Outgoing Counterterrorism Chief Urges Changes

Ambassador Henry Crumpton, head of the State Department's counterterrorism unit, is stepping down after a year and a half. The former covert CIA agent in Afghanistan says the United States needs to make strategic changes in efforts to combat terrorism.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now we meet a man who has led counterterrorism efforts at the State Department for the last 18 months. Ambassador Henry Crumpton was a covert CIA officer who led the agency's intelligence operations in Afghanistan after September 11th. He took on a public role at the State Department, a post he's leaving next month. Yesterday, we spoke with Henry Crumpton about world-wide counterterrorism efforts, and the threat posed by small terrorist cells that are often freelancing - inspired, but not controlled by al-Qaida.

Ambassador HENRY CRUMPTON (Director, Counterterrorism Unit, State Department): They're more agile. They can move across this global battle space within hours, so it's harder for us to find them and harder to engage.

MONTAGNE: You had taken up the challenge in your work with the CIA of fighting al-Qaida. What is your view of what could be done with this threat?

Ambassador CRUMPTON: Especially with this evolving threat, these - I refer to them as micro actors with macro impact because they are small, yet they can deliver a powerful blow as we saw here in our homeland on 9/11. And I think the key to this is interdependence, building trusted networks in the intelligence arena, in the diplomatic arena, in the military and also law enforcement.

MONTAGNE: And in this effort, where are the weak spots?

Ambassador CRUMPTON: Well, I think that it's uneven, depending on what part of the world you're talking about. Some countries have got a very advanced law enforcement and court systems. Others do not. The same is true in terms of their intelligence capabilities, or their military capabilities.

MONTAGNE: Well, I know one place where the court system and the police are very problematic, and that's Afghanistan.

Ambassador CRUMPTON: That's a very good example. You see a fairly decent intelligence service there. You see a military that's been well trained and is making progress. But clearly, their police force has got a long way to go.

MONTAGNE: Now, talking about Afghanistan - post-September 11th - am I correct that you were an architect of the notion of enlisting Mujahedeen and other anti-Taliban groups?

Ambassador CRUMPTON: This is a key piece of our success in ‘01 and ‘02 in Afghanistan, and that is understanding the enemy. The enemy was not the Afghan people, not the Afghan government, not necessarily the Taliban writ large. But it was really al-Qaida and those Taliban leaders that decided to ally themselves with al-Qaida. And by defying the enemy that way and looking to Afghanistan as a partner, I think that's why we did have the kind of success in ‘01/‘02.

MONTAGNE: Although one of the consequences of that strategy was that Mujahedeen - who to Afghans, looked like warlords and are, in fact, act like warlords -were put back in power.

Ambassador CRUMPTON: Well, Renee, I think it's important that we understand the initial, the paramount objective immediately after 9/11, and that was to engage al-Qaida to prevent them from another attack. On the heels of that, of course, was how do we help the Afghans build a viable government? And I think we made extraordinary progress.

MONTAGNE: When you took over the Afghan operations and you were in the CIA, you rather famously put up a sign. And that sign quoted Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer, which was: officers wanted for hazardous journey.

Ambassador CRUMPTON: Yes, and it talks about darkness and low pay and the chance of return, doubtful.

MONTAGNE: When it comes to counterterrorism today, do these sentiments still apply?

Ambassador CRUMPTON: In some areas. I look at what our men and women are doing in Iraq and, I think, other parts of the world. And this is a threat that I believe will be enduring, but also a threat that we must engage enemy and not just with the lethal force. We need to think more broadly, bring all the instruments of statecraft to bear, working with our foreign partners. That will be the enduring answer to this threat.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador Henry Crumpton is coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department. He'll be leaving that position the first week of February.

Thank you very much for joining us.

Ambassador CRUMPTON: Renee, thank you.

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