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Obituaries

Wayne A. Downing, 67; Army general was a prominent advisor on terrorism

July 19, 2007|Adam Bernstein | Washington Post

Wayne A. Downing, an Army four-star general and special operations commander who became a prominent terrorism advisor to the U.S. government, died of bacterial meningitis Wednesday at Proctor Hospital in Peoria, Ill. He was 67.

Downing was briefly among President Bush's top counterterrorism advisors after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Since 2003, he was chairman of the Combating Terrorism Center, an education and public policy institute at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

Downing was a 34-year Army veteran, and his last active-duty assignment was as commander in chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Fla., in 1996. After his military retirement, he emerged as a more public figure when he became deeply involved in terrorism task forces and committees.

Bruce Hoffman, an authority on terrorism studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., said Downing "recognized the transition of terrorism from a tactical threat to a strategic challenge, a sustained campaign in the shadows."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 20, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Wayne Downing: The obituary of retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing in Thursday's California section incorrectly stated that one of his daughters lives in Clifton, Md. She lives in Clifton, Va.

"He did not just understand threats, but also the application of force and the limitations and potentiality of force to combat terrorism," Hoffman said.

Downing oversaw the 40-member team that investigated the June 1996 truck-bomb attack that killed 19 U.S. servicemen and one Saudi and wounded 372 other people at Khobar Towers, a U.S. military housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

The report blamed the entire military chain of command, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Downing's final report highlighted many other factors, such as the widespread and continuing vulnerability of U.S. personnel and facilities abroad and the need for regular security tests.

The report also identified a lack of understanding about the nature of the threat -- persistent, no longer intermittent -- by those who have "begun an undeclared war on the United States."

That factor became a constant theme for Downing. On Sept. 12, 2001, he told ABC News: "The paradigm has changed. And this isn't going to be over in a month or two months or six months. But this may well take years."

Within a few months, the White House named him deputy national security advisor for combating terrorism. Downing served less than a year in the job, apparently dissatisfied by a series of losing bureaucratic struggles. Chief among them was his recommended approach to the war in Iraq.

Downing favored the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and his recommendation was to mimic the path that succeeded in deposing the Taliban in Afghanistan -- a limited deployment with U.S. special forces accompanying Iraqi exiles and rebels, and backing them with U.S. air power.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff rejected his plan in favor of one that would bring hundreds of thousands of military personnel to the region.

Wayne Allan Downing was born May 10, 1940, in Peoria. His father was killed while serving with the Army's 9th Armored Division in Europe during World War II.

Downing was a 1962 West Point graduate, served two tours of duty during the Vietnam War and received a master's degree in business administration from Tulane University in 1971.

A former Ranger regiment leader, he commanded the special operations of all services during the 1989 invasion of Panama that led to the surrender of then-President Manuel Noriega.

A few years later, he oversaw a joint special operations task force that destroyed Iraqi Scud missile sites behind enemy lines during the Persian Gulf War.

His military decorations include two Distinguished Service Medals, two Silver Stars, four Legions of Merit and the Purple Heart. He also received West Point's 2006 distinguished graduate award.

Survivors include his wife of 12 years, Kathryn Bickerman Downing of Peoria; two daughters from his first marriage to Linda Chester Downing, Elizabeth Revell of Clifton, Md., and Laura Downing of Brooklyn, N.Y.; six stepchildren; his mother, Eileen Downing of Peoria; a sister; and four grandchildren.

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