This was the book that revealed the astonishing history of America’s most secret special operations team and the way it was directing drone strikes to kill al-Qa’eda and other terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Yemen and Somalia. It has now been brought right up to date with details of operations against Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
During the 2003 Iraq War, I wrote an article on a little known US special operations intelligence unit which had at one time gone by the name the Intelligence Support Activity but by then was said to be hiding under the covername Gray Fox. I was subsequently asked if I would be willing to write a book on the Activity, as it was known among special operations insiders. I was initially doubtful that there would be enough material available. But after talking to contacts in the US, I realised that it might just be possible. Certainly there was enough material out there to make a start on the research for the book and to enable me to contact a number of interviewees, some of whom would be likely to link me up with others.
A rare picture of Colonel Jerry King, the Activity’s founder, in uniform during a visit to the Pentagon.
It certainly wasn’t easy. I wrote to a number of former unit members, including one senior Pentagon official. But by their very nature the people who serve in such units are immensely patriotic and some decided they must ask permission from the Pentagon before they spoke to me. Those who did were told that not only could they not talk to me they must not even acknowledge my letters. Nevertheless, some did talk to me and after a lot of detailed research I eventually reached the stage where I was happy that I could produce the first book to focus entirely on the Activity, a unit so secret that for the whole of its 35-year history it has been hidden behind a series of frequently changing covernames like Centra Spike, Torn Victor and Gray Fox.
Members of the Activity during a training exercise practising high-altitude high-opening parachute jumps.
A photo of the 1983 bombing of the US Marines barracks in Beirut, taken by a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and obtained by an Activity agent.
Killer Elite is based on the little information on the Activity that has been released into the public domain and interviews with a number of former members. It describes a whole series of operations from the 1982 rescue of US General James Dozier from the Italian Red Brigades, through still secret operations inside Iran, to the capture of Saddam Hussein, and the assassination of key members of Al Qa’eda, including Osama bin Laden.
The book describes the incredible lengths the Activity’s founders went to in order to ensure they had the right men, and women, to carry out secret operations inside enemy territory that would ‘prepare the battlefield’ for Delta and SEAL Team Six.
The Activity’s unit crest depicts an eagle carrying a claymore inscribed with the words ‘Send me’ an extract from a biblical text from the book of Isaiah: ‘I heard the voice of the Lord saying: “Who shall I send and who will go for us?” Then said I, “Here I am. Send me.”’ The Latin motto translates as ‘Truth Conquers all Chains’.
The Activity’s missions range from Latin America, fighting communist guerrillas and drugs barons, to Africa, the Middle East and central Asia, tracking down terrorists. Each chapter of the book brings a new chapter of the Activity’s operations like Lebanon, where its efforts to rescue US hostages were stymied by its own government or Bosnia where it hunted down war criminals. Killer Elite details operations inside Iran and gives a full account of the Seal Team Six ‘kill or capture’ operation into Pakistan which shot Osama bin Laden, including photographs of the intelligence briefings given to each of the commandos carrying out the mission so that they knew who to shoot and who not to shoot.
Killer Elite is the incredible story of the world’s most secret special operations organization: a unit which remains at the forefront of the war on terror.
Reviews of Killer Elite
"Well written and authoritatively sourced, Killer Elite is the first detailed account of a special operations unit that Smith regards as America’s most effective"
Saul David, Sunday Telegraph
"Smith lives up to his reputation as an expert in his field."
Bernard Trink, Bangkok Post
"We have the SAS. The Americans have ‘the Activity’, a top-secret special operations unit forming and re-forming itself under code-names such as Torn Victor. They are a shadowy body, but Michael Smith tells their story with style and authority."
Sally Cousins, Daily Telegraph
"The author writes compellingly and has clearly done his homework. It’s hard to put Killer Elite down once you start reading; it will educate, amaze and excite you, mainly because you’ve heard about most of these missions before – just not in this much detail."
John Yialeloglou, Air Force News
"Mike Smith, you have done it again. A superbly researched and written account of the special operations that we know of. Smith has the knack of turning any subject into a ‘must read’ book"
Col (Rtd) Ray Seymour, Army News (New Zealand)