Home / Tier 1 / Units / Special Operations Forces / CIA SAS – Special Activities Staff / Division

CIA SAS – Special Activities Staff / Division

CIA SAS - Special Activities Staff 2

Say the name “SAS” to someone and it conjures up images of elite commandos from the United Kingdom. The British are not the only ones with a group of highly trained operators however; the US Central Intelligence Agency controls an American group of SAS, known as the Special Activities Staff. The US SAS is a little known unit in the secretive Directorate of Operations section within the CIA. While not a military unit, the SAS is considered an actice Special Missions Unit and is tasked with many different activities, ranging from long-range surveillance and bomb-damage assesments to prisoner-snatches and material recovery and sabotage.

The SAS is split into three branches, ground, maritime, and airborne. The Ground branch handles all land assaults and land-based combat activities. The maritime branch handles all water ops and assaults. The air branch is a modern “Air America” but serves the US all over the world instead of just in Asia and also operates many different type of aircraft in civilian markings. If the ground branch needs to insert in to a special local it is the air branch that gets them there.


The Special Activities Staff (SAS) is one of the least known covert units operating on behalf of the US Government. Operating in teams as large as 12, or as small as one, the SAS is considered  to be among the world’s top special operations units. SAS personnel have been described as being particularly skilled in counterterrorist/hostage rescue operations, and are said to capable of “taking down” any type of vehicle, aircraft, ship, building, or facility.

The SAS provides a pool from which the various divisions within the Agency may draw trained personnel to form a Special Operations Group, or SOG. SOG’s are short-term teams that carry out paramilitary operations such as sabotage; friendly personnel/material recovery; threat personnel/material snatches; bomb damage assessment (BDA); counterterrorist (CT) operations; raids;  hostage rescues, and other activities as directed by the President.

Candidates for the SAS are primarily drawn from two sources. The first of these is the US military’s Special Mission Units (SMUs) such as the Army’s  Combat Applications Group (CAG) better known as “Delta Force” ( the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta), as well as the US Navy’s Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU-formerly known as SEAL Team SIX). Other prospective candidates are drawn from former members of elite military units such as the USMC’s Force Reconnaissance units; the US Army Special Forces; and Navy’s SEAL teams, or from within the ranks of the Agency itself.

A SOG detachment would be comprised of members from one, or more the SAS’s three sections, which include a  Ground Branch, Air Branch, and Maritime Branch, depending upon the needs of the SOG, and its mission tasking. Once organized, a SOG would travel to its selected Area of Operations (AO), and execute its mission as directed by the DDO through the local Chief of Station, or whomever was tasked with carrying out the operation.

One successful operation conducted by the SAS occurred during Operation Desert Shield. During the operation a lone SAS operative repeatedly penetrated Iraqi defense in and around Kuwait City in order to deliver, and retrieve intelligence material from the besieged US Embassy. In another operation SAS operators, along with US Navy SEALs, were involved in the covert mining of Nicaraguan harbors during the 1980s.

Very little about this group is known, but it is known that they recruit many of the best operators in the US. Former members of the Navy SEALs are believe to provide a regular portion of the SAS’s members.

Scroll to Top