CIA mastermind behind bin Laden killing, aka 'Captain Ahab', to be removed from post

Reuters / Larry Downing
The head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC), who masterminded the killing of Osama bin Laden and the drone campaign, is being removed from his post at a time when the agency is focusing on a new generation of extremist threats.

The CTC chief, whose real name is Mike but who took on the pseudonym 'Roger' with the CIA, was revered as a Captain Ahab-like figure from Moby Dick, the Washington Post reported.

His efforts to help hunt down and kill bin Laden culminated on May 2, 2011, during an operation by SEAL Team Six. The event was the basis for the film 'Zero Dark Thirty,' which was nominated for five Academy Awards. The character known as 'The Wolf' was based on Roger.

He was merciless to his colleagues but was also renowned as one of the best intelligence officers of his generation. He had an excellent knowledge of terrorist networks, and even converted to Islam – although his approach to counterterrorism was killing-centric and enraged many Muslims.

He was described by a CIA spokesman to the Washington Post as one of the “true heroes of the agency.”

“After nearly a decade of outstanding work in this post, including the takedown of countless terrorists and many other successes in protecting the country, he will be moving on in connection with the CIA modernization plan announced last month,” said CIA spokesman Dean Boyd.

Michael Morrel, former deputy director of the CIA, went further in his praise.

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“[Roger was] one of the finest intelligence officers of his generation. I don’t think there has been a more successful unit in the history of the agency than the CTC during this individual’s tenure,” he said.

US officials have said he will remain within the CIA and will be given a new assignment which is yet to be decided.

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Roger’s removal from the role will not signal any shift in policy of the CTC.

“The new individual is just as aggressive with counterterrorism operations as the guy leaving,” a former intelligence official, who knows both Roger and his replacement Chris, told the Washington Post.

The CIA is currently going through a transition as its director John Brennan creates new hybrid units that combine analysts and operatives more like the CTC.

Chris will be under pressure to develop a strategy against the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). More brutal than Al-Qaeda, IS is drawing thousands of recruits from Europe and the US, as well as Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

Roger’s removal may have been part of plans by Brennan and Obama to diminish the importance of the CTC, according to one former intelligence official.

“I think President Obama and Brennan have wanted to clip the CTC’s wings. But at a time when the enemy is getting stronger and stronger, how can you pull back?” said the official who worked in the CTC.

But Roger had a dark side. His authority meant that he often had to approve drone strikes, sometimes when the true identity of suspected militants was not even known.

READ MORE: CIA director blames social media for strength of ISIS

He was quoted by the Washington Post as saying “we’re killing these sons of bitches faster than they can grow them,” when asked about drone strikes.

His gung-ho approach has been criticized by some in the State Department and the Pentagon, who have argued that his focus on killing didn't deal with the underlying causes of terrorism, and the emergence of the Islamic State appears to back this view up.

Roger was also said to be damaged by his running of secret CIA prisons and the use of torture on terrorism suspects, meaning he was ineligible for more senior CIA positions.

Brennan is believed to want to refocus the agency's work on traditional intelligence gathering.