As threatened, a book review just for you:
"The Art of Intelligence"
By Sue Mi Terry
The Wall Street Journal
'Go get 'em," was the directive from President George W. Bush. It was a Saturday morning soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Years later, veteran CIA officer Henry "Hank" Crumpton recalled that, on the drive back from Camp David, he was stunned. The lead role in the imminent Afghanistan campaign had just fallen on him and his crew—men who had "no military experience" and had made "only a few visits to South Asia, and never to Afghanistan." But it was the president himself who had asked him to go. "So we go," he thought. "As hard and as fast as possible, go."
At the heart of Mr. Crumpton's memoir, "The Art of Intelligence," is an engrossing tale of how a seasoned CIA officer spearheaded the first campaign in America's war on terror. Under his direction, in the fall of 2001, small teams of CIA operatives and U.S. Special Forces, together with Afghan allies, came to kill thousands of al Qaeda and Taliban combatants and to break their hold on Afghanistan in less than three months. Even though Osama bin Laden slipped away, and the Taliban eventually returned to foment a new insurgency in Afghanistan, this ground-breaking campaign was a success beyond all reasonable expectations.
For all its engaging detail, there are few revelations in "The Art of Intelligence." The overthrow of the Taliban has been chronicled before—by Mr. Crumpton's fellow CIA officers in other memoirs, such as Gary Berntsen's "Jawbreaker" (2005) and Gary Schroen's "First In" (2005), and in works of history such as Doug Stanton's "Horse Soldiers" (2009). Nevertheless, Mr. Crumpton's narrative, especially when chronicling the response to the 9/11 attacks, moves like a thriller, presenting a story of ingenuity and courage under fire. Along the way, he casts light on the transformation of the CIA in recent decades.
Mr. Crumpton first became interested in CIA service, he tells us, when he was a boy. At age 10 or 11, he wrote a letter to the agency explaining his desire to join it one day. To his surprise, he received a reply thanking him for his interest and encouraging him to apply when he got older. At the time—the mid-1960s—the CIA was at the height of its Cold War glory, waging battles against communism around the world and engaging in paramilitary operations in Southeast Asia.
But the ethos that had animated the agency's founders was shattered by the opposition to the Vietnam War. A significant percentage of the American elite, from whom the CIA had drawn its initial recruits, turned against the war and against the intelligence community. One result of this shift in outlook was the Church Committee hearings of the mid-1970s, which uncovered past CIA assassination plots and other covert activities. A couple of years later, there were severe cutbacks under Jimmy Carter's CIA director, Stansfield Turner, who was not shy about laying off veteran Cold Warriors.
Thus the CIA that the young Mr. Crumpton joined in 1981 was an agency in crisis—and in the midst of a cultural transformation. More and more CIA officers were cut in the mold of Mr. Crumpton himself, a small-town Georgia boy who had graduated from the University of New Mexico, not Harvard or Yale.
The agency was partially revived by William Casey, who as Ronald Reagan's CIA director oversaw a vast covert program to undermine the Soviet Union—most spectacularly in Afghanistan, where the CIA funneled weapons to the mujahedeen. Mr. Crumpton was not involved in these covert actions; in his early days at the agency he was focused on traditional intelligence gathering, mostly in Africa. A crisp style makes his personal recollections from these years compelling, not least when he recounts how he recruited various spies—from repugnant delinquents motivated by greed to idealistic nationalists motivated by ideology.
Mr. Crumpton steadily rose into the agency's senior ranks and returned from overseas in the late 1990s, when the Cold War was over and the agency was searching for a new mission. These were the years when the focus was on economic intelligence and other "soft" subjects. They were also the years when the al Qaeda threat was growing. Mr. Crumpton was soon at the forefront of the effort to respond to this threat.
In 1998-99, on loan from CIA, he served as deputy chief in the FBI's International Terrorism Operations Section. He then served as deputy chief of the CIA's counterterrorism center, between 1999 and 2001. Mr. Crumpton and his colleagues, he notes, were stymied by a pervasive caution among policy makers and bureaucrats, and among their own superiors. Mr. Crumpton says that he pushed for sending Special Operations and CIA commando teams deep into Afghanistan before 9/11 to engage al Qaeda, but to no avail. There was, he says, insufficient political will in Washington. At one point in 2000, Mr. Crumpton writes, "we had Bin Laden in our electrical-optical sights, but we had no realistic policy, no clear authority, and no meaningful resources to engage the target with lethal speed and precision. It was all sadly absurd."
That "absurd" policy did not change when the Bush administration came into office. But it changed with a vengeance after 9/11, when Mr. Crumpton and his fellow operatives were unleashed to take risks that would have been unimaginable before. Under President Obama, the pace of counterterrorist operations has expanded still more, including drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.
That expansion, in turn, has led to a major institutional change at the CIA. The agency, which had all but gotten out of the paramilitary business after Vietnam, has returned to its old form. In fact, the CIA's greatest successes in the past decade have come from identifying and killing terrorists; its biggest failures have involved assessing non-terrorist targets, such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Mr. Crumpton's memoir is a compelling account of the changes that have allowed the CIA to fight the war on terror with unprecedented resources and success. There is no doubt that the CIA will in the future have to devote more resources to intelligence gathering. The agency should apply to its traditional operations the same ruthless, results-oriented ethos that Mr. Crumpton and his colleagues applied to fighting al Qaeda.
Ms. Terry, a senior research scholar at Columbia University, has served as a senior East Asia analyst at the CIA and as a member of the National Security Council. A version of this article appeared May 18, 2012, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Agency Goes to War.