The CIA released on Saturday the model of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s safe house in Kabul that was used to plan the US drone strike that killed the al-Qaeda leader last month.
The scale 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 was the model that was used to brief President Biden on the Zawahiri mission,” said Janelle Neises, deputy director of the CIA museum.
The scale model, a foot long in precise detail, shows a miniature four-story white structure surrounded by a wall topped with concertina wire. Zawahiri was hit by a Hellfire missile while he was standing on the balcony of the house, US officials say. A balcony is clearly visible on the model.
Biden gave the green light to 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 house, US officials say.
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 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
“He blazed a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats and American interests,” Biden said.
The model was recently declassified and is one of more than 600 artifacts in the recently renovated museum, which is not open to the public.
Alongside the model in the same display case is the rifle used by the first American killed in action in the Afghanistan war, CIA officer Mike Spann, as well as his vest. Spann, part 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 covering the Cold War and post-9/11 era, including hidden cameras and “deadlock” objects intended to hide 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 disemboweled dead rat.
There are also items used in the successful rescue of six State Department employees from Iran in 1980, portrayed in the Ben Affleck movie “Argo.” The exhibit features various props, including a never-before-seen briefcase used as part of a fake Hollywood company, “Studio Six,” set up as a cover to get a rescue team into Iran.
While the museum touts the agency’s successes and intrepid officers, it looks at some of the agency’s most disastrous episodes. There’s an exhibit on the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, when President John F. Kennedy approved a CIA-backed exile invasion of Cuba that quickly collapsed. The screen is titled “What went wrong?”
There’s also an exhibit on counterintelligence that addresses the damage done by moles within 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 codenamed “Curveball,” who passed on information that turned out to be false.
Officials said they want the museum to give employees an accurate picture of the agency’s history and allow them to reflect on the CIA’s mission.
“A lot can be learned from the successes and failures of the past,” Neises said.
“Our museum is operational,” he 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 the items will be regularly featured on the CIA website. The agency also plans to post photos of the museum’s ceilings, which have messages written in various codes, and challenge strangers to decipher the encrypted messages.