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CIA names former Osama bin Laden hunt chief to run Iran spying: report

WASHINGTON: The CIA has named the hardline chief of its hunt for Osama bin Laden and head of its lethal drone program to lead Iran operations, the New York Times reported Friday.

The choice of Michael D’Andrea to run the Central Intelligence Agency’s spying on Iran is the newest sign of the Trump administration’s turn to tougher stance against the Islamic Republic, the Times said, quoting intelligence community sources.

Although officially under cover and not acknowledged by the CIA, D’Andrea, a convert to Islam who is around 60 years old, has been a key figure in the fight against extremists groups.

He was chief of the agency’s Counter-Terrorism Center during the 2000s, in which he oversaw the hunt for Al-Qaeda head bin Laden, who was killed in a US commando raid in Pakistan in 2011.

He also led the Obama administration’s controversial “targeted killing” program using drones that left thousands of militants and civilians dead, mainly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

His identity was publicly exposed by the Times in 2015 in the wake of a drone attack on a suspected militant house in Pakistan that killed two Western hostages, an American and an Italian, whose presence in the house had not been known.

That led to his being moved out of the Counter-Terrorism Center that year, according to various news reports at the time.

The choice of D’Andrea to run the CIA’s Iran operations was made by Mike Pompeo, who took a hard line against Iran and the Iran nuclear deal as a Republican congressman before President Donald Trump appointed him to be CIA director in January.

Pompeo and D’Andrea could be key to administration attempts to ensure Iran is sticking to its commitments under the nuclear deal, or find violations that would support Trump’s campaign pledge to tear up the agreement.

The report Friday also comes after Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, which served to announce a tougher line against Iran while embracing the Saudis and other Arab allies.

The CIA declined to comment on the Times report.

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