Frank Anderson, former spy who supplied Afghan insurgents, dies at 78

Frank Anderson, an American spymaster who oversaw the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert mission to funnel weapons and other support to Afghan insurgents fighting their Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, died Jan. 27 in Sarasota, Fla. He was 78.

The cause was a stroke, his wife, Donna Eby Anderson, said. Mr. Anderson lived in Sarasota and had been in hospice care.

During his nearly 27 years with the CIA, Mr. Anderson became the ranking American clandestine officer in the Arab world. He served as Beirut station chief; was promoted to chief of the Near East and South Asia division of the agency’s Directorate of Operations, its covert branch; and directed the agency’s technical services division, a role similar to that of James Bond’s “Q.”


Among his missions was, as head of the CIA’s Afghan task force in the late 1980s, to supply weapons to the mujahedeen, the anti-Communist Muslim fighters who resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
A look at the news and events shaping the day ahead, delivered every weekday.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The Soviets invaded in December 1979, setting off a nine-year Cold War proxy struggle that left as many as a million Afghan civilians and tens of thousands of troops and insurgents dead. It ended with the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, the year the Soviet Union collapsed.

The withdrawal left a vacuum and ignited a civil war with the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist political movement, that has raged for decades.

“The one lie that they could continue telling themselves was that all this was somehow worth it, because at least the military structure was intact and they were defending the socialist motherland,” Mr. Anderson said of the Soviet Union in an interview with the National Security Archive for CNN in 1997.

“What happened in Afghanistan was that that lie was exposed,” Mr. Anderson continued, and “the real strategic issue there was that by inflicting that defeat on the Red Army, we really did hasten the fall of an evil empire.”


Mr. Anderson also served three tours as station chief in Middle East countries, where his responsibilities included the oversight of a high-level informant within the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Around 1970, Robert Ames, a CIA agent, had opened a back channel to the informant, Ali Hassan Salameh, who headed the personal security force and counterintelligence unit under Yasir Arafat, the PLO chairman. Their covert contact was politically sensitive, to say the least: The PLO was classified as a violent guerrilla group, and Salameh was a self-proclaimed terrorist.

“Anderson believed the CIA, through its careful cultivation of clandestine sources, had created the opportunity for the Oslo Accords,” Kai Bird wrote in “The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames” (2014), and had “brought the Palestinians in from the cold.”

The Oslo agreement called for an interim Palestinian government in Gaza and Jericho in the West Bank and eventual Israeli withdrawal. But the process collapsed after terror attacks against Israel resumed and Israelis continued to establish settlements in the West Bank.

After Salameh was killed in 1979 by Israeli intelligence, Mr. Anderson wrote to Salameh’s eldest son: “At your age, I lost my father. Today, I lost a friend whom I respected more than other men. From the memory of my past loss, and from the pain of today, I share your pain. I promise to honor your father’s memory — and to stand ready to be your friend.”


The condolence note was signed, “A friend.”

In 1993, as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and Arafat were signing a peace accord at the White House, Mr. Anderson discreetly staged his own ceremony.

He commandeered a bus at CIA headquarters and took dozens of newly minted officers and analysts to Arlington National Cemetery to pay homage to Ames, who had been killed in a truck bomb attack on the US Embassy in Beirut in 1983.

Another Ames, Aldrich (no relation), later led to Mr. Anderson’s demotion and departure from the agency.

Aldrich Ames was arrested in 1994 as an agency mole for Moscow. That October, R. James Woolsey, the director of central intelligence, severely reprimanded Ames’s supervisor, Milton Bearden, for serious failures during two stints in that role.

The next day, Mr. Anderson and John MacGaffin, who was second in command of covert operators, bestowed an official award on Bearden for outstanding work on the Afghan operation in the 1980s, when he was the station chief in neighboring Pakistan.

Woolsey was furious. Mr. Anderson and MacGaffin were ordered reassigned, a penalty more severe than any meted out to the officials who supervised Ames. They retired rather than accept their reassignments.

Frank Ray Anderson was born on Feb. 1, 1942, in Chicago. His father, also Frank, owned a bar and died when his son was 14. His mother, Dorothy (Ray) Anderson, worked for a radio manufacturer.

After serving in the Army domestically and in South Korea from 1959 to 1962, Mr. Anderson earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in Chicago and graduated from the Foreign Service Institute’s School of Arab Language and Middle East Area Studies in Beirut.

His first two marriages, to Dorothy Kaehn and Barbara Virginia Krieps, ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Donna (Eby) Anderson; two sons from his first marriage, Frank Jr. and Mark; a daughter from his second marriage, Amy Anderson; a son, John, from his marriage to Eby; 13 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.