Agency within an agency
Nevertheless, those directly involved in building the agency’s lethal capacity say the changes to the CIA since Sept. 11 are so profound that they sometimes marvel at the result. One former senior U.S. intelligence official described the agency’s paramilitary transformation as “nothing short of a wonderment.”
“You’ve taken an agency that was chugging along and turned it into one hell of a killing machine,” said the former official, who, like many people interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters. Blanching at his choice of words, he quickly offered a revision: “Instead, say ‘one hell of an operational tool.’ ”
The engine of that machine is the CTC, an entity that has accumulated influence, authority and resources to such a degree that it resembles an agency within an agency.
The center swelled to 1,200 employees in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and nearly doubled in size since then.
The CTC occupies a sprawling footprint at the CIA campus in Langley, including the first floor of what is known as the “new headquarters” building. The chief of the center is an undercover officer known for his brusque manner, cigarette habit and tireless commitment to the job.
A CIA veteran said he asked the CTC chief about the pace of strikes against al-Qaeda last year and got a typically profane reply: “We are killing these sons of bitches faster than they can grow them now.”
The headquarters for that hunt is on a separate floor in a CTC unit known as the Pakistan-Afghanistan Department, referred to internally as PAD. Within the past year, the agency has created an equivalent department for Yemen and Somalia in the hope that it can replicate the impact of PAD.
Inside the PAD entrance is a photographic tribute to the seven CIA employees who were killed by a suicide bomber in December 2009 at a remote base in the Afghan city of Khost. Two were former targeters who had worked in the CTC.
Beyond that marker is a warren of cubicles and offices. On the walls are maps marked with the locations of CIA bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as whiteboards with lists of pending operations and code names of spies. Every paid informant is given a unique “crypt” that starts with a two-letter digraph designating spies who are paid sources of the CTC.
PAD serves as the anchor of an operational triangle that stretches from South Asia to the American Southwest. The CIA has about 30 Predator and Reaper drones, all flown by Air Force pilots from a U.S. military base in a state that The Post has agreed, at the request of agency officials, not to name. The intelligence that guides their “orbits” flows in from a constellation of CIA bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan.