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Former CIA Officer Michael Hurley (’80) Welcomes Life Without bin Laden

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Michael Hurley (’80)


Michael Hurley (’80), a native of Edina, Minn., began his legal career as a trial attorney in Minneapolis. Today he is the president of his own consulting firm, Team 3i, and lectures on national security and counterterrorism strategy around the world. The 30 years between those two points spanned an exciting career for Hurley, with a significant portion devoted to pursuing Osama bin Laden.

A May 8, 2011, article in the Washington Post describes the part Hurley played in what came to be referred to as simply "the hunt" and his reactions to the recent successful mission in tracking down bin Laden.

Hurley was in his 18th year of a 25-year career with the CIA, having served multiple tours of duty in Western Europe and in various senior management positions, on Sept. 11, 2001. The day after the World Trade Center attacks, he transferred to the CIA’s counterterrorism center and joined a unit focusing exclusively on finding bin Laden. Over the course of late 2001 to mid-2003, he deployed to Afghanistan for three tours of duty, each lasting longer than expected as bin Laden evaded capture.

"He can tell you he had three tours in Afghanistan. I think he had one long, continuous tour in Afghanistan with some leaves at home," said Prof. Fred Morrison, who taught Hurley during his Law School years, in a May 30 Star Tribune article. Missing out on “the day-to-day things that families celebrate” was one of the sacrifices his career demanded, Hurley said, referring to a large extended family in northeast Minneapolis. When Law School classmates called to check on him after the 9/11 attacks, some wished there were some way they could contribute. "I had the chance to be involved in some way, and I really felt like I was representing my family, my dad and my mom," Hurley said. His father passed away during his second Afghanistan deployment, but after a short leave home, Hurley was back on duty. Early in his career it became obvious: "He wanted to do public service," said classmate U.S. District Judge John R. Tunheim (’80) in the Star Tribune article.

When his last tour in Afghanistan ended in May 2003, Hurley returned to his home in Falls Church, Va., and joined the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission) as senior counsel. He directed a team investigating the counterterrorism policies and decision making of the Clinton and Bush administrations in response to the growing threat of al Qaeda in the years before the 9/11 attacks. His team interviewed more than 200 U.S. government officers, including the highest officials of both administrations, and reviewed more than 250,000 classified documents. He co-authored an account of the Commission’s investigations and findings, The 9/11 Commission Report published in 2004, which quickly became a national bestseller.

Hurley was a senior official on the ground in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo when the United States intervened in those troubled areas between 1994 and 2000. He served on the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House twice, in 1998-99 and again in 2000, as director of Southeast European Affairs, with responsibilities for coordinating U.S. and NATO policies on Kosovo and Bosnia. During his first NSC assignment, Hurley worked closely with David Wippman, who at the time directed the Council’s Office of Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs, working on U.N. political issues and U.S. war crime policy. In September 2008, the two were together again as Hurley delivered the keynote address at Wippman’s installation as Dean of the Law School.

During his storied career Hurley, who is fluent in French and Spanish, has been a special advisor on counterterrorism to the Special Envoy for Middle East Regional Security, focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He also has been a senior advisor on counterterrorism to the U.S. State Department and a special advisor to the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative and its founders, former Senator Sam Nunn and CNN founder Ted Turner.

"Remarkable" was Hurley’s understated response when asked in a May 13 telephone interview on the Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) Midday program for his thoughts on hearing the news of the final hunt for bin Laden. A mission such as that accomplished by Seal Team 6 in Pakistan is extremely complex and perilous, he explained. The team had extensive training and advanced preparations, but flying at night, the terrain, the dust, and other factors present serious dangers. "So many things can go wrong in these complicated operations with so many moving parts," Hurley said.

When asked in the MPR interview how bin Laden was found, Hurley said U.S. intelligence agencies developed the pieces and assembled the puzzle. Despite a $25 million bounty on bin Laden, no informant stepped forward to reveal his location. It appears that even after he went into hiding, Hurley said, bin Laden continued to plan terrorist operations through the al Qaeda network, including attacks on U.S. train hubs and multiple small-scale “swarming attacks” in other locations. Hurley said that when he heard of the successful mission, his thoughts went to the families of those who died on 9/11 and the families of CIA officers killed in Afghanistan.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, Hurley said in the Washington Post article, he’d had bin Laden on his mind to at least a small degree almost every day. "Maybe now I won’t have to."

Read the Washington Post article.

Read the Star Tribune article.

Hear the MPR interview.