The CIA on Saturday unveiled the model of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Kabul hideout used to plan the US drone attack that killed the al-Qaeda leader last month.
The model of Zawahiri’s house was shown to reporters as part of a tour of a newly renovated museum at the agency’s headquarters.
“This is the model that was used to brief President Biden on the Zawahiri mission,” said Janelle Neises, deputy director of the CIA museum.
The model, about a foot long with fine detail, shows a miniature four-story white structure surrounded by a wall topped with concertina wire. Zawahiri was hit by a Hellfire missile while standing on the balcony of the house, US officials said. A balcony is clearly visible on the model.
Biden gave the go-ahead for the drone attack after being assured there was a low risk of civilian casualties given the weapon to be used and the structure of the home, US officials said.
Announcing the successful strike, Biden described al-Zawahiri as a “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks and said he also played a key role in the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
“He laid a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American military personnel, American diplomats and American interests,” Biden said.
The model was only recently declassified and is among more than 600 artifacts in the newly renovated museum, which is not open to the public.
Next to the model in the same display case is the rifle used by the first American to die in action in the war in Afghanistan, CIA officer Mike Spann, along with his vest. Spann, a member of a CIA paramilitary team, was killed in a prison uprising by Taliban fighters in Qala-i-Jangi.
The museum also includes exhibits and artifacts spanning the Cold War and post-9/11 era, including hidden cameras and “dead drop” objects intended to conceal messages transmitted to and from foreign sources. In one case, a crushed Russian milk carton was used to hide a message, and in another, a gutted dead rat.
There are also items used in the successful rescue of six State Department personnel from Iran in 1980, depicted in Ben Affleck’s film “Argo.” The exhibit features several props, including a never-before-seen briefcase, which were used as part of a fake Hollywood corporation, “Studio Six”, created as a cover to send a rescue team to Iran.
Although the museum boasts of the agency’s successes and its fearless officers, it examines some of the agency’s most disastrous episodes. There is an exhibit on the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy approved a CIA-backed invasion of Cuba by exiles that quickly fell apart. The display is titled “What Went Wrong?”
There’s also a counterintelligence exhibit that deals with the damage done by moles inside the intelligence agency, including Aldrich Ames, the CIA officer convicted of passing secrets to the Soviets for years.
Another exhibit examines the CIA’s flawed assessment of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs and its reliance on an Iraqi defector named “Curveball”, who relayed information that turned out to be false.
Officials said they wanted the museum to give employees an accurate picture of the agency’s history and allow them to think about the CIA’s mission.
“You can learn a lot from past successes and failures,” Neises said.
“Our museum is up and running,” she said. “We use it to educate our workforce and also our partners” across the US government.
Although the museum is not open to the public, agency officials said items would be periodically featured on the CIA’s website. The agency also plans to release photos of the museum’s ceilings, which contain messages written in various codes, and to challenge outsiders to decipher the encrypted messages.