Art of Intelligence

Title:                 Art of Intelligence

Author:               Henry A. Crumpton

Crumpton, Henry A. (2012). The Art of Intelligence: Lesson from a Lifetime in the CIA’s Clandestine Service. New York: Penguin Press

LCCN:    2011041978

JK468.I6 C78 2012


Date Updated:  April 18, 2017

This review is largely based on a review published in the San Francisco Chronicle, by Jeff Stein (p. FE-3, May 27, 2012)

In the introduction, Crumpton lobs grenades at politician and policy makers in both parties. He feels unappreciated and ignored, arguing for the crucial role intelligence should play in national security. Crumpton is one of the few U.S. counterterrorism officials to emerge from the 9/11 debacle with a decent reputation–owing likely to his hard-nosed independence. Dan Mulveena considers him one of the really good guys.

Crumpton emerged from obscurity when he was named as the State Department’s public counterterrorism coordinator. Crumpton earned his new position by being the lead in the CIA’s takedown of the Afghan Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, as well as running the CIA’s little-known domestic spying service, the National Resources Division.

The immediate post-9/11 period was arguably the CIA’s finest hour – ever. Within days, Crumpton, head of special operations in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, had dispatched teams of CIA operatives with trunks of cash and advanced communications gear to arm and organize northern Afghan tribesmen into an effective fighting force.

By November, they had chased the Taliban out of Kabul and sent al Qaeda militants scurrying into the high peaks of the Afghan-Pakistan border, where they were decimated by U.S. air strikes called in by agents on horseback.

Crumpton’s passion is intelligence gathering, particularly the old-fashioned kind, through espionage, by CIA case officers recruiting spies in the world’s back alleys. He relates how, as a young man in the 1980s and ‘90s, he worked at seducing local government officials, wayward North Korean diplomats and Islamic radicals into ratting out their corrupt, brutal governments or movements. There is no guidebook on how to do this, and Crumpton was not very good at it in the beginning.

“In espionage I performed unevenly,” he confesses. “My technical skills were horrible. My scientific knowledge was elementary. My foreign language capabilities were poor, and I could not pose as a non-American with any chance of success.”

Crumpton joined the Counterterrorism Center in 1999 as a deputy chief “responsible for all the CIA’s global counterterrorism operations.” There he became a fierce advocate of Predator drones as an intelligence and killing tool.

Crumpton gives a no-holds-barred insider account of the two years leading up to 9/11 adds to the persuasive case that the CIA’s Afghan informants and drones gave the Clinton White House a decent shot at eliminating Osama bin Laden – that it deemed too risky to take. Likewise, he corroborates previous accounts that George W. Bush’s aides were so transfixed by Saddam Hussein in the summer of 2001 that they largely ignored the CIA’s frantic alarms that bin Laden was determined to strike in the United States. They remained that way even after the attacks, Crumpton recounts in a scene that’s still eerie years later:

I halfway expected Crumpton to backup the neocons, Pearle and Wolfowitz in his book. Not so. Crumpton writes: “Iraq. We must focus on Iraq—9/11 had to be state-sponsored,” Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, drones on in the White House Situation Room, as if in a seance. “Iraq is central to our counterterrorism strategy.”

What is he smoking? I wondered,” Crumpton says. At the same time, he excoriates the FBI’s feckless counterterrorism effort before 9/11.

In the summer of 1998, he was packed off to the J. Edgar Hoover Building as part of an FBI-CIA executive exchange program initiated after a series of Russian penetrations. (CIA wags dubbed it “an exchange of hostages.”) Crumpton said he was a good fit, because “as one confidant said, the CIA considered me ‘a lunch-pail guy.’”

Al Qaeda had just bombed the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. As deputy head of the bureau’s International Terrorist Operations Section, Crumpton was quickly dismayed to discover that the FBI had little interest in gathering pre-emptive intelligence on al Qaeda. “Forward-looking intelligence collection and analysis were almost nonexistent,” he writes. “The FBI sought justice, not prevention. … Sharing evidence as intelligence was anathema to them.”

FBI agents were also allergic to writing intelligence reports, the heart of the CIA’s work, and pawned off that chore to clerk-analysts, he writes. Then again, he adds, neither Israel’s Mossad nor Shin Bet focused on Hamas and Hezbollah nor “considered AQ worthy of serious discussion. The British were good, but not as good as they thought or acted.”

Crumpton takes time to list ten differences between investigations by the FBI and intelligence organizations (Chapter 7):

  1. Law enforcement values oral communication over written communication. Intelligence values clear, high-impact written content.
  2. Law enforcement lacks a unified data base. It is oriented to prosecution and enforcement and keeps no records that it does not want to show up in court. Intelligence reports almost everything, and uses high-speed information systems and massive data management.
  3. Law enforcement usually is much larger than the intelligence organizations. It values partners versus singleton operations.
  4. Law enforcement denigrates and suspects sources and does not pursue good sources beyond the investigation. Intelligence compares notes and lesson learned. Law enforcement values evidence versus the evaluation of risk and intent by intelligence organizations.
  5. Law enforcement is much more constrained in spending than intelligence organizations.
  6. Law enforcement assumes the legal authority to act over intelligence agencies. It also assumes a moral attitude toward covert actions.
  7. Law enforcement uses and works the press as an aid to its mission. Intelligence operations hates the press and especially leaks.
  8. Law enforcement collects evidence for its own use in prosecution. Intelligence collects information for others. Law enforcement lacks a culture of service beyond the Department of Justice.
  9. Law enforcement (especially FBI) has local agencies and field offices who act as centers of autonomy and authority, including holding evidence and potential intelligence, owing to links to the local prosecutor. Intelligence reports up the chain to form a coherent picture for decision makers.
  10. Law enforcement works the lawmakers at every level, and may investigate them as well, holding a carrot and a stick. Intelligence has minimal leverage with lawmakers.

Crumpto gets it wrong, I think, about why al Qaeda hates us. He says, “They fear that globalization and the free-market principles and liberal values that come with it will bury them.” he lectures an American CEO who “had been cooperating with the CIA for years.” He adds, “they disagree with our policies, especially in the Middle East.”

For al Qaeda, it was always about our military presence in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, not our “freedom” or “values.” And that’s why, however demented they were, they came after us.


For further comments on The Art of Intelligence, see Rodriguez, Jose A. (2013) with Bill Harlow. Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives. New York: Threshold Editions


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4 Responses to Art of Intelligence

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