CBS Journalist George Crile Dies At 61

George Crile
George Crile III, an award-winning CBS News journalist and best-selling author, died Monday. Crile, who lived in New York City, suffered from pancreatic cancer diagnosed in November 2005. He was 61.

Crile worked more than 25 years as a producer and correspondent for CBS News and would occasionally appear in pieces he reported and produced. At first, he worked for the documentary unit "CBS Reports" but in 1985, began producing for 60 Minutes. "Charlie Wilson's War", Crile's 2003 book that spent months on the New York Times' best seller list, began with a 60 Minutes profile in 1988 of a Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson.

Wilson's story of manipulating Congress and the CIA into arming the Afghan tribes fighting a rebellion against the Soviets was a colorful Cold War yarn. Crile's book about an elaborate war in Afghanistan that the American public didn't know it was financing turned into something much more after Sept. 11: The U.S. had inadvertently laid the foundation for Islamic militancy by turning these fighters into heroes whose exploits attracted mujahadeen from all over the world and set the stage for Osama bin Laden. Crile rushed to finish the work he had already spent 13 years reporting.

Tom Hanks purchased the film rights to "Charlie Wilson's War" and the film is now in preproduction for Universal Studios, with Julia Roberts set to play the female lead, Hanks to play Wilson and Mike Nichols directing.

The years of reporting on the book made Crile well-informed on militant Islamists and put him in a position to believe that al Qaeda would become an even bigger story and a more dangerous threat in the coming months. In early 2001, he traveled extensively and shot footage in Pakistan and Afghanistan, speaking with Islamic fundamentalists who knew bin Laden and with ordinary Muslims who supported him. One result, broadcast on Sept. 17, 2001, was an extremely prescient 60 Minutes II report he produced for Dan Rather, "Prophesies of Terror," in which Crile interviewed a member of bin Laden's inner circle, Khalid Kwaja. The report shed new light on why al Qaeda and its supporters hated the United States. Crile produced three more reports that led the 60 Minutes II coverage of Sept. 11 and its aftermath.

Foreign intrigue was a constant theme in Crile's work, the subject of most of the dozens of stories he produced for 60 Minutes and 60 Minutes II. He received Overseas Press Club Edward R. Murrow Awards for two of them: "Room 19," a 1991 60 Minutes report, featured a secret room in Moscow where the brains of Soviet leaders were preserved, and "General Sergeyev," a 1994 60 Minutes II segment he produced for Ed Bradley that followed a top Russian nuclear army officer while he toured secret U.S. nuclear sites. The piece was a follow-up to one Crile produced a few months earlier in which Gen. Sergeyev showed Crile and Bradley the missiles his country had aimed at the United States. In both reports, and some others he produced on the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Crile had a collaborator, a young Russian journalist named Artyom Borovik, whose help was essential in gaining the access.

Borovik died in a plane crash in 2000. Through Crile's efforts, CBS News has sponsored the Artyom Borovik Award presented each year by the Overseas Press Club for the Russian who most exemplified Borovik's independent journalism.

Another 60 Minutes segment he produced for Bradley won an Emmy Award. In the 1986 report, "Michele," Bradley talks to Michele Duvalier, the wife of deposed Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier, whose extravagant lifestyle led to his downfall. Said Bradley, for whom Crile produced 13 reports in all, "There is no one who enjoyed what he were doing more than George did, particularly when it came to doing foreign pieces."