State Dept. Losing a Top Figure In Terror War

Henry Crumpton in Afghanistan.
Henry Crumpton in Afghanistan. (Courtesy Of Rhonda Shore -- State Department Office Of The Coordinator For Counterterrorism)
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Henry A. "Hank" Crumpton, the chief of the State Department's counterterrorism office and a key strategist in the war in Afghanistan, will announce today that he is leaving government in the new year, a senior State Department official said yesterday.

Crumpton was a career covert CIA officer with a secret identity who stepped out of the shadows in August 2005 to take the State Department job. He gained almost mythical fame after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when he headed the CIA's campaign in Afghanistan, crafting a strategy that partnered elite intelligence and military officers in teams that worked with Afghan opposition to oust the Taliban.

The novel and initially controversial approach worked to limit cost in human life and materiel -- and to avoid the kind of protracted U.S. ground war that the Soviet Union lost in Afghanistan and that the United States is facing in Iraq.

Crumpton is the mysterious "Henry" in the Sept. 11 commission report, which notes that he repeatedly urged U.S. intelligence to do more in Afghanistan before the al-Qaeda attacks.

His departure leaves another big hole at the State Department, which has been struggling to find a deputy secretary of state for six months. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is also now looking for replacements for her departing counselor and undersecretary of state for economic affairs.

Crumpton decided to leave for "unexpected, unplanned and compelling family reasons," including family health issues and financial obligations for higher education for his children, said the official, who requested anonymity because the announcement has not been made at the State Department.

Despite the scope and impact of recent terrorist attacks, well-placed officials say Crumpton has also been concerned that the United States does not yet understand the shifting nature of warfare in a global arena. "We don't understand the enemy and battlefield," he said in a recent interview. "We've crossed a threshold in this conflict. This is a learning process, and we've just started."

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June, Crumpton warned that new threats from smaller terrorist cells and even individuals are more difficult to detect than those from networks such as al-Qaeda. "These looser terrorist networks are less capable but also less predictable and in some ways more dangerous," he said.

Although most of his intelligence work is still secret, Crumpton was involved in the investigation of the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen.

After he took over the Afghan operation, Crumpton became famous at the CIA for a sign on his office door borrowed from ill-fated Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton: "Officers wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company