Anderson suspected dreadful news about Jennifer Matthews, his college sweetheart, his wife of 22 years and a CIA operative on assignment almost 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan. With several hours until the CIA meeting, Anderson and his three children — then 12, 9 and 6 — hit the slopes for one more hour. The father wanted to cling a little longer to normalcy, to a life between before and after.
Finally, the Fredericksburg family got into their silver minivan and headed to a nearby motel. There, in a sterile conference room, CIA officials told Anderson the news: His wife, one of the CIA’s top al-Qaeda experts, had just been killed in an explosion at a base in Khost province, in eastern Afghanistan. There was no mention of a double agent, no indication that six other CIA operatives had died in the deadliest attack on agency personnel in decades.
Anderson, who is commenting publicly on the loss of his wife for the first time, was so stunned that he couldn’t formulate questions, except: Are you sure she’s dead?
Then he summoned his children, who were waiting outside.
“I just said to them, ‘Your mom has died.’ The two oldest fell apart. They started crying,” he remembered. “One of them asked, ‘Is this really true?’ I just kind of hugged them. And then the craziness started after that.”
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A Jordanian double agent’s suicide bombing of the CIA base received days of media coverage. The CIA had been tricked into welcoming one of al-Qaeda’s own onto the agency’s base, enabling him to detonate a vest laden with explosives. On television, pundits and agency retirees called the incident a catastrophe, Langley’s “Pearl Harbor.” Initially, commentators did not utter Matthews’s name, but they did describe the Khost base chief as a “mother of three.” Anderson felt that his wife, however anonymously, was bearing all the blame.
Five months after her burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Matthews’s name became public at a CIA ceremony honoring fallen employees.
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Then, in October 2010, the CIA released results of the agency’s internal investigation into the Khost attack, fueling another round of stories that Matthews was partially responsible. Matthews and her team, the report concluded, failed to follow the agency’s procedures for vetting informants. One of Matthews’s severest critics was her uncle, Dave Matthews, a retired CIA official who had helped inspire his niece to join the agency.
Now Anderson and other relatives who once agreed not to speak with the media are breaking their silence to talk about Matthews’s life and death and about how her promotion to a perilous CIA posting has divided them.