Wisdom about Trusting Stories About Dead Guys

Frank Anderson, a senior Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative, died last month.  As his obituaries report (here is one in the New York Times and here is one in the Washington Post), he worked on major matters, including the provision of U.S. covert military aid to the mujahadeen fighting the U.S.S.R. in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Mr. Anderson was a source for author Kai Bird’s excellent book The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames (2014).  Bob Ames was another very important CIA officer during the 1970s and 1980s, until he was killed in the truck bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon in 1983.

Anderson’s NYT obit includes this quote from Bird about advice he received from Anderson as he (Bird) was researching Ames:  “[E]xercise caution with stories that can only be corroborated by dead guys.  Fabricated stories are almost never made up out of whole cloth, but are made by stitching together generally known facts with bits of uncheckable fantasy.”

I think that’s wise.  I try to remember that as I interview people about now-gone persons and then write about their history.

And of course I hope that it’s wisdom that Anderson actually said to Bird.

Mr. Bird is a serious, skilled researcher and writer, so I trust that it is — that’s just a joke.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.