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Sources Say CIA Hired Blackwater for Assassin Program
The effort, known to intelligence officials as the "targeted killing" program, was originally conceived for use in Iraq and Afghanistan, but officials later sought to expand it to other countries in the region, according to a source familiar with its inception.
It was aimed at removing from the battlefield members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates who were judged to be plotting attacks against U.S. forces or interests. The program was initially managed by the CIA's counterterrorism center, but its functions were partly transferred to Blackwater when key officials from the center retired from the CIA and went to work for the private contractor.
Former agency officials have described the assassination program as more aspirational than operational. One former high-ranking intelligence official briefed on the details said there were three iterations of the program over eight years, each with a separate code name. Total spending was well under $20 million over eight years, the official said.
"We never actually did anything," said the former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program remains highly classified. "It never became a covert action."
A second former official, also intimately familiar with details of the program, said the Blackwater phase involved "lots of time spent training," mostly near the CIA's covert facility near Williamsburg. The official said the teams simulated missions that often involved kidnapping.
"They were involved not only in trying to kill but also in getting close enough to snatch," he said. Among team members there was "much frustration" that the program never reached an operational stage, he said.
The CIA -- and Blackwater -- were not the only agents that sought to covertly kill key members of al-Qaeda using small, highly trained teams. A similar effort, officials say, was undertaken by U.S. Special Forces.
"The targets were generally people on a kill or capture list," said a source familiar with Special Forces operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "How did people get on the list? Well, if we knew that people were involved in planning attacks, they got on the list. More than half were generally captured. But the decision was made in advance that if they resisted, or if it was necessary for any reason, just kill them."