According to the few books written about the ISA, and the smattering of newspaper articles over the last 30 years that have identified the unit, the Intelligence Support Activity began in the early 1980s after the military's disastrous attempt to rescue Americans during the Iran Hostage Crisis.
One of the many lessons the military took from that deadly incident was that the CIA's intelligence gathering efforts often did not extend to some very specific, tactically-oriented information that would be necessary to launch clandestine military operations. So rather than rely on the Agency, the military went about setting up its own intelligence-gathering network around the globe and created the ISA to be its specialists in human and signals intelligence.
Often, the ISA's job resembles the work of the CIA: They enter foreign countries under cover identities, track persons of interest both on foot and using sophisticated signals interception technology and, depending on the mission, potentially pave the way for the "door kickers" – meaning the "shooters" of SEAL Team Six or Delta Force – to come in for more hands-on action. Many of their missions are designed to give the U.S. government total deniability, according to the former special operations service member.
The New York Times first revealed the ISA's existence back in 1983 and the unit has since found its way into the public light in brief spurts ever since for their reported role in everything from joint American-Colombian anti-drug operations in the 1990s to secret counter-terrorist campaigns in the Horn of Africa in the 2000s.
"The missions are wide-ranging, that's one of the hardest parts about the job," the ex-special operations service member said.
But unlike Delta Force, which was the subject of several action movies in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as a more recent television series, and SEAL Team Six, the interest in which skyrocketed after U.S. officials revealed that was the unit that conducted the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011, the ISA has managed to keep a relatively low profile.
This report has referred to the unit as the ISA, as have other publications, but the codename of the unit changes constantly to protect its operations, and the unit's membership and actions are tightly held secrets, kept from others in the military elite.
"Even in the special operations community, we don't know a lot about what these guys do," said Murphy. "We only get glimpses every now and then... Secrecy is really paramount."
Edmondson said he chose the ISA as the subject for the comic because he wanted to tell a story that hasn't been done before and claims he's only seen support for his work from the special operations community, including several people that have agreed to help him.
A spokesperson for U.S. Special Operations Command, which is the umbrella group that oversees each service branch's special operations as well as the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) under which the ISA reportedly falls, told ABC News his office was unaware of the comic but said the command is always concerned when "potentially classified information is highlighted."
The spokesperson declined to discuss the matter further, however, saying, "I won't comment on whether a unit like the one in the comic book does or does not exist."
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