ASHINGTON, Dec. 14 — The Bush
administration has prepared a list of terrorist leaders the
Central Intelligence Agency is authorized to kill, if capture
is impractical and civilian casualties can be minimized,
senior military and intelligence officials said.
The previously undisclosed C.I.A. list includes key Qaeda
leaders like Osama bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman
al-Zawahiri, as well as other principal figures from Al Qaeda
and affiliated terrorist groups, the officials said. The names
of about two dozen terrorist leaders have recently been on the
lethal-force list, officials said. "It's the worst of the
worst," an official said.
President Bush has provided written legal authority to the
C.I.A. to hunt down and kill the terrorists without seeking
further approval each time the agency is about to stage an
operation. Some officials said the terrorist list was known as
the "high-value target list." A spokesman for the White House
declined to discuss the list or issues involving the use of
lethal force against terrorists. A spokesman for the C.I.A.
also declined to comment on the list.
Despite the authority given to the agency, Mr. Bush has not
waived the executive order banning assassinations, officials
said. The presidential authority to kill terrorists defines
operatives of Al Qaeda as enemy combatants and thus legitimate
targets for lethal force.
Mr. Bush issued a presidential finding last year, after the
Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, providing the
basic executive and legal authority for the C.I.A. to either
kill or capture terrorist leaders. Initially, the agency used
that authority to hunt for Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. That
authority was the basis for the C.I.A.'s attempts to find and
kill or capture Mr. Bin laden and other Qaeda leaders during
the war in Afghanistan.
The creation of the secret list is part of the expanded
C.I.A. effort to hunt and kill or capture Qaeda operatives far
from traditional battlefields, in countries like Yemen.
The president is not legally required to approve each name
added to the list, nor is the C.I.A. required to obtain
presidential approval for specific attacks, although officials
said Mr. Bush had been kept well informed about the agency's
In November, the C.I.A. killed a Qaeda leader in a remote
region of Yemen. A pilotless Predator aircraft operated by the
agency fired a Hellfire antitank missile at a car in which
Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, also known as Abu Ali, was
riding. Mr. Harethi and five other people, including one
suspected Qaeda operative with United States citizenship, were
killed in the attack.
Mr. Harethi, a key Al Qaeda leader in Yemen who is
suspected of helping to plan the bombing of the American
destroyer Cole in 2000, is believed to have been on the list
of Qaeda leaders that the C.I.A. had been authorized to kill.
After the Predator operation in Yemen, American officials said
Mr. Bush was not required to approve the mission before the
attack, nor was he specifically consulted.
Intelligence officials said the presidential finding
authorizing the agency to kill terrorists was not limited to
those on the list. The president has given broad authority to
the C.I.A. to kill or capture operatives of Al Qaeda around
the world, the officials said. But officials said the group's
most senior leaders on the list were the agency's primary
The list is updated periodically as the intelligence
agency, in consultation with other counterterrorism agencies,
adds new names or deletes those who are captured or killed, or
when intelligence indicates the emergence of a new leader.
The precise criteria for adding someone to the list are
unclear, although the evidence against each person must be
clear and convincing, the officials said. The list contains
the names of some of the same people who are on the Federal
Bureau of Investigation's list of most wanted terror suspects,
although the lists are prepared independently.
Officials said the C.I.A., working with the F.B.I., the
military and foreign governments, will seek to capture
terrorists when possible and bring them into custody.