Gen. Wayne Downing has died.
From a 2001 Washington Post profile:
Wayne Downing is the most famous terrorism fighter you’ve never heard of. Less than a month after the Sept. 11 attacks, he shelved his semi-retirement to coordinate the nation’s far-flung campaign “to detect, disrupt and destroy global terrorist organizations and those who support them,” as the White House put it. He has the president’s ear — but whatever he’s saying is not for public consumption. Even the size of his staff has been deemed a national security secret.
As a young Ranger, Downing, now 61, learned to stalk the enemy at night and capture rattlesnakes for food. In 34 years he rose through the ranks to command all special operations troops, including the clandestine Delta Force commandos whose close-quarter tactics are vital in places like Afghanistan. Battle-tested in Vietnam, Panama and the Persian Gulf, Downing is revered among the elite soldiers who call themselves “the quiet professionals.”
He reports to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge. He has more experience with terrorism than either of them. His unwieldy title is national director and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. Those who admire Downing would suggest a more concise one: the president’s secret weapon.
“They brought him in because he knows how to get things done,” says L. Paul Bremer, the State Department’s ambassador at large for counterterrorism during the Reagan administration. “The bureaucracy very often needs a very good kick in the pants. He’s going to have to crack some heads together.”
“He has a tremendous network,” says former Defense Intelligence Agency director James R. Clapper Jr. “I am kind of the president of the Wayne Downing Fan Club.”
“He is an icon in the special operations world,” says Andrew Levene, a former Ranger sergeant who served under Downing’s command. “He is the consummate warrior. He is the guy who will say, ‘We have to hunt these people down and kill ‘em.’ ”
“If you called Central Casting you couldn’t find a better person to fill this job,” says Jim Kimsey, Downing’s friend for more than 40 years. A fellow West Point grad and Ranger, Kimsey left the Army after eight years and went on to co-found America Online.
“Wayne stuck it out, thank God for us all,” he says, “and went on to be our head snake eater.”