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The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) closed the unit charged with catching Osama bin Laden and his senior deputies, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.
Established in 1996 and known as "Alec Station," the unit was dismantled at the end of 2005 and its employees reassigned in the CIA Counter-terrorist Center; however, its dissolution was publicly announced only recently.
The decision was a milestone for the agency and indicates a significant change in perspective regarding bin Laden's place in Al Qaida in particular and in the international terrorist infrastructure in general.
Whereas the belief until now was that Al Qaida was a purely hierarchical organization and that killing off its leader would put an end to its activity, the new reality required the agency to change its assumptions.
Currently, the CIA's main concern is small, scattered terrorist groups which, although influenced by Al Qaida, operate entirely independently and don't receive their instructions directly from bin Laden.
Senior CIA members emphasized that catching bin Laden is still a priority, and that closing the unit does not signify the total neglect of that goal.
"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."
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