Hank Crumpton: Life as a spy

Former CIA officer Hank Crumpton takes 60 Minutes on a tour through the shadowy world of the Clandestine Service and explains how the CIA toppled the Taliban after 9/11.

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Hank Crumpton: I sat down with some maps and walked through what our initial strategy was going to be. He asked good questions. At the end of the meeting, I remember we were walking outside, we'd left the building at Camp David walking to the cars. President Bush came up. He put his arm on my shoulder. And he told me to go get 'em. And I said, "Yes, sir. I will."

Lara Logan: The world was expecting a conventional response?

Hank Crumpton: They expected that we would not respond in any meaningful way.

Lara Logan: Weakness?

Hank Crumpton: Weakness. And the enemy thought the U.S. was weak. The last thing they thought is that we would drop commandos, CIA and Special Forces, behind their lines, and we would assume the role of insurgents, and forge these deep alliances with these Afghan tribal leaders, these non-state actors, and in the matter of 90 days subvert and overthrow the Taliban regime and kill large numbers of al Qaeda.

Crumpton fears the return of al Qaeda in force to Afghanistan if the U.S. withdraws too quickly, but he and Cofer Black believe the original American mission changed after the Taliban was defeated.

Cofer Black: My mission was not to ensure that little girls go to school in Afghanistan. My mission was not to establish, you know, a legal system in Afghanistan. Was not my mission. My mission was to destroy al Qaeda. And to do that, we had to overthrow the Taliban.

That mission actually began five years before 9/11. That's when the CIA set up what became Hank Crumpton's special unit tasked with finding Osama bin Laden.

Hank Crumpton: From '98, '99 all the way up to 2001, the warnings were there, the in--

Lara Logan: So through the Clinton administration, to the Bush administration?

Hank Crumpton: Yes, yes. We had extensive human networks in Afghanistan, Afghan sources that had been reporting on al Qaeda, on the presence of bin Laden.

But Crumpton says the Clinton White House didn't trust the CIA's Afghan sources alone and they wanted U.S. eyes on the target.

Hank Crumpton: So we were driven to look at various technical options. And we looked at a range of things. Long-range optics, they were too heavy, too cumbersome to get over the mountains. We looked at balloons. The prevailing winds would take those balloons to China. That would be a bad thing. We scrapped that. And then we stumbled across the UAVs, particularly the Predator. And sure enough, wasn't long before we had the Predator in theater over Afghanistan, the Predator unarmed at the time. And our human sources took us to a village-- far-- not far from Kandahar.

Lara Logan: And what did you see there?

Hank Crumpton: We saw a security detail, a convoy and we saw bin Laden exit the vehicle.

Lara Logan: Clearly?

Hank Crumpton: Clearly. And we had-- the optics were spot on. It was beaming back to us, CIA headquarters. We immediately alerted the White House. And the Clinton administration's response was, "Well, it will take several hours for the TLAMs, the cruise missiles launched from submarines, to reach that objective. So you need to tell us where bin Laden will be five or six hours from now." The frustration was enormous.

Lara Logan: So at that moment you wanted to kill him?