Intelligence Support Activity

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Intelligence Support Activity
ISA badge.jpg
ISA Emblem
Country United States of America
Branch United States Army
TypeSpecial operations force
Special mission unit
Part ofUnited States Special Operations Command Insignia.svg United States Special Operations Command
Seal of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).svg Joint Special Operations Command
United States Army Special Operations Command DUI.png United States Army Special Operations Command
HeadquartersFort Belvoir, Virginia
Nickname(s)"The Activity", "Office of Military Support"
Motto(s)"Send Me" or Veritas Omnia Vincula Vincit ("Truth Overcomes All Bonds")
EngagementsOperation Winter Harvest
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Gothic Serpent
Operation Joint Endeavor
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Operation Prime Chance
Operation Inherent Resolve
DecorationsPresidential Unit Citation
Joint Meritorious Unit Award
Michael K. Nagata
James Linder[citation needed]
Richard E. Angle

The United States Army Intelligence Support Activity (USAISA), frequently shortened to Intelligence Support Activity, or Mission Support Activity, nicknamed The Activity, the Army of Northern Virginia,[1] or Office of Military Support is a United States Army Special Operations unit which serves as the intelligence gathering component of Joint Special Operations Command.[2][3][4] The unit is often referred to within JSOC as Task Force Orange.[5][6][7] Originally subordinated to the US Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), it is one of the least known intelligence components of the United States military,[5] tasked with collecting actionable intelligence during or prior to JSOC missions.

The Activity and its counterparts including 1st SFOD-D, DEVGRU, and the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, are the U.S. military's premier Tier 1 Special Mission Units, performing the most complex, classified, and dangerous missions as directed by the National Command Authority.[5]

The unit is known by many names, USAISA was the official name of the unit from 1981 to 1989; previously it was known as the Field Operations Group (FOG), created in September 1980.


Field Operations Group[edit]

The Field Operations Group (FOG) was created in summer 1980 in order to take part in a second attempt to rescue the U.S. hostages held in the Tehran embassy after the failure of the Operation Eagle Claw. That operation had highlighted the U.S. shortfall in intelligence gathering.[8][9]

The Field Operations Group was under command of Colonel Jerry King, and operated in Iran, accomplishing various covert intelligence-gathering missions. The work accomplished by the FOG was successful, however the second attempt (called Operation Credible Sport), never took place because the air assets needed were not available.[10][11]

After the cancellation of Operation Credible Sport, the FOG was not disbanded but enlarged. The administration saw ground intelligence contingencies as needing improvement if future special operations were to be successful (the CIA did not always provide all the information needed). So, on 3 March 1981, the FOG was established as a permanent unit and renamed US Army Intelligence Support Activity.[10] This activity should not be confused with a later activity known as the Ground Intelligence Support Activity (GISA), as subordinated to the Army G2.

Badge and insignia[edit]

The current badge depicts an American bald eagle grasping a claymore, surrounded by a kilt belt, inscribed with the Latin translation of "Truth Overcomes All Bonds". In the original crest, the claymore was wrapped in a chain with one of the links broken as a reminder of those killed during the failed Operation Eagle Claw. This symbol of failure was later deemed no longer appropriate.

The badge was deliberately designed by Jerry King and other founding members of the unit because of their shared Scottish heritage. The claymore is a greatsword originating from the Scottish Highlands, and the belt surrounding the badge is seen on Scottish clan badges (the belt signifies that the wearer is a member rather than the chief of the clan - the chief wears the badge without a belt surround).

U.S. Army Intelligence Support Activity[edit]


In 1981 the Intelligence Support Activity began to immediately select new operators, growing from FOG's 50 people to about 100. The ISA remained extremely secret; all of its records were classified under a Special Access Program (at first named OPTIMIZE TALENT). The ISA was given its classified budget of $7 million, a secret headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and cover name, the Tactical Concept Activity.[10] ISA included three main operations branches (Command, SIGINT and Operations), and an analysis branch, whose name changed over the years (e.g. Directorate of Intelligence, Directorate of Intelligence and Security).[12] Colonel Jerry King became ISA's first commander.[10][13]

ISA mission was to support Special Operations Forces (primarily 1st SFOD-D and DEVGRU) in counter-terrorist operations and other special operations units. The ISA would provide actionable intelligence collection, pathfinding, and operational support. The ISA performed several operations mainly in Latin America and the Middle East during the 1980s, but also in East Africa, South-East Asia, and Europe.[10] The current organization of ISA is classified but does contain at least three squadrons (Operations, SIGINT and Mission Support/Communications).[14]

First missions[edit]

The ISA conducted various missions, including giving protection to the Lebanese leader Bachir Gemayel and attempting to buy a Soviet T-72 tank from Iraq (a deal that was finally stopped by the Iraqis).[10]

Dozier kidnapping, Operation Winter Harvest[edit]

On 17 December 1981, the senior U.S. Army officer in NATO Land Forces Southern European Command, Brigadier General James L. Dozier, was kidnapped from his apartment in Verona, Italy, by Italian Red Brigades terrorists. The search for General Dozier saw a massive deployment of Italian and U.S. forces, including thousands of Italian national police, the Carabinieri. The search also featured some unconventional participants, including "remote viewers" from Project Stargate and an international cast of psychics, largely orchestrated by General Albert Stubblebine, then-Commander of U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command INSCOM, and a great believer in the use of unconventional intelligence-gathering methods. An ISA SIGINT team was sent to Italy as part of Operation Winter Harvest and in conjunction with other Army SIGINT and counter-intelligence units, employed aerial and ground-based SIGINT systems to monitor and geo-locate terrorist communications. ISA and the other Army elements provided useful intelligence, helping Italian police to arrest several Red Brigades terrorists in mid-January 1982. The Italian police and intelligence agencies have never officially disclosed how they located General Dozier in late January 1982. However, U.S. Army participants in the operation have hinted that the mid-January arrests, the interrogation of those arrested, and follow-on investigations led to the eventual location of the Red Brigades hideout where Dozier was being held, in an apartment over a store in Padova. There is little doubt that the successful outcome resulted in part from the contributions of ISA's SIGINT specialists and the other supporting Army intelligence elements. General Dozier was freed unharmed by NOCS operators, also known as "The Leatherheads" for their unique headgear, on 28 January 1982.[10]

Operation Queens Hunter[edit]

In early 1982, the ISA was needed to support a SIGINT mission in El Salvador, a mission that the CIA, the NSA and INSCOM were not able to accomplish. The task was submitted to the U.S. Army Special Operations Division (SOD), which started Operation Queens Hunter. Operating from a Beechcraft model 100 King Air flown by SEASPRAY (a clandestine military aviation unit) based in Honduras, ISA SIGINT specialists monitored communications from Salvadoran leftist guerrillas and fascist death squads, providing intelligence which helped the Salvadoran Army defend against guerrilla attacks. The success was such that the operation, planned to last a month, ran for more than three years. More aircraft were deployed, and eventually included eavesdropping on Honduran guerrillas too, as well as Nicaraguan Army units fighting against the Contras.[10]

The POW/MIA affair[edit]

The ISA has also conducted an operation to search for US MIAs (soldiers reported as Missing In Action) allegedly held in South-East Asia in secret POWs camps in the 1980s. In 1979, U.S. intelligence thought it had located a POW camp in Laos using aerial and satellite photographs. A ground reconnaissance was needed to determine if people seen on photographs were really American POWs. At the same time, former Special Forces Major James G. "Bo" Gritz planned a private rescue mission with other S.F. veterans. Having informed U.S. government officials about the mission, Gritz was first told to abort his "mission," but was eventually approached by the ISA. Nonetheless, Gritz was not believed to be doing serious work, and Pentagon officials ordered the ISA to terminate their relationship with him when they discovered that ISA had provided him with money and equipment.[10]

Operation Grand Eagle-aka "BOHICA" was an ISA Clandestine Armed Operation to seek intelligence on the fate of US military and or CIA personnel who may have been captured and left behind in Laos after the Vietnam war. ISA operatives were sent to Laos and located an armed encampment there that had at least two captured men, believed to be either US military personnel or covert operatives.[citation needed]

This was detailed in two books, "BOHICA" by Scott Barnes an ISA operative on this mission and "Kiss the Boys Goodbye" by Monika Jensen-Stevenson and William Stevenson both detailed the covert mission of Operation Grand Eagle.

In 1989, the then USAISA commander John G. Lackey sent a telex "terminating" the USAISA term and his special access program Grantor Shadow. Colonel John Lackey served as unit commander from 1986 to 1989.[15] However, the unit continued under a series of different Top Secret codenames which are changed every two years. Known codenames included Capacity Gear, Centra Spike, Torn Victor, Quiet Enable, Cemetery Wind, and Gray Fox.[1]

Gray Fox[edit]

Gray Fox was the codename used by the ISA at the beginning of the War in Afghanistan. Its members often worked closely with Joint Special Operations Command and the Central Intelligence Agency.[16]

In 2002, Gray Fox operators served alongside Delta Force and DEVGRU in the mountains of Afghanistan.[17] Gray Fox intercepted enemy communications and trekked to observation posts with special operations units. Their efforts may have saved more than a hundred 10th Mountain Division and 101st Airborne Division soldiers fighting near Takur Ghar in Afghanistan's Shahikot Valley during Operation Anaconda.

The unit helped spearhead the search for Saddam Hussein and his family after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Gray Fox operatives sometimes work under the broader umbrella of "Joint Special Operations Task Force 20", which also included DEVGRU, the Army's Delta Force, and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Saddam Hussein was eventually captured during Operation Red Dawn.[16] Under the command of Colonel Michael K. Nagata from 2005 to 2008, Gray Fox continued to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside US Special Operations Forces.

Under Joint Special Operations Command[edit]

In 2003, the Intelligence Support Activity was transferred from the Army INSCOM to Joint Special Operations Command, where it was renamed the Mission Support Activity.[16]

Since 2005 onward, the ISA has not always operated under a two-worded Special Access Program (SAP) name (Grey Fox, Centra Spike, etc.). In 2009, the unit was referred to as INTREPID SPEAR, until this was revealed to have been leaked in an email to the Pentagon.[16] In 2010 it was referred to as the United States Army Studies and Analysis Activity.[16]

Elements of the former ISA assisted in intelligence collection and analysis operations prior to and during the 2 May 2011 U.S. Special Operations Forces mission which resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. Elements of DEVGRU, along with the ISA, members of the CIA Special Activities Division, DIA,[18] and the NSA combined to execute a raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which ultimately killed bin Laden and resulted in the deaths of several family members and associates.

Recruitment, training, and organization[edit]

According to Sean Naylor in Not a Good Day to Die, most (but certainly not all) Activity operatives come from United States Army Special Forces, due to their self-reliance and specialized skill-set.[17] Candidates also come from the other military branches. Most candidates assigned to the Operations, Communications and/or SIGINT squadrons go through an assessment and selection course, as well as a lengthy background investigation and psychological testing. Once admitted, they receive further training in a specialized Training Course. Like all units, this Intelligence Support Activity contains operational detachments as well as support detachments such as intelligence analysis, medical, logistics.[19]


Candidates must have previous training in tactics, such as CQC, sniper, counter-sniper and source development. Foreign language skills, although highly desired, are not a prerequisite to becoming a member of the ISA, though to be a SIGINT/HUMINT operator in the field with other Special Mission Units, working clandestine operations in non-permissive environments, knowing a minimum of several languages is usually indispensable (e.g. Persian, Arabic, Pashto, etc.).

Some of the disciplines focused on in the training course are: infiltration techniques, advanced air operations, professional driving (offensive and off-road), personal defensive measures, and state-of-the-art communications, deep surveillance, tradecraft, weapons handling, hand-to-hand combat, signals intelligence, etc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Naylor, Sean (11 October 2016). Relentless Strike. ISBN 978-1250105479.
  2. ^ "Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)". Retrieved 28 February 2021.
  3. ^ Neville, Leigh (2008). Special operations, forces in Afghanistan. Library Genesis. Oxford ; New York : Osprey Pub. ISBN 978-1-84603-310-0.
  4. ^ Gellman, Barton (23 January 2005). "Secret Unit Expands Rumsfeld's Domain (". Washington Post. Retrieved 28 February 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ a b c Ambinder, Marc (22 March 2013). "The most secret of secret units". The Week. Retrieved 28 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ Naylor, Seán D. "Meet the Shadow Warrior Leading the Fight Against the Islamic State". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 28 February 2021.
  7. ^ Hand IV, George (18 December 2019). "Task Force Orange: Supporting Delta Force". SOFREP. Retrieved 28 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ Memorandum for Director, Defense Intelligence Agency
  9. ^ Clancy, Tom (2001). Special Forces. New York: Berkley Books. ISBN 0-425-17268-6.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Richelson, Jeffrey T. Truth Conquers All Chains
  11. ^ Brief History of Unit
  12. ^ USAISA 1986 Historical Report and 1987 Historical Report
  13. ^ "COLONEL JERRY M. KING" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 July 2017. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  14. ^ "United States Army Intelligence Support Activity 1986 Historical Report" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 May 2020. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  15. ^ "COLONEL JOHN G. LACKEY III" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 December 2016. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  16. ^ a b c d e Marc Ambinder and DB Grady (2012) The Command: Inside the President's Secret Army
  17. ^ a b Sean Naylor (2006). Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda. New York: Berkley Books. ISBN 0-425-19609-7.
  18. ^[bare URL PDF]
  19. ^ "United States Army Intelligence Support Activity 1987 Historical Report" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 August 2017. Retrieved 25 August 2017.


  • Emerson, Steven (1988). Secret Warriors: Inside the Covert Military Operations of the Reagan Era. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0-399-13360-7.
  • Richelson, Jeffrey T. (1999). "Truth Conquers All Chains: The U.S. Army Intelligence Support Activity, 1981–1989". International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence. 12 (2): 168–200. ISSN 0885-0607 – via InformaWorld.
  • "The Pentagon's Spies: Documents Detail Histories of Once Secret Spy Units", electronic book by Jeffrey T. Richelson, 23 May 2001, on the National Security Archive website. The article collects duplicates of declassified documents about covert US military intelligence units, including the ISA:
    • Memorandum for Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, by Lt. Gen. Philip C. Gast, USAF, 10 December 1980
    • Memorandum to the Deputy Under Secretary for Policy, by Frank Carlucci, 26 May 1982
    • Charter of U.S. Army Intelligence Support Activity, circa mid-1983
    • After Action Report for Operation CANVAS SHIELD, by 902nd Military Intelligence Group, 30 July 1985
    • Brief History of Unit (ISA), circa mid-1986 (presumed)
    • United States Army Intelligence Support Activity 1986 Historical Report
    • United States Army Intelligence Support Activity 1987 Historical Report
    • Termination of USAISA and "GRANTOR SHADOW", by Commander, USAISA, 31 March 1989
  • Bowden, Mark (2001). Killing Pablo: the hunt for the world's greatest outlaw. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-783-6.
  • Smith, Michael (2006). Killer Elite: The Inside Story of America's Most Secret Special Operations Team. New York: St Martin's Press. ISBN 1-25-000647-3. (several editions from 2006 to 2011 with additional material)