Foundation and early yearsEdit
In the face of international terrorist attacks, mainly by leftist Palestinians. The Reagan administration wanted to take the offensive ... CIA chief Casey and Duane R. "Dewey" Clarridge. As head of the CIA's Latin American division, Clarridge had conducted black operations in Latin America, including the 1984 mining of Nicaraguan harbors. (In 1992 President George H. W. Bush pardoned Clarridge before his trial could finish.) Take the offensive. Pre-emptive covert action. "Two super-secret 'action teams'", one composed of foreign nationals the other of Americans.... "Clarridge wanted to kill the terrorists outright...." In January 1986 Clarridge began work on...
The Counterterrorist Center was established in February 1986, under the CIA's Directorate of Operations, with Clarridge as its first director. It was an "interdisciplinary" body. Many of its personnel and most its chiefs were drawn from the CIA's Directorate of Operations, but others came from the Directorates of Intelligence and Science and Technology. Observing that terrorism knew no geographical boundaries, the CTC was designed to cut across the traditional region-based bodies of the CIA.
Discredited by the Iran-Contra scandal of 1986, the aims gave way to a more analytical role.
This didn't prevent another contemplated project in 1986-7, the "Eagle" drone aircraft. It could have been used to spy out hostage-takers in Lebanon.
Another use of the drones might be sabotage operations in Libya. Clarridge wanted to load one drone with two hundred pounds of C-4 plastic explosives and one hundred pounds of ball-bearings. His plan was to fly it onto Tripoli's air field at night, blow it up, and destroy "a whole bunch" of commercial airliners sitting unoccupied on the ground. He also tried to load small rockets onto the drones that could be used to fire at predesignated targets....
Early members of the CTC included Vincent Cannistraro, Chief of Operations and Analysis, 1988-91; Robert Baer, from the Directorate of Operations; and Stanley Bedlington, a "senior analyst" *-1994.
In the early 1990s, the CTC had no more than a hundred personnel, divided into about a dozen branches. Besides branches specializing in Lebanon's Hezbollah, and secular groups like the Japanese Red Army, another concentrated on Sunni Islamist radicalism. At this time the latter concentrated on Algeria.
In January 1996 the CTC opened the Bin Laden Issue Station to track Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, with Michael Scheuer, formerly in charge of the CTC's Islamic Extremist Branch, as its first head. The reasons were similar to those for the establishment of the CTC itself. The new Station (unlike the traditional country-based ones) was not geographically limited. And it drew its personnel from across the U.S. intelligence community.
Jeff (Geoff) O'Connell was Director of the CTC 1997-1999.
Cofer Black became Director in June 1999, as part of a reshuffle by CIA chief George Tenet, who was embarking on a grand "Plan" to deal with al-Qaeda (see below). At the same time Tenet made "Richard" ("Rich B"), one of his own "top-flight executives", head of the (unnamed) section in charge of the Bin Laden Station. ("Richard" is otherwise described as the head of the Bin Laden unit.)
Paul Pillar became chief of analysis in 1993. By 1997 he was the Center's deputy director. But in summer 1999 he suffered a clash of styles with the new director, Black. Soon after, Pillar left the CTC. He was replaced as deputy director by Ben Bonk. Henry "Hank" Crumpton was head of operations in the late 1990s. (He came back after 9/11 as chief of a new Special Operations section — see below.)
In the late 1990s the CIA began to set up Counterterrorist Intelligence Centers, as collaboration with the intelligence services of individual countries, and based in those countries, to deal with Islamist militants. The CTICs spread widely after September 11, 2001 attacks, existing in more than two dozen countries by 2005. "Officers from the host nations serving in the CTICs are vetted by the CIA, and usually supervised by the CIA's chief of station [in a particular country] and augmented by officers sent from the Counterterrorist Center at Langley."
"The Plan", 1999-2001Edit
In December 1998 CIA chief George Tenet "declared war" on Osama bin Laden. Early in 1999 Tenet "ordered the CTC to begin a 'baseline' review of the CIA's operational strategy against bin Laden". In the spring he "demanded 'a new, comprehensive plan of attack' against bin Laden and his allies".Template:Fact
The CTC produced a "comprehensive plan of attack" against bin Laden and "previewed the new strategy to senior CIA management by the end of July 1999. Template:Fact By mid-September, it had been briefed to CIA operational level personnel, and to [the National Security Agency, the] NSA, the FBI, and other partners." Template:Fact The strategy "was called simply, 'the Plan'." ...Template:Fact
wanted to "project" into Afghanistan, to "penetrate" bin Laden's sanctuaries. They described their plan as military officers might. They sought to surround Afghanistan with secure covert bases for CIA operations — as many bases as they could arrange. Then they would mount operations from each of the platforms, trying to move inside Afghanistan and as close to bin Laden as they could to recruit agents and to attempt capture operations.... Black wanted recruitments, and he wanted to develop commando or paramilitary strike teams made up of officers and men who could "blend" into the region's Muslim populations.Template:Fact
Once Cofer Black had finalized his operational plan.... [Charles] Allen [the associate deputy director of central intelligence for collection] created a dedicated al-Qa'ida cell with officers from across the intelligence community. This cell met daily, brought focus to penetrating the Afghan sanctuary, and ensured that collection initiatives were synchronized with operational plans. Allen met with [Tenet] on a weekly basis to review initiatives under way. His efforts were enabling operations and pursuing longer-range, innovative initiatives around the world against al-Qa'ida.Template:Fact
It is not clear how this "Qaeda cell", which duplicated the functions of the Bin Laden unit, related to or overlapped the unit.
The CIA increasingly concentrated its diminished resources on counterterrorism, so that resources for this activity increased sharply, in contrast to the general trend. At least some of the Plan's more modest aspirations were translated into action. Intelligence collection efforts on bin Laden and al-Qaeda increased significantly from 1999. "By 9/11", said Tenet, "a map would show that these collection programs and human [reporting] networks were in place in such numbers as to nearly cover Afghanistan."
The core 9/11 hijackers emergeEdit
Beginning in September 1999 the CTC picked up multiple signs that bin Laden had set in motion major terrorist attacks for the turn of the year. The CIA set in motion the "largest collection and disruption activity in the history of mankind" (as Cofer Black later put it). They focused on known Qaeda terrorists, and on senior personnel both inside and outside Afghanistan.
Amid this activity, in November-December 1999 Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah and Nawaf al-Hazmi visited Afghanistan, where they were selected by al-Qaeda for the "planes operation" that was to become known as 9/11. The intelligence community began to pick up signs in late 1999. The National Security Agency (NSA) picked up traces of an "operational cadre" consisting of al-Hazmi, his younger brother Salem, and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who were planning to go to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000. A CTC officer sought permission to surveil the men. At about this time the SOCOM-DIA data mining operation Able Danger also identified a potential Qaeda unit, consisting of the future leading 9/11 hijackers Atta, al-Shehhi, al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. It termed them the "Brooklyn cell".
The Predator drone, 2000-2001Edit
Steve Coll wrote in his book Ghost Wars:
"By the late spring of 2000, Richard Clarke and his White House counter-terrorism group had grown frustrated by the quality of intelligence reporting on Osama bin Laden's whereabouts.... Clarke and his aides brainstormed for new ideas.... Several years later, a number of people involved in these highly classified discussions claimed the credit for the idea of sending Predator reconnaissance drones into Afghanistan.... [I]t seems clear, in a general sense, that Clarke, [Vice Admiral Scott] Fry [head of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff], [CIA intelligence chief Charles] Allen, [Cofer] Black, and officers in the CIA's bin Laden unit jointly conspired... to launch the Predator experiment."
In autumn 2000, a series of flights over Afghanistan by Predator drones, under the joint control of the USAF and the CTC, produced probable sightings of bin Laden. CTC Director Black became a "vocal advocate" of arming Predators with missiles to try to assassinate bin Laden. But there were legal and technical issues: under the new Bush administration in 2001, Black and the CTC's bin Laden unit continued to lobby for Predators armed with adapted Hellfire anti-tank missiles. Black urged CIA chief Tenet to promote the matter at the long-awaited Cabinet-level Principals Committee meeting on terrorism of September 4, 2001. The CIA chief did so. The CIA was authorized to "deploy the system with weapons-capable aircraft".
The strategic assessments branch, 2001Edit
In late 2000 Tenet "recognized the deficiency of strategic analysis against al-Qaeda". He appointed a senior manager within the CTC, who in March 2001 briefed him on "creating a strategic assessment capability" "to digest vast quantities of information and develop targeting strategies".