Hank Crumpton: Life As A Spy

11:09 AM, May 14, 2012   |    comments
Courtesy 60 Minutes
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In the netherworld of espionage, Henry Crumpton is legendary. He was deputy director of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center and chief of one of the agency's most secret divisions.

He is known to U.S. presidents, African rebels and Afghan tribal leaders by just one name: "Hank."

In interviews with Lara Logan, Hank Crumpton guided 60 Minutes on a tour through the shadowy world of clandestine operations. Among the many things she learned is that Crumpton has a unique perspective on the war in Afghanistan because it was "Hank" who was in charge of the covert U.S. response to 9/11.

Lara Logan: What do you make of where Afghanistan is right now?

Hank Crumpton: 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.

Hank Crumpton, now 55, spent 24 years in the murky world of the CIA Clandestine Service, including a year on loan to the FBI and a decade at CIA stations across Africa. We first met Hank Crumpton three years ago. That's when he agreed to return to Afghanistan with us and tell 60 Minutes about the capstone to his career as a spy, how the CIA forged a secret alliance with afghan tribal leaders, and how fewer than 500 Americans -- 110 CIA officers backed by teams of U.S. Special Operations Forces -- toppled the Taliban after 9/11.

Lara Logan: What were the orders you gave your men?

Hank Crumpton: Orders were fairly simple. Find al Qaeda and kill them.

Cofer Black was chief of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center and for a quarter century he was Crumpton's boss and mentor. He personally chose "Hank" for the most important mission of his life.

Cofer Black: Why did I pick Hank Crumpton to lead the CIA team? 'Cause we wanna win. Hank's the kind of man you can bet your life on.

Lara Logan: When a career CIA officer or someone like yourself says, "Hank's the kinda guy you can bet your life on," you mean that literally.

Cofer Black: Literally. Let's not-- this is not, you know, working for a Wall Street law firm, you know. Dog eat dog and nobody dies. We're talking-- where the life and wellbeing of your colleagues are at risk.

The CIA was given the lead role in prosecuting a war for the first time in history and Black promised then-President George W. Bush the agency was up to the task.

Cofer Black: And I said, "Mr. President, by the time we're through with these guys, they're gonna have flies walking across their eyeballs." This isn't a joke. This is a statement of fact of what's gonna happen.

Lara Logan: And he responded?

Cofer Black: He asked me again to validate whether I could do this. And I said, "Mr. President, there's no doubt in my mind." There was no doubt in my mind. I knew our planning. I knew our people. I knew Hank Crumpton.

Lara Logan: What was your first meeting with President Bush like? What did he say to you?

Hank Crumpton: I sat down with some maps and walked through what our initial strategy was going to be. He asked good questions. At the end of the meeting, I remember we were walking outside, we'd left the building at Camp David walking to the cars. President Bush came up. He put his arm on my shoulder. And he told me to go get 'em. And I said, "Yes, sir. I will."

Lara Logan: The world was expecting a conventional response?

Hank Crumpton: They expected that we would not respond in any meaningful way.

Lara Logan: Weakness?

Hank Crumpton: Weakness. And 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 fears the return of al Qaeda in force to Afghanistan if the U.S. withdraws too quickly, but he and Cofer Black believe the original American mission changed after the Taliban was defeated.

Cofer Black: My mission was not to ensure that little girls go to school in Afghanistan. My mission was not to establish, you know, a legal system in Afghanistan. Was not my mission. My mission was to destroy al Qaeda. And to do that, we had to overthrow the Taliban.

That mission actually began five years before 9/11. That's when the CIA set up what became Hank Crumpton's special unit tasked with finding Osama bin Laden.

Hank Crumpton: From '98, '99 all the way up to 2001, the warnings were there, the in--

Lara Logan: So through the Clinton administration, to the Bush administration?

Hank Crumpton: Yes, yes. We had extensive human networks in Afghanistan, Afghan sources that had been reporting on al Qaeda, on the presence of bin Laden.

But Crumpton says the Clinton White House didn't trust the CIA's Afghan sources alone and they wanted U.S. eyes on the target.

Hank Crumpton: So we were driven to look at various technical options. And we looked at a range of things. Long-range optics, they were too heavy, too cumbersome to get over the mountains. We looked at balloons. The prevailing winds would take those balloons to China. That would be a bad thing. We scrapped that. And then we stumbled across the UAVs, particularly the Predator. And sure enough, wasn't long before we had the Predator in theater over Afghanistan, the Predator unarmed at the time. And our human sources took us to a village-- far-- not far from Kandahar.

Lara Logan: And what did you see there?

Hank Crumpton: We saw a security detail, a convoy and we saw bin Laden exit the vehicle.

Lara Logan: Clearly?

Hank Crumpton: Clearly. And we had-- the optics were spot on. It was beaming back to us, CIA headquarters. We immediately alerted the White House. And the Clinton administration's response was, "Well, it will take several hours for the TLAMs, the cruise missiles launched from submarines, to reach that objective. So you need to tell us where bin Laden will be five or six hours from now." The frustration was enormous.

Lara Logan: So at that moment you wanted to kill him?

Hank Crumpton: Yes.

Lara Logan: But you couldn't get permission?

Hank Crumpton: Correct.

He couldn't get permission to do anything, including allowing the CIA's Afghan agents on the ground to attack bin Laden's compound. That missed opportunity in the late summer of 1999, led Crumpton and his CIA team to figure out how to arm the Predator drone with hellfire missiles.

Lara Logan: So the Predator drone strikes that take place in the tribal areas of Pakistan today are a direct result of what happened when you had Osama bin Laden in your sights in Afghanistan and no way to kill him yourselves?

Hank Crumpton: It was a response to the lack of response on the part of the administration or DOD. So the handful of CIA officers that we had, in great frustration, we began the discussion of, "Okay. We find him again we will have to engage ourselves. And we'll have to do it right then, right there."

Crumpton pointed out though that the CIA was never able to get a Predator shot at bin laden -- even after agents shadowed his courier to the house in Abbottobad where he was killed a year ago by U.S. Navy Seals.

Lara Logan: Is it conceivable to you that the Pakistani leadership did not know that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad on Pakistani soil being sheltered there?

Hank Crumpton: I would be surprised if some leaders, particularly in the military, were not aware of his presence there.

Lara Logan: And not just not aware, but facilitated it?

Hank Crumpton: Yes.

Even with bin Laden dead, Crumpton warns that al Qaeda and its affiliates--including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- remain a potent danger to the U.S. homeland.

Hank Crumpton: They still pose a threat. I'm particularly concerned about al Qaeda in Yemen, which is fractured as a nation state. The Sahel, if you look at al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, they pose a threat, and in Somalia. Those are the places I'd be concerned.

Hank Crumpton is one of the most seasoned and accomplished CIA officers of his generation. That's why after his success directing the agency's Afghanistan campaign, the CIA chose him to become chief of its National Resources Division--one of the smallest--but most sensitive--secret operations of the Clandestine Service. You probably don't know this, but the division has covert CIA offices across the United States.

Hank Crumpton: A particular U.S. company can provide cover for a CIA officer who's deployed overseas. A U.S. executive who's traveled abroad can come back and agree to a debriefing from the CIA. A foreign institution may have a relationship with an American institution. And that might be a pathway for the CIA to acquire foreign intelligence.

Lara Logan: Doesn't that go against the public perception of what the CIA is tasked with doing? I mean, under your charter, most people think of the CIA's responsibilities as lying outside of America's borders.

Hank Crumpton: Yes, I agree. I think many Americans view it that way. The CIA's responsibility in the U.S., though, is very specific. While inside the U.S., the mission is exclusively and totally focused on the collection of foreign intelligence.

Lara Logan: So you can recruit foreign agents on U.S. soil?

Hank Crumpton: Yes.

Clandestine CIA officers also run so-called "technical operations" against enemy spies in the U.S.

Hank Crumpton: You can eavesdrop. You can bug. You can intercept their communications.

Lara Logan: But you can't do that to Americans?

Hank Crumpton: Absolutely not. Again, the focus of National Resources Division is the collection of foreign intelligence that happens to be inside the U.S.

Lara Logan: What about counterintelligence?

Hank Crumpton: It's a critical issue. If you look at the threat that is imposed upon our nation every day, some of the major nation states, China in particular, very sophisticated intelligence operations. Very aggressive operations against the U.S. 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.

Hank Crumpton has written a book about his life as a spy because he thinks the role of intelligence is misunderstood and the CIA has often been misused by presidents and policy-makers of both parties. He wants to set the record straight.

And his book, "The Art of Intelligence" will be published tomorrow. In it, he tells how he learned about insurgency first-hand from African rebels. He learned about blood feuds from Afghan tribal leaders and he learned that al Qaeda terrorists and enemy agents from North Korea all seem to share a particular weakness.

Hank Crumpton: I never met a North Korean that did not like pornography.

Lara Logan: Is there a lot that goes on in the world of espionage as a C.I.A. officer that surprised you?

Hank Crumpton: Every day was something different. Every day there was not only an operational judgment, there was a moral judgment. Is this the right thing to do?

Lara Logan: For example, supplying porn to North Korean diplomats?

Hank Crumpton: Right. Right. Supplying porn to a North Korean official to entice them to spy for America, along with money or whatever else it might take. Well, for me the answer was yes, I was willing to do that.

He hasn't been a covert operator since 2005. That's when he became the coordinator for counter-terrorism at the State Department with the rank of "ambassador." But we noticed Hank Crumpton still has the tics, the habits and reflexes of a man who's always aware of his situation -- eyes sweeping the area and looking over his shoulder.

Lara Logan: What makes a good spy?

Hank Crumpton: I think that you have to have an intense intellectual curiosity. I think also it requires a willingness to deal with ambivalent situations. A certain degree of creativity, physical courage.

Lara Logan: Are you a good spy?

Hank Crumpton: Yes. I was a good spy.

Lara Logan: Are you still a good spy?

Hank Crumpton: No. I retired. And that was more than seven, eight years ago now.

Lara Logan: They say you never really retire from the C.I.A.

Hank Crumpton: Oh, I've retired, all right.

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