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State

CIA agent killed was from Rockford

This 1997 photo released Thursday by Keith Country Day School shows Elizabeth Hanson.
This 1997 photo released Thursday by Keith Country Day School shows Elizabeth Hanson.

CHICAGO – As a high school student, Elizabeth Hanson chose an inspiring quote about life's journey to run with her photo in the yearbook. She possibly never dreamed her path someday would take her from Rockford to a remote base near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where she worked for the CIA.

Hanson, 30, was among seven CIA employees who died Dec. 30 after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device. Her brother confirmed her death to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Duane Hanson III of Rockford said the family plans to issue a statement soon about his sister, his only sibling. Until then, he said only that she was born and raised in Rockford, wasn't married or engaged, and that the family hasn't yet planned a memorial service. He said it would be a private service.

"We're very proud of her," he said.

Teachers at Keith Country Day School in Rockford remembered Elizabeth Hanson as a bright, engaging and outgoing high school student who sometimes talked about wanting to go into international relations. Hanson graduated from the private, college prep school in 1997.

Her high school Latin teacher, Sherrilyn Martin, remembered Hanson as easygoing and friendly, and very serious about academics.

"She was a very good, steady student who was always looking for academic challenges," Martin said. For the yearbook, Hanson's classmates voted her "most talkative," Martin said, "which is not what you think of for a CIA agent, but she was a teenager then."

A quote Hanson chose to run with her class photo was from novelist Ursula K. LeGuin: "It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end."

She attended Maine's Colby College at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, an event that may have helped shape her career path. The attacks prompted Hanson, an economics major, to review the relationship between religion and economics in her senior year.

Her provocatively titled effort, "Faithless Heathens: Scriptural Economics of Judaism, Christianity and Islam," picked up threads from Christianity's Bible, Judaism's Torah and Islam's Quran, and examined the major monotheistic religions' approach toward economics.

Hanson wasn't a typical economics student who viewed her degree as a ticket to a lucrative job in the financial sector, said Michael Donihue, a professor who oversaw her independent study project, similar to a senior thesis.

"There are some who come into economics because they're interested in making money," he said. "Others want to look at the world in a different way."

Donihue said he was surprised to learn she was working in Afghanistan.

"She wasn't the superstar student that you'd get in a textbook sense but she had an intellectual curiosity and this interest in looking beyond the textbook," he said. "She wasn't very interested in the raw data, but the behaviors behind it."

Hanson, along with the other CIA employees, died at the remote base in Khost. A federal law enforcement official said the bomber entered the base by car and detonated a powerful explosive just outside the base's gym, where CIA operatives and others had gathered.

The bomber, a Jordanian doctor identified as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, was a double agent who had been considered a key asset. He had been invited inside the base because he was offering supposed information about al-Qaida's second-in-command, presumed to be hiding in Pakistan.

The attack was a major blow to the CIA in Afghanistan. The bomber killed the CIA base chief in Khost and wounded the Kabul deputy station chief. The base chief, a 45-year-old woman with three small children, was a member of a former unit known as Alec Station created before the Sept. 11 attacks to track down Osama bin Laden.

Former intelligence officials said the base chief had a vast knowledge of al-Qaida. Her family declined to comment Thursday.

Six other CIA employees were wounded in the attack, and a Jordanian intelligence officer handling the double agent also was killed.

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