Born in Stanford, Connecticut…Joseph Cofer Black grew up in Levittown, New York during the period between 1950–1969, while taking periodic trips with his father thru-ought parts of Africa, all the while he completed his courses at the University of Southern California in 1974, while majoring in International Relations. In 1975 he would formally join the Central Intelligence Agency. At the CIA, Black trained for the clandestine service and volunteered for Africa due to his childhood experiences there. During his CIA career, Black served six foreign tours in field management positions. His former trips with his father to such places as Angola, Sudan and Congo would come as a valuable asset as he knew the geography well enough. n 1993, Black transferred from London, England 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 HUMINT (Human Intelligence) on terrorist cells and support structures, and toward the end of his tenure, he was targeted by Al Qaeda for assassination. Black was also responsible for the collection of intelligence that directly led to the 1994 capture of the terrorist known as Carlos The Jackal. He was a member of a four-man CIA team dispatched to Khartoum, Sudan to check a tip that Carlos had gone to ground there, with a young Jordanian bride named Lana. Sudanese officials gave Carlos refuge with the understanding he would forego further terrorist acts. Along with a 4 man team of CIA agents, he would help assist in the capture of the elusive terrorist.
June 1999, George Tenet (CIA Director) had named Cofer head of the CIA’s CTC (Counter Intelligence Center). By this time there was a new “Jackal” who terrorized the world, Osama Bin Laden. And in 1998 he issued his second fatwa against the United States, by declaring all Muslims to kill Americans wherever you find them, Tenet directed a new organization which would specialize in capturing the ghost of Afghanistan, Bin Laden Issue Station (Alec Station). By 1999 it had 15 operatives from numerous agencies working within it’s confines, sharing meta-data and HUMIT and comparing the meticulous data in capturing as many Al Qaeda operatives as they can find.
The CIA decides to increase its links with Ahmed Shah Massoud, an Afghan commander fighting the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. The decision is pushed through by Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. According to author Steve Coll, Black and Blee see Massoud “as his admirers in Europe [do], as an epochal figure, extraordinarily skillful and determined,” and believe that Massoud is the key to capturing bin Laden. However, the CIA’s Near East Division is skeptical of the potential for this liaison, partly because they remember problems they had with Massoud during the Soviet-Afghan War. Near East officers also think Massoud can only be of limited usefulness against Bin Laden because of the geographical distance between Massoud’s forces in the north of Afghanistan and Bin Laden’s base in the country’s south.
During the dawn of a new century, Cofer Black remained optimistic in capturing Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. An important meeting was taking place with numerous high ranking Al Qaeda operatives, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The meeting is known as the Al Qaeda Malaysia Summit. It had notable names, Mohammad Atef, Tawfiq Bin Attash, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Khalid al-Mihdhar, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Ridduan Isamuddin (Hambali). Cofer Black, head of the CTC, orders that he be continually informed about the meeting. CIA Director George Tenet is frequently informed as well. They are given continual updates until the meeting ends on January 8.
The details of the meeting are unclear, but the notion is that it was here that the bombing of Naval ship USS Cole was constructed and discussed. Khalid al-Mihdhar will later report back to al-Qaeda that he thought he was followed to the US. It will not be reported whether any of the other attendees are monitored after leaving the meeting. Meanwhile the State Department under then U.S. President Bill Clinton, authorized numerous times for the CIA to capture (not kill) the infamous figure of Bin Laden. But the convoluted details of who would be sent and the course of action would be limited in it’s scope by those in the White House. To show how “complacent” those in the White House had become over what to do with the intel given by the CIA on Bin Laden’s whereabouts:
9/11 Commission Report: Chapter 4 (Page 133)
“Early in 1999, the CIA received reporting that Bin Laden was spending much of his time at one of several camps in the Afghan desert south of Kandahar. At the beginning of February, Bin Laden was reportedly located in the vicinity of the Sheikh Ali camp, a desert hunting camp being used by visitors from a Gulf state. Public sources have stated that these visitors were from the United Arab Emirates. Reporting from the CIA’s assets provided a detailed description of the hunting camp, including its size, location, resources, and security, as well as of Bin Laden’s smaller, adjacent camp. Because this was not in an urban area, missiles launched against it would have less risk of causing collateral damage. On February 8, the military began to ready itself for a possible strike.”
The next day, national technical intelligence confirmed the location and description of the larger camp and showed the nearby presence of an official aircraft of the United Arab Emirates. But the location of Bin Laden’s quarters could not be pinned down so precisely. The CIA did its best to answer a host of questions about the larger camp and its residents and about Bin Laden’s daily schedule and routines to support military contingency planning. According to reporting from the tribals, Bin Laden regularly went from his adjacent camp to the larger camp where he visited the Emiratis; the tribals expected him to be at the hunting camp for such a visit at least until mid-morning on February 11. …No strike was launched.
By February 12 Bin Laden had apparently moved on, and the immediate strike plans became moot. According to CIA and Defense officials, policymakers were concerned about the danger that a strike would kill an Emirati prince or other senior officials who might be with Bin Laden or close by. … The lead CIA official in the field, Gary Schroen, felt that the intelligence reporting in this case was very reliable; the Bin Laden unit chief, “Mike,” agreed. Schroen believes today that this was a lost opportunity to kill Bin Laden before 9/11.”
October 12,2000…. The USS Cole is bombed off the port of Aden, Yemen. Following the attack on the USS Cole the CIA discusses possible policy changes in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Disappointed by US inaction, Alec Station chief Richard Blee decides “we’ve got to change the rules,” because he thinks al-Qaeda is getting stronger and stronger. This entails enhanced support for the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, which is the only credible opposition fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger asks CIA Director how he would go after al-Qaeda if he were unconstrained by resources and policies.
He assigns Cofer Black and the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to develops a plan for the incoming Bush administration. It is dubbed the “Blue Sky Memo.” The CIA presents it to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke on December 29, 2000. It recommends increased support to anti-Taliban groups and especially a major effort to back Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance, to tie down al-Qaeda personnel before they leave Afghanistan. No action is taken on it in the last few weeks of the Clinton administration; and the new Bush administration does not appear interested in it either.
Since early 2000, the CIA and NSA would know that two high valued Al Qaeda operatives were inside the United States and living openly, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. They never notify the FBI with this important information. In April of 2001, Cofer Black in an act of sheer premonition, stated in front of a military class at the National War College at Fort Lesley Washington D.C. Black says that “something big is coming and that it very likely could be in the US.” He says he will get blamed for the incident, and that he has “his resignation already signed in his drawer and ready to pull out when it happened.” Thru-ought the year numerous CIA held meetings with White House officials in complete assurance that Al Qaeda was determined to strike inside the United States.
August 6th 2001, the Presidential Daily Brief was simply that, brief and direct. Bin Laden determined to strike inside the United States. With information emanating from Alec Station Chief Richard Blee rushing out the office door about high valued American targets being selected for attack, the CIA meeting briefed U.S. President George Bush, without George Tenet present.
Sept 11th 2001……the United States is under attack from 4 planes hijacked which slammed into the WTC and Pentagon while one crashed in a former mine field in Shanksville, PA. On Sept 12th, CIA Director George Tenet and Cofer Black meet at 9:30 a.m. in the White House Situation Room with President Bush and the National Security Council. Tenet presents a plan for tracking down Osama bin Laden, toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, and confronting terrorism worldwide. Sept 19th Black orders Gary Berntsen (whom is about to lead the first CIA operation in Afghanistan) :
“You have one mission. Go find the al-Qaeda and kill them. We’re going to eliminate them. Get bin Laden, find him. I want his head in a box.… I want to take it down and show the president.”
But months later after the raging war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the noticeable failure of not finding much less killing Bin Laden haunts the staunch Cofer Black. Later The Washington Post reports, “The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit US ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al-Qaeda,” allowing bin Laden to escape. The next day, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld denies this, and states he did not know at the time of the assault, “nor do I know today of any evidence that he was in Tora Bora at the time or that he left Tora Bora at the time or even where he is today.” This would lead to Cofer Black’s unforeseen firing from his position as the Director of the CIC, Rumsfeld had asserted it was Black himself who leaked the information to the Washington Post.
During his 2002 Joint Inquiry testimonial 9/11 hearing, he defended his torture policies of Al Qaeda operatives, including Abu Zubaydah. he confided to the committee that after 9/11 “the gloves came off” and to get pertinent information he used “enhanced interrogation” techniques such as waterboarding to extract information. He the proceeds to tell staffers of the committee that the CIA didn't fail the American citizenry, and that proper funding was one of the many problems the CIA faced as well as lack of manpower.
In sworn testimony to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, CIA Director George Tenet repeatedly claims that a March 2000 cable sent to CIA headquarters reporting that hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi had entered the US was not read by anybody. He says, “I know that nobody read that cable,” “Nobody read that cable in the March time-frame,” and “Nobody read that information only cable.” Former Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black will also claim that the cable was not read. However, a later investigation by the CIA Office of Inspector General will find that numerous CIA officers, over 50, had actually read the cable shortly after it was sent.
Cofer Black was a former Vice Chairman of Blackwater (2005–2008), he resigned in 2008 after learning about Blackwater’s illegal payments to Iraqi officials. After 26 years of service to the CIA, Cofer Black today now works in the private sector.