ASHINGTON, Nov. 3 — The Central Intelligence Agency's
clandestine New York station was destroyed in the Sept. 11 attack on
the World Trade Center, seriously disrupting United States
intelligence operations while bringing the war on terrorism
dangerously close to home for America's spy agency, government
The C.I.A.'s undercover New York station was in the 47-story
building at 7 World Trade Center, one of the smaller office towers
destroyed in the aftermath of the collapse of the twin towers that
morning. All of the agency's employees at the site were safely
evacuated soon after the hijacked planes hit the twin towers, the
The intelligence agency's employees were able to watch from their
office windows while the twin towers burned just before they
evacuated their own building.
Immediately after the attack, the C.I.A. dispatched a special
team to scour the rubble in search of secret documents and
intelligence reports that had been stored in the New York station,
either on paper or in computers, officials said. It could not be
learned whether the agency was successful in retrieving its
classified records from the wreckage.
A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.
The agency's New York station was behind the false front of
another federal organization, which intelligence officials requested
that The Times not identify. The station was, among other things, a
base of operations to spy on and recruit foreign diplomats stationed
at the United Nations, while debriefing selected American business
executives and others willing to talk to the C.I.A. after returning
The agency's officers in New York often work undercover, posing
as diplomats and business executives, among other things, depending
on the nature of their intelligence operations.
The recovery of secret documents and other records from the New
York station should follow well-rehearsed procedures laid out by the
agency after the Iranian takeover of the United States Embassy in
Tehran in 1979. The revolutionaries took over the embassy so rapidly
that the C.I.A. station was not able to effectively destroy all of
its documents, and the Iranians were later able to piece together
shredded agency reports. Since that disaster, the agency has
emphasized rigorous training and drills among its employees on how
to quickly and effectively destroy and dispose of important
documents in emergencies.
As a result, a C.I.A. station today should be able to protect
most of its secrets even in the middle of a catastrophic disaster
like the Sept. 11 attacks, said one former agency official. "If it
was well run, there shouldn't be too much paper around," the former
The agency's New York officers have been deeply involved in
counterterrorism efforts in the New York area, working jointly with
the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies. Many of the
most important counterterrorism cases of the last few years,
including the bureau's criminal investigations of the August 1998
bombings of two United States Embassies in East Africa and the
October 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen have been handled
out of New York.
The United States has accused Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda
terrorist network of conducting both of those attacks.
But United States intelligence officials emphasize that there is
no evidence that the hijackers knew that the undercover station was
in the World Trade Center complex.
With their undercover station in ruins, C.I.A. officers in New
York have been forced to share space at the United States Mission to
the United Nations, as well as borrow other federal government
offices in the city, officials said. The C.I.A.'s plans for finding
a new permanent station in New York could not be determined.
The agency is prohibited from conducting domestic espionage
operations against Americans, but the agency maintains stations in a
number of major United States cities, where C.I.A. case officers try
to meet and recruit students and other foreigners to return to their
countries and spy for the United States. The New York station, which
has been led by its first female station chief for the last year, is
believed to have been the largest and most important C.I.A. domestic
station outside the Washington area.
The station has for years played an important role in espionage
operations against Russian intelligence officers, many of whom work
undercover as diplomats at the United Nations. Agency officers in
New York often work with the F.B.I. to recruit and then help manage
foreign agents spying for the United States. The bureau's New York
office, at 26 Federal Plaza, was unaffected by the terrorist
The destruction of the C.I.A.'s New York station has added to the
intense emotions shared by many of its employees about the agency's
role in the battle against terrorism. For some, the station's
destruction served to underscore the failure of United States
intelligence to predict the attacks.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, morale suffered badly
within the C.I.A., some officials said, as the agency began to
confront what critics have called an intelligence failure on the
scale of Pearl Harbor.
But the terrorist attacks have also brought an urgent new sense
of mission to the agency, which has been flooded with job
applications as well as inquiries from former officers eager to
return to work. Congress is pouring money into the agency's
counterterrorism operations, and the C.I.A. seems poised to begin
focusing its resources on terrorism in much the same way it once
focused on the Soviet Union in the cold war.
The attacks were not the first in which the C.I.A. was directly
touched by terrorists. In 1983, seven agency officers died in the
suicide car bombing of the United States Embassy in Beirut. Among
the others killed was the agency's station chief in Lebanon, William
Buckley, who died in captivity after being kidnapped by terrorists
in 1984, and Richard Welch, the agency's Athens station chief, who
was shot to death by Greek terrorists in 1975.