The CIA on Saturday unveiled the model of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s hiding place in Kabul that was used in planning the US drone strike that killed the leader of al-Qaeda last month.
The scale model of Zawahiri’s house was shown to reporters as part of a tour of a recently renovated museum at the agency’s headquarters.
“This was the model used to inform President Biden about the Zawahiri mission,” said Janelle Neises, deputy director of the CIA museum.
The model, about 12 inches (30 cm) long with precise details, shows a miniature four-storey 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 say. The model clearly shows a balcony.
Biden gave the green light to the drone strike after being assured there was a low risk of civilian casualties given the weapon to be used and the structure of the house, US officials say.
In announcing the successful attack, Biden described al-Zawahiri as a “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks and said he also played a key role in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
“He has charted a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American military personnel, American diplomats and American interests,” Biden said.
Only recently released, the model is one of more than 600 artifacts in the recently revamped 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 the war in Afghanistan, CIA officer Mike Spann, as well as his vest. Spann, part of a CIA paramilitary team, was killed in a prison riot by Taliban fighters in Qala-i-Jangi.
The museum also contains exhibits and artifacts related to the Cold War and the post-9/11 era, including hidden cameras and “dead drop” objects intended to hide messages relayed 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 artifacts used in the successful 1980 rescue of six Foreign Ministry employees from Iran, portrayed in the Ben Affleck film “Argo.” The exhibit features several props, including a never-before-seen briefcase, which were used as part of a fake Hollywood company, “Studio Six,” created as a cover to get a rescue team into Iran.
While the museum praises the agency’s successes and intrepid officers, it looks at some of the agency’s more disastrous episodes. There is a display on the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, when President John F. Kennedy authorized an invasion of Cuba by CIA-backed exiles, which quickly collapsed. The screen is titled “What Went Wrong?”
There is also an exhibit on counterintelligence that covers the damage done by moles within the intelligence community, 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 his reliance on an Iraqi defector code-named “Curveball,” who relayed information that turned out to be inaccurate.
Officials said they want the museum to give employees an accurate picture of the agency’s history and make them think about the CIA’s mission.
“You can learn a lot from past successes and failures,” Neises said.
“Our museum is operational,” she said. “We use it to train our staff and also our partners” across the US government.
While the museum is not open to the public, agency officials said elements will be periodically listed on the CIA’s website. The agency also plans to post photos of the museum’s ceilings, on which messages are written in various codes, and challenge outsiders to decipher the encrypted messages.