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Counter-Terrorism Official Resigns White House Job

June 28, 2002|GREG MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — One of the top counter-terrorism officials in the White House, retired Gen. Wayne A. Downing, resigned suddenly Thursday, just nine months after taking the job.

White House officials offered no explanation for the resignation of Downing, who has also been a leading proponent within the administration of attacking Iraq with a battle plan similar to that employed by the U.S. in Afghanistan.

Downing, who was a four-star Army general, was brought out of retirement after the Sept. 11 attacks last year to serve as deputy national security advisor for combating terrorism.

An administration official said Downing made the decision to leave in part because his family has been living in Colorado, causing him to make a difficult commute since taking the job at the White House in October.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday July 01, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 110 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong photo--A photo in Friday's Section A identifying retired Gen. Wayne A. Downing, who resigned from the White House counter-terrorism office, was Downing's predecessor, Richard A. Clarke.

U.S. officials denied that Downing was frustrated by either disagreements within the administration about Iraq policy or slow movement in following through on President Bush's pledge to push for a regime change in Baghdad.

Before he joined the administration, Downing, working with the Iraqi National Congress, had devised a military strategy to challenge the regime of President Saddam Hussein.

Congressional sources said Downing may have become disenchanted with his job partly because his turf had become crowded with powerful personalities playing often-overlapping roles in the war on terrorism.

Downing's predecessor, Richard Clarke, "was in charge of all counter-terrorism," said an aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee who asked not to be identified.

"Now [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld, Vice President [Dick] Cheney and President Bush are in charge. Downing's job, relatively speaking, is less important," the aide said.

In a written statement, the White House said it "valued Gen. Downing's leadership," and that his work setting up the Office of Combating Terrorism "will serve our country well into the future."

Downing will be succeeded by retired Air Force Gen. John A. Gordon, previously undersecretary for nuclear security at the Department of Energy.

Before his post at the Energy Department, Gordon was deputy director of intelligence at the CIA. From 1989 to 1993, he served on the National Security Council staff of the first President Bush.

Downing's departure could alter the balance in one of the most contentious debates within the administration: when and how to launch a military strike against Hussein.

Downing was one of the most vocal advocates of a limited deployment of troops, arguing that the U.S. could topple Hussein by supporting existing Iraqi opposition groups with a mix of special units and airstrikes.

Recently, Downing was said to be heading an effort to identify groups that could lead Iraq if Hussein's regime were ousted.

But the so-called Downing plan has faced dug-in opposition from many uniformed leaders at the Pentagon.

Downing's faith in the capabilities of special forces stems from a military career in which he ascended from West Point graduate to Army commando to commander of U.S. Special Operations forces.

*

Times staff writer Robin Wright contributed to this story.

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