Intelligence Support Activity - Operations
The ISA has been at the forefront (although very much in the background) of most of America's special operations since the early 80s.
The Activity have been known to use light aircraft, such as the Beechcraft King Air, as airborne SIGINT listening posts. Flown by CIA Special Activities Division Air Branch
pilots, these planes are modified to accommodate various antennas that feed signals into state-of-the-art processing units fitted in the cabins. Activity SIGINT operatives monitor and track the signals on board and also relay them on to a local HQ. A 'knob turner' fluent in the native language is usually on the aircraft in order to translate and react immediately to any intel collected.
ISA Operations - list
- 1981 - Italy - Operation Winter Harvest
When an American General, James Dozier, was kidnapped by the Red Brigade terrorist organization, the Activity provided SIGINT and other support to Italian police. The location where Dozier was held was eventually pinpointed, which resulted in him being freed by an Italian commando raid.
- 1981 - Iraq - Operation Great Falcon
The Activity were part of a failed attempt to buy a T-72 tank, a much sought after intelligence prize from Saddam Hussein
- 1983 - Beirut
Following the bombing of the US Marines barracks in Lebanon, the Activity deploy to Beirut to gather intelligence on on terrorist organizations in the city and to prepare the ground for possible operations by Special Ops forces.
- 1984 - The Seychelles
The Activity sent a team to the island of Mahe to prepare for a possible evacuation of American citizens.
- 1985 - 1986 Beirut
ISA operatives set up FELIX, a network of spies throughout various militia groups throughout Beirut with the aim of finding several western hostages in the hands of Hezbollah. ISA pathfinders scouted out possible hostage locations and prepared infil/exfil routes for rescue teams but no mission was launched.
- 1985 - Honduras - Operation Grazing Lawn
ISA SIGINT experts used an aircraft operated by Sea Spray (CIA) and a mountain listening post to spy on Sandinista rebels in neighboring Nicaragua.
- 1987 - Beirut
When TWA 847 is hijacked and flown to Beirut, the ISA deployed in order to prepare the way for a rescue mission Delta and Seal commandos. Logistical delays in getting the rescue force into position gave the hostage takers time to disperse the 153 hostages throughout beirut. With chances of success now slim, the rescue mission was called off. The Hostages were eventually released in exchange for the release of 700 Shiite prisoners held by the Israelis.
- 1987 - Persian Gulf - Op Prime Chance
A small Activity team scouted out several targets for possible retaliation for Iranian attacks on Gulf shipping. These targets included Silkworm missile sites, ammo dumps and other military targets.
- 1989 - Panama - Operation Just Cause
During the US invasion of Panama, ISA SIGINT and surveillance operatives worked closely with SEAL commandos, including the assault on Paitilla airfield, during which 4 SEALs lost their lives.
- 1989 - 1993 Columbia - Centra Spike
The Activity provided intel to the Columbian authority's efforts to track down Pablo Escobar. Much of the intel was gathered by SIGINT operatives flying in modified Beechcraft King Air aircraft over the Columbian jungle. The radio and cell phone traffic intercepted by the Activity built up a picture of Escobar's network and command and control infrastructure. American and British Special Operations forces used this intelligence to organize raids by the Columbian authorities against the various nodes in Escobar's organization.
- 1991 - Iraq - Operation Desert Storm
ISA operatives assisted British Special Boat Service (SBS) commandos in disabling a network of Iraqi fiber-optic communication cables.
ISA also infiltrated into occupied-Kuwait and set up a network of Kuwaiti spies.
- 1993 - Somalia - Operation Gothic Serpent
ISA SIGINT operatives deployed alongside Delta Force and the Rangers in Mogadishu, the Somali capital where their eavesdropping capabilities assisted Task Force Ranger's mission to hunt down local Warlords.
- 1996-1998s - the Balkans - Operation Amber Star
The Activity provided intel support to a NATO task force hunting Serbian war criminals. 'Torn Victor', as it was now known, helped find targets for snatch squads from DevGru, British SAS and Dutch Special Forces.
- 2001-present - Afghanistan - Operation Enduring Freedom
SIGINT specialists and agent runners from the Activity, now code named 'Gray Fox', joined the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Gray Fox operatives joined Task Force Sword, a joint unit of Delta, Devgru, British SAS and Task Force Orange (as Gray Fox was referred to in Afghanistan). TF Sword's role was to hunt down Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership targets. TF Orange SIGINT teams tracked their quarry through cell and radio transmissions while HUMINT agent runners used their networks of informers.
Gray Fox also supplied men to Task Force Bowie and Advance Force Operations (AFO) teams made up of Delta, SEALs, USAF CCTs and Gray Fox SIGINT operatives. In February 2002, AFO recon teams infiltrated into the Shah-i-Khot region in preparation for Operation Anaconda, a large scale assault on the region, where many al-Qaeda and Taliban diehards were holding out.
- 2002 - Yemen
The Activity deployed SIGINT specialists as part of a Special Operations task force sent into Yemen to train Yemeni forces to fight al-Qaeda forces believed to be active in the country. When the training mission ended, Activity operatives stayed on and helped disrupt several al-Qaeda operations.
In November 2002,
Activity SIGINT identified and tracked Abu Ali al-Harithi, al-Qaeda's top man in Yemen, and the man thought to be the mastermind for the 2000 attack on the USS Cole.. When al-Harithi's cell phone was tracked to his Toyota Land Cruiser moving along a remote desert road, a MQ-1 Predator UAV, operated by the CIA, was vectored in from nearby Djibouti, where a significant US counter-terrorist presence had been established. This Predator was a little different from the unarmed variant operated by the Air Force. This one carried 2 AGM-114 laser-guided anti-tank missiles under its wings. Activity SIGINT operatives had hacked into al-Harithi's phone and were able to surreptitiously turn it on, creating a signal for the Predator to home in on. Once the target was found, the CIA operator, working remotely from a control room in Langley, Virginia, sent the commands to launch a missile, which duly streaked down and destroyed the Land Cruiser and its six occupants.
- 2003-present - Iraq - Operation Iraqi Freedom
In the opening stages of Gulf War II, the ISA assisted a Delta Force mission to attack Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. ISA SIGINT experts accompanied US and British Special Forces in various operations in the Western Iraqi desert.
It is believed that the Gray Fox is part of a multi-national task force (known as TF-88, previously called TF-145). The Activity element of TF-88 is known as 'Task Force Orange'. TF Orange provide SIGINT and other intel for TF-88 operations. Other members of TF-88 include Delta Force, the British SAS, SBS and elements of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment and 18(UKSF) Signals, the British equivalents of the Activity.
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