Comic Sheds Light on Secret Army Spy Unit

"The Activity" based on real-life shadowy military version of the CIA.

ByABC News
March 22, 2013, 2:12 PM

March 22, 2013 — -- In a dark corner of American special operations there exists, alongside the Army's Delta Force and the Navy's Osama bin Laden-killing SEAL Team Six, a small unit of Army spies known as the Intelligence Support Activity.

Created more than 30 years ago, the ISA has had its hand in almost every high-profile American special operation around the world in recent history, and countless others, according to published reports and special operations veterans with firsthand knowledge of the group.

And though relatively little is known about the secret unit -- the military still refuses to acknowledge its existence -- a new, colorful picture of the group has emerged through, of all things, a comic book.

In the panels of the comic "The Activity," writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Mitch Gerads create a cell-shaded version of the ISA's world in which the plot is fictional, but much of the rest rings true, even to those few familiar with the comic's real-life counterpart.

One former member of the special operations community, who requested anonymity to speak about the ISA, told ABC News that while the comic clearly condenses intelligence-gathering timelines and significantly expands the ISA's duties for the sake of dramatic story telling, he was surprised at its overall accuracy.

"There's a lot more gunplay [in the comic] and a lot less of the mundane day-to-day intelligence collection," he said. "[But] the mission profiles, the types of missions are accurate... They [the writers] actually do know the unit to which they're referring."

That's likely because Edmondson said the comic is written with input from current and former members of the broader community of America's military elite.

"Half [of the comic] is based on or lifted from real stories," Edmondson told ABC News. "The mission may not be real, but it's not outside the realm of possibility."

For example, to write one sequence, Edmondson said he reached out to a group of Navy SEALs and asked them how they would conduct a certain operation. He said the SEALs were happy to help him make the story as accurate as possible without giving away any operational secrets.

More than once Edmondson said he made up a storyline or piece of technology only to be quietly asked by his military acquaintances not to include it in the comic -- he had accidentally stumbled too close to the truth.

Jack Murphy, a former Special Forces soldier and Managing Editor at the special operations website, told ABC News that he helped Edmondson with some of the military chatter and lingo that the characters use in the comic.

"It's important to get it right. People are a lot smarter [about special operations]," he said. "It's not giving away operational secrets or anything like that."

A comic or book done well, Murphy said, "gives credit to the soldier on the ground, the one working behind the scenes," without putting him in danger.