In 2008, Lebanese terrorist overlord Imad Mughniyeh was killed by a car bomb in Damascus, Syria. Twisted metal wreckage was all that remained of his Mitsubishi Pajero. And according to a report from the Washington Post, the CIA built and tested the entire system at a secret facility, somewhere in North Carolina.
The remains of Mughinyeh's Mitsubishi, as reported by Syrian TV at the time.
That Mughniyeh, who eventually rose to an extremely senior position in Hezbollah, qualified as a Very Bad Guy appears to be fairly certain in the minds of the international community. In addition to his roles in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, which killed 63 people, and the truck bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks which killed 58 French soldiers and 241 Marines, he also allegedly assassinated the president of his university while he was still a student and was indicted by the US government for hijacking TWA Flight 847, where he also allegedly beat US Navy Diver Robert Stethem for hours before dumping his lifeless body onto the tarmac at Beirut International Airport.
And those incidents were just the start. Mughniyeh was also alleged to have been involved in the kidnapping of two Americans and a British man (including the CIA station chief at the time, who was brutally tortured for 15 months straight before being executed), the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and a Jewish cultural center, which collectively killed 114 and for which Interpol issued a "red notice" warrant for his arrest, and the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 20 people and for which Hezbollah was actually found guilty by an American court of committing.
Plus a whole bunch of other myriad kidnappings, murders, and bombings.
Of course, Mughniyeh denied much culpability when he was alive, and Hezbollah to this day denies involvement in many of these attacks. And Mughniyeh won't stand trial for all of these allegations because he's, you know, dead.
But he did have a rap sheet longer than most.
It was for mainly that reason that Mughniyeh was a wanted man. Literally – in addition to being placed on the US Most Wanted Terrorists list, he had been subject to a number of kidnapping attempts by the CIA, and a few assassination attempts by the Israeli Mossad.
A young Lebanese woman attends Mughniyeh's funeral in Beirut.
So when he was finally killed by a bomb placed inside the spare tire in his Mitsubishi, everyone just sort of figured it was the Israelis, and moved on. Some made the accusation that Arab governments had worked with the Israelis, and the American government itself just sort of threw up its hands and postulated that maybe Hezbollah had actually killed one of their top commanders themselves, because sure why not.
But now it appears that all of that might've just been more misdirection in the shadowy world of clandestine intelligence missions, as the Post's reporting indicates that the Americans actually were involved, and heavily.
I mean, yes, technically the Israelis were the ones who pulled the remote trigger on the bomb, but the vast majority of the operation was reportedly undertaken by the Americans. From tracking Mughniyeh, to actually following him with secret agents, to placing the bomb, to actually designing and testing the bomb itself, just to make sure everything about it was perfect:
The United States helped build the bomb, the former official said, and tested it repeatedly at a CIA facility in North Carolina to ensure the potential blast area was contained and would not result in collateral damage.
"We probably blew up 25 bombs to make sure we got it right," the former official said.
It wouldn't be the first time the American and Israeli intelligence agencies have cooperated either, as they were widely reported to have done so in the creation of Stuxnet (and its evil twin), the computer virus that disabled much of an Iranian nuclear reactor facility.
The rest of the Post story is a fascinating read about the operation, especially the part about how the Americans just sort of casually mentioned to the Israelis that they didn't mind bumping off Mughniyeh, the Israelis being all "wait, what???" and the Americans being like "yeah everyone will just blame you guys anyway so why not," and then how facial recognition technology was used to confirm Mughniyeh's identity right before his demise, but to me, the weirder part is the car bomb itself.
Obviously, the CIA could have any crazy amount of secret car-bomb testing facilities in North Carolina that nobody knows about, but blowing up bombs smack dab in the middle of the heavily populated East Coast tends to make a bit of noise. And, crazily enough, people have heard that noise.
Both the Post report and anecdotal evidence point to the use of Harvey Point, outside the sleepy little town of Hertford Point.
Going back to 1998, locals found the percussive sounds and low rumbles to have almost become a regular occurrence. From a New York Times report at the time:
Established weeks after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, this school for spies has been shielded by secrecy, security fences and cypress trees festooned with Spanish moss ever since.
But it makes its presence felt. Black helicopters thud over the treetops at dusk (''They scare the soup out of you,'' said Deborah S. Reed, the local register of deeds). Buses with blacked-out windows roll by, ferrying mysterious passengers. Trucks haul in old limousines and haul out bullet-riddled blackened hulks.
Then there are the bombs.
Harvey Point sets off powerful explosions to recreate terrorist acts. Lots of powerful explosions. They resound for many miles around. In Hertford dawn can break with a bone-rattling bang.
Official records for the Harvey Point Defense Testing facility all sort of stop after 1942, and when locals directly asked whether the CIA was running the show, their queries were met with silence.
But Harvey Point keeps on going. In addition to the car bomb used to kill Mughniyeh, it was also used by the US Navy SEALS to train for the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden. And obviously, if we wanted to know the exact place in which the CIA tested car bombs, we'd be pretty SOL.
Though we do have Google Earth.
Back in the day, the image above would be the closest we ever got to a satellite image of the Harvey Point Defense Testing Activity. But thanks to better commercial satellite technology, we get a much closer look. Already, we can see a runway, and some buildings.
Zoom in a little closer, and we can make out myriad gun ranges and parking lots, but also the fuselage of an airplane with its wings ripped off, likely used in some form of counter-terrorist training:
Of course, we have no idea what an actual car bomb testing facility would look like from above. But it might look like this, which appears to be a range with burned-out, bombed-out hulks of old cars:
Or this, which appears to be a range with burned-out, bombed-out hulks of old cars:
Or this, which just looks like it has 24 nice and neat little circles, possibly from explosives testing:
Truth be told, we can't be sure if any of these are the exact spot where the bomb intended for Mughniyeh was tested, or if it was among the varied forests and fields of Harvey Point. But if it's being used for anything else right now, you might hear about it in a few years.
Photos credit: AP/Google