INTERVIEW WITH FRANK ANDERSON - AUGUST 1997
INTERVIEWER: Both in a regional sense why was Afghanistan important to US interests during the 80s and late 70s?
FRANK ANDERSON: I'm not certain that in a global sense, I don't think geopolitically Afghanistan was crucial to the West or crucial to the way the cold war went. The idea that the Russians were gonna move south and somehow gain access to a warm water port, or that they would continue linking up through India was never I think a great threat. The real issue was whether or not we could inflict a defeat on the red army. And I think that was strategically important in the sense that by 1985 there were very few people inside the Soviet Union that were not fully aware that the system was a failure. They knew that their lives were just very very poor. And it was no longer possible for them, not only very poor, their lives were getting worse. 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. And in the end what happened in Afghanistan was that that lie was exposed and so that while I don't believe that it became a strategic objective or a key part of American policy thinking until very late in the war in Afghanistan, 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.
INTERVIEWER: I mean what did you feel about Soviet influence in Afghanistan in the years leading up to the invasion? What did you think that the Soviets long-term plans were?
FRANK ANDERSON: I have to admit to you that I, I didn't give much thought to Soviet long term plans up until, the time of the invasion. It was, it was a classic on the edges of the Soviet Empire situation, or activity. It was a government that swung back and forth between being pro-west and pro-soviet, it was a kind of competition that was sometimes, no, that was often carried on around the world, usually with the outcome unclear. And it was the sort of thing that both sides just did, probably not giving much clear thought to what the strategic intentions were.
INTERVIEWER: I mean what was the extent of CIA activity in Afghanistan, sort of pre-April revolution?
FRANK ANDERSON: I'm not ducking the question, I truly don't know.
INTERVIEWER: Alright, sorry I mean I know it's not very much what I wanna say is Afghanistan didn't really figure in anybody's thinking that is really what I am trying to say.
FRANK ANDERSON: it's cold-blooded and perhaps rude, but Bob Gates at one point was asked about the strategic importance of Afghanistan after the Soviets were kicked out and he did it for both comic and dramatic effect but his answer was then "It will go back to being the same piss ant country it was before the Soviets invaded it."
INTERVIEWER: I mean how did you read Soviet involvement in events such as the April revolution in 78 and the rise of Amin?
FRANK ANDERSON: I think I'm going to back out, I'm the wrong guy to ask the question on this, but it falls into this category of things: "The soviets were involved in the April revolution, the Soviets were trying to install you can either call them puppets you can call the people would be inclined to cooperate with them. But they were trying to, some people would pursue or protect their interests everywhere. And we in turn were attempting to either prevent or oppose that not everywhere most places, by the late 70s there wasn't a lot of time, energy or money to do a lot of that, and as a result, I think the rest of the world was not terribly interested or involved in the things that went on in Afghanistan in the years before the actual invasion.
INTERVIEWER: I mean how did you know about Soviet worries that Amin was a CIA agent. Do you think there was any truth in that rumor?
FRANK ANDERSON: I don't think it would be a shocking violation of my secrecy to say that there was no truth in it.
INTERVIEWER: I mean what was the earliest that the US started any kind of communication resistance, but with the resistance forces like the Mujahedin in Afghanistan?
FRANK ANDERSON: Well yeah we were interested in the anti-Soviet, anti-Communist forces in Afghanistan, before the revolution in terms of communication where obviously we were interacting with everybody we could that was on the other side. On our side of this whole conflict in Afghanistan before the invasion.
INTERVIEWER: And what sort of things did you?
FRANK ANDERSON: Well our interests at the time was understanding what they were about. It wasn't until very late that we were providing assistance in propaganda efforts and psychological warfare. We were just not involved in the process or ... we just were not involved in the process or the conflict, before the invasion, we were interested and certainly we were anxious to assist anybody that was going to resist the Soviets or there friends and supporters, but we didn't have the program.
INTERVIEWER: How significant was the death of ambassador Dubbs to US Afghan relations and America's security interests in the region.
FRANK ANDERSON: It was certainly significant to those of us who were in the Foreign Service Community. You know the death of a respected colleague is always something that is more than just painful. You know it has an impact on the way that people view and behave, view events and behave toward them, but I really can't put that on the list of things that, to which you can attribute some significant changes in American policy.
INTERVIEWER: What were the significant changes in policy?
FRANK ANDERSON: I didn't see any significant policy changes following or associated with his death. There were you know tactical policies, there were issues of changes there were procedural changes on how one acted inside Afghanistan there were an effort to find out whether or not this was some kind of horrible accident or if there had been some sort of a plan behind it but none of these things ever reached the threshold, I think of being significant policy influences.
INTERVIEWER: I mean who do you really think was to blame for the death of Dubbs?
FRANK ANDERSON: I don't know
INTERVIEWER: There is always talk about the whole thing being masterminded by the KGB...
FRANK ANDERSON: I think I fall in the cam p of agency officers and probably American foreign service professionals, who before the fall of the Soviet Union tended to underestimate, but not greatly the involvement of the KGB in the terrorist international or in conspiracies, in fact it turned out that we did, we underestimated them, but not greatly and at the time I don't recall being myself, or I don't recall any of the people with whom I was working being truly captured by the idea that this was a KGB plot to kill an American ambassador.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think that events in Iran, with the fall of the Shah altered the strategic importance of Afghanistan?
FRANK ANDERSON: I think the events in Iran certainly absorbed the attention of the United States, you gotta remember that the capture or invasion, kidnapping or whatever you wanna call the taking of the American embassy preceded the invasion of Afghanistan by only a few weeks. And the following year and a half, or so was almost entirely taken up in the United States by the issue of those hostages in Iran. On reflection as I look at the development of American policy, at least that part with which we were involved. It went through an understandable and what has now become sort of a predictable process of recognition that it is there, attempting to involve ourselves in it. Non-violently getting ourselves engaged in supporting propaganda and otherwise providing non lethal support to the resistance, and then slowly and remarkably reluctantly getting to the point where we're involved in providing the means to wage war. I'm not really certain that on reflection I can see that even the direction of that evolution or the timing of the evolution would have been very much different if it hadn't been for Iran because these things do tend to happen slowly tentatively. But there isn't any question that it, that all th1980 we were all very much diverted by Iran.
INTERVIEWER: Wasn't there a fear that the new revolution wouldn't last under the Soviet Union, might back leftist groups or even invade?
FRANK ANDERSON: There was a significant effort in 1980 to prepare for the possibility of the Soviet invasion of Iran. I'm not sure how much my memory is playing tricks but I can't recall that being of great concern. It was a contingency for which people thought they needed to be quite ready but I'm not, I don't recall anybody waking up and saying this is something we really have to worry about taking place.
INTERVIEWER: I mean how do you think the loss of intelligence listening bases in Iran affected the US?
FRANK ANDERSON: Not being an expert on what we were doing related to the Soviet Union, I can't tell you except in the grossest terms that we recovered pretty quickly at that end. The intelligence gap with which I was concerned, and the intelligence gaps that I was very much aware of at the time, was the loss of not just intelligence in the sense that CIA would collect it, but the overall holistic flow of information that we lost, when we lost legitimate presence of the United States in Iran.
INTERVIEWER: I mean what sort of views are floating around the administration in 78/79 with regard to the Soviet intentions in Afghanistan, I mean are we talking about probably the Vance-Brzezinski alliance.
FRANK ANDERSON: : The truth is in 1978 and 79, until the summer of 78/79 I was in Beirut I was paying very little attention to Afghanistan.
INTERVIEWER: I mean in your opinion what was the real motives behind the Soviet Union's invasion.
FRANK ANDERSON: You're going to have access to the people who made the decisions and you are going to have an understanding, I think it's a classic screw up. It was a system that sort of acted in a way that it had learned to act over a half a century and made a colossal blunder.