Dave Matthews brought up the obvious: “I said, ‘You have your children,’ and she said, ‘I would never put myself at risk because of the kids.’ ”
He suggested that she was just doing it to climb the agency ladder and make more money — a remark that offended her. He urged her to resign rather than go to Afghanistan.
“I said, ‘These people over there are ruthless. Here you are, a Christian woman, killing their heroes. Everything’s wrong about it, Jenny,’ ” the uncle recalled. “She took offense at any suggestion that a female can’t do what a male can do.”
Anderson also thought that the arguments were sexist and that his wife would be safe.
“ ‘It’s her decision,’ ” the uncle recalled Anderson saying. “They thought God would protect her.”
* * *
On Dec. 30, 2009, Matthews and six other CIA operatives at Forward Operating Base Chapman were waiting for Humam Khalil al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor who they believed had infiltrated al-Qaeda’s upper ranks. Balawi had been sending tantalizing video of the cell’s leaders. The CIA thought Balawi might ultimately lead the agency to bin Laden, the world’s No. 1 wanted man.
The CIA arranged for Balawi to be driven to its Khost base for a secret debriefing with several agency officers, including Matthews. She and her team were so eager to meet Balawi that they arrayed themselves in front of his car to greet him.
Balawi, sitting in the back, climbed out and yelled to Allah. Then Balawi, who was wearing a vest laden with C-4 explosives, hit the detonator. A flash lit up the base as the explosion unleashed bits of shrapnel and ball bearings. Shrapnel tore through Matthews’s neck, and one of her legs was so badly burned the bone was exposed, according to “The Triple Agent.”
She died in a helicopter on the way to a hospital. Six other CIA employees and contractors also were killed: Elizabeth Hanson, Darren LaBonte, Scott Michael Roberson, Dane Clark Paresi, Jeremy Wise and Harold Brown Jr.
* * *
Anderson is grateful to the CIA for etching his wife’s name in the legendary Book of Honor on display in the agency’s main lobby. He appreciates that then-CIA Director Leon E. Panetta attended her memorial service and her graveside service at Arlington National Cemetery, where the spymaster handed Anderson an American flag.
But he is critical of the CIA for being so easily seduced by Balawi, who was discovered in 2008 writing screeds on jihadist Web sites. He was arrested and supposedly turned by the Jordanian spy agency in mere days. The CIA joined in handling him.
“When you look at the history of this guy, he was flipped in a matter of days, which is ridiculous,” Anderson said. “Why wasn’t he checked in transit to the base?”
Anderson was even more baffled after he learned that LaBonte, one of the CIA officers killed in the attack, was sounding alarms about Balawi’s trustworthiness before the Khost meeting.
“Why couldn’t he convince Jennifer that they shouldn’t let this guy on the base without being searched?” Anderson said, adding that he hesitates to blame LaBonte, either. “This stuff should have gone back to headquarters, and someone should have made a call.”
Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador who helped conduct the independent review of the attack, said, “We don’t know if Darren ever articulated his concerns in a cohesive way.” But Pickering also said that circumstantial evidence suggested that Matthews did not heed her security officer’s warnings not to greet Balawi with too many people — a breach of long-standing tradecraft.
Anderson tires of the postmortem attacks on his wife. He was especially incensed by former CIA operative Robert Baer’s piece in GQ magazine. Baer used a pseudonym — “Kathy” — for Matthews but asserted that she was “set up to fail” and “in over her head.”
“It was just mean,” Anderson said. “It was like, ‘Girls can’t do this stuff.’ ”
Anderson and Dave Matthews haven’t spoken since shortly after her death. “About a week before the funeral, Dave said she didn’t know what she was doing. And this was her fault. I was like, ‘Okay, we’re done,’ ” Anderson said.
Dave Matthews thinks the agency is more culpable than his niece.
“I was saying to Gary that if Jenny followed tradecraft rules, this wouldn’t have happened. And that she wasn’t trained” in how to vet informants, Matthews recalled. “Gary was too supportive. As a husband, he should have fussed with her about going. But he just dismissed me. He said my knowledge was from the Cold War. I said, ‘Jeez, Gary, look at the evidence. How many have to die for you to realize that something went tragically wrong?’ ”
The phone call ended.
Jennifer Matthews’s parents voiced some of the same concerns as her uncle.