Agencies Unite to find bin Laden

Rowan Scarborough has more details on the bin Laden hunt that Newsweek reported on last week.

Task Force 121, the secret manhunting unit formed for the war on terrorism, is a blend of warriors, aviators, CIA officers and deep-cover intelligence collectors who nabbed Saddam Hussein and now hope to grab Osama bin Laden.

“This is tightening the sensor-to-shooter loop,” said a senior defense official. “You have your own intelligence right with the guys who do the shooting and grabbing. All the information under one roof.”


Task Force 121’s composition includes four major elements:

̢ۢGrey Fox, a deep-cover organization based at Fort Belvoir in Northern Virginia. Members specialize in spying and intercepting communications. They carry hardware that can tap into electronic-eavesdropping satellites and that can splice fiber-optic cables.

Grey Fox maintains a fleet of aircraft at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. On occasion, members enter countries on “non-official cover” using assumed identities.

Created principally to combat international drug smugglers, Grey Fox has turned out to be the perfect unit for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s demand for “actionable intelligence” to kill or capture al Qaeda operatives and other terrorists.

The Army once maintained Grey Fox, but after September 11 the Pentagon shifted direct control to Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at Fort Bragg, N.C. Ultimately, Grey Fox reports to U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla.

Although officials still refer to the intelligence unit as Grey Fox, a defense source said its code name was changed during the war on terrorism. The source asked that the new designation not be reported. Grey Fox has operated under a number of different code words. In the early 1990s, for example, it was called “Capacity Gear.”

̢ۢJSOC: This is the headquarters for an elite 800-member group of Army Delta Force and Navy SEALs who specialize in counterterrorism. Left mostly on the shelf pre-September 11, JSOC is today the most active it has ever been.

JSOC was the bulk of Task Force 11 in Afghanistan that hunted bin Laden, Mullah Mohammed Omar and other high-value targets. It then reinvented itself as Task Force 121 in Iraq. Sources say it’s likely the task force will take on a new designating number now that it is back in Afghanistan.

JSOC and Grey Fox make up the “black” world of special operations. The “white” units — which operate more publicly — include Green Berets and civil-affairs officers.

̢ۢCIA Special Activities Division: These are CIA paramilitaries who can aid Task Force 121 by setting up networks of sources in Iraq and Afghanistan, and provide intelligence directly to the warriors.

•The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment: This fleet of Black Hawk, Chinook and AH-6 “Little Bird” helicopters ferries the Delta Force and SEALs where they need to go, quickly, at night, at low altitudes. Saddam was loaded onto a “Little Bird” Dec. 13 and taken to Tikrit after Task Force 121 and a 4th Infantry Division unit found him hiding in a hole on a farm.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Delta Dave says:

    I think one of the great unreported stories out of the Afghanistan/Iraq Gulf Wars is the transformation of the intelligence community, particularly the CIA, NSA, NRO, DIA, etc.

    It use to be a one way street…info up. Nothing back down. But the drive for real time intel in the way we fought in Afghanistan and Iraq has force the CIA and the other intel pigeon holes to change they way they cooperate, respond, and participate or else be considered irrevalent.

    They have had to become real-time players to be players. The consequence of this has made for a much more nimble, alert, agile, aggressive, intelligence community overall, in my humble, and illinformed opinion. We are far better off for it….