Testifying at the Congressional Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks in 2002, Black eschewed the offer of anonymity because "I want to look the American people in the eye". (It appears that this is how his identity became known to the public.)
Black was the United States Department of State Coordinator for Counter-terrorism with the rank of Ambassador at Large from December 2002 to November 2004. The point man for the U.S. government's international counter-terrorism policy in the first term of the Bush administration, he resigned shortly after George W. Bush was elected to a second presidential term.
Since February 2005, Black has been Vice Chairman of Blackwater USA, a US-based private security firm which is the State Department's biggest security contractor. Black is also the chairman of the privately owned intelligence gathering company Total Intelligence Solutions, totalintel.com.
In 1973, Black completed his BA at the University of Southern California (USC). The next year he earned a Master's degree in international relations, also at USC. Later that year he left the doctoral program to join the CIA.
Initially, he worked as a case officer in Lusaka, Zambia during the Rhodesian War next door. He transferred to Somalia for two years during a Cold War proxy conflict between Ethiopians and Somalis in the sands of the Ogaden desert. He worked in South Africa during the National Party government's's war against guerrilla movements opposing the apartheid system. While assigned to Kinshasa, Zaire, Black was involved in the Reagan Administration's covert action program to arm anti-communist guerrillas in neighboring Angola.
In 1993, Black transferred from London, England to Khartoum, Sudan, where he served as CIA Station Chief until 1995. This was at a low point in U.S.-Sudanese relations, particularly over the latter country's sponsorship of terror and the harboring of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Black oversaw the collection of human intelligence on terrorist cells and support structures, and toward the end of his tenure, he was targeted by Al Qaeda for assassination. Black was also responsible for the collection of intelligence that directly led to the 1994 capture of the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal.
Black still headed the CTC at the time of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The CTC had produced a "comprehensive plan of attack" against bin Laden and "previewed the new strategy to senior CIA management by the end of July 1999. By mid-September, it had been briefed to CIA operational level personnel, and to [the National Security Agency, the] NSA, the FBI, and other partners." The strategy "was called simply, 'the Plan'."
... [Cofer] Black and his new [sic] bin Laden unit wanted to "project" into Afghanistan, to "penetrate" bin Laden's sanctuaries. They described their plan as military officers might. They sought to surround Afghanistan with secure covert bases for CIA operations — as many bases as they could arrange. Then they would mount operations from each of the platforms, trying to move inside Afghanistan and as close to bin Laden as they could to recruit agents and to attempt capture operations. ... Black wanted recruitments, and he wanted to develop commando or paramilitary strike teams made up of officers and men who could "blend" into the region's Muslim populations.
Black also arranged for a CIA team, headed by "Richard", who was in charge of the CTC's Bin Laden unit, to visit Northern-Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, to discuss operations against bin Laden. The mission was codenamed "JAWBREAKER-5", the fifth in a series of such missions since autumn 1997. The team went in late October 1999, and stayed for seven days. "The Bin Laden unit was satisfied that its reporting on Bin Ladin would now have a second source." Contemplated operations would be coordinated with the CIA's other prospective efforts against al-Qaeda.
Once Cofer Black had finalized his operational plan .... [Charles] Allen [then associate deputy director of central intelligence for collection] created a dedicated al-Qa'ida cell with officers from across the intelligence community. This cell met daily, brought focus to penetrating the Afghan sanctuary, and ensured that collection initiatives were synchronized with operational plans. Allen met with [Tenet] on a weekly basis to review initiatives under way. His efforts were enabling operations and pursuing longer-range, innovative initiatives around the world against al-Qa'ida. ...
It is not clear what relation this "Qaeda cell", which appeared to duplicate the function of the Bin Laden unit, had to the unit.
Parallel with these developments, in November-December 1999 Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah and Nawaf al-Hazmi visited Afghanistan, where they were selected for the "planes operation" that was to become known as 9/11. Working with a Malaysian security unit, the CIA watched al-Hazmi and his companion Khalid al-Mihdhar as they attended a Qaeda conference in Kuala Lumpur in January 2000 (later determined to be where decisions about the "planes operation" were made).
"We surveil them. We surveil the guy they're there to meet," Black recalled. "not close enough to hear what they're saying, but we're covering, taking pictures, watching their behavior. They're acting kind of spooky. They're not using the phone in the apartment. They're going around, walking in circles, just like junior spies. Going up to phone booths, making a lot of calls. It's like, 'Who are these dudes?'
According to an internal CIA report on the performance of the agency prior to the 9/11 attacks, Cofer Black was criticized for not passing on information to the FBI that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar had subsequently entered the United States. In addition, the 9/11 Commission found that while Black testified before Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11 that the FBI had access to information on the two hijackers, the 9/11 Commission found no such evidence of this.
The CIA increasingly concentrated its diminished resources on counter-terrorism, so that resources for this particular activity increased sharply. At least some of the Plan's more modest aspirations were translated into action. Intelligence collection efforts on bin Laden and al-Qaeda increased significantly from 1999. "By 9/11", said Tenet, "a map would show that these collection programs and human [reporting] networks were in place in such numbers as to nearly cover Afghanistan.
During the summer of 2001, Tenet, Black, and one of Black's top assistants, "Rich B" (i.e. "Richard"), were active in advertising the dangers of al-Qaeda to the new Bush administration. At a meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others on July 10, "Rich" predicted a "spectacular" terrorist attack against US interests "in the coming weeks or months" ... "Multiple and simultaneous attacks are possible". After the meeting, "Rich and Cofer congratulated each other", feeling that at last the CIA had gotten the full attention of the administration. At an internal CIA update in late July, "Rich" dramatically predicted, "They're coming here!" (i.e. the USA).
One of the ways in which CIA/CTC surveiled Osama bin Laden in his Afghan base was with the Predator reconnaissance drone. A joint CIA-USAF program of flights in autumn 2000 (dubbed "Afghan Eyes") produced probable sightings of the Qaeda leader. Black became a "vocal advocate" of arming the aircraft with missiles to assassinate bin Laden and other Qaeda leaders. During the new Bush administration in 2001, Black and "Richard" continued to press for Predators armed with adapted Hellfire anti-tank missiles. Legal and technical issues delayed the program. Black urged Tenet to promote the matter at the long-awaited Cabinet-level Principals Committee meeting on terrorism of September 4, 2001. The CIA chief duly did so. The CIA was authorized to "deploy the system with weapons-capable aircraft". [See Bin Laden Issue Station.]
The CTC obtained passenger lists from "the planes that had been turned into weapons that morning". "[A] CTC analyst raced over to the printing plant" (where most CIA staff had been evacuated) and pointed out the names Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who they had "been looking for for the last few weeks". This was the first "absolute proof" that the attacks were a Qaeda plot. (The CTC had first come across the names in connection with potential terrorist activity in the winter of 1999-2000 [see above].)
How could [an intelligence] community without a strategic plan tell the president of the United States just four days after 9/11 how to attack the Afghan sanctuary and operate against al-Qa'ida in ninety-two countries around the world?
This was at a "war council" (a restricted group of the National Security Council) chaired by President Bush at Camp David on September 15, 2001. Cofer Black was also present. Tenet proposed firstly to send CIA teams into Afghanistan which would collect intelligence and mount covert operations. The teams would act jointly with military Special Operations units. "President Bush later praised this proposal, saying it had been a turning point in his thinking.
Bob Woodward's Bush at War mentions two meetings Black was present at while implementing this plan with memorable Blackisms. In a meeting with Bush Black said
Now he [Black] noted the desired end was capture the al Qaeda and render them to law enforcement so they could be brought to justice. With regret, however, he had learned that the al Qaeda do not surrender, and they would not negotiate. The great martyred Northern Alliance leader Massoud had once told him "We've been fighting these guys for years and I've never captured one of these bastards". The reason was that any time one of their units was overrun they bunched together and detonated a hand grenade. So the task would be killing al Qaeda Black said.
"When we're through with them they will have flies walking across their eyeballs" he said. It was an image of death that left a lasting impression on a number of war cabinet ministers. Black became known in Bush's inner circle as the "flies on the eyeballs guy" ... Black's enthusiasm was infectious ... Powell, for one, saw that Bush was tired of rhetoric. The President wanted to kill somebody.
Later Black used the same technique to impress the Russians.
Armitage and Cofer flew to Moscow to seek help from top Russian diplomatic and intelligence officials.
"We're in a war," Black told the Russians. "We're coming. Regardless of what you do, we're coming anyway." He knew Afghanistan was in their sphere of influence and they would be queasy. "At the very least we want you to look away." He did not want the Russians trying to gum up CIA operations. "From my humble position, I think this is a historical opportunity. Let's get out of the last century into the next one.
The Russians indicated they would help and certainly not obstruct. One noted that Afghanistan was ambush heaven, where the guerrilla fighters had demolished the Russian army. "With regret," the Russian said, "I have to say that you're really going to get the hell kicked out of you".
"We're going to kill them," Black said. "We're going to put their heads on sticks. We're going to rock their world."
The Russians soon sent a team to the CIA to provide extensive on-the-ground intelligence, especially about the topography and caves of Afghanistan.
The CIA geared up to take the lead in the attack on al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The NALT team, led by Gary Schroen, entered the country once more on September 26, 2001. A new branch was added to the CTC — CTC Special Operations, or CTC/SO. Hank Crumpton, the former head of CTC operations, was recalled to head it. Black told him, "Your mission is to find al-Qa'ida, engage it, and destroy it".
During the "war on terror" Black played a "leading role in many of the [CIA]'s more controversial programs, including the rendition and interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects and the detention of some of them in secret prisons [outside the USA].
As the Coordinator for Counter-terrorism [at the State Department], Ambassador Black's office, S/CT, had primary responsibility for developing, coordinating and implementing U.S. counter-terrorism policy. On behalf of the Secretary of State, Ambassador Black represented the Department on the Counter-terrorism Security Group. His office played a leading role on the Department of State's counter-terrorism task forces organized to coordinate responses to international terrorist incidents. [His] responsibilities included coordinating U.S. Government efforts to improve counter-terrorism cooperation with foreign governments, including the policy and planning of the Department's Antiterrorism Training Assistance Program.
In early 2005 Black became Vice Chairman of Blackwater USA (later renamed Blackwater Worldwide), a US-based private security firm which is "the biggest of the State Department's three private security contractors". Black is also Chairman of Total Intelligence Solutions (Total Intel), a private intelligence gathering group. This company was created in February 2007 by the Prince Group, the holding company that owns Blackwater. Total Intel was formed by the merger of The Black Group LLC (also led by Black), Terrorism Research Center, Inc., and Technical Defense.
In March 2006 Black allegedly suggested at an international conference in Amman, Jordan, that Blackwater USA was ready to move towards providing security professionals up to brigade size for humanitarian efforts and low intensity conflicts. Black denies the allegation. Critics have suggested this may be going too far in putting political decisions in the hands of privately owned corporations. The company denies this was ever said.
Black is currently leader of The Black Group, LLC