The New York Times
CIA Closes Unit Focused on Capture of Bin Laden
Wed Jul 5, 2006 13:28

 
Published on Tuesday, July 4, 2006 by the New York Times
CIA Closes Unit Focused on Capture of Bin Laden
by Mark Mazzetti
http://www.nytimes.com/

WASHINGTON - The Central Intelligence Agency has closed a
unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Osama bin
Laden and his top lieutenants, intelligence officials
confirmed Monday.

The unit, known as Alec Station, was disbanded late last
year and its analysts reassigned within the C.I.A.
Counterterrorist Center, the officials said.

The decision is a milestone for the agency, which formed the
unit before Osama bin Laden became a household name and
bolstered its ranks after the Sept. 11 attacks, when
President Bush pledged to bring Mr. bin Laden to
justice "dead or alive."

The realignment reflects a view that Al Qaeda is no longer
as hierarchical as it once was, intelligence officials said,
and a growing concern about Qaeda-inspired groups that have
begun carrying out attacks independent of Mr. bin Laden and
his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Agency officials said that tracking Mr. bin Laden and his
deputies remained a high priority, and that the decision to
disband the unit was not a sign that the effort had
slackened. Instead, the officials said, it reflects a belief
that the agency can better deal with high-level threats by
focusing on regional trends rather than on specific
organizations or individuals.

"The efforts to find Osama bin Laden are as strong as ever,"
said Jennifer Millerwise Dyck, a C.I.A. spokeswoman. "This
is an agile agency, and the decision was made to ensure
greater reach and focus."

The decision to close the unit was first reported Monday by
National Public Radio.

Michael Scheuer, a former senior C.I.A. official who was the
first head of the unit, said the move reflected a view
within the agency that Mr. bin Laden was no longer the
threat he once was.

Mr. Scheuer said that view was mistaken.

"This will clearly denigrate our operations against Al
Qaeda," he said. "These days at the agency, bin Laden and Al
Qaeda appear to be treated merely as first among equals."

In recent years, the war in Iraq has stretched the resources
of the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon, generating
new priorities for American officials. For instance, much of
the military's counterterrorism units, like the Army's Delta
Force, had been redirected from the hunt for Mr. bin Laden
to the search for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed last
month in Iraq.

An intelligence official who was granted anonymity to
discuss classified information said the closing of the bin
Laden unit reflected a greater grasp of the organization.
"Our understanding of Al Qaeda has greatly evolved from
where it was in the late 1990's," the official said, but
added, "There are still people who wake up every day with
the job of trying to find bin Laden."

Established in 1996, when Mr. bin Laden's calls for global
jihad were a source of increasing concern for officials in
Washington, Alec Station operated in a similar fashion to
that of other agency stations around the globe.

The two dozen staff members who worked at the station, which
was named after Mr. Scheuer's son and was housed in leased
offices near agency headquarters in northern Virginia,
issued regular cables to the agency about Mr. bin Laden's
growing abilities and his desire to strike American targets
throughout the world.

In his book "Ghost Wars," which chronicles the agency's
efforts to hunt Mr. bin Laden in the years before the Sept.
11 attacks, Steve Coll wrote that some inside the agency
likened Alec Station to a cult that became obsessed with Al
Qaeda.

"The bin Laden unit's analysts were so intense about their
work that they made some of their C.I.A. colleagues
uncomfortable," Mr. Coll wrote. Members of Alec Station
"called themselves 'the Manson Family' because they had
acquired a reputation for crazed alarmism about the rising
Al Qaeda threat."

Intelligence officials said Alec Station was disbanded after
Robert Grenier, who until February was in charge of the
Counterterrorist Center, decided the agency needed to
reorganize to better address constant changes in terrorist
organizations.

2006 The New York Times Company

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