I have realized from reading news stories, blog posts, wiki sites, and the often hilarious (and pathetically inaccurate) tweets, that the Special Activities Division (SAD) is the most misunderstood division of the Central Intelligence Agency. This is saying quite a bit considering the extremely vague and misleading titles of some of the divisions, sections, branches, directorates, groups, and task forces within the Agency. This is an attempt to shed a little light on the subject within the confines of the Agency's Publications Review Board (PRB), sensitivities of those great Americans that worked in SAD and my desire to leave some things to the imagination.
I have read quite a few comments about how people get into SAD and while there are some officers fortunate enough to be picked up from other divisions or directorates within the Agency, the vast majority are selected during the application process. There is no "The Recruit” (the movie) “NOC" style selection or a selection after a long and successful intel officer career as some "experts" have recently suggested online. Where do most SAD officers come from? I have heard from more seasoned officers that it used to be that if you were a Ranger or decorated vet with a degree, you had a good shot at getting in. Now most of the new Officers, with some exceptions, are from the Tier 1, 2, and 3 Units of the Military.
I felt this was something important to point out even though it is fairly widely known because I have read quite a few comments mainly from former SEALs and Army SF members slamming the quality of SAD officers. To them I would like to point out that not only does SAD look mainly for Paramilitary Officers from CAG, DEVGRU, PJ's, 160th, 24th STS, etc. they are also looking for a higher level of problem solving, intellect, and real world experience. So, you slam the same people who you used to consider brothers. If your ego can handle it, realize that just because you were a SEAL or SF, doesn’t mean you can make the cut within the Agency and SAD. Senior SAD officers are looking for that individual that brings the ability to excel in a non-permissive environment, in a business meeting, at the yacht club, in front of a Congressional hearing, and in any given city in the world.
I was one of those few exceptions I mentioned earlier. My application wasn't flagged during the normal process and I honestly knew nothing of SAD when applying. I came in under the normal career-training track. I feel it important to mention that I applied to the CIA as a kind of self-deprecating joke. I didn't know anyone at the Agency nor did I feel I had a chance in hell of making the cut. I figured I would apply and by doing so, would make some recruiter laugh at the audacity of some nobody with nothing special to offer, putting in an application to THE CIA. After passing each step of the process, I would laugh at the cruel joke someone was playing on me by stringing me along only to trash my application at the next stage. Needless to say I made it through the 2.5 years of the application phase and began my training.
During one of our traditional courses I started hearing about SAD from Officers selected or directly hired into SAD. I started realizing that while I was never DEVGRU, I did have a fairly unique background and figured I would see if SAD would be interested in me. I walked into SAD to see if I could get one of my training segments to take place in the division. After about an hour meeting with a few branch chiefs a six month long argument between SAD and HRS (NCS’s Human Resources staff) ensued. From what I was told, my résumé was never sent to SAD for review but supposedly, with my unique skillset and experience, it should have been. I still don't know if that was just smoke or reality but regardless I ended up in SAD and requesting that meeting was the second best career decision I made.
Training is a long and interesting process, which encompasses traditional course work, hands on "On-the-Job Training" and some honestly kick ass training iterations that you will find nowhere else in the world. Not only do you get Intel training, you also get the basic fundamentals of SAD - shoot, move, medicate, communicate. Most of the basics are refresher but the tactics are pulled from so many different arenas that it results in a "best of" Tactics. We train with many different partners and have a very good relationship with much of the communities. There is and always will be a healthy competition with other US units but I find that the only malicious lashing out comes from jealous individuals, vice group sentiment.
I feel it important to point out that according to NCS policy, no officer who held a clandestine position is authorized to disclose the branch(es) they worked in while at the Agency. If you see that on someone's resume or writings, etc. - please slap the piss out of them.
This post has been divided into two parts due to length. Part II will be released next week