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CIA Special Activities Division (SAD) / Special Operations Group

The Special Activities Division (SAD) is the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) covert paramilitary operations unit. They are one of America's most secretive and lowest profile special ops organizations.

The Special Activities Division, sometimes referred to as the 'Special Operations Group', is made up of Paramilitary Operations Officers. CIA Paramilitaries are typically ex-military personnel and veterans of military special operations units such as the Green Berets or Marine Force Recon. SAD also recruits from within the Agency. Regardless of background, SAD operators undergo extensive specialized training.

Special Activities Division - Role

Special Activities Division typically carry out deniable covert operations on foreign soil. CIA Special Operations Group Paramilitiaries are trained in

  • sabotage
  • personnel and material recovery
  • kidnapping
  • bomb damage assessment
  • hostage resuce
  • counter terrorism

Special Activities Division - Organization

Part of the CIA's National Cladestine Service, the Special Activities Division is thought to include around 150 paramilitaries, pilots and other specialists. When deployed to the field, they typically operate in 6 man or fewer teams, with many a mission carried out by a solo SAD operative. CIA Special Operations Group Paramilitaries often work on joint operations alongside Delta, DevGru, Special Forces etc.

SAD is organized into several sections:

  • Ground Branch
    SAD Ground Branch operatives are experts in field craft, surveillance, small arms, hostage rescue, CQB and advanced driving. Many former Army Special Forces soldiers and Delta Force operators find their way into Ground Branch.
  • Maritime Branch
    As the name suggests, SAD Maritime Branch's focus is on amphibious operations and as such tends to recruit ex SEALs and Force Recon Marines as its operators.
  • Air Branch
    SAD's aviation wing.
    more info : Air Branch

Special Activities Division - Notable Operations

  • 2001 - present - Afghanistan - Operation Enduring Freedom

    CIA Special Operations Group operatives were the first American forces to deploy into Afghanistan in September 2001. Multiple CIA teams, made up of a mix of case officers and SAD paramilitary officers, linked up with various anti-Taliban forces throughout Afghanistan. Their mission was to represent the US Government, gather intelligence on Al Qaeda and the Taliban and prepare the way for air strikes by coalition aircraft and the introduction of US Special Operations Forces into the country. CIA teams proceeded to make contact with Northern Alliance commanders, building relationships that were the key to ousting the Taliban regime. SAD Officers accompanied NA commanders and US Army Special Forces during several battles, including ousting the Taliban from the key Northern cities of Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.

    more info : JAWBREAKER - the first CIA SAD team to enter Afghanistan after 9/11

    CIA operatives were involved in the prisoner revolt at Qala-i-Janghi, a medieval fort being used to house captured Taliban soldiers, which claimed the life of Johnny Michael Spann, a SAD officer. A combination of US and UK SOF alongside NA forces eventually quelled the rebellion and retook the fort.

    CIA operatives worked closely with U.S. and British Special Operations Forces throughout the campaign. The book Bloody Heroes by Damien Lewis, describes a British Special Boat Service (SBS - the UK equivalent of US Navy SEALs) recon mission in the mountains of Afghanistan. The SBS team, which included a SEAL on secondment to the unit, was accompanied by a CIA SAD Officer who's expertise in intelligence gathering was instrumental to the mission's success.

  • 2003 - Pakistan
    March 1st - CIA Special Activities Division operatives, along with Pakistani forces, captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on of the architects of 911. SAD would go on to assist in his interrogation.

  • 2003-present - Iraq - Operation Iraqi Freedom

    Months before the invasion of Iraq began, CIA SAD teams had covertly inserted into Iraq in order to gather intelligence on Saddam's WMD programs and on indigenous terror group, Ansar al Islam.

    During the invasion of Iraq, SAD Paramilitaries linked up with Army Special Forces and Kurdish forces in the North of the country. Their combined efforts tied up Iraqi forces, preventing them from moving south to counter the main coalition thrust. CIA teams also attempted to persuade Iraqi military units to defect.

    Following the initial invasion, CIA SAD operatives provided intel for SOF snatch and grab operations against Baath party leaders and, later, elements of the insurgency.

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Featured CIA SAD Photo
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CIA Special Activities Division (SAD) paramilitary officers confer at the scene of an uprising of captured Taliban, Qala-i-Janghi, Afghanistan, 2001. Note the AK47 Kalashnikovs with folding stocks carried by both men

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