The Special Activities Division (SAD) is a division of the Central Intelligence Agency's former Directorate of Operations, now the National Clandestine Service, responsible for covert paramilitary and assassination operations, effected when the U.S. government does not wish to be overtly associated with such activities. As such, members of the unit, when on missions, do not carry any objects or clothing (i.e. military uniforms) that would associate themselves with the United States.
The unit's existence became known in the autumn of 2001, when U.S. special operations forces arrived in Afghanistan to hunt down Al Qaeda leaders and aid the Northern Alliance against the troops of the ruling Taliban. The CIA paramilitary teams, in conjunction with Special Operations Forces and the Afghani military, provided intelligence for U.S. air strikes.
The division has several hundred personnel, most of them former members of Delta Force, Navy SEALs, (including SEAL Team Six), Army Rangers, Special Forces and USMC Force Recon teams. Other members of the SAD are drawn from within the ranks of the CIA's National Clandestine Service division. On occasion, the Agency has been known to employ civilians for specialised paramilitary activities. SAD operatives are not required to have previous military experience, but it is highly desired.
The primary strength of SAD agents are agility, adaptability, and deniability. They often operate in small teams, typically with six men with military training and knowledge of foreign languages. SAD operatives often operate clandestinely in remote locations behind enemy lines to carry out raids, espionage, counter-intelligence, sabotage, guerilla warfare, high level assassinations, and hostage rescue missions. They also play a large part in recruiting, training, and leading indigenous forces in operations. SAD officers are trained at Camp Peary (also known as "The Farm") in Virginia, and at privately-owned black ops training centres around the United States. Within the international intelligence community, the SAD is considered to be one of the most skilled and lethal Special Operations forces in the world.
One of the more high-profile tactics of the SAD is their use of the remotely-operated MQ-1 Predator drone, which is equipped with high-resolution cameras and AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles. This unmanned reconnaissance drone can be used to attack targets with unmatched speed and stealth, as was demonstrated by an attack on terrorist suspects in Yemen in 2002.
Johnny Michael Spann, the first American casualty in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, was a member of the Special Activities Division.
SAD officers have operated covertly since the 1970's in places such as Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Libya, Iraq, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.