Cofer Black

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Cofer Black
Black jcofer sct.jpg
Coordinator for Counterterrorism
In office
November 26, 2002 – November 15, 2004
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byFrank Taylor
Succeeded byHenry A. Crumpton
Personal details
Joseph Cofer Black

1950 (age 70–71)
Stamford, Connecticut, U.S.
Political partyIndependent
Alma materUniversity of Southern California
AwardsNational Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal

Joseph Cofer Black (born 1950) is an American former CIA officer who served as director of the Counterterrorism Center in the years surrounding the September 11th attacks, and was later appointed Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department by President George W. Bush, serving until his resignation in 2004.[1] Prior to his roles combatting terrorism, Black served across the globe in a variety of roles with the Directorate of Operations at the CIA.

A native of Ridgefield, Connecticut, Black completed his BA at the University of Southern California in 1973. The next year he earned a master's degree in international relations, also at USC. Following his masters, he initially enrolled in a doctoral program at USC, but left in 1975 to join the CIA.[2]

CIA career up to 1999[edit]

At the CIA, Black trained for the clandestine service and volunteered for Africa based on his knowledge of the region from childhood travels with his father across the continent. During his CIA career, Black served six foreign tours in field management positions.[citation needed]

Initially, he worked as a case officer in Lusaka, Zambia during the Rhodesian Bush War. He then transferred to Somalia, where he served for two years during the conflict between Ethiopians and Somalis. He worked in South Africa during the National Party government's war against guerrilla movements opposing the apartheid system. While assigned to Kinshasa, Zaire, Black was involved in the Reagan Administration's covert action program to arm anti-communist guerrillas in neighboring Angola.

In 1993, Black transferred from London to Khartoum, Sudan, where he served as CIA station chief until 1995. This was at a low point in U.S.-Sudanese relations, particularly over the latter country's sponsorship of terror and the harboring of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Black oversaw the collection of human intelligence on terrorist cells and support structures, and toward the end of his tenure, was targeted by Al Qaeda for assassination {see Woodward, Bush At War, p. 9}. Black was also responsible for the collection of intelligence that led to the 1994 capture of the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal.

In 1995, Black was named the Task Force Chief in the Near East and South Asia Division. From June 1998 through June 1999, he served as the Deputy Chief of the Latin America Division.[3]

Director of CTC (1999-2002)[edit]

In June 1999 Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet named Black director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center (CTC).[4] In this capacity, Black served as the CIA Director's Special Assistant for Counterterrorism as well as the National Intelligence Officer for Counterterrorism.[5] Black's promotion was a part of Tenet's "grand plan" for dealing with al-Qaeda. Black was the operational chief in charge of this effort. Tenet also put "Richard," one of his own assistants, in charge of the CTC's bin Laden tracking unit. Black still headed the CTC at the time of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Al-Qaeda strategy, 1999–2001[edit]

In December 1998 CIA chief Tenet "declared war" on Osama bin Laden.[6] Early in 1999 Tenet "ordered the CTC to begin a 'baseline' review of the CIA's operational strategy against bin Laden." In the spring he "demanded 'a new, comprehensive plan of attack' against bin Laden and his allies."

The CTC had produced a "comprehensive plan of attack" against bin Laden and previewed the new strategy to senior CIA management by the end of July 1999. By mid-September, it had been briefed to CIA operational level personnel, and to the NSA, the FBI, and other partners. The strategy was called simply, "the Plan."

... [Cofer] Black and his new bin Laden unit wanted to "project" into Afghanistan, to "penetrate" bin Laden's sanctuaries. They described their plan as military officers might. They sought to surround Afghanistan with secure covert bases for CIA operations—as many bases as they could arrange. Then they would mount operations from each of the platforms, trying to move inside Afghanistan and as close to bin Laden as they could to recruit agents and to attempt capture operations. Black wanted recruitments and he wanted to develop commando or paramilitary strike teams made up of officers and men who could "blend" into the region's Muslim populations.

Parallel with these developments, in November–December 1999 Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and Nawaf al-Hazmi visited Afghanistan, where they were selected for the "planes operation" that was to become known as 9/11.[7] Working with a Malaysian security unit, the CIA watched al-Hazmi and his companion Khalid al-Mihdhar as they attended in January 2000 Al-Qaeda conference in Kuala Lumpur, later determined to be where decisions about the "planes operation" were made.

"We surveil them. We surveil the guy they're there to meet," Black recalled. "Not close enough to hear what they're saying, but we're covering, taking pictures, watching their behavior. They're acting kind of spooky. They're not using the phone in the apartment. They're going around, walking in circles, just like junior spies. Going up to phone booths, making a lot of calls. It's like, 'Who are these dudes?'"[8]

According to an internal CIA report on the performance of the agency prior to the 9/11 attacks, Black was criticized for not passing on information to the FBI that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar had subsequently entered the United States.[9][10] In addition, the 9/11 Commission found that while Black testified before Congress's Joint Inquiry into 9/11 that the FBI had access to information on the two hijackers, the 9/11 Commission found no such evidence of this.[11]

The CIA increasingly concentrated its diminished resources on counter-terrorism, so that resources for this particular activity increased sharply. At least some of the Plan's more modest aspirations were translated into action. Intelligence collection efforts on bin Laden and al-Qaeda increased significantly from 1999. "By 9/11," said Tenet, "a map would show that these collection programs and human [reporting] networks were in place in such numbers as to nearly cover Afghanistan."[12]

During the summer of 2001, Tenet, Black, and one of Black's top assistants—"Rich B" (i.e. "Richard")—were active in advertising the dangers of Al-Qaeda to the new Bush administration. At a meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others on July 10, "Rich" predicted a "spectacular" terrorist attack against US interests "in the coming weeks or months" ... "Multiple and simultaneous attacks are possible." After the meeting, "Rich and Cofer congratulated each other," feeling that at last the CIA had gotten the full attention of the administration. At an internal CIA update in late July, "Rich" dramatically predicted, "They're coming here!" (i.e. the United States).[13]

One of the ways in which CIA/CTC surveiled Osama bin Laden in his Afghan base was with the Predator reconnaissance drone. A joint CIA-Air Force program of flights in autumn 2000 (dubbed "Afghan Eyes") produced probable sightings of the Al-Qaeda leader. Black became a "vocal advocate" of arming the aircraft with missiles to kill bin Laden and other Qaeda leaders in targeted killings. During the new Bush administration in 2001, Black and "Richard" continued to press for Predators armed with adapted Hellfire anti-tank missiles. Legal and technical issues delayed the program. Black urged Tenet to promote the matter at the long-awaited Cabinet-level Principals Committee meeting on terrorism of September 4, 2001. The CIA chief duly did so. The CIA was authorized to "deploy the system with weapons-capable aircraft." [See Bin Laden Issue Station.]

September 11, 2001[edit]

After the attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, some CTC staff refused an order to evacuate the CIA headquarters at Langley. They included the shift of the Global Response Center on the exposed sixth floor, which Black would eventually argue had "a key function in a crisis like this." Tenet finally accepted that Black wouldn't leave, and that their lives would be put at risk.[14]

The CTC obtained passenger lists from "the planes that had been turned into weapons that morning." "[A] CTC analyst raced over to the printing plant," from which most CIA staff had been evacuated, and pointed out the names Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who they had "been looking for the last few weeks." This was the first "absolute proof" that the attacks were an Al-Qaeda plot.[15] The CTC had first come across the names in connection with potential terrorist activity in the winter of 1999-2000 [see above].

Post 9/11: Global War on Terror[edit]

The CIA's planning efforts had put them in a better position to respond after the attacks. As Tenet put it,

How could [an intelligence] community without a strategic plan tell the president of the United States just four days after 9/11 how to attack the Afghan sanctuary and operate against al-Qa'ida in ninety-two countries around the world?[16]

This was at a "war council," a restricted group of the National Security Council, chaired by President Bush at Camp David on September 15, 2001. Black was also present. Tenet proposed first to send CIA teams into Afghanistan to collect intelligence and mount covert operations. The teams would act jointly with military Special Operations units. "President Bush later praised this proposal, saying it had been a turning point in his thinking."[17]

Woodward's Bush at War mentions two meetings at which Black was present while implementing this plan with memorable "Blackisms." In a September 13 meeting with Bush[18] Black said

Now he [Black] noted the desired end was [to] capture the al Qaeda and render them to law enforcement so they could be brought to justice. With regret, however, he had learned that the al Qaeda do not surrender, and they would not negotiate. The great martyred Northern Alliance leader Massoud had once told him, "We've been fighting these guys for years and I've never captured one of these bastards." The reason was that any time one of their units was overrun they bunched together and detonated a hand grenade. So the task would be killing al Qaeda Black said. "When we're through with them they will have flies walking across their eyeballs," he said. It was an image of death that left a lasting impression on a number of war cabinet ministers. Black became known in Bush's inner circle as the "flies on the eyeballs guy" ... Black's enthusiasm was infectious ... Powell, for one, saw that Bush was tired of rhetoric. The President wanted to kill somebody.[19]

Later Black used the same technique to impress the Russians.[20]

Armitage and Black flew to Moscow to seek help from top Russian diplomatic and intelligence officials.

"We're in a war," Black told the Russians. "We're coming. Regardless of what you do, we're coming anyway." He knew Afghanistan was in their sphere of influence and they would be queasy. "At the very least we want you to look away." He did not want the Russians trying to gum up CIA operations. "From my humble position, I think this is a historical opportunity. Let's get out of the last century into the next one."

The Russians indicated they would help and certainly not obstruct. One noted that Afghanistan was ambush heaven, where the guerrilla fighters had demolished the Russian army. "With regret," the Russian said, "I have to say that you're really going to get the hell kicked out of you."

"We're going to kill them," Black said. "We're going to put their heads on sticks. We're going to rock their world."

The Russians soon sent a team to the CIA to provide extensive on-the-ground intelligence, especially about the topography and caves of Afghanistan.

The CIA geared up to take the lead in the attack on al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The NALT team, led by Gary Schroen, entered the country once more on September 26, 2001. A new branch was added to the CTC—CTC Special Operations, or CTC/SO. Hank Crumpton, the former head of CTC operations, was recalled to head it. Black told him, "Your mission is to find al-Qa'ida, engage it, and destroy it."[21]

Testifying at the Congressional Joint Inquiry into the September 11 attacks in 2002, Black eschewed the offer of anonymity because "I want to look the American people in the eye."[22]

During the "war on terror" Black is said to have played a "leading role in many of the [CIA]'s more controversial programs, including the rendition and interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects and the detention of some of them in secret prisons [outside the USA]."[23] But there has never been any solid factual support for these contentions. Black had resigned from government service in 2004 and entered the private sector before the controversial renditions occurred. Black's legacy is that he created and led the team that successfully counter-attacked Al-Qaeda and the Taliban immediately after 9/11, while concurrently leading the successful implementation of the presidentially approved "Worldwide Attack Matrix," in which the CIA engaged all known Al Qaeda operatives and supporters on a global basis. This full court press may have stopped Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda from implementing any follow-up attacks on the United States if any such attacks had been planned. In addition, Black can be credited with having provided clear early warnings to the president's top advisors on July 10, 2001—two months before 9/11—that a major terrorist attack was imminent, and with having urged that immediate preventive action be taken.

Coordinator for Counterterorism (2002–2004)[edit]

Black became the US Department of State's Ambassador-at-Large for counter-terrorism in late 2002. He held this position until November 2004.

As the Coordinator for Counter-terrorism [at the State Department], Ambassador Black's office, S/CT, had primary responsibility for developing, coordinating and implementing U.S. counter-terrorism policy. On behalf of the Secretary of State, Ambassador Black represented the Department on the Counter-terrorism Security Group. His office played a leading role on the Department of State's counter-terrorism task forces organized to coordinate responses to international terrorist incidents. [His] responsibilities included coordinating U.S. Government efforts to improve counter-terrorism cooperation with foreign governments, including the policy and planning of the Department's Antiterrorism Training Assistance Program.[5]

Private sector work (2005–present)[edit]


From 2005 to 2008 Black was Vice Chairman of Blackwater USA (later renamed Blackwater Worldwide, then Xe, and finally Academi), a US-based private security firm which was "the biggest of the State Department's three private security contractors".[24]

In March 2006 Black allegedly suggested at an international conference in Amman, Jordan, that Blackwater USA was ready to move towards providing security professionals up to brigade size for humanitarian efforts and low intensity conflicts. Black denies the allegation. Critics have suggested this may be going too far in putting political decisions in the hands of privately owned corporations.[25] The company denies this was ever said.[26]

Black resigned in 2008 reportedly after learning of illegal payments to Iraqi officials.[27]

Black later served as Chairman of Total Intelligence Solutions (Total Intel), a private intelligence gathering group. This company was created in February 2007 by the Prince Group, the holding company that owns Blackwater. Total Intel was formed by the merger of The Black Group LLC (also led by Black), Terrorism Research Center, Inc., and Technical Defense.[28] As of 2021, Total Intel has been absorbed by OODA group, a business intelligence and crisis response consulting group. Black appears on the firm's list of consultants.[29]

Mitt Romney presidential campaigns[edit]

On April 26, 2007, Black was chosen by Mitt Romney to head a campaign counter-terrorism policy advisory group during the Republican's 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.[30]

In October 2011, Black was chosen by Romney to serve as "Special Adviser" on all foreign policy issues during his 2012 presidential campaign.[31]


In February 2017, the Ukrainian oil and gas corporation Burisma announced the addition of Black to the company's board of directors, leading the company's security and strategic development efforts.[32]

In the wake of the Hunter Biden email controversey, a report from The Wall Street Journal associated Black's role at the firm with a group of "well-connected operatives in Washington to help persuade Ukrainian prosecutors to drop criminal cases against it."[33]

During the 2020 election, the Trump Campaign shared an article from a conservative opinion outlet advancing a conspiracy theory connecting Black's work with Burisma and his connection to Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns. The campaign used the article to attempt to tie Romney into the growing Hunter Biden email controversey and discredit his vote to convict Trump during his first impeachment trial as a product of corrupt collusion with the Bidens.[34] Black was hired six months after Hunter Biden had departed the board.[34] Romney associates described the claims as an attempt at the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.[34]

Black remains a member of the Burisma board as of February 2021.[35]

Mueller investigation[edit]

Black's name appears in volume five of the 2020 Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections produced following the investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller. Joel Zamel, executive at Psy-Group, an Israeli private intelligence agency specializing in honey traps and perception manipulation campaigns, testified that apart from their pitch to the Trump Campaign, the firm had proposed projects to three other clients: Russian oligarchs Oleg Deripaska and Dmitri Rybolovlev, and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, whom Black had introduced to Zamel in 2016.[36]

Other roles[edit]

In January 2016 Black became an independent director of publicly traded biotechnology company Northwest Biotherapeutics (NWBO), a Maryland-based development-stage biopharmaceutical company developing cancer immunotherapies.[37]


In addition to numerous performance awards and meritorious citations, while at CIA Black received the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the George H. Bush Medal for Excellence, and the Exceptional Collector Award for 1994.[5]


  1. ^ "Cofer Black |". Retrieved 2017-07-09.
  2. ^ Steve Coll, Ghost Wars (Penguin, 2005 edn), pp.266-7; Cofer had friends in Southern California and made trips camping to Lake Tahoe, CA and Reno, NV. "Ambassador Cofer Black Becomes Vice-Chairman at Blackwater USA Archived 2016-12-25 at the Wayback Machine", Blackwater USA press release, Feb. 4, 2005.
  3. ^ Steve Coll, Ghost Wars (Penguin, 2005 edn), pp. 267, 271; "Ambassador Cofer Black Becomes Vice-Chairman at Blackwater USA Archived 2016-12-25 at the Wayback Machine," Blackwater USA press release, Feb. 4, 2005.
  4. ^ Steve Coll, Ghost Wars (Penguin, 2005 edn), p. 456.
  5. ^ a b c "Ambassador Cofer Black Becomes Vice-Chairman at Blackwater USA Archived 2016-12-25 at the Wayback Machine," Blackwater USA press release, Feb. 4, 2005.
  6. ^ Coll, Ghost Wars, pp.436–7, and p.646 note 42; 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 11, p. 357 (HTML version).
  7. ^ 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 5, pp. 155–8, 168 HTML version. Data derived from subsequent intelligence interrogations of captives.
  8. ^ Coll, Ghost Wars, pp. 487–88.
  9. ^ Fickling, David (August 26, 2005). "Tenet could face 9/11 reprimand". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  10. ^ Giraldi, Philip (2005-08-01). "Deep Background | The American Conservative". Archived from the original on 2018-12-25. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
  11. ^ "National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States". Retrieved 2012-10-20.
  12. ^ Coll, Ghost Wars, pp. 457, 466–72, 485, and p. 654 note 7; Tenet statement to the Joint Inquiry on 9/11, Oct. 17, 2002[permanent dead link]; 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 4, pp. 142–3 (HTML version); George Tenet, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA (Harper Press, 2007), pp. 119, 120.
  13. ^ George Tenet, At The Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA (Harper Press, 2007), pp. 145, 149, 150–3, 158.
  14. ^ Tenet, At The Center of the Storm, pp. 164-65. The conversation is a virtual replica of that given in Bob Woodward, Bush At War (2002/3) (Publisher's extract from chapter 1).
  15. ^ Tenet, At The Center of the Storm, p. 167.
  16. ^ Tenet, At the Center of the Storm, pp. 121-2.
  17. ^ 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 10, p. 332 (HTML version; Tenet, At the Center of the Storm, p. *.)
  18. ^ Woodward, Bush at War, pp. 52.
  19. ^ Woodward, Bush at War, p. 53.
  20. ^ Woodward, Bush at War, p. 103.
  21. ^ Tenet, At The Center Of The Storm, pp. 211, 217, 221-3.
  22. ^ Testimony of Cofer Black (copy on Federation of American Scientists' website).
  23. ^ Dana Hedgpeth. "Blackwater's Owner Has Spies for Hire", The Washington Post, Nov. 3, 2007.
  24. ^ Matthew Lee, "Feds Target Blackwater in Weapons Probe", Associated Press, September 22, 2007. Archived October 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ [1] Archived May 23, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ Curry, Chris (July 23, 2006). "Inside America's Private Army". The Virginian-Pilot. Archived from the original on September 26, 2007. Retrieved August 9, 2007.
  27. ^ MARK MAZZETTI and JAMES RISEN, "Blackwater Said to Approve Iraqi Payoffs After Shootings", The New York Times, Nov. 10, 2009, p.A01.
  28. ^ Dana Hedgpeth, "Blackwater's Owner Has Spies for Hire", The Washington Post, Nov. 3, 2007, p.A01.
  29. ^ "About OODA". OODA - Enabling Intelligent Action. September 2, 2008. Retrieved 2021-02-22.
  30. ^ "Romney names terrorism policy advisers - National Politics Blog - Political Intelligence". 2007-09-13. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
  31. ^ "Mitt Romney Announces Foreign Policy And National Security Advisory Team". 2011-10-06. Archived from the original on 2012-10-11. Retrieved 2012-10-20.
  32. ^ Nwazor, Toby (2017-02-22). "Former CIA Director Joins Burisma, and It Is Good News". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-07-09.
  33. ^ Grove, Thomas; Cullison, Alan (2019-11-07). "Ukraine Company's Campaign to Burnish Its Image Stretched Beyond Hunter Biden". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Archived from the original on November 10, 2020. Retrieved 2021-02-22.
  34. ^ a b c Nguyen, Tina (February 10, 2020). "Trump world's latest attack on Romney: Tie him to Burisma". POLITICO. Retrieved 2021-02-22.
  35. ^ "Joseph Cofer Black on the board of directors of the Burisma Group". Burisma. Retrieved 2021-02-22.
  36. ^ Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election (PDF) (Report). Volume 5: Counterintelligence Threats and Vulnerabilities. November 10, 2020. pp. 696–699. |volume= has extra text (help)
  37. ^

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Succeeded by