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Thursday, July 06, 2006

CIA Reportedly Disbands Bin Laden Unit

NEW YORK (AP) -- A CIA unit that had hunted for Osama bin Laden and his top deputies for a decade has been disbanded, according to a published report.

Citing unnamed intelligence officials, The New York Times reported Tuesday that the unit, known as "Alec Station," was shut down late last year. The decision to close the unit, which predated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was first reported Monday by National Public Radio.

The officials told the Times that the change reflects a view that al-Qaida's hierarchy has changed, and terrorist attacks inspired by the group are now being carried out independently of bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The CIA said hunting bin Laden remains a priority, but resources needed to be directed toward other people and groups likely to initiate new attacks.

"The efforts to find Osama bin Laden are as strong as ever," said CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise Dyck. "This is an agile agency, and the decision was made to ensure greater reach and focus."

A former CIA official who once led the unit, Michael Scheuer, told the Times that its shutdown was a mistake.

"This will clearly denigrate our operations against al-Qaida," he said. "These days at the agency, bin Laden and al-Qaida appear to be treated merely as first among equals."
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