In the film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ she was known as ‘Maya,’ the CIA analyst who spent years doggedly tracking down Osama bin Laden, then identifying his body when US Navy Seal Team Six killed him during a raid in Pakistan.
In real life, however, her story is more complicated with ties to the rendition and torture of terrorist suspects, as well as a missed opportunity to head off the attacks of 9/11. And now she’s been forced out of the shadows with several news outlets revealing her identity.
Most recently, that’s the website The Intercept, whose stated missions are “to provide a platform to report on the documents previously provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden” and “to produce fearless, adversarial journalism across a wide range of issues.”
For years, the CIA has argued forcibly against naming the analyst, frequently referred to as a bin Laden expert. Some outlets, including the Associated Press have agreed to use only her middle name – Frances – since both her first and last names are unusual and easily identifiable.
“We would strongly object to attaching anyone’s name given the current environment,” CIA spokesperson Ryan Trapani told The Intercept in an email. In a follow-up voicemail he added: “There are crazy people in this world and we are trying to mitigate those threats.”
In reply, Glenn Greenwald and Peter Maass wrote Friday, “The Intercept is naming [the analyst] over CIA objections because of her key role in misleading Congress about the agency’s use of torture, and her active participation in the torture program (including playing a direct part in the torture of at least one innocent detainee). Moreover, [the analyst] has already been publicly identified by news organizations as the CIA officer responsible for many of these acts.”
The analyst is noted (but not named) in the unclassified summary of the recent Senate Intelligence Committee’s so-called torture report.
“Her name was redacted at least three dozen times in an effort to avoid publicly identifying her,” NBC News reported last week. “In fact, much of the four-month battle between Senate Democrats and the CIA about redactions centered on protecting the identity of the woman, an analyst and later ‘deputy chief’ of the unit devoted to catching or killing Osama bin Laden, according to US officials familiar with the negotiations.”
“The expert is no stranger to controversy,” NBC reported. “She was criticized after 9/11 terrorist attacks for countenancing a subordinate's refusal to share the names of two of the hijackers with the FBI prior to the terror attacks. But instead of being sanctioned, she was promoted.
Writing in The New Yorker under the headline “The Unidentified Queen of Torture,” Jane Mayer reports that the analyst, who is still in a position of high authority over counterterrorism at the CIA, “appears to have been a source of years’ worth of terrible judgment, with tragic consequences for the United States.”
Writes Mayer (who does not name the analyst): “She dropped the ball when the CIA was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the CIA on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.”
“According to sources in the law-enforcement community who I have interviewed over the years, and who I spoke to again this week, this woman … had supervision over an underling at the agency who failed to share with the FBI the news that two of the future 9/11 hijackers had entered the United States prior to the terrorist attacks,” Mayer writes. “Amazingly, perhaps, more than thirteen years after the 9/11 attacks, no one at the CIA has ever been publicly held responsible for this failure.”
Still working in the shadows as the head of the CIA’s Global Jihad unit, with a civilian rank equivalent to a military general, the analyst at this point is in no position to defend herself.