By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Wayne A. Downing, 67, an Army four-star general and special operations commander who became a prominent terrorism adviser to the U.S. government, died July 18 at Proctor Hospital in Peoria, Ill. He had bacterial meningitis.
Gen. Downing was briefly among President Bush's top counterterrorism advisers after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Since 2003, he had been chairman of the Combating Terrorism Center, an education and public policy institute at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Gen. Downing was a 34-year Army combat veteran, and his last active-duty assignment, in 1996, had been as commander in chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa. After his military retirement, he emerged as a more-public figure when he became deeply involved in terrorism task forces and committees.
Bruce Hoffman, a leading authority on terrorism studies at Georgetown University, said Gen. Downing "recognized the transition of terrorism from a tactical threat to a strategic challenge, a sustained campaign in the shadows."
Hoffman added: "He did not just understand threats, but also the application of force and the limitations and potentiality of force to combat terrorism."
Gen. Downing oversaw the 40-member team investigating the June 1996 truck bomb attack that killed 19 U.S. servicemen and one Saudi and wounded 372 others at Khobar Towers, a U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia.
Richard A. Clarke, a federal counterterrorism adviser who had known Gen. Downing for decades, picked him to lead the Khobar Towers task force because of his frankness.
Clarke said Gen. Downing faced some Defense Department objections that he would be too candid about who bore responsibility for security lapses. In the end, this proved true. The report blamed the entire military chain of command, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gen. Downing's final report highlighted many other things, such as the widespread and continuing vulnerability of U.S. personnel and facilities abroad and the need for regular security tests.
Most piquantly, the report identified a lack of understanding about the nature of the threat -- persistent, no longer intermittent -- by those who have "begun an undeclared war on the United States."
This became a constant theme for Gen. Downing. On Sept. 12, 2001, he told ABC News: "The paradigm has changed. And this isn't going to be over in a month or two months or six months. But this may well take years."
Within a few months, he succeeded Clarke and held the title of deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. Gen. Downing served less than a year in the job, apparently dissatisfied by a series of losing bureaucratic struggles. Chief among them was his recommended approach to the war in Iraq.
Gen. Downing favored the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and his recommendation was to mimic the path that succeeded in deposing the Taliban in Afghanistan -- a limited deployment with U.S. special forces accompanying Iraqi exiles and rebels and backing them with U.S. air power.
He worked intimately with exiles such as Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and was credited in 1998 with helping win passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, which provided $97 million for military weaponry and training for anti-Hussein fighters.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff rejected his plan in favor of one that would bring hundreds of thousands of military personnel to the region.
Wayne Allan Downing was born May 10, 1940, in Peoria. His father was killed while serving with the Army's 9th Armored Division in Europe during World War II.
Gen. Downing was a 1962 West Point graduate, served two tours of duty during the Vietnam War and received a master's degree in business administration from Tulane University in 1971.
A former Ranger regiment leader, he commanded the special operations of all services during the 1989 invasion of Panama that led to the surrender of President Manuel Noriega. During the Persian Gulf War, he oversaw a joint special operations task force that destroyed Iraqi Scud missile sites behind enemy lines.
He was commanding general of the Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., from 1991 to 1993.
His military decorations included two awards of the Distinguished Service Medal, two awards of the Silver Star, four awards of the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart. He also received West Point's 2006 distinguished graduate award.
In retirement, his board memberships included Metal Storm Ltd., an Australian-owned defense technology company, and the defense contractor Science Applications International Corp.
His marriage to Linda Chester Downing ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 12 years, Kathryn Bickerman Downing of Peoria; two daughters from his first marriage, Elizabeth Revell of Clifton and Laura Downing of Brooklyn, N.Y.; six stepchildren; his mother, Eileen Downing of Peoria; a sister; and four grandchildren.