STEVE H, Team Sensor Operator

“Congrats to you and Alec! I read the whole thing in one sitting this morning here in Iraq. Then I went to the GCS and followed evil doers for four hours. I ran the full gamut of emotions reliving the tale. You guys did an awesome job. Thank you for capturing all that.”

The Delivery Vehicle. Everything to do the job had to be carried by this spindly airframe. You can see the round “MTS ball” camera system under the nose that provided a view in visual as well as thermal. The ball also housed the targeting laser used to guide the Hellfire missile. This was the first unmarked, all-grey Predator. Photo courtesy Alec Bierbauer

The Tent, a clever name for our intel and planning cell at the Europe location in 2000. Photo courtesy Cliff Gross

Just one year later, the Tent was replaced by the celebrated “double-wide.” The photo shows the double-wide at its non-military location. The GCS sits only feet away, allowing for not only intercom- and phone-support but face-to-face conversations if needed. This adjacency maintained the highest possible level of shared mission awareness across the entire team. Photo courtesy James “Snake” Clark

The GCS, now painted civilian white to blend into its non-military Virginia location. Move along, nothing to see here. Photo courtesy James “Snake” Clark

Inside the Ground Control Station (GCS), looking right. When you have to cram an entire flight control cockpit along with comms gear inside an intermodal container, things get pretty cramped. Photo courtesy Cliff Gross

Inside the GCS, looking left. The white cowboy hat hung ready for service. Photo courtesy Cliff Gross

Master Sergeant Cliff “Cliffy” Gross, doing his technology magic in a corner of our intel cell in Europe during operations in 2000. Photo courtesy Mark Cooter/Cliff Gross

The Man in White. This is a still image from the real time video view we had of Usama bin Laden at Tarnak Farms, taken less than nine months after being set on the impossible mission of finding him. Dressed head to toe in white, UBL is in the center of the shot, walking from the truck towards the group to his left and then onward to the mosque in the upper left corner of the image. Photo courtesy US Department of Defense

The BAD (Big-Ass Dish) which was, ah, creatively acquired from Langley Air Force Base under the cover of darkness, then whisked away to our location in Europe. The tech standing on the hub gives you a good sense of scale. Photo courtesy Cliff Gross

Taco Bell: our test building in a southwest US desert, intended to replicate the dimensions and construction materials of bin Laden’s home at Tarnak Farms. The construction process may have overshot the mark just a bit in terms of thickness. Photo courtesy James “Snake” Clark

Success nonetheless. Despite the extremely solid construction, Hellfire proved capable of punching through the heavy wall. Seen from the inside, the missile’s explosive force and fragmentation—along with all of the displaced wall material—becomes a cloud of fiery debris that (hopefully) saturates the room, and the intended target. Photo courtesy James “Snake” Clark

It was critical to understand what Hellfire would do against a variety of targets, and what risk it posed to people nearby. Melons served as the poor man’s ballistic gel in an SUV penetration test, dressed up with Xerox photos in the name of science. Any resemblance to fearless leaders Snake Clark or “Spoon” was purely coincidental. Photo courtesy James “Snake” Clark

Hellfire in a shipping contianer.

“The pointy end of the stick”: the AGM-114K Hellfire missile, with an explosive warhead that weighed just twenty pounds hanging beneath the wing of a Predator. Photo courtesy Alec Bierbauer


Numerous members of the Predator team, representing various component services, gathered at an awards ceremony at CIA HQ in 2003. Photo courtesy the Central Intelligence Agency

Mark and Alec each receiving the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal at CIA HQ with Director Tenet and ADCI for Military Support, Lt. Gen. “Soup” Campbell. Photo courtesy the Central Intelligence Agency

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC

Robert’s Ridge