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|secret cia office was in tower|
|11/07/01 at 23:03:38|
|Secret C.I.A. Site in New York Was Destroyed on Sept. 11|
By JAMES RISEN
WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 — The Central Intelligence Agency's
clandestine New York station
was destroyed in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center,
seriously disrupting United
States intelligence operations while bringing the war on terrorism
dangerously close to home for
America's spy agency, government officials say.
The C.I.A.'s undercover New York station was in the 47-story building at
7 World Trade Center, one
of the smaller office towers destroyed in the aftermath of the collapse
of the twin towers that morning.
All of the agency's employees at the site were safely evacuated soon
after the hijacked planes hit the
twin towers, the officials said.
The intelligence agency's employees were able to watch from their office
windows while the twin
towers burned just before they evacuated their own building.
Immediately after the attack, the C.I.A. dispatched a special team to
scour the rubble in search of
secret documents and intelligence reports that had been stored in the
New York station, either on
paper or in computers, officials said. It could not be learned whether
the agency was successful in
retrieving its classified records from the wreckage.
A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.
The agency's New York station was behind the false front of another
federal organization, which
intelligence officials requested that The Times not identify. The
station was, among other things, a base
of operations to spy on and recruit foreign diplomats stationed at the
United Nations, while debriefing
selected American business executives and others willing to talk to the
C.I.A. after returning from
The agency's officers in New York often work undercover, posing as
diplomats and business
executives, among other things, depending on the nature of their
The recovery of secret documents and other records from the New York
station should follow
well-rehearsed procedures laid out by the agency after the Iranian
takeover of the United States
Embassy in Tehran in 1979. The revolutionaries took over the embassy so
rapidly that the C.I.A.
station was not able to effectively destroy all of its documents, and
the Iranians were later able to piece
together shredded agency reports. Since that disaster, the agency has
emphasized rigorous training and
drills among its employees on how to quickly and effectively destroy and
dispose of important
documents in emergencies.
As a result, a C.I.A. station today should be able to protect most of
its secrets even in the middle of a
catastrophic disaster like the Sept. 11 attacks, said one former agency
official. "If it was well run, there
shouldn't be too much paper around," the former official said.
The agency's New York officers have been deeply involved in
counterterrorism efforts in the New
York area, working jointly with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and
other agencies. Many of the
most important counterterrorism cases of the last few years, including
the bureau's criminal
investigations of the August 1998 bombings of two United States
Embassies in East Africa and the
October 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen have been handled out
of New York.
The United States has accused Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist
network of conducting
both of those attacks.
But United States intelligence officials emphasize that there is no
evidence that the hijackers knew that
the undercover station was in the World Trade Center complex.
With their undercover station in ruins, C.I.A. officers in New York have
been forced to share space at
the United States Mission to the United Nations, as well as borrow other
federal government offices in
the city, officials said. The C.I.A.'s plans for finding a new permanent
station in New York could not
The agency is prohibited from conducting domestic espionage operations
against Americans, but the
agency maintains stations in a number of major United States cities,
where C.I.A. case officers try to
meet and recruit students and other foreigners to return to their
countries and spy for the United States.
The New York station, which has been led by its first female station
chief for the last year, is believed
to have been the largest and most important C.I.A. domestic station
outside the Washington area.
The station has for years played an important role in espionage
operations against Russian intelligence
officers, many of whom work undercover as diplomats at the United
Nations. Agency officers in New
York often work with the F.B.I. to recruit and then help manage foreign
agents spying for the United
States. The bureau's New York office, at 26 Federal Plaza, was
unaffected by the terrorist attack.
The destruction of the C.I.A.'s New York station has added to the
intense emotions shared by many of
its employees about the agency's role in the battle against terrorism.
For some, the station's destruction
served to underscore the failure of United States intelligence to
predict the attacks.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, morale suffered badly within
the C.I.A., some officials said,
as the agency began to confront what critics have called an intelligence
failure on the scale of Pearl
But the terrorist attacks have also brought an urgent new sense of
mission to the agency, which has
been flooded with job applications as well as inquiries from former
officers eager to return to work.
Congress is pouring money into the agency's counterterrorism operations,
and the C.I.A. seems poised
to begin focusing its resources on terrorism in much the same way it
once focused on the Soviet Union
in the cold war.
The attacks were not the first in which the C.I.A. was directly touched
by terrorists. In 1983, seven
agency officers died in the suicide car bombing of the United States
Embassy in Beirut. Among the
others killed was the agency's station chief in Lebanon, William
Buckley, who died in captivity after
being kidnapped by terrorists in 1984, and Richard Welch, the agency's
Athens station chief, who was
shot to death by Greek terrorists in 1975.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company Privacy
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