Wednesday, December 30, 2009

CIA Agent Elizabeth Hanson

Remember Our Heroes

In a telephone interview, her father, Duane Hanson Jr., said an agency official called several days ago to let him know that his daughter, who he said would have turned 31 next month, had been killed. He knew little of her work, other than that she had been in Afghanistan. “I begged her not to go,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Do you know how dangerous that is? That’s for soldiers.’ ”

Known for her curiosity and chattiness, Elizabeth Hanson saw life as an adventure to be embraced, judging from the quote she chose to run next to her high school yearbook photo in Rockford.

"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end," read the quote, by author Ursula K. LeGuin.

On Thursday, Hanson's family, friends and teachers expressed shock and sadness after learning that the 30-year-old was one of several CIA agents killed Dec. 30 in a suicide bombing while gathering intelligence on al-Qaida at a remote base in the mountains of Afghanistan.

The four CIA agents, along with three American security guards and a Jordanian intelligence officer, died after the bomber had been invited to a meeting, supposedly to pass along important information. Officials said he turned out to be a double agent.

"We're very proud of her," said Hanson's brother, Duane Hanson III, confirming her death to the Associated Press.

In Rockford, where Elizabeth Hanson grew up, her friends and teachers at Keith Country Day School remembered her Thursday as friendly and outgoing. They also expressed surprise at her career.

Her nickname was "Bitsy" and she was voted most talkative girl by her senior class, said her Latin teacher Sherrilyn Martin. Hanson took advanced placement classes, loved tennis and worked on the yearbook. She also was in the Junior Engineering Technical Society, Martin said.

"Even though her journey was short, I certainly hope it was very fulfilling for her," Martin said. "Those who remember her do so with great affection and admiration, both for what she did overseas and what she did while she was here."

After graduating in 1997, Hanson majored in economics and minored in Russian language and literature at Colby College in Maine. She graduated in 2002.

Michael Donihue, an economics professor at Colby, said he was struck by Hanson's intellectual curiosity and desire to understand the world around her.

"She was thoughtful and asked the types of questions that indicate she was thinking beyond the textbook," he said, though he too was surprised by her CIA work.

Just after Sept. 11, 2001, she wrote a thesis titled "Faithless Heathens: Scriptural Economics of Judaism, Christianity and Islam." The paper explored economic principles through the lens of the three religions.

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