CBS 60 Minutes recently aired a fascinating session with former CIA spy Hank Crumpton, who had Osama bin Laden in his sights two years before 9/11, but couldn’t get permission to kill him.
“The frustration was enormous.”
At 55, Crumpton is now considered “one of the most seasoned and accomplished CIA officers of his generation.”
His appearance on 60 Minutes reveals a lot about what the CIA was doing — or failed to do — before and after 9/11. And he openly talks about his life as a spy.
Under his leadership, a special unit — activated to find bin Laden during the Clinton administration — successfully amassed “extensive human networks” of Afghan sources reporting on the whereabouts of the al Qaeda leader.
In 1999, a video link from a U.S. drone — the famed Predator model — confirmed the exact location of bin Laden at a village near Kandahar. Crumpton wanted to kill him right then and there.
But President Clinton wanted U.S. eyes on the ground to confirm everything and it became a missed opportunity.
So what does a determined CIA officer tell his team?
“OK. We find him again. We will have to engage ourselves. And we’ll have to do it right then, right there” — he and his team started figuring out how to weaponize the Predator with hellfire missiles. Until his initiative, the Predator was an unarmed drone.
But they never got to take out bin Laden.
After 9/11, Crumpton was chosen to take charge of a “covert response”, which he reveals included dropping into Afghanistan behind enemy lines and mimicking an insurgency.
“Orders were fairly simple. Find al Qaeda and kill them,” he summed up when asked by interviewer Lara Logan what he ordered his men to do.
Crumpton details some of the tricks the U.S. used to overthrow the Taliban after 9/11, including a secret alliance with Afghan tribal leaders.
It is now known that 110 CIA officers supported by U.S. Special Operations Forces were the actors responsible for toppling the Taliban, reports Logan. “The enemy thought the U.S. was weak. The last thing they thought is that we would drop commandos, CIA and Special Forces, behind their lines, and we would assume the role of insurgents, and forge these deep alliances with these Afghan tribal leaders, these non-state actors, and in the matter of 90 days subvert and overthrow the Taliban regime and kill large numbers of al Qaeda.”
Crumpton’s 24-year long career with the CIA proved his sharp ability to acquire foreign spies to work for the U.S. Before his retirement in 2005, he was also the chief of the most secret operation of the CIA’s Clandestine Service:
Harmlessly named the National Resources Division, it recruits foreigners to spy for the CIA and collects foreign intelligence from inside the U.S. — something most Americans don’t realise is happening.
“You probably don’t know this, but the division has covert CIA offices across the United States,” reveals the interview. “I would hazard to guess there are more foreign intelligence officers inside the U.S. working against U.S. interests now than even at the height of the Cold War,” said Crumpton. American Clandestine CIA officers, as they’re called, take care of “technical operations” against a number of those enemy spies inside the country.
“Every day there was not only an operational judgment, there was a moral judgment. Is this the right thing to do?”
Among those personal decisions were some surprising revelations that only a CIA officer could tell you — like what it takes to “entice” a North Korean diplomat to spy for the United States.
The answer: supplying pornography.
With his CIA career now wrapped up, he’s come out of the shadows and has been given the more public-facing title of “ambassador” at the State Department, where he coordinates counter-terrorism.
He’s more free to discuss his life as a spy and has a book, published today, called The Art Of Intelligence.
As for what he thinks of the situation in Afghanistan — now that the military has since taken over from the CIA’s initial “insurgency” against the Taliban — Crumpton doesn’t see much of a bright side:
“It reminds me of a Greek tragedy. You’ve got so many mistakes, many of them inadvertent, like the burning of the Koran on the U.S. side. And you’ve got a feckless, corrupt government on the Afghan side. I am really more pessimistic now than I’ve been in a long time.” The CBS News 60 Minutes segment can be watched here.
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