CIA agent killed
It has been a difficult winter season for the College community with the loss of alumna Elizabeth Hanson '02, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) specialist whose passing has attracted national attention.
On December 30, 2009, Hanson was one of seven CIA operatives killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan. Hanson, described as "soft-spoken" by her professors, hailed from Rockford, Ill. and analyzed the approaches of the world's major monotheistic religions towards economics in her senior thesis, "Faithless Heathens: Scriptural Economics of Judaism, Christianity and Islam."
In a January 7 article written by the Associated Press, Professor of Economics, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Dean of Faculty Michael Donihue '79 said, "She was a thoughtful person; she had an intellectual curiosity and this interest in looking beyond the textbook." In that same article Donihue was quoted as saying, "There are some who come into economics because they're interested in making money...others want to look at the world in a different way."
It was precisely that interest in going beyond the classroom that took Hanson from the classrooms of Mayflower Hill to the forefront of a landscape shaping our history and our contemporary political climate. Many involved in Hanson's life were surprised to hear that the mild-mannered economics major had been involved in CIA counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East. Her death revealed both a life made secretive by necessity and the human value that people like Hanson have contributed to the renowned government agency.
The suicide bombing took place at remote Forward Operating Base (FOB) Chapman in the Afghan province of Khost, located near the country's border with Pakistan. The bomber, a Jordanian double agent named Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, entered the base by car and detonated explosives shortly after. He was entering the base to provide invaluable information about a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader who was thought to be hiding in Pakistan.
A January 7 New York Times article reported that Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks as "revenge for the killings of a number of top militant leaders in CIA drone attacks." The result of the attack was the end of an important intelligence team whose priority was to compile information on local militant networks in order to devise missions that would take out the networks' top leaders. In a letter to the CIA, President Barack Obama wrote, "Your triumphs and even your names may be unknown to your fellow Americans, but your service is deeply appreciated." It has been widely recognized that the loss of life at FOB Chapman took a great toll on the intelligence community due to the large body of information gathered by operatives like Hanson.
It is clear that the reach of the College has expanded from Waterville to the world, traveling across the globe with graduates as they forge their own paths in the real world. As a result, an event in the remote mountains of Afghanistan has come back to the Hill, causing both shock and sadness. While spring may come soon enough for Hanson's family and friends, the Hanson family has established The Elizabeth Hanson Scholarship Fund, adhering to a wish in her will, "in honor of Elizabeth's life...and to benefit Colby students."
The fund is a celebration of a colorful life cut short by violence, and allows Hanson to continue to better the world even after her death. Donations are being accepted online through the College website and via mail.
Hanson's brother, Duane Hanson III echoed the sentiments of many when he said to the Associated Press, "We're very proud of her." Indeed, Hanson's legacy has inspired many both on and off the Hill, and the hope of those who knew her is that the scholarship fund will keep her memory alive.