Interested in a career full of espionage, intrigue and patriotism? The career that just might suit is one in intelligence – if you’re willing to take Henry “Hank” Crumpton’s word for it.
Crumpton spoke before an audience at the International Spy Museum last week, and while the premise was to promote his new book The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life Inside the CIA’s Clandestine Service, he may as well have been recruiting the next generation of spymasters.
I admit, I’m a bit biased in Mr. Crumpton’s favor – I’m not yet halfway through his book and I’m ready to add it to our Intelligence Community reading list. At his Spy Museum talk he touched on some of the realities of today’s intelligence professionals – they’re often viewed as patriots or fools, James Bond or the instigators of the war in Iraq. The reality – like the art of intelligence itself – is much more nuanced.
Spend a few minutes listening to Crumpton talk about his career with the CIA and you can’t help but see how patriotism, sense of duty and a deep love of America influenced his career. As a spy who managed intelligence operations in locations from Africa to Afghanistan, Crumpton is an expert in the craft of intelligence, as well as a patriot.
Crumpton used three words to organize his remarks – imagination, intelligence, and invasion.
Imagination is what he described as springing him from a small town boy in Georgia who left home at 16, to a CIA agent working undercover in Africa. Crumpton tells a truly self-made story. He traveled the globe and – in his words – it was only by a saving grace that he didn’t run into international trouble for his border hopping and bar fights (and I’m sure the fact that he didn’t helped his security clearance background check tremendously).
Intelligence is what Crumpton spent a career gathering. He described it as more than just data. In a world increasingly overflowing with data, true intelligence, argues Crumpton, is data to meet a specific need. “It should be accurate, relevant, timely and actionable,” said Crumpton. “If it’s not any of these things, it’s not intelligence.”
In addition to noting the revolution of cyber threats and espionage, Crumpton argued the case for the human element – and the importance of knowing not just threats and risks, but the human dimension of our enemies.
As the person who oversaw the CIA’s Afghanistan campaign from 2001-2002 it’s no surprise that Crumpton gets his feathers ruffled at the western notion of an ‘invasion’ into Afghanistan.
“Ask Afghans about the U.S. invasion and they have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said. Crumpton went on to make the case for the human element – about how each operation was tailor made to meet the needs of America’s Afghan allies. When information was needed, the appropriate incentive was provided – and that only came through “empathetic understanding.”
“It was a victory based on imagination, informed by practice…and leadership in the field,” that led to such an alliance among so many non-state actors and tribal leaders.
After a career of success and controversy Crumpton seemed to have no regrets. He offers himself as proud, not arrogant, educated yet open, and frequently touched by the sources he recruited along the way. Asked about how the art of intelligence has changed, Crumpton acknowledged the importance of cyber espionage, but emphasized that the human source remains the “lifeblood” of espionage.
As far as the future of intelligence, Crumpton cited four specific technologies that are changing “how we spy, how we fight, how we live” – biotechnology, artificial intelligence, robotics, and nanotechnology.
But when it comes to tradecraft – the ‘in the field’ action that we love to watch in the movies – hopeful spymasters will be encouraged to know that by Crumpton’s assessment, many of the basic elements remain.
Add The Art of Intelligence to your summer reading list and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed – pass along a copy to a young person in your life and perhaps they, too, will find a career in the CIA to offer them a life of intrigue, excitement and contribution.
Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves cybersecurity, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.