George Crile III; Journalist Alleged Vietnam War Lies

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

George Crile III, 61, a longtime producer for CBS's "60 Minutes and "60 Minutes II" and the author of a best-selling book about a rogue Central Intelligence Agency operation in Afghanistan during the Reagan administration, died May 15 of pancreatic cancer at his home in New York City.

Mr. Crile was perhaps best known as the producer, with Mike Wallace, of "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception," a controversial 1982 documentary that accused Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the U.S. commander of forces in Vietnam, of being involved in "a conspiracy at the highest levels of American intelligence" to deliberately distort and minimize enemy troop strength.

The motive, Mr. Crile's documentary claimed, was to mislead Congress and the White House into believing that the United States was actually winning the war.

Westmoreland sued CBS Inc. for libel and sought $120 million in damages. He withdrew the suit before the case went to the jury, settling for a joint statement with the network that included an acknowledgment that he had not been "unpatriotic or disloyal in performing his duties as he saw them."

While covering Afghan rebels in their war with the Soviets in the 1980s, Mr. Crile came to know a flamboyant, scandal-prone Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson, who was working with the CIA to secretly funnel billions of dollars to the Afghan fighters. He spent years investigating Wilson's incredible tale, which culminated in his best-selling book, "Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History" (2003).

He wrote that the clandestine involvement in Afghanistan by the United States was "the largest and most successful CIA operation in history."

George Washington Crile III was born in Cleveland, where his grandfather, Dr. George Crile, was a pioneer of modern surgery and the principal founder of the Cleveland Clinic. His father, Dr. George "Barney" Crile Jr., was an outspoken opponent of unnecessary surgery, particularly radical breast surgery. Mr. Crile's mother, Jane Halle Crile, died of complications from breast cancer.

He graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1968 and also studied at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center at Monterey, Calif. He decided early in life to forsake the family profession, and after meeting publishing executive Walter Ridder at the Washington home of an aunt, Kay Halle, he asked for a job on the Gary Post-Tribune in Indiana. He was promoted to the newspaper's Pentagon beat in the early 1970s.

After a falling-out with Ridder over a story involving a Gary tax assessor, he left the paper and began working as a reporter for Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson. He also was Washington editor for Harper's Magazine and had articles published in Washington Monthly, New Times, The Washington Post and the New York Times.

He joined CBS News in 1976, where his documentaries included "The CIA's Secret Army," which chronicled the story of the CIA's clandestine campaigns against Fidel Castro after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. He also produced "The Battle for South Africa" (1978), which won a George Foster Peabody Award.

In 1985, he joined "60 Minutes," where he produced documentaries on the disintegration of the Soviet Union, civil war in Nicaragua, genocide in Rwanda and the U.S-Saudi connection, among numerous other topics primarily dealing with international affairs.

His marriage to Anne Patten Crile ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 22 years, Susan Lyne of New York City, former president of ABC Entertainment and now president and chief executive of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia; two daughters from his first marriage, Katy Crile and Molly Crile, both of New York City; two daughters from his second marriage, Susan Crile and Jane Crile, also of New York City; and two sisters.

At the time of his death, he was working on a sequel to "Charlie Wilson's War."

"It's about what happened after the Afghans threw the Russians out and how we [the United States] went from being heroes to being so profoundly despised," his wife said.

With most of the reporting done and about 15 percent of the writing completed, she said she was not yet sure about plans for finishing it.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company