Special Activities Division - Part 2 - Inglorious Amateurs

Special Activities Division - Part 2

Today is the continuation of last week's SAD story from Sean Sullivan.

Basic Structure

SAD, like most other NCS divisions, is divided into groups and then subdivided into branches, then further subdivided into sections.  One of those groups within SAD is the Special Operations Group (SOG), which houses the infamous Paramilitary Operations Officers or PMOO's.  SOG is currently divided into various branches that provide operational support to the rest of the Agency and IC. 



The main purpose of SAD is as a service provider to other Divisions who hold Presidential Covert Action Authorities.  Essentially SAD develops and maintains capabilities, whether those capabilities are personnel, platforms, weapons systems, or non-lethal aid. SAD does NOT operate on its own agenda and it is highly scrutinized by the Executive and Legislative parts of our government.  Not only are Covert Action Findings scrutinized externally, they are also reviewed by the OIG and legal departments located at every step in the approval process.  I won't even bother listing the financial monitoring and approval process that begins with the HPSCI and SSCI. 



 The Office of Strategic Services was the birthplace of what we now know as the Special Activities Division and while the title has changed over the years; the basic history of the Special Activities Division holds the best and worst of the Agency.  If it was successful, it most likely changed the geopolitical landscape but you've probably never heard about it.  If it wasn't, it was probably a story read around the world and probably became a huge embarrassment to the US.



Like any other division, or any other governmental agency, it is susceptible to human error, ulterior motivations and risk aversion.  I won't talk too much about the risk aversion aspect as I am covering that in another piece but at the working level, the main impact of the ulterior motivations and risk aversion is Officer morale.  While I will concentrate on my personal first-hand experiences, I will say that CIA employees are excepted service and the head of the Agency is a political appointee.  I bring this up because while the Agency works hard to protect the US and its interests abroad regardless of who sits in the White House, it is obviously a subservient organization that works for the People of this Nation.  Don't believe it?  People vote for Politicians; those Politicians make up the Legislative and Executive Branches of our government.  The President can sign any Covert Action finding he wants but if Congress doesn't like it, it doesn't get funded or the funding sucks so bad that it's not worth it.  The Intel committees can also put stipulations on those findings which can add additional limitations.  Don't think the committees see every program? Sorry, but if it needs money, they see it.  I point this out because if there is ever an uprising about an Agency program, you can bet (with few exceptions) our Legislative Branch (or at least their lackey staffers) have been read in to it.  

Obviously these effects on morale happen in every workplace, especially in the government.  When a branch chief limits the branch operations so as to not make waves, or the Intel committees out programs on hold due to their assumption of what the new admin might want or not want, you will see a distinct change in the attitude in the office.  I have seen capabilities that were in place purely as options get shut down and months later that very requirement come up with demands from up on high.  Obviously there was nothing to be done because it was all shut down.  I dealt with the risk aversion by Branch chiefs and how it affects morale when I first got to my branch but luckily I wasn't the only one who was aware of it and shortly after my arrival the branch had new leadership.  I have often heard current and former MIL talk about guys that they would gladly follow into combat and I had honestly never experienced that type of leadership prior to my new Branch Chief's arrival.  Don’t get me wrong, during my time in the military I had quite a few good leaders as well as a few who should have been weeded out (one, a Commander who I am convinced only became a CO because daddy was an Admiral). I only mention this because it speaks to the quality of officers serving in SAD.  I am a natural cynic but I have to admit, I experienced those types of leaders quite often during my time in the division, from the Chief of SAD to my last branch chief and many of my peers. 


Any Given Day

 Agency Officer adding tail 91101 tail number to the Mi-17 used by the Northern Alliance Liaison Team (NALT)

Agency Officer adding tail 91101 tail number to the Mi-17 used by the Northern Alliance Liaison Team (NALT)

Is it as adventurous as you hear? Hell yes and hell no!  Every day was intense, whether you were in your cube for 12-14 hours or you were in the field. Yes, you could be a lazy bum if you wanted to but you would quickly get left behind.  SAD is a small Division so you are always busy.  Lunch is mostly whatever you can grab quickly or brought to eat on the run.  Everyone worked hard and fast and effective and if they saw a weak link, well the link was filled in.  Travel took up a big part of my time, which was rewarding and costly at the same time.  I was a part of some amazing things for work but missed quite a few memories at home.  This is ultimately the reason I left the Agency but I can't lie; I miss it every single day.   I wrote about the daily BS involved in an earlier piece so I won't get into that again but I will say that while I spent more than a decade in the military, I have never had a job that made me feel that the mission was worth wild and that I would lay down my life for this job more than I did while I worked in SAD. 

Ok, enough sappy crap, back to myth busting! Are we demonic soul sucker cowboys that make shit up as we go along??? There are definitely very few play books you can go by to develop operation proposals that get forwarded up to the 7th floor and beyond but it all has to be approved then approved again to get funded.  Demonic soul suckers?  Why yes, yes we are but only to the enemy.  General Donovan put it best when he said, "we will turn terror against him".  SOG’s motto means 3rd option.  When diplomacy fails and our military is not an option, Covert Action Authorities are drafted, approved, signed, and funded by our government and SAD's resources are tapped.


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