Publication / The Daily Beast
November 15, 2012
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CIA’s Henry Crumpton on the Heroes You’ll Never Know

The CIA spends piles of money on technology, but its most valuable assets will always be people, former counterterrorism director Henry Crumpton said at The Hero Summit.



Henry Crumpton, former coordinator for counterterrorism at the CIA, told the Hero Summit that the most important heroes of the intelligence agency are those you will never know. “You have spouses and husbands and sisters that do those things all the time and you would never know,” he says.

A dapper man with a Georgian charm, Crumpton is sometimes called the “American James Bond.” He served for more than two decades in the CIA and was the recipient of the the agency’s highest achievement, the Distinguished Intelligence Medal.

Crumpton remembered one secret hero he had met during his time as a spy in Africa in the 1980s. The man, an African insurgent, came to the U.S. Embassy where Crumpton was serving undercover as a U.S. diplomat. Crumpton turned the young man into an asset, and he provided an immense amount of usable information. This is why, despite the huge amount of money spent on the technical aspects of the CIA, Crumpton says he “has a bias towards human intelligence.”

“What was remarkable about this source was his motivation,” said Crumpton. “We paid him a modest salary but he was really motivated by how he could help his people and he thought the U.S. was the route to that.”

Another instance of personal heroism that Crumpton touched on was not of a CIA officer, but of a CIA officer’s wife. Mike Spann was the first American to be killed overseas after the attacks on 9/11 and he was also a CIA agent. Crumpton was a close friend of Spann’s and his wife, Shannon, and was responsible for breaking the news of Mike’s death to her. After the funeral, Shannon asked to see Crumpton, and it was a visit he said he expected would need lots of tissues.

But not a single tear was shed.

“Shannon comes over to me, closes the door, sits down dry-eyed and determined and she said, ‘You have to keep up the fight, that’s what Mike would have wanted. That’s what I want. That’s your mission,’” Crumpton said.

After the story was finished, Crumpton acknowledged Shannon in the crowd, and made her stand for applause. He finished by saying, “So that’s a hero that you do know.”

Later Crumpton learned that the asset had been killed trying to cross a dangerous war zone in Africa. Crumpton said the man was an example of a hero that he knows the identity of—“but no one else will.”