will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in safeguarding U.S. interests, leveraging its unique capabilities to navigate the complex landscape of international relations.

While the full extent of the SAC’s activities may never be publicly acknowledged, its impact on the world stage is undeniable, shaping the course of history from the shadows.

CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Working Together

The CIA and JSOC are key components of the United States national security apparatus, with distinct yet complementary roles. While the CIA is primarily an intelligence-gathering agency focusing on foreign intelligence and covert operations abroad, JSOC is a component command of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) that oversees special operations units from various branches of the U.S. military.

Despite their different mandates, the CIA and JSOC often work closely on missions requiring a blend of intelligence gathering, analysis, and direct action—particularly in counterterrorism operations and other sensitive national security issues.

Collaboration on Counterterrorism Operations

The post-9/11 era marked a significant increase in the collaboration between the CIA and JSOC, especially in the fight against global terrorism. This partnership is perhaps most visible in counterterrorism operations where intelligence collected by the CIA on terrorist networks, including their leaders’ locations, is used to plan and execute precision strikes or raids by JSOC units. Notable examples include the operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, which was a collaborative effort between the CIA and Navy SEAL Team Six, a part of JSOC.

Joint Task Forces and Fusion Cells

The cooperation between the CIA and JSOC is often institutionalized through joint task forces (JTF) or fusion cells that integrate intelligence and military capabilities. These collaborative units bring together personnel from the CIA and JSOC (along with other agencies as needed) to focus on specific threats or operational objectives. By combining the CIA’s intelligence collection, analysis capabilities, and JSOC’s direct action proficiency, these task forces can rapidly respond to emerging threats.

Sharing of Intelligence and Expertise

The CIA and JSOC share intelligence and expertise to enhance operations effectiveness. The CIA’s human intelligence (HUMINT) capabilities and global intelligence-gathering network provide JSOC with actionable information critical for planning missions. Conversely, JSOC operations can generate valuable intelligence that feeds into the CIA’s information pool, helping refine future intelligence assessments and operations.

Operational Support and Coordination

Sometimes, CIA operatives and JSOC units operate in the same areas or jointly execute missions. The CIA might provide language skills, cultural knowledge, or established networks within a country, while JSOC contributes with its tactical and technical military capabilities. This partnership ensures that operations are grounded in solid intelligence and executed with precision.

Training and Development of Capabilities

The CIA and JSOC also collaborate on training and developing new capabilities, including technologies and methodologies for intelligence collection, surveillance, reconnaissance, and direct action. This cooperation ensures that both organizations can maintain a technological edge and are prepared to deal with evolving security challenges.

Legal and Oversight Considerations

It’s important to note that while the CIA and JSOC collaborate closely, they operate under different legal frameworks and oversight mechanisms. The CIA’s covert operations are generally subject to presidential findings and oversight by congressional intelligence committees. In contrast, JSOC’s military operations fall under the purview of the Department of Defense and are subject to military command structures and legal standards.

Operation Red Dawn and the Hunt for Saddam Hussein

Operation Red Dawn was a military operation cumulating on December 13, 2003, with the capture of Saddam Hussein, the ousted Iraqi President who had been on the run since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March of that year. The operation was a significant collaboration between the CIA and  JSOC, showcasing the integration of intelligence and military precision to achieve a mission-critical objective.


After the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Saddam went into hiding. His whereabouts became one of the top priorities for U.S. forces in Iraq. The operation to capture him was named “Red Dawn” after the 1984 American film. It was planned based on actionable intelligence that suggested Saddam was hiding in the vicinity of ad-Dawr, near his hometown of Tikrit.

 The Role of the CIA

The CIA’s role was crucial in the lead-up to Operation Red Dawn. The agency was deeply involved in gathering intelligence through various means, including human intelligence from informants within Iraq, signals intelligence (SIGINT), and surveillance. The CIA managed to cultivate sources within Iraq that provided information on Saddam Hussein’s possible locations and movements. The agency’s analysts worked tirelessly to corroborate these intelligence pieces and narrow down the potential hiding spots.

JSOC’s Execution of the Operation

JSOC was responsible for the operational planning and execution of the mission to capture Saddam. This command includes elite units such as Delta Force, Navy SEALs, and the 75th Ranger Regiment, all capable of conducting high-risk, high-reward operations. For Operation Red Dawn, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (Delta Force) elements were chosen to carry out the ground operation.

Collaboration and Execution

The operation exemplified seamless collaboration between the CIA and JSOC. The Agency provided intelligence and continued to update JSOC with real-time information while JSOC planned and executed the tactical operation. On December 13, 2003, based on the intelligence supplied by CIA personnel, JSOC forces moved into the target area near ad-Dawr.

Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a small underground bunker, known as a “spider hole,” camouflaged with dirt and debris. Special operations forces captured him without firing a shot, but somehow, the encounter rendered the brutal dictator with a bloody nose and split lip.

Saddam’s identity was confirmed on the spot, marking a significant milestone in the Iraq War and demonstrating the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence and special operations capabilities.


Following his capture, Hussein was detained by U.S. forces before being handed over to the Iraqi Interim Government. He was tried by the Iraqi Special Tribunal for crimes against humanity, among other charges, and was executed on December 30, 2006.

Operation Red Dawn remains a significant example of how critical the integration of intelligence and military operations is in modern warfare, particularly in counterinsurgency and the global war on terror. The operation highlighted the strengths of combining the CIA’s intelligence gathering and analysis capabilities with JSOC’s precision and operational expertise.

Operation Neptune Spear: Eliminating Osama bin Laden

The operation to kill Osama bin Laden, codenamed Operation Neptune Spear, was a highly complex and coordinated effort that involved extensive collaboration between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command, along with other U.S. military and intelligence community assets. The operation took place on May 1, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and was the culmination of years of intelligence gathering and planning. Here’s an overview of how the CIA and JSOC worked together in this mission.

Intelligence Gathering and Analysis

CIA’s Role: The CIA played a crucial role in gathering the intelligence that led to the identification of bin Laden’s hideout. This effort involved years of collecting data from various sources, including human intelligence (HUMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), and imagery intelligence (IMINT). The agency had been tracking a courier known to be close to bin Laden, which eventually led them to the compound in Abbottabad.

Collaboration: The CIA worked with other intelligence agencies, both within the U.S. and with foreign partners, to piece together the information needed to confirm bin Laden’s presence in the compound. This collaboration involved sharing intelligence and corroborating information from multiple sources to ensure the accuracy of their findings.

Planning the Operation

Joint Effort: Once the intelligence was deemed solid, the planning phase began, which involved close coordination between the CIA and JSOC. This phase included deciding on the operational details, such as the method of attack, the composition of the assault team, and the extraction plan.

Role of JSOC: JSOC was responsible for executing the operation. This command included elements of SEAL Team Six, which conducted the raid. The planning phase involved detailed rehearsals and contingency planning, ensuring the team was prepared for various scenarios during the mission.

Execution of the Raid

Operational Secrecy: Secrecy was paramount, and knowledge of the operation was tightly controlled. The CIA and JSOC worked together to ensure operational security, with only a limited number of individuals aware of the plan’s details in their entirety.

The Raid: The operation was executed by Navy SEALs from Red Squadron of  SEAL Team Six, a component of JSOC. The SEALs flew from Afghanistan to bin Laden’s compound in stealth helicopters, breached the compound, and, after a brief firefight, killed Osama bin Laden. Senior U.S. officials, including the President, watched from the White House Situation Room and oversaw the operation in real-time.

Aftermath and Intelligence Collection: After bin Laden was killed, the SEALs collected a significant amount of intelligence material from the compound before departing. The CIA was involved in the subsequent analysis of the material collected during the raid, which provided valuable insights into al-Qaeda’s operations.


The successful execution of Operation Neptune Spear was a testament to the effective collaboration between the CIA and JSOC, combining the strengths of intelligence gathering and military precision. This operation not only eliminated the world’s most wanted terrorist at the time but also demonstrated the capabilities of U.S. special operations and intelligence communities when working together towards a common goal.


In this somewhat cursory exploration, we look at the clandestine world of the CIA’s Special Activities Center (SAC) and Global Response Staff (GRS), revealing these units’ shadowy but pivotal role in shaping global events.

With an eye that scans the Cold War’s covert chess games and modern-day counterterrorism efforts, we see the SAC’s evolution from the legacy of the OSS to a critical instrument of American foreign policy, adept at executing operations that lie beyond the reach of conventional military and diplomatic strategies.

Equally, GRS emerges as a vital protector of CIA assets in hostile territories, embodying both the shield and spear of U.S. interests abroad. We also highlight the synergistic relationship between the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), underscoring how their collaboration, particularly in high-stakes missions like Operation Red Dawn and Neptune Spear, exemplifies the seamless integration of intelligence and military precision necessary in today’s complex security landscape.

Through stories of courage and sacrifice, such as the harrowing night in Benghazi, this piece pays homage to America’s silent warriors. It illuminates the essential, albeit often invisible, threads they weave in the fabric of international relations and national security.