CIA Special Activities Division (SAD) / Special Operations Group

The Special Activities Division (SAD) is the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) covert paramilitary operations unit. They are one of America’s most secretive and lowest profile special ops organizations.

The Special Activities Division, sometimes referred to as the ‘Special Operations Group’, is made up of Paramilitary Operations Officers. CIA Paramilitaries are typically ex-military personnel and veterans of military special operations units such as the Green Berets or Marine Force Recon. SAD also recruits from within the Agency. Regardless of background, SAD operators undergo extensive specialized training.

Special Activities Division – Role

Special Activities Division typically carry out deniable covert operations on foreign soil. CIA Special Operations Group Paramilitiaries are trained in

  • sabotage
  • personnel and material recovery
  • kidnapping
  • bomb damage assessment
  • hostage resuce
  • counter terrorism

Special Activities Division – Organization

Part of the CIA’s National Cladestine Service, the Special Activities Division is thought to include around 150 paramilitaries, pilots and other specialists. When deployed to the field, they typically operate in 6 man or fewer teams, with many a mission carried out by a solo SAD operative. CIA Special Operations Group Paramilitaries often work on joint operations alongside Delta, DevGru, Special Forces etc.

SAD is organized into several sections:

  • Ground Branch
    SAD Ground Branch operatives are experts in field craft, surveillance, small arms, hostage rescue, CQB and advanced driving. Many former Army Special Forces soldiers and Delta Force operators find their way into Ground Branch.
  • Maritime Branch
    As the name suggests, SAD Maritime Branch’s focus is on amphibious operations and as such tends to recruit ex SEALs and Force Recon Marines as its operators.
  • Air Branch
    SAD’s aviation wing.
    more info : Air Branch

Special Activities Division – Notable Operations

  • 2001 – present – Afghanistan – Operation Enduring Freedom

    CIA Special Operations Group operatives were the first American forces to deploy into Afghanistan in September 2001. Multiple CIA teams, made up of a mix of case officers and SAD paramilitary officers, linked up with various anti-Taliban forces throughout Afghanistan. Their mission was to represent the US Government, gather intelligence on Al Qaeda and the Taliban and prepare the way for air strikes by coalition aircraft and the introduction of US Special Operations Forces into the country. CIA teams proceeded to make contact with Northern Alliance commanders, building relationships that were the key to ousting the Taliban regime. SAD Officers accompanied NA commanders and US Army Special Forces during several battles, including ousting the Taliban from the key Northern cities of Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.

    more info : JAWBREAKER – the first CIA SAD team to enter Afghanistan after 9/11

    CIA operatives were involved in the prisoner revolt at Qala-i-Janghi, a medieval fort being used to house captured Taliban soldiers, which claimed the life of Johnny Michael Spann, a SAD officer. A combination of US and UK SOF alongside NA forces eventually quelled the rebellion and retook the fort.

    CIA operatives worked closely with U.S. and British Special Operations Forces throughout the campaign. The book Bloody Heroes by Damien Lewis, describes a British Special Boat Service (SBS – the UK equivalent of US Navy SEALs) recon mission in the mountains of Afghanistan. The SBS team, which included a SEAL on secondment to the unit, was accompanied by a CIA SAD Officer who’s expertise in intelligence gathering was instrumental to the mission’s success.

  • 2003 – Pakistan
    March 1st – CIA Special Activities Division operatives, along with Pakistani forces, captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on of the architects of 911. SAD would go on to assist in his interrogation.
  • 2003-present – Iraq – Operation Iraqi Freedom

    Months before the invasion of Iraq began, CIA SAD teams had covertly inserted into Iraq in order to gather intelligence on Saddam’s WMD programs and on indigenous terror group, Ansar al Islam.

    During the invasion of Iraq, SAD Paramilitaries linked up with Army Special Forces and Kurdish forces in the North of the country. Their combined efforts tied up Iraqi forces, preventing them from moving south to counter the main coalition thrust. CIA teams also attempted to persuade Iraqi military units to defect.

    Following the initial invasion, CIA SAD operatives provided intel for SOF snatch and grab operations against Baath party leaders and, later, elements of the insurgency.

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American Special Operations Forces

New Info

MC-12W Liberty
Twin-engine spy plane flown by AFSOC
view: MC-12W Liberty

Combatant Craft Heavy (CCH) SEALION long range vessel

Combatant Craft Assault
Info on the Special Boat Team’s CCA
view: CCA

more new stuff:

This site features detailed info on the Special Operations Forces (SOF) of the United States Of America.

The units on this site are:

U.S. Army Special Operations Forces

Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Units

USMC Special Operations Forces / Elite Units

U.S. Air Force Special Operations Forces

Coast Guard Special Ops

CIA Special Forces

Military Law Enforcement / Security

Civilian Law Enforcement

  • SWAT
    Special Weapons & Tactics – overview
    The elite hostage rescue team of the FBI
    The FBI’s Special Weapons and Tactics teams

Special Operations – Video

A selection of video clips featuring American Special Operations Forces

U.S. Army Special Forces
A collection of footage of U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) in action.

USMC Special Operations
Videos featuring MSOBs, Force Recon, Special Reaction Teams etc.

TRF Training
USAF Tactical Response Force (TRF) undergoing training.

USCG DSF Training
Video showing the basic tactical operators course (BTOC) undertaken by USCG Deployable Specialized Forces.

ATF Special Response Team
A look at the ATF SWAT team, the SRT

Package featuring NASA’s SWAT team, the Emergency Response Team (ERT)

Special Tactics Airmen
USAF Special Tactics Airmen training U.S. Army soldiers.

USCG Deployable Specialized Forces
B-roll of various Coast Guard special ops units.

USCG Deployable Operations Group
2007 package featuring the USCG DOG and its various components in action.

CV-22 Osprey Refueling
352d Special Operations Group perform mid-air refueling between CV-22 Osprey aircraft and MC-130P tankers.

U.S. / Aussie SOF
Special Operations Forces from the U.S.A. and Australia conducting joint training.

Combat Rescue Training
Pararescumen undergo combat rescue training.

SWAT Team Training
Police SWAT Team training at military facility.

CV-22 Osprey – AFSOC
Package on the CV-22 Osprey and its use by Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).

Navy SEALs – Demo
Video report featuring Navy SEALs putting on a demo.

Inside AC-130
Footage taken inside an AC-130 gunship.

SWAT Teams
Civilian and Military Police SWAT teams train at Fort Bragg

Emerald Warrior 2012
Package on Emerald Warrior 2012, a large scale SOF exercise.

Special Ops CAPEX
B-roll of special operations forces from the U.S. and partner countries perfoming a capabilities demo

Special Ops Demo
Assorted special operations units putting on a demonstration in Tampa Bay, 2012

MSST – Vertical Insertion
USCG Maritime Safety & Security Team conducting fast-rope training

Maritime Security Response Team
Footage of the Coast Guard’s elite MSRT.

MSRT – Oil Rig Take Down
The USCG’s elite counterterrorism unit storm an oil rig during a training exercise.

Navy SEALs
8-part series of footage featuring the Navy SEALs

SWCC video
US Navy feature on the SWCC.

Ranger Training Brigade – Demo
Skills demo by Army Rangers

Rangers – Afghanistan Parachute Jump
DoD footage of Rangers jumping into Afghanistan, 2001

Army Rangers
Army Rangers taking part in Ranger Rendezvous 2011

CV-22 Osprey B-Roll
B-roll of AFSOC CV-22 Ospreys

Air Force Special Operations Command Special Tactics units conduct training

CV-22 Osprey
News report on the new CV-22 Osprey and its introduction into AFSOC service.

MH-53 Retirement
Pentagon report on the retirement of the venerable MH-53 helicopter from AFSOC service.

AFSOC Aircraft
Footage of MH-53 Pavelow helicopters and AC-130 Gunships

Air Commandos
Report on the Air Commandos – USAF Special Tactics Teams – CCTs, PJs, SOWTs.

Iraq – hostage rescue
Officially released footage showing Delta Force operation to free Polish and Italian workers who had been kidnapped in Iraq.

Special Forces – 160th SOAR
Footage of 1st Special Forces Group, Korean Special Forces and 160th SOAR MH-47s

160th SOAR Little Birds
Stunning footage of SOAR MH-6 helicopters inserting SOF onto rooftops in Iraq.

160th SOAR DAP Gunship
Clip of a MH60L DAP gunship firing at ground targets during operations in Iraq.

160th SOAR DAP Gunship – extended clip
Much longer clip of MH-60L DAP and AH-6J gunships carrying out close air support (CAS) in urban Iraq.

160th SOAR – Insurgents Takedown
Amazing clip of SOAR MH-60 Blackhawks swooping down on insurgents in Iraq.

160th SOAR – Little Birds – Iraq
MH-6 helicopters and US SOF intercept a car in Iraq

Video of Night Stalkers and other SOF preparing for a NASCAR demo

AC-130 Gun Camera Footage
Outstanding footage shot through the gun camera of a AC-130 Gunship over Afghanistan.

AC-130U Spooky
Package showing the AC-130U Spooky gunship in flight and engaging targets.

Special Operations – Weapons

The following details the array of weaponry used by America’s elite military units.

Assault Rifles / Carbines:


ubiquitous US Army carbine available with a selection of accessories

more info : M4A1 carbine


also known as the MK 18 Mod 0, this shortened version of the M4A1 is a favorite within the NSW community

more info : CQBR


fourth-generation, full-size AR-15 variant in use with USMC units

more info : M16A4


specially developed for Delta Force by German gunsmiths, Heckler and Koch

more info : HK416

MK16 Mod 0 SCAR

A newly-developed series of 5.56mm assault rifles, carbines and light sniper rifles

more info : MK 16 Mod 0

MK17 Mod 0 SCAR

A family of 7.62mm carbines, assault rifles and light sniper rifles

more info : MK 17 Mod 0

MK 14 Mod 0 Enhanced Battle Rifle

A modernized M-14 rifle in use with the SEALs.

more info : MK 14 Mod 0

M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle

The USMC use this variant of the HK416 in the automatic rifleman role.

more info : M27 IAR

Sub Machine Guns:


Compact, accurate and versatile, the 9mm Mp5 comes in a number of flavors

more info : MP5


A compact smg used by DEVGRU / SEAL Team 6

more info : MP7

M3a1 Grease Gun

vintage Delta Force .45 smg

more info : M3 Grease Gun

Walther MP

vintage Delta Force 9mm smg

more info : Walther MP


M9 Beretta

The US Army’s standard sidearm, the 9mm beretta is used by Rangers and other SOF units.

more info : M9 Beretta

Colt 1911

This venerable .45 was Delta’s favorite pistol for many year.

more info : Colt 1911

MEU(SOC) pistol

Modified version of the Colt 1911, developed for the USMC

info : MEU(SOC) pistol

Sig Sauer P226 / P228

9mm pistols carried by Navy SEALs and SWCCs.

info : Sig Sauer P226 / P228

Sig Sauer P239

Sub-compact 9mm pistols used by SEAL Team 6

info : Sig Sauer P239


Compact .45 handgun used by Navy SEALs

info : HK45CT


Pistols in a range of sizes and calibres

info : Glock pistols


M870 Shotgun

Military version of the Remington 870

more info : M870 Shotgun

M500 / M590 Shotgun

12-gauge pump-action shotgun based on Mossberg M500

more info : M500 Shotgun

M1014 Shotgun

12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun based on the Benelli M4 Super 90

more info : M1014 Shotgun

Machine Guns:

M249 SAW

A 5.56mm light machine gun in wide use throughout the US military with variants developed for special ops forces.

info : M249 SAW

Mk 46 Machine Gun

A special ops variant of the M249 SAW

info : Mk 46 Machine Gun

Mk 48 Machine Gun

A scaled-up variant of the Mk 46, chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO

info : Mk 48 Machine Gun

M240 machine gun

Versatile 7.62mm belt-fed medium machine gun that can be carried or mounted on tripods, vehicles, boats and helicopters.

info : M240

M2 heavy machine gun

.50 caliber gun fired often mounted on SOF boats, vehicles and helicopters.

more info : M2


multi-barrelled 7.62mm electrically-operated gatling gun mounted on boats, helicopters and vehicles.

info : Minigun

Sniper Rifles:

SR-25 (MK 11 / M110)

A medium range 7.62mm sniper rifle used by units such as the Rangers

more info : SR-25

MK 20 Mod 0 Sniper Support Rifle

Designated marksman’s rifle based on the SCAR-H

info : MK 20 Mod 0 Sniper Support Rifle


The Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR) – a 7.62mm medium sniper rifle based around the M14 rifle

info : Designated Marksmanship Rifle


The Enhanced Marksmanship Rifle (EMR) – a 7.62mm medium sniper rifle used by MARSOC and other USMC units

more info : Enhanced Marksmanship Rifle

SPR (MK 12)

5.56mm sniper rifle used by the SEALs, Rangers and Special Forces

more info : SPR


US Army bolt-action 7.62mm sniper rifle

more info : M24 SWS

XM2010 enhanced Sniper Rifle (ESR)

New and improved U.S. Army sniper rifle configured to use the .300 Win Mag cartridge

more info : XM2010 ESR


Bolt-action 7.62mm sniper rifle used by USMC Special Ops, among others

more info : M40A3


A new 7.62mm sniper rifle in use with the USCM

more info : M40A5


Navy SEAL variant of the Remington 700 long action

more info : M91A2 sniper rifle

MK 13 Mod 5

.300 WinMag sniper rifle used by the US Navy SEALs

more info : MK 13 Mod 5

McMillan TAC-338

long range .338 Lapua Magnum sniper rifle

more info : McMillan TAC-338

M82a1 / M107 Barrett

devastating .50 caliber long range sniper rifle used by SEALs, Delta etc.

more info : Barret rifle

MK 15 Mod 0 SASR

.50 caliber long range sniper rifle used by US Navy SEALs

more info : MK 15 Mod 0 SASR

Grenade Launchers:

M203 Grenade Launcher

40mm underslung weapon

more info : M203

M320 Grenade Launcher

40mm grenade launcher in attached and stand-alone configurations

more info : M320

M79 Grenade Launcher

Vietnam-era 40mm grenade launcher still used by US SOF

more info : M79

MK 13 Mod O Grenade Launcher

40mm grenade launcher for the new MK 16 and MK17 rifles

more info : MK 13 Mod 0

M32 Grenade Launcher

Multishot 40mm grenade launcher used by SOF and US Marines

more info : M32 MGL

MK 19 Grenade Launcher

belt fed, automatic grenade launcher

more info : MK 19

MK 47 Striker Grenade Launcher

advanced, computer-assisted 40mm automatic grenade launcher

info : MK 47

Rocket / Missile Launchers:


vietnam-era 66mm rocket launcher still in use with US SOF

info : M72 LAW

Carl Gustav Recoilless Rifle

versatile rocket launcher in use with SOCOM units

info : Carl Gustav

M136 AT4

84mm one-shot rocket launcher

info : M136

FGM-148 Javelin

fire-and-forget anti-tank missile system

info : FGM-148 Javelin

FIM-92 Stinger

man-portable anti-aircraft systems

info : FIM-92 Stinger

Special Operations Aircraft

U.S. special operations aviation units use the following aircraft…

CV-22 Osprey

Air Force special ops tilt-rotor aircraft…

more info : CV-22 Osprey

AC-130H/U Gunship

AFSOC gunship with a deadly array of weapons…

more info : AC-130H/U Gunship

MC-130E/H Combat Talon I/II

Modified C-130s that fly in support of US special operations…

more info : MC-130E/H Combat Talon I/II

MC-130P Combat Shadow

AFSOC tanker aircraft, based on the C-130 Hercules…

more info : MC-130P Combat Shadow

MC-130J Commando II

AFSOC’s latest special ops trasnport plane…

more info : MC-130J Commando II

AC-130J Ghostrider

Gunship variant of the Commando II…

more info : AC-130J Ghostrider

MC-130W Combat Spear

A recent addition to AFSOC’s fleet of special ops transport planes…

more info : MC-130W Combat Spear

MC-130W Dragon Spear

MC-130W Combat Spears turned into gunships when fitted with a modular weapons system…

more info : MC-130W Dragon Spear

EC-130J Commando Solo

A flying psyops broadcasting station…

photo : EC-130J Commando Solo


Surveillance planes operated by AFSOC Special Operations Squadrons

photo / more info : U-28A

MC-12W Liberty

Surveillance aircraft based on the Beechcraft 350 King Air

photo / more info : MC-12W Liberty

M-28 / C145A Skytruck

Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) transport aircraft operated by AFSOC

photo / more info : M-28 Skytruck

C-146A Wolfhound

turboprop transport plane used by AFSOC units

more info : C-146A Wolfhound

AFSOC Non-standard Aviation

Info on the various light and medium aircraft operated by AFSOC intra-theater airlift fleet

more info : AFSOC Non-standard Aviation

Boeing C-32B

Modified Boeing 757 used on covert USAF special operations

more info : Boeing C-32B

MH-53J/M Pavelow

Recently decommisioned AFSOC helicopter…

more info : MH-53J/M Pave Low

MH-60 Black Hawks

Transport helicopters flown by the elite Night Stalkers…

more info : MH-60K/L/M Black Hawk

MH-60L DAP Gunships

Heavily armed Black Hawks flown by the 160th SOAR…

more info : MH-60L Direct Air Penetrator (DAP)

AH-6 / MH-6 Little Bird

Small and nimble transport and attack helicopters operated by the 160th…

more info : AH-6 / MH-6 Little Bird

MH-47 Chinook

Heavy-lift special operations helicopters flown by Night Stalkers…

more info : MH-47E/G Chinook

HH-60H Rescue Hawk

Naval Special Operations helicopter…

more info : HH-60H Rescue Hawk

CIA Special Operations Aircraft

Info on the various aircraft operated by the CIA Speciial Activities Division…

more info : CIA SAD Air Branch aircraft

Special Operations Aircraft – Resources

Special Operations – Missions

Here you can find a master list of all the accounts of operations / missions detailed on this site.

160th SOAR – Operation Prime Chance

The Night Stalkers join a Navy task force in the Persian Gulf
features : 160th SOAR, Navy SEALs

more info: 160th SOAR – Operation Prime Chance

160th SOAR – Operation Just Cause

The 160th fly attack and insertion/extraction missions in Panama
features : 160th SOAR, Delta Force, Navy SEALs, Rangers

more info: 160th SOAR – Operation Just Cause

SCUD Hunting

Delta Force and British SAS hunt Saddam’s missiles in the desert, 1991
features : Delta Force, SOAR, AFSOC

more info: SCUD Hunting

SOF – Operation Enduring Freedom

In-depth feature on US SOF during the early months of OEF, Afghanistan
features : CIA SAD, 160th SOAR, Delta Force, Navy SEALs, Rangers, Special Forces, AFSOC

more info: SOF – Operation Enduring Freedom

Delta Force / Rangers – October 2001

Delta and the Rangers carry out airborne raids into the heart of Taliban country
features : Delta Force, Rangers, CCTs, Psyops

more info: Delta Force / Rangers – October 2001

Delta Force – Hunt For Bin Laden

A look at the 2001 Delta Force mission to find and kill Osama Bin Laden
features : Delta Force, CIA SAD, Special Forces

more info: Delta Force – Hunt For Bin Laden

SOF – Operation Iraqi Freedom

A report on the activities of the various US SOF that took part in the 2003 liberation of Iraq
features : special forces, rangers, navy seals, swcc, special tactics, delta force, usaf special ops, isa

more info: SOF – Operation Iraqi Freedom

Delta Force – Baghdad Airstrike

An attempt in the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom to cut off the head of the snake
features : delta force, usaf special ops, isa

more info: Delta Force – Baghdad Airstrike

WMD complex

A task force swoops on a suspected WMD site in the Iraqi desert during Operation Iraqi Freedom
features : JSOC special mission teams, rangers, 160th SOAR

more info: WMD complex

Delta Force – Saddam capture
A bloodless but expertly handled operation to take the ousted Iraqi dictator into custody
features : delta force, usaf special ops

more info: Delta Force – Saddam capture

Iraq Hostage Rescue

US SOF swoop on a compound in Iraq to rescue 4 foreign hostages
features : unspecified SOF, 160th SOAR, isa

more info: Iraq Hostage Rescue

SEALS – Operation Red Wing

An ill-fated SEAL recon mission in the mountains of Afghanistan
features : SEALs, 160th SOAR, Rangers, Special Forces

more info: SEALS – Operation Red Wing

Syria Commando Raid

The controversial incursion into Syria, October 2008
features : Special Mission Units, 160th SOAR

more info: Syria Commando Raid

SEALs Rescue Capt. Phillips

April 2009 – Navy SEALs rescue a US ship’s Captain from pirates
features : SEALs

more info: SEALs Rescue Capt. Phillips

Operation Celestial Balance

September 2009 – A SOAR / SEAL Team 6 raid into Somalia nabs a wanted terrorist
features : 160th SOAR, DEVGRU

more info: Operation Celestial Balance

Failed Hostage Rescue – Afghanistan

October 2010 – the attempt by DEVGRU to rescue Scottish aid worker Linda Norgrove goes badly wrong
features : DEVGRU, 160th SOAR, Rangers

more info: Linda Norgrove Rescue Bid

Hostage Rescue – Somalia

January 2012 – DEVGRU rescue 2 western hostages, including American, Jessica Buchanan, from Somali pirates in a daring desert raid
features : DEVGRU, 160th SOAR, FBI HRT, AFSOC

more info: Somali Hostage Rescue

Abu Anas al-Libi Capture

October 2013 – Delta Force, along with FBI Hostage Rescue Team and CIA operators, capture an Al Qaeda terrorist in Tripoli
features : Delta Force, FBI HRT, CIA SAD

more info: Abu Anas al-Libi Capture

DEVGRU Barawe Operation

October 2013 – DEVGRU attempt, and fail, to capture an al-Shabaab commander from his house in Barawe, on Somalia’s east coast
features : DEVGRU

more info: DEVGRU Barawe Operation

MV Morning Glory

March 2014 – Navy SEALs intercept an oil tanker held by Libyan militia
features : SEALs

more info: MV Morning Glory

Abu Khattala Capture

June 2014 – Delta Force lead a multi-agency operation to capture one of the 2012 Benghazi attack masterminds
features : Delta Force, FBI HRT

more info: Abu Khattala Capture

Abu Sayyaf Killed

May 2015 – Delta Force carry out a raid in Syria that kills a senior IS financier
features : Delta Force, Night Stalkers, AFSOC

more info: Abu Sayyaf Operation

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