The ‘Activity’ a graphic novel sheds light on a secret U.S Army spy unit codenamed the ‘Intelligence Support Activity’ ISA
In a dark corner of American special operations there exists, alongside the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s Osama bin Laden-killing SEAL Team Six, a small unit of Army spies known as the Intelligence Support Activity.
Created more than 30 years ago, the ISA has had its hand in almost every high-profile American special operation around the world in recent history, and countless others, according to published reports and special operations veterans with firsthand knowledge of the group.
And though relatively little is known about the secret unit — the military still refuses to acknowledge its existence — a new, colorful picture of the group has emerged through, of all things, a comic book.
In the panels of the comic “The Activity,” writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Mitch Gerads create a cell-shaded version of the ISA’s world in which the plot is fictional, but much of the rest rings true, even to those few familiar with the comic’s real-life counterpart.
According to the few books written about the ISA, and the smattering of newspaper articles over the last 30 years that have identified the unit, the Intelligence Support Activity began in the early 1980s after the military’s disastrous attempt to rescue Americans during the Iran Hostage Crisis.
One of the many lessons the military took from that deadly incident was that the CIA’s intelligence gathering efforts often did not extend to some very specific, tactically-oriented information that would be necessary to launch clandestine military operations. So rather than rely on the Agency, the military went about setting up its own intelligence-gathering network around the globe and created the ISA to be its specialists in human and signals intelligence.
Often, the ISA’s job resembles the work of the CIA: They enter foreign countries under cover identities, track persons of interest both on foot and using sophisticated signals interception technology and, depending on the mission, potentially pave the way for the “door kickers” – meaning the “shooters” of SEAL Team Six or Delta Force – to come in for more hands-on action. Many of their missions are designed to give the U.S. government total deniability.