By: Warren Gray

“I don’t think they play at all fairly. They don’t seem to have any rules in particular; at least, if there are, nobody attends to them.”

— Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

“Of course it’s a violation of international law; that’s why it’s a covert action!”

— Vice President Al Gore, 1993

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was founded on September 18, 1947, carrying on the wartime heritage of the mysterious and controversial, Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in terms of special-intelligence collection and covert action. In fact, fully one-third of the initial, CIA personnel were OSS veterans. Today, the Special Activities Center (SAC), previously known as the Special Activities Division (SAD) until 2016, and before that, the Special Operations Division (SOD) since 1962, is their organization responsible for covert operations and paramilitary operations.

SAC is divided into two separate groups, the Special Operations Group (SOG) for tactical, paramilitary operations, and the Political Action Group (PAG) for covert, political action. SOG’s assigned, paramilitary tasks include covert operations, special operations, espionage, counterterrorism, special reconnaissance, sabotage, direct action, hostage rescue, targeted killing, black operations, and unconventional/guerilla warfare. Their members are called Paramilitary Operations Officers (PMOOs) and Specialized-Skill Officers (SSOs), and they are primarily comprised of former Delta Force officers, Special Forces officers, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, and Air Force and Marine Corps special operations personnel.

All SAC/SOG operatives must hold at least a Bachelor’s degree, and many have Master’s degrees or even law degrees. Their duties are so specialized, demanding, and hazardous that there are normally fewer than 100 members at any given time, and certainly less than 150, even during peak operations. These are all highly-educated men, mostly combat veterans, from the very finest, U.S. Armed Forces special operations units.

Then, they undergo highly-specialized, CIA training at Camp Peary (officially, the 9,000-acre, Armed Forces Experimental Training Activity, or AFETA, near Williamsburg, Virginia, and nicknamed “The Farm,” it was a World War Two Naval Construction Training Center for training Seabee construction battalions, and later a POW camp for German prisoners, but run by the CIA since 1951) and the Harvey Point Defense Testing Activity (HPDTA, or “The Point,” a World War Two, Naval Auxiliary Air Station for Martin PBM-3DMariner seaplanes patrolling the U.S. eastern coastline for German submarines, reopened by the CIA in June 1961), seven miles southeast of Hertford, North Carolina. This makes SOG by far the most-elite and most-highly-secretive of all U.S. special operations forces.

After World War Two, the OSS was soon disbanded, and their secret stockpiles of exotic weapons were placed in warehouses, and acquired by the CIA just two years later. These included Inland M1A1 paratrooper carbines, M2 carbines (some with suppressors), Colt M1911A1 service pistols, M3 “Grease Gun” submachine guns, often suppressed, High Standard HDM suppressed pistols in .22 LR, Welrod suppressed pistols in .32 ACP and 9mm, Colt M1903/M1908 handguns, DeLisle Commando Carbines in .45 ACP, with suppressors, Smith and Wesson Model 10 revolvers, OSS double-edged daggers, Fairbairn-Sykes Mk. III British Commando daggers, M1941 Johnson rifles, Marlin M42 submachine guns in 9mm, Springfield M1903A4 suppressed sniper rifles in .30-06, single-shot, .22 LR weapons disguised as pens or cigars, various sleeve daggers, lapel daggers, specialized grenades, explosives, and a whole host of other unusual weapons, plus some captured, German Mauser rifles, Walther P.38 and PPK pistols, and various submachine guns.

In late 1950, CIA paramilitary (PM) teams, having trained in the Rocky Mountains at Camp Hale, Colorado, were infiltrated into Tibet, to train and lead resistance fighters against the invading, communist Chinese. They also helped the Dalai Lama to escape capture by the Chinese. Covert, CIA aid to Tibet continued until 1972.

During the Korean War of 1950 to 1953, CIA PM operatives trained South Korean, “White Tiger” guerillas to operate behind North Korean lines.

In 1953 and 1954, the CIA successfully overthrew the corrupt governments of Iran and Guatemala, aided by paramilitary operatives.

CIA paramilitary teams also trained more than 1,300 Cuban exiles and refugees in Florida and Louisiana for the failed, Bays of Pigs invasion of April 17-20, 1961, to potentially overthrow the communist regime of Fidel Castro. The primary weapon issued to these Cuban exiles was the Johnson M1941 semiautomatic rifle in .30-06, as shown on the cover of LIFE magazine at that time. Two paramilitary officers, Grayston L. Lynch (who was later awarded the Intelligence Star for heroism) and William “Rip” Robertson, even led the actual, Cuban assault force on the beachheads.

In 1967, the CIA deployed SOD PM teams to Bolivia to counter the communist, guerilla revolution there, where the rebels had been joined by the infamous Che Guevara, the flamboyant, revolutionary comrade of Fidel Castro. Guevara was captured by the Bolivian Army, and on October 9th of that year, he was executed on the order of CIA paramilitary officer Félix Rodríguez.

During the Vietnam War, CIA/SOD operatives worked hand-in-hand with U.S. Special Forces teams assigned to the shadowy, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), and they led and trained Hmong tribesmen in the mountains of Vietnam and Laos.

The favored, CIA/SOD weapons of the war were the FN P-35 Hi-Power pistol, Carl Gustav M45/B (“Swedish-K”) suppressed submachine gun, AK-47 or AKMS assault rifle (all plausibly-deniable as American weapons), and Colt CAR-15 carbine (favored by U.S. Special Forces.) The Inland M2 “Advisor” Carbine, with side-folding, M1A1 paratrooper stock and 12-inch barrel was also quite popular among U.S. Special Forces, paratrooper advisors such as Major (later General) Norman Schwarzkopf, and CIA/SOD operatives during the war. One adventurous, CIA operative, nicknamed “the Cat,” even carried a razor-sharp, Japanese wakizashi(short, samurai sword) into battle.

It was also during the Vietnam War that Sergeant Major (SGM) Billy Waugh, a Special Forces soldier attached to the CIA/SOD under MACV-SOG, developed and tested the world’s first high-altitude, low-opening (HALO) parachute techniques in actual combat, with Recon Team Florida jumping into North Vietnamese-held “War Zone D” in South Vietnam in October 1970, thereby pioneering HALO jumps for all special operations units in the future. Waugh also led the very last, combat parachute insertion of the war on June 22, 1971.

This author once worked with two exceptional, military individuals, an ex-Special Forces warrant officer and an Air Force pilot, formerly a combat-control team (CCT) officer, who both took part in highly-classified, CIA-sponsored, MACV-SOG missions, bravely parachuting deep behind enemy lines into Cambodia and North Vietnam to retrieve indigenous agents and bring them to safety.

When these two operations went very badly, however, they said that the Agency displayed a cavalier willingness to betray their teams to the enemy in order to ruthlessly eradicate any evidence of these exceptionally-sensitive, bungled, Top-Secret missions, and both men had to literally walk through the enemy’s front lines alone to reach the relative safety of South Vietnam again. A factual book written by a former Navy SEAL in the Vietnam War told almost exactly the same type of story, grimly c
orroborating the accounts that I’d heard, so the CIA’s reputation during that lengthy war was somewhat less than stellar.

During the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979 to 1989, CIA paramilitary officers constantly facilitated the supply of captured, Russian-manufactured (thus, plausibly-deniable) weapons to the mujaheddin insurgents of Afghanistan, including infantry weapons, anti-tank rockets, and shoulder-fired, FIM-92A/B Stinger heat-seeking missiles to bring down hundreds of Soviet aircraft, hastening the end of the war, and the eventual fall of the Soviet Union.

More recently, CIA/SAD officers were inserted into Somalia in late 1992, hunting for al-Qa’ida terrorist leaders, and were later embedded with Ethiopian military forces fighting in Somalia. The CIA helped to track down al-Shabaab terrorist leader Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was finally killed by two American AH-6M Little Bird special operations helicopter gunships in a raid in Somalia on September 14, 2009.

By the mid-to-late 1990s, CIA/SAD weapons included many Heckler and Koch (German) products, including G36Kand G36C compact carbines, older HK53 carbines, and MP5 submachine guns, both suppressed and unsuppressed. Colt M4A1 carbines gained widespread acceptance, as well as M4 Commando carbines, replacing some of these earlier, German weapons. Standard pistols included the FN P-35 Hi-Power, Beretta M9, and SIG P228, with some FN Five-seveN (5.7mm) pistols and P90 submachine guns in service, as well as limited stocks of SIG SG552 Commando carbines and Steyr AUG A2/A3 carbines.

Compact pistols for concealment or sentry removal included the Walther PPK in either .22 LR, .32 ACP, or .380 ACP, often with suppressors, and the Walther TPH in .22 LR (the blued, alloy, German-made version, either suppressed or unsuppressed.)

The War on Terror in Afghanistan in 2001 changed everything, with CIA/SAD teams now coming to the forefront of warfare instead of lurking in the shadows. In fact, the entire, U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after the devasting, September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at home was planned and developed by the CIA, and led by CIA officer Gary C. Schroen and his deputy, Phillip Reilly, a CIA/SAD officer, on Team Jawbreaker, with two more CIA officers and four paramilitary operatives, including combat-veteran, 71-year-old Billy Waugh of Vietnam War fame. Schroen carried an AKMS assault carbine, a Glock-19 pistol, and a Cold Steel Master Tanto utility knife on this operation.

Schroen was awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, “For performance of outstanding services or for achievement of a distinctly exceptional nature in a duty or responsibility, the results of which constitute a major contribution to the mission of the Agency.” His subsequent, best-selling book, First In, released in May 2006, was a tribute to the fact that CIA/SOG teams are usually the very first Americans to arrive at any world hotspot, even before U.S. Special Forces soldiers.

CIA Director George Tenet wrote that, “The routing of the (more than 50,000) Taliban and al-Qa’ida (terrorists) from Afghanistan in a matter of weeks was accomplished by 110 CIA officers, 316 Special Forces soldiers, and scores of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) raiders creating havoc behind enemy lines, a band of brothers with the support of U.S. airpower, following a CIA plan, that has to rank as one of the greatest successes in Agency history.” This included one very noteworthy, cavalry charge on horseback near Mazar-i-Sharif in November 2001, together with Northern Alliance allies under the flashy General Abdul Rashid Dostum.

By 2001, the CIA had officially adopted the Glock-19 as its standard, paramilitary sidearm, which is currently the favored, service pistol of Delta Force, U.S. Special Forces, Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Air Force Special Operations Command, Marine Corps Special Operation Command, and the U.S. Secret Service. Older FN P-35s and SIG P228s were still in service, however. In 2002, the new Walther P22 with threaded barrel began to replace older, .22 LR weapons in the CIA inventory, and was easily fitted with a suppressor.

The greatest CIA/SAD hero of the war in Afghanistan was Greg Vogle, a former, U.S. Marine Corps officer from 1981 to 1986, who later rose through the ranks of the CIA to become the Director of the National Clandestine Service (NCS) from 2015 to 2017, and is now retired. But in November and December 2001, Vogle was a SAD paramilitary operative, working directly with Afghan politician Hamid Karzai, very soon to be elected president of the embattled nation. Vogle linked up with Karzai at Tarinkot, where there was subsequently a large battle, with Vogle taking overall command of the CIA/SAD, U.S. Special Forces, and Afghan soldiers present, and valiantly holding the line against an overwhelming assault by Taliban insurgent attackers.

Later, on December 5, 2001, when an American, GPS-guided bomb was accidentally dropped on Vogle’s and Karzai’s fighting position near Kandahar, Greg Vogle threw his own body over Karzai’s, saving his life. For these and other exceptionally heroic actions, Vogle was awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Cross (the CIA counterpart to the military’s prestigious Medal of Honor) in 2002, and the Intelligence Star (equivalent to the military, Silver Star medal) in 2003.

CIA/SAD paramilitary teams led by Charles “Sam” Faddis entered Northern Iraq eight months before the U.S. invasion of March 2003, to prepare for the arrival of American military troops. Working with Kurdish Peshmerga forces and U.S. Special Forces teams soon afterward, they participated in the clandestine Operation Viking Hammer (the Agency’s name was Operation Hotel California) to defeat the Ansar al-Islam extremist group near Sargat, Iraq, in one of the “most-intense battles of Special Forces since Vietnam.” Special Forces soldiers earned seven Silver Star medals and 52 Bronze Stars with “V” for Valor, and four SAD operatives earned the Intelligence Star, the CIA’s direct counterpart to the military Silver Star medal. CIA paramilitary personnel also significantly aided U.S. military forces (Task Force 121) in the tracking and capture of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Operation Red Dawn, on December 13, 2003.

In 2004, CIA/SAD operatives began using the new HK416 carbine in 5.56mm, which was specifically developed for Delta Force as a result of their recent, unsatisfactory, combat experiences in Afghanistan with the Colt M4A1.

This top-quality, German-made weapon was offered in several different barrel lengths, but the most-popular variant is the short, assault carbine (#D10RS) with 10.4-inch barrel, usually mounting a suppressor to minimize muzzle flash and blast. This was the same weapon used by Navy SEALs in May 2011 to kill the notorious, terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. A number of different types of ammunition have been tested, but the Black Hills 77-grain OTM (Open-Tip Match) with Sierra MatchKing bullets seems to be the most-preferred load. For plausible-deniability purposes, however, Caracal Light Ammunition (CLA), made in the United Arab Emirates in 5.56mm and 9mm loadings, and other calibers, would be an excellent choice for covert warfare in the Middle East.

Since 2009, the U.S. strategy has been to bolster the CIA presence at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, with a huge increase in agents, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in-country, making the station among the largest in Agency history, but with most of the workforce dispersed to secret bases around the nation. The greatest success has been achieved by jointly coordinating CIA/SOG activities with military Special Forces and highly-trained, Afghan commando units, and raiding the enemy relentlessly, almost every night. As U.S. military forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, there will be heavier emphasis on CIA/SOG support to Afghan units.

The SOG Air Branch has also waged an intense, drone war against terrorist insurgen
ts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria, most-recently employing the MQ-9A Block 5 ER (Extended-Range) Reaper attack drone. Standard weapons include one GBU-12 or GBU-49 500-pound, laser-guided bomb or one GBU-38 GPS-guided bomb, up to four AGM-114R2 Hellfire II 100-pound, laser-guided missiles, and varying combinations of much-smaller (12 to 35 pounds each), AGM-176B Griffin laser-guided missiles, Lockheed Martin Scorpion glide bombs, or Raytheon Pyros mini-bombs. The Agency primarily uses drone strikes to kill terrorist leaders, whereas the U.S. Air Force employs similar drones to attack more-traditional, military targets such as buildings, bridges, tanks, and troop formations.

On Friday, January 3, 2020, at approximately 12:32 AM local time, Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, the nefarious commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force (a designated, terrorist organization), known as “The Shadow Commander,” disembarked from a Cham Wings (a private, Syrian airline) Airbus A320 jet at Baghdad International Airport, Iraq, after a flight from Damascus, Syria, where he was greeted by nine other Iranian and Iraqi terrorists, and they climbed into a sedan and a minivan to depart the airfield.

Already orbiting overhead were three CIA-operated, MQ-9A Reaper attack drones, each armed with four AGM-114R2 Hellfire II laser-guided missiles. At 12:47 AM, before Soleimani had traveled very far, four blazing Hellfires totally obliterated the two moving vehicles, and there were no survivors.

SOG Air Branch also operates a small fleet of Russian-manufactured, Mi-17V-5 Hip-H transport helicopters in the Middle East for plausible-deniability purposes, acquired circuitously from Siberia through Maverick Aviation Group of Las Vegas, Nevada, in a very shadowy arrangement. These have been continuously updated with advanced avionics for night infiltration, combat search-and-rescue (CSAR), and other special operations missions.

In 2011, at least two SOG paramilitary operatives fast-roped from two MH-60X Stealth Black Hawk helicopters into al-Qa’ida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden’s private compound near Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2nd, alongside 23 Navy SEALs, under CIA Operation Neptune Spear, resulting in bin Laden being killed by Senior Chief Petty Officer Robert James O’Neill, using an HK416 carbine with 10.4-inch barrel.

Later that same year, SOG teams deployed to Syria to report on the Arab Spring uprising, and to train, equip, and lead Kurdish militia forces against the oppressive, Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. By 2015, the combined forces of SOG, Delta Force, and SEAL Team Six became the chosen, American force for fighting in the Syrian conflict.

Finally, in the early morning hours of Sunday, October 27, 2019, a helicopter-borne, Delta Force raid just west of Barisha, Syria, was aimed at killing or capturing notorious, ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, after he was located and pinpointed by CIA/SOG operatives on the ground nearby. Operation Kayla Mueller was a resounding success, with approximately 100 Delta Force raiders and Army Rangers attacking the compound at one o’clock in the morning. Six ISIS members were killed in action, and al-Baghdadi himself ran into one of the dead-end tunnels beneath the house with three of his young children, pursued by a Delta Force Belgian Malinois tracking dog, and blew himself and his children up with an explosive, suicide vest, collapsing the tunnel.

On November 25, 2020, it was announced that senior, CIA paramilitary officer Michael “Goody” Goodboe, age 54, a former member of SEAL Team Six, was killed in combat action by an improvised, explosive device just a few days previously in Mogadishu, Somalia, where the United States currently has 700 special operations troops, primarily Navy SEALs, working with the Somali National Army to defeat the renegade, al-Shabaab(“the Youth”) terrorist group.

All candidates to join CIA/SOG, regardless of military background, rank, or experience, must enter the Agency at the entry level as a Clandestine Service Trainee (CST), in an 18-month program to become a clandestine intelligence officer. Upon completion of the Clandestine Service Officer course, they are then awarded a government service (GS) pay rating based upon their overall qualifications, and taking prior military service into account. At least eight years of military experience in a special operations, airborne unit, or combat arms unit are preferred for all PMOO candidates.

Next, all paramilitary operatives are thoroughly trained in the use of modern (U.S. and foreign) firearms, explosives, hand-to-hand combat, high-performance driving, lock-picking and escaping-from-confinement techniques, cyberwarfare, static-line and freefall parachuting, improvised explosive devices, SCUBA diving, vehicle hot-wiring, extreme-survival and wilderness training, combat medic training, surreptitious-entry techniques, tactical communications, foreign-language proficiency, tracking people, and survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE) methods. They are also fully trained as intelligence case officers, capable of running covert, agent networks behind enemy lines.

Parachute-training aircraft are provided by Aero Contractors, Ltd. (ACL), of Smithfield, North Carolina, 159 miles from Camp Peary, and 123 miles from Harvey Point, both of which have active runways. Aero Contractors was founded in 1979 by James H. “Jim” Rhyne, a former, CIA Air America pilot in the Vietnam War (Jim died in an experimental, Steen Skybolt aerobatic, biplane crash in 2001), and his company has since expanded to possess 26 aircraft and 79 employees. Jump-training aircraft include an old Basler Turbo BT-67 (an upgraded, Douglas DC-3, just like the C-47A Skytrains used by American paratroopers in World War Two), and a few light-gray, Spanish-made, CASA CN-235-300s.

CIA/SOG paramilitary teams have operated since 1947 under various designations in locations such as Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Georgia, Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kosovo, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Macedonia, Mexico, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Romania, Serbia, Somalia, South Korea, Syria, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen.

Why would anyone who had already served at the pinnacle of their military profession with Delta Force, the U.S. Special Forces, or SEAL Team Six, want to leave the Armed Forces and join the CIA as a civilian, SOG operative? The answer is fairly simple: The military is a great, patriotic lifestyle, but there are so many specific rules and regulations to remember and abide by that military life isn’t for everyone.

SOG offers a U.S. government career alternative very similar to Delta Force or SEAL Team Six, except that all of the complex, military rules no longer apply. In fact, SOG has tremendous latitude in the clothing, or uniforms, that they choose to wear, a much-wider variety of U.S. and foreign weapons to select from, and almost no restrictions on where, or how, they can operate.

For covert action, they may be sent virtually anywhere, at the president’s specific direction, without Congressional approval, unlike other U.S. special operations forces. They are all mature, highly-educated, widely-experienced, extremely-motivated, mostly combat veterans themselves, so there are none of the usual, disciplinary problems of young, inexperienced, enlisted troops in the Armed Forces to contend with.

SOG officers typically operate in teams of two to 10 men, or sometimes alone. Their motto in Latin is Tertia Optio, which means “Third Option,” since covert action represents the president’s third option within the realm of national security, when military force is inappropriate, but diplomacy is inadequate for the situation.

owever, Richard Helms, the CIA Director from 1966 to 1973, cautioned that this avenue must be taken only with the greatest of discretion, and not overused. He stated bluntly that, “Covert action is like a damned good drug. It works, but if you take too much of it, it will kill you!”

This was a direct refence to the Kennedy administration, which had employed covert action to excess under the CIA’s “Executive Action,” assassination policy (which killed the presidents of the Congo, the Dominican Republic, and South Vietnam, and resulted in no less than 17 failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba, plus failed efforts to topple the leaders of Haiti, Indonesia, and Brazil) at the time.

But their failure to support the Agency’s Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 made mortal enemies within the CIA, and seriously backfired on the Kennedy brothers, with overwhelming evidence now indicating CIA involvement in both of their subsequent assassinations. Even former Secretary of State (under John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson) Dean Rusk candidly admitted in 1990 that, “The Kennedys were playing with fire.”

Today, SOG paramilitary officers have been seen and photographed while wearing civilian clothing, such as blue jeans or khaki pants, into combat scenarios, but they are normally attired in camouflaged uniforms. In the Middle East, they have worn the standard, military, three-color, Desert-Camouflage Uniforms (DCUs) in the past, very early in the war in Afghanistan, but the most popular pattern seems to be the “Desert Tiger” uniform by Tiger Stripe Products, in a very effective blending of light brown, desert tan, and very pale, seafoam green. American-flag patches, either full-color or subdued, are usually seen on the shoulders.

Most recently, SOG operatives have been wearing the same Crye Precision MultiCam uniforms as Delta Force and SEAL Team Six, which are visibly similar to the Army’s and Air Force’s Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniforms. Footwear includes a wide variety of rugged, commercial, brown, hiking boots from several different manufacturers, although Delta Force definitely prefers the Merrell Moab-2 series in earth-brown, as seen in media photos taken in 2012.

One very revealing photograph taken in Afghanistan sometime before July 2018 (probably at least several years earlier) clearly depicts the basic, combat gear of a SOG operative, showing a Desert Tiger uniform ($100), olive-green, Marine Corps T-shirt, Arabic shemagh neck scarf, thick socks, tactical gloves, body armor, tan shoulder-and-chest rig with four ammunition pouches and associated-gear pouches, Ops-Core FAST MT Special Operations Forces ballistic helmet, PVS-15 night-vision goggles, PRC-148 Multi-Band, Inter/Intra-Team Radio (MBITR) with antenna and earpieces, Thuraya (based in the United Arab Emirates) satellite phone, a Garmin GPS receiver, tactical wristwatch, SureFire lithium-powered flashlight, cell phone, first-aid kit, gun oil, and strobe light. When not wearing the helmet, a baseball cap is the preferred headgear, usually in desert-tan or camouflage colors. Black, fleece jackets are often worn on nighttime operations in cool weather.

The weapons shown are a Colt M4A1carbine with Mk. 18 CQBR (Close-Quarters Battle Receiver) and 10.3-inch barrel, EOTech holographic, red-dot sight, PEQ-2 laser-aiming device, SureFire M500 high-intensity flashlight, and Knight’s Armament M4QDSS suppressor ($1,600) attached. There is a separate, M4A1upper receiver, 14.5-inch barrel (but no suppressor), and Trijicon ACOG (Advanced, Combat Optical Gunsight), with an M203 grenade launcher secured below, and ammo pouches capable of holding a dozen 30-round magazines, and five rounds of 40mm grenade ammunition.

Additionally, there is an AKMS folding-stock, Russian carbine (although the Romanian AIMS folding-stock carbine is also used, sometimes with a 75-round, RPK light machine-gun, drum magazine), a Glock-19 pistol with two spare magazines, two M67 hand grenades, and a Duane Dieter CQD (Close-Quarters Defense) folding, double-edged dagger with 3.75-inch blade ($375.)

Updating this list to include the very latest items, a Crye Precision MultiCam uniform is currently more likely, an HK416 carbine with 10.4-inch barrel, instead of the M4A1, Steiner PVS-21 NVGs, and possibly the Harris PRC-152AFalcon III Multi-band, Handheld Radio. The new, suppressed, SIG MCX Black Mamba carbine in .300 BLK, as currently used by Delta Force, is another likely, SOG firearm. Otherwise, the photographed, equipment loadout remains quite accurate. SOG operatives may select almost any weapon they desire for a particular mission, although they usually come from the existing, CIA armory inventory.

Other SOG weapons seen in various photographs from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria include the full-length, FN M249 light machine gun (but with the sliding, steel stock from the M249 Para model) in 5.56mm, the Russian PKM medium machine gun in 7.62x54Rmm, and Barrett M82A1long-range, sniper rifle in .50 BMG. For concealment purposes, the Smith and Wesson M&P9 Shield is a favorite, striker-fired, subcompact pistol ($374) with a 3.1-inch barrel.

SOG operatives, just like Delta Force members, carry a wide variety of knifes, usually privately purchased and owned, into action. The most-common are Leatherman multi-tools and Swiss Army Knives, used strictly as tools. For full-sized, fighting knives (larger than the preferred, Dieter CQD), which are rarely seen among SOG operatives, Winkler Knives and Spartan Blades, both located in North Carolina, make superb field knives and combat daggers, especially for the U.S. special operations community, including CIA/SOG.

Paramilitary Operations Officers are technically civilians, no longer in the Armed Forces, so their choices of vehicles during combat operations are mostly limited to four-wheel drive, civilian vehicles, with rugged, Toyota Hilux or Tacoma pickup trucks (usually painted flat, desert tan), or Land Cruiser SUVs being especially popular, nicknamed “technicals,” or non-standard, tactical vehicles (NSTVs), and often armed with a Russian DShK heavy machine gun in the back. Small, nimble, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are also used quite often.

When the extremely-hazardous field work is all said and done, SOG operatives are also professional, intelligence officers, tasked with reporting their mission requirements and results in operations reports from their deployed locations, back to CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. So, in addition to all of the weapons and other hardware, each man keeps a classified, laptop computer at his base camp, with a folding, satellite-communications (SATCOM) antenna, for transmitting situation reports.

Adam Goldman and Matthew Rosenberg wrote for The New York Times on September 6, 2017, about these “Secret Gunslingers: Today, there are at least 18 stars on a wall representing the number of CIA personnel killed in Afghanistan, a tally that has not been previously reported, and one that rivals the number of CIA operatives killed in the wars in Vietnam and Laos nearly a half-century ago. The deaths are a reflection of the heavy price the Agency has paid in a secret, nearly 16-year-old war (now almost 20 years), where thousands of CIA operatives have served since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001…targeting terrorists and running sources…(in) the role of both commando and spy…The CIA continues to move from traditional espionage to the front lines…part of some of the most-dangerous missions.

“Ken Stiles, a former, CIA counterterrorism analyst who worked closely with paramilitary officers in Afghanistan, and who lost three friends in the war…said, ‘We are going to be fighting this war for a very long time. How do we maintain the level of (CIA paramilitary) experience and expertise in a war that’s going to last for another 20 or 30 years, or longer?’” Christy Hoke, the widow of one of these brave men who was killed in action, glowingly described her late husband as “the
kind of person movies are made about, as are most of his colleagues. Unbelievable human beings.”

In conclusion, the CIA has been tremendously overtasked, recently fighting multiple wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, with no more than 100 combat-veteran, SOG operatives available to conduct covert operations on the front lines in the ongoing War on Terrorism. Yet this exceptionally small, highly-professional organization represents the very finest, most elite of U.S. special operations forces, capable of responding to any incident or crisis zone worldwide within just a few hours. Fighting from the shadows with consummate skill and precision, SOG remains at the forefront of national security operations, while constantly testing and evaluating new weapons, tactics, and procedures to maintain their elite, finely-honed edge against international terrorism.

Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: