Special Operations

U.S. Army Intelligence Support Activity


The references presented here are taken primarily from Jeffrey T. Richelson's article (below), the footnotes to which should be consulted for additional materials. The Richelson article leads this section, with succeeding materials arranged chronologically.

Richelson, Jeffrey T. "'Truth Conquers All Chains': The U.S. Army Intelligence Support Activity, 1981-1989." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 12, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 168-200.

The U.S. Army Intelligence Support Activity (USISA) "was the successor to an ad hoc organization established in 1980 to support a possible second mission to rescue the American hostages held by Iran.... The ISA straddled the intelligence and special operations world[s]."

The existence of the covert organization became public knowledge in 1983 through a succession of newspaper reports (Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times), but it remained a classified activity conducting both Sigint and human intelligence operations. Richelson gives some details on specific operations undertaken. Although officially discontinued in March 1983, the author believes the activity still exists within the U.S. Army, possibly within the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Peterzell, Peter. "What's the Army's ISA Up To?" Washington Post, 24 Apr. 1983, C1, C4.

Bonner, Raymond. "Secret Pentagon Intelligence Unit Is Disclosed." New York Times, 11 May 1983, A13.

This report discusses the plan (MONARCH EAGLE) to create a Defense Department human intelligence organization. The plan did not get past the relevant congressional committees.

Toth, Robert C. "White House to Put Limits on Army's Secret Spy Unit." Los Angekes Times, 15 May 1983, 1, 10-11.

Wilson, George C. "Secret Army Intelligence Unit Lived on After 1980 Iran Mission." Washington Post, 23 Aug. 1983, A6.

Murphy, Caryle, and Charles R. Babcock. "Army's Covert Role Scrutinized." Washington Post, 29 Nov. 1985, A1, A8-A9.

Church, George J. "The Secret Army." Time, 31 Aug. 1987, 12-14.

Inside the Army. "Military Special Ops Take Control of Secret 'Intelligence Support' Agency." 14 May 1990, 1, 10.

Intelligence Newsletter. Editors. "Covert Unit Alive and Kicking." 29 Jun. 1995, 4.

The U.S. military's "'black' special operations unit once known as the Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) is now operating across the world under a different name and could even see its budget and powers increase significantly as sharper emphasis is put on special operations and HUMINT in the post-Cold War period." The unit's "mission remains focussed on counter-terrorism and ... it is becoming increasingly involved in counter-proliferation, economic espionage and information warfare.... ISA's successor is also likely to be asked to provide crucial intelligence if the Pentagon needs to back up its counter-proliferation strategy with interdiction and preemptive strikes. The unit is said to be already providing intelligence on black markets in nuclear and bio/chemical weapons by infiltrating agents into gangs dealing in such activity."

Smith, Michael. Killer Elite. The Inside Story of America’s Most Secret Special Operations Team. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2008. [pb]

According to Denécé, JIH 6.1 (Summer 2006), this work "is the first full account of the 25 years history of the top-secret US Army special operations unit known as 'The Activity' within the US Special Forces community." It was first created in 1981 as the Intelligence Support Activity (ISA), to give the Pentagon its "own secret surveillance unit." The unit has cycled through numerous other cover designations, having "been publicly 'disbanded' many times but secretly resurrected immediately after." The author "writes well, unexaggeratedly and sheds some new light on this secret unit." Although the book is "painstakingly researched, there's nothing really new in it for specialists."

Skelly, IJI&C 21.2 (Summer 2008), says that Smith's book "provides a compelling look into the history and achievements of 'the Activity.'" However, the unit's "exact role in the War on Islamic Terror is presented in a manner that more often speculates than documents." For Finlan, I&NS 23.3 (Jun. 2008), the author "has managed to produce an excellent unofficial history of the ISA," especially given the shortage of sources on special operations activities. The book's breadth "is very impressive and sheds a great deal of light on aspects of recent SOF history that remain tightly guarded, but inevitably required some form of intelligence support."

Return to MI - Army Table of Contents

Return to Special Operations Table of Contents