The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's
Counterterrorism Center (CTC)
was established in 1986, and is a division of the CIA's National
Clandestine Service. It is not to be confused with the National
Counterterrorism Center, which is a separate entity. From 2006, the
Director of the
Counterterrorism Center was Michael D’Andrea, who
was publicly referred to only as "Roger".
1 Foundation and early years
2 The 1990s
3 "The Plan", 1999–2001
3.1 The core 9/11 hijackers emerge
3.2 The Predator drone, 2000–2001
4 9/11 and after
5 See also
Foundation and early years
The Counterterrorist Center was established in February 1986, under
the CIA's Directorate of Operations, with
Duane 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 original aims
later gave way to a more analytical role. This did not prevent the
Center contemplating an "Eagle" drone aircraft project in 1986-7,
which could have been used to spy on hostage-takers in
Lebanon. The idea was unrealistic in terms of the
technical abilities of the time, but can be compared to the Predator
drone eventually inaugurated in 2000.
Early members of the CTC included Vincent Cannistraro, Chief of
Operations and Analysis from 1988–91, Robert Baer, from the
Directorate of Operations, and Stanley Bedlington, a "senior
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, primarily in
In January 1996, the CTC opened the
Bin Laden Issue Station to track
Osama bin Laden
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 drew its personnel from across the U.S.
J. Cofer Black, CTC Director 1999–2002
Geoffrey O'Connell was Director of the CTC from 1997 until Cofer Black
became Director in June 1999, as part of a reshuffle by CIA chief
George Tenet, who was embarking on a plan to deal with al-Qaeda. At
the same time Tenet made one of his executives head of the unnamed
section in charge of the Bin Laden Station.
Paul Pillar became chief of analysis in 1993, and by 1997, he was the
Center's deputy director. But in summer 1999 he suffered a clash of
styles with Cofer Black. Soon after, Pillar left the CTC. He was
replaced as deputy director by Ben Bonk. Henry Crumpton was head of
operations in the late 1990s, and came back after 9/11 as chief of
Special Operations section.
In the late 1990s, the CIA began to set up Counterterrorist
Intelligence Centers, in collaboration with the intelligence services
of individual countries to deal with Islamist militants. The CTICs
spread widely after the September 11, 2001 attacks, existing in more
than two dozen countries by 2005. Officers from the host nations
serving in the CTICs were vetted by the CIA, and usually supervised by
the local CIA chief of station.
"The Plan", 1999–2001
In December 1998 CIA chief
George Tenet "declared war" on Osama bin
Laden. Early in 1999 Tenet ordered the CTC to conduct a review of
the CIA's operational strategy, with the aim of creating 'a new,
comprehensive plan of attack' against al-Qaeda. By
mid-September, the result of this review, known simply as "The Plan",
had been briefed to CIA operational level personnel, and to the NSA,
the FBI, and other partners.
Cofer Black had finalized his operational plan, Charles E. Allen,
associate deputy director of Central Intelligence for Collection,
created a dedicated al-Qaeda cell with officers from across the
intelligence community. This cell met daily, focusing on penetrating
the Afghan sanctuary, and ensuring that collection initiatives were
synchronized with operational plans. Allen met with Tenet on a weekly
basis to review initiatives.
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
The core 9/11 hijackers emerge
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 what Black later described as the "largest
collection and disruption activity in the history of mankind". They
focused on known al-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 9/11 operation. In late
1999, the 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 conduct surveillance on the men. At
about this time the SOCOM-DIA data mining operation "Able Danger" also
identified a potential al-Qaeda unit, consisting of the future leading
9/11 hijackers, and termed them the "Brooklyn cell". Altogether, the
operation found five cells, including two of the three cells involved
in the 9/11 attack.
The CIA erratically tracked al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar as they traveled
to and attended the al-Qaeda summit in
Kuala Lumpur in early January
The Predator drone, 2000–2001
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 advocated arming
Predators with missiles to try to launch a targeted killing of bin
Laden, but there were legal and technical issues. Black continued to
lobby for Predators armed with adapted Hellfire anti-tank missiles
under the new Bush admingistration in 2001. On Black's advice, Tenet
raised the matter at the long-awaited Cabinet-level Principals
Committee meeting on terrorism on September 4, 2001, and received
authorization to deploy the system.
9/11 and after
September 11, 2001 attacks
September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon, some CTC staff were exempted from an order to evacuate the
CIA headquarters building at Langley. They included the shift of the
Global Response Center on the exposed sixth floor, which Black had
argued was essential to keep operating during the crisis. Tenet
finally agreed with Black that their lives would have to be put at
The CTC obtained passenger lists from the planes used in the attack,
Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, whose names
they had first linked with terrorism in the winter of 1999–2000.
Tenet later proposed inserting CIA teams into
Afghanistan to assist
local warlords in the fight against al-Qaeda.
The CIA geared up to take the lead in the attack on al-Qaeda and the
Taliban in Afghanistan. The NALT team, led by Gary Schroen, entered
the country once more on September 26. A new branch was added to the
CTC, named CTC
Special Operations, or CTC/SO, headed by Henry
Crumpton, with the aim of locating and destroying al-Qaeda resources.
Execution of this mission was nowhere more evident than at
Qala-i-Jangi, a 19th-century fortress on the outskirts of the northern
Afghan town of Mazar-i-Sharif, when it fell to American allies.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Counterterrorist Intelligence Center
Robert Grenier (CIA)
^ Schou, Nicholas (June 28, 2017). "Outing the CIA's 'Undertaker'".
Newsweek. Archived from the original on June 2, 2017.
^ Miller, Greg (March 24, 2012). "At CIA, a convert to Islam leads the
terrorism hunt". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 13,
^ Steve Coll, Ghost Wars (2005 edn), pp. 137–46, 527–8; 9/11
Commission Report, chapter 3, pp. 75, 92 (HTML version). The
"explosive drones" are from Coll's interview with Clarridge, Dec. 28,
2001: Ghost Wars, p. 685, note 3.
^ Coll, Ghost Wars (2005 edn), pp. 140–6. (Coll misspells
Bedlington's name "Bedington".)
^ Coll, Ghost Wars (2005 edn), pp. 252–3.
^ Coll, Ghost Wars (2005 edn), pp. 257, 375, 451, 457.
^ Tenet, At the Center of the Storm, pp.*; cf. Coll, Ghost Wars (2005
edn), p. 523.
^ Coll, Ghost Wars, pp. 436–7, and p. 646 note 42; 9/11 Commission
Report, chapter 11, p. 357 (HTML version).
^ Coll, Ghost Wars, pp. 457, 466–72, 485, and p. 654 note 7; Tenet
statement to the Joint Inquiry on 9/11, Oct. 17, 2002[permanent dead
link]; 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 4, pp. 142–3 (HTML version);
Tenet, At the Center of the Storm, pp. 119, 120.
^ Coll, Ghost Wars, pp. 495–6; 911 Commission Report, chapter 6, pp.
174–80 (HTML version).
^ 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 5, pp. 155–8, 168 (HTML version).
Data derived from subsequent intelligence interrogations of captives.
^ 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 6, p. 181 (HTML version); Coll,
Ghost Wars, pp. 487–88.
^ Shaffer interview on
Able Danger Archived September 24, 2005, at the
Wayback Machine., Government Security News, Aug. 2005
^ Inside the Ring", Washington Times, Sept. 30, 2005.
^ 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 6, pp. 181–2
^ 9/11 Commission Report chapter 11, pp. 383–4.
^ Tenet, At the Center of the Storm, pp. 164–65. The conversation is
a virtual replica of that given in Bob Woodward, Bush at War (2002/3)
(Publisher's extract from chapter 1).
^ Tenet, At the Center of the Storm, p. 167.
^ Tenet, At the Center of the Storm, pp. 209, 211, 217, 221–3. Cf.
Franklin Freeman, "Afghan Massacres...", Liberty Strikes Back.
Osama bin Laden
Childhood, education, and personal life
Beliefs and ideology
code name controversy
Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden (father)
Hamida al-Attas (mother)
Najwa Ghanem (first wife)
Abdallah bin Laden (son)
Hamza bin Laden (son)
Saad bin Laden (son)
Omar bin Laden
Omar bin Laden (son)
Wadi al Aqiq
Messages to the World
19 January 2006 tape
7 September 2007 video
11 September 2007 video
20 September 2007 tape (more)
In popular culture
Growing Up bin Laden
Holy War, Inc.
The Looming Tower
No Easy Day
Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?
Zero Dark Thirty
Allegations of support system in Pakistan for Osama bin Laden
September 11 attacks
Allegations of CIA assistance to Osama bin Laden
Central Intelligence Agency
United States Intelligence Community
United States Intelligence Community (CIA Headquarters: George Bush
Center for Intelligence, Langley, Virginia)
Russia and Europe
Arms control, WMD, and proliferation
Crime and illicit drug trade
Health and economy
Influence on public opinion
Directorate of Analysis
Directorate of Science & Technology
Directorate of Operations (
Special Activities Division, National
Directorate of Support
Official reports by the U.S. Gov