July 28 2021 — The identity of this veteran CIA officer remains classified. But various media and CIA director William Burns have offered a few clues. Although very little was revealed, the information is probably sufficient to identify the new boss of the CIA ‘Havana Syndrome’ task force. Here is my best guess! Follow us on twitter: @Intel_Today
According to the Wall Street Journal, CIA Director William Burns has tapped a veteran of the agency’s hunt for Osama bin Laden to head the ‘Havana Syndrome’ task force. The identity of this officer is classified.
The Washington Post has confirmed the story.
“CIA Director William J. Burns handpicked the officer, who is undercover and a veteran of counterterrorism and counternarcotics operations, these people said, speaking like others on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive assignment.
They added that the officer’s work on the operation to find and kill bin Laden, which the CIA counts among its historic successes, underscored the emphasis and urgency Burns placed on attributing the cause of the illnesses.”
William Burns gave his first sit-down interview since assuming the role of Central Intelligence Agency director in March. In a wide-ranging conversation, NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly asked him several questions about the Havana Syndrome.
“I’m certainly persuaded that what our officers and some family members — as well as other U.S. government employees — have experienced is real and it’s serious. (…) we have a very strong team of people — the best across CIA — focused on those questions of “What?” and “Who?”, led by a very experienced and accomplished senior officer who, a decade ago, led the successful hunt for bin Laden. So we’re throwing the very best we have at this issue…”
Bin Laden Issue Station
The Bin Laden Issue Station (1996–2005) was a unit of the Central Intelligence Agency dedicated to tracking Osama bin Laden and his associates.The Station opened in January 1996, as a unit under the CTC. Scheuer set it up and headed it from that time until spring 1999.
In December 1998, CIA chief Tenet “declared war” on Osama bin Laden. Tenet removed Michael Scheuer from the leadership of the Bin Laden Station. (Later that year Scheuer resigned from the CIA.) Tenet appointed Richard Blee.
Shortly after 9/11, Michael Scheuer came back to the Station as special adviser. He stayed until November 2004. After 9/11, “Hendrik V.”, and later “Marty M.”, were chiefs of Alec Station’s Bin Laden Unit. The Bin Laden Station was disbanded in late 2005.
Leon Panetta on Managing the Hunt for Bin Laden
“At a meeting shortly after [December 2009] in the director’s conference room back at Langley, we asked a roomful of top-ranking Agency officers, “Who here is in charge of finding Osama Bin Laden?” Everybody raised his or her hand, thinking that was the answer we were looking for. The scene captured a big problem: Within CIA, everyone felt ownership of the hunt, but there was no senior official — accountable to the CIA director — who woke up every day and went to sleep every night working on the Bin Laden mission.
We put one person in charge — a career operations officer who had served in the field and had been running the unit overseeing counterterrorism missions along the Afghan-Pakistan border. He had deep knowledge and credibility. To keep pressure on the team and to signal to the staff that this effort was a top priority, we assigned the officer — let’s call him “Gary” — to brief Director Panetta every Tuesday afternoon, even if he had nothing new to report.”
Who is Gary?
Gary Schroen led an elite American covert team of seven officers into Afghanistan less than two weeks after the 9/11 attacks.
In a CBS News interview 10 years later, Schroen said that his boss told him “I want you to cut bin Laden’s head off, put it on dry ice and send it back to me so I can show the president.”
“Schroen worked with the Agency for over 30 years, rising from case officer to Deputy Chief, Near East Division, Directorate of Operations in 1999, a post he held through 2001. During his career, Schroen served in numerous posts, including Station Chief in Kabul, Afghanistan (but working out of Pakistan) in the late 1980s. From 1992 to 1994, Schroen worked at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, controlling Iranian operations. Schroen was the chief of station in Islamabad, Pakistan from 1996 until mid-1999. During this period, he directed CIA operations to find and capture Osama bin Laden, and began renewing relationships with the Mujahideen commanders who fought the Soviets in the Soviet–Afghan War.” [Wikipedia]
Although he planned to retire, Schroen was recalled after the September 11th attacks to lead a CIA team into Afghanistan.
There is a problem. Gary Schroen cannot possibly be the person chosen to head the CIA Havana Syndrome Task Force. Schroen is simply too old for the task, and his profile hardly matches the job description. Where did I go wrong?
After I completed this post, CBS published an interesting story: “U.S. intensifies efforts to address “Havana Syndrome,” but answers remain elusive”. (July 26 2021)
The U.S. government is intensifying its efforts to address the effects of “Havana Syndrome” as reported cases proliferate and worries mount that its cause remains poorly understood and unidentified publicly, current and former U.S. officials say.
The new task force chief, who at one point led the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and remains undercover, is expected to boost the use of ‘targeting’ – a term in intelligence collection and analysis to describe a more focused, resource-intensive approach to identifying new leads or existing gaps– in order to invigorate the investigation, sources familiar with the official’s background said.
Former intelligence officials who worked with the officer said he is an “inspired choice” by Burns, who has personally met with victims and said addressing the incidents reported by CIA officers was a “very high priority.”
“This appointment will prove to be one of the most important during his time as the CIA Director,” said Douglas Wise, a former career CIA officer and deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. “Having served with this officer, I know he is highly respected as a leader and a role model for professionalism and objectivity.”
So, the new boss of the CIA Havana Syndrome Task Force is a man who — a decade ago — led the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.
Notice that, once again, CBS insists on the fact that his identity remains classified.
What do we know about CTMC?
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s Mission Center for Counterterrorism (often referred to as the Counterterrorism Mission Center or CTMC, formerly the Counterterrorism Center, or simply CTC) was established in 1986, and is a division of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations.
It was renamed during an agency restructuring in 2015, and is distinct from the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which is a separate entity.
The most recent publicly known Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Mission Center was Chris Wood who led the organization from 2015 to 2017. [Wikipedia — Counterterrorism Mission Center]
Well… From February 2006 to March 2015, Michael D’Andrea was the director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center.
“Michael D’Andrea is an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency who spent nine years as director of Counterterrorism Center (CTC) during the war on terror, serving as a major figure in the search for Osama bin Laden, as well as the American drone strike targeted killing campaign.
In 2017 he was appointed to head the agency’s Iran Mission Center, one of the earliest moves in what became the ‘maximum pressure’ strategy of the Trump administration against Iran. In January 2020, there were unverified reports of his death.” [Wikipedia]
Despite years in a prominent CIA assignment, D’Andrea’s real name did not become public until a 2015 profile by Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times, one month after leaving the role of CTC director.
His outing by the paper while still an active ‘undercover’ officer of the CIA prompted backlash from many former intelligence officers, particularly after Iranian state media published photos of D’Andrea and his wife the following day.
Let us assume that Michael D’Andrea is indeed the new boss of the CIA Havana Syndrome Task Force. What would you inferred from that very special choice?
First, it would imply that the report of his death was an exaggeration. No surprise here as the story was obvious nonsense from the start.
Second. The appointment to the Havana Syndrome task force certainly sends a message to the culprits of these attacks. Remember that D’Andrea told Schroen: “Cut bin Laden’s head off, put it on dry ice and bring it back to me…”
Third, it might also reveal that Burns wants to make some serious change at the top of the Directorate of Analysis. Time will tell…
There is indeed something funny about the way MSM are reporting the departure of Cynthia Rapp.
“The former head of the task force responsible for finding the cause of these incidents, Cynthia Rapp, has retired less than a year after taking on the role — the second key departure since Burns took command of the agency.”
Well, Cynthia Rapp was not just the head of the ‘Havana Syndrome’ task force. She was the Deputy Director of CIA for Analysis since January 5 2019.
During a briefing she gave to the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this year, Cynthia Rapp seriously annoyed a few senators when she didn’t provide satisfying answers to their questions about the ‘Havana Syndrome’ incidents and how the CIA has handled them.
Bin Laden Issue Station — Wikipedia
The Former Head of the CIA on Managing the Hunt for Bin Laden by Leon E. Panetta and Jeremy Bash — Harvard Business Review
CIA officer who hunted bin Laden to speak — UNIVERSITY of NEBRASKA–LINCOLN
Havana Syndrome — Who is the boss of the CIA Havana Syndrome Task Force?