Special Activities Center (SAC): CIA’s unit for tactical paramilitary operations

Author: Eric Sof

Last modified:

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 U.S.S. Central Intelligence Agency controls an American group of SAS, known as the Special Activities Staff. But, through the years, they changed the name. First, it was Special Activities Division (SAD) and most currently Special Activities Center (SAC).

The unit was named Special Activities Division (SAD) before 2016. Within SAC, there are two separate groups: SAC/SOG (Special Operations Group) for tactical paramilitary operations and SAC/PAG (Political Action Group) for covert political action.


The Special Activities Center (SAC) is a little-known unit in the CIA’s secretive Directorate of Operations section. While not a military unit, the SAC is considered an active Special Missions Unit and is tasked with many different activities, ranging from long-range surveillance and bomb-damage assessments to prisoner-snatches and material recovery and sabotage.

They are responsible for clandestine or covert operations with which thU.S.S. government does not want to be overtly associated.


The Special Activities Center (SAC) 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 thU.S.U.S. all over the world instead of just in Asia and operates many different aircraft types in civilian markings. If the ground branch needs to insert into a special local, the air branch gets them there.

Hamid Karzai with Special Forces and CIA's then Special Activities Division (SAD) now Special Activities Center (SAC) in late 2001.
Hamid Karzai with Special Forces and CIA’s then Special Activities Division (SAD) now Special Activities Center (SAC) in late 2001. (Photo: Wiki)

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

Selection and training

The SAC 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); counterterroC.T.sm (C.T.) operations; raids;  hostage rescues, and other activities as directed by the President.

Central Intelligence Agency HQ in Langley Virginia
Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia (Photo: CIA)

Candidates for the SAC are primarily drawn from two sources. The first of theseU.S.s the U.S. 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 weU.S. as the U.S. Navy’s Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU-formerly is 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 U.S. Army Special Forces, and the 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 of the SAS’s three sections, including 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 oA.O.Operations (A.O.) and execute its mission as directed by the DDO through the local Chief of Station or whoever was tasked with carrying out the operation.


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

Share on:

2 thoughts on “Special Activities Center (SAC): CIA’s unit for tactical paramilitary operations”

  1. Apply by typing in paramilitary operations officer cia jobs in google and then apply on the cia website.

Leave a Comment