Matthew Gannon

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Person.png Matthew Gannon  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Matthew Gannon.jpg
BornMatthew Kevin Gannon
11 August 1954
DiedDecember 21, 1988 (Age 34)
Lockerbie, Scotland
Cause of death
Pan Am Flight 103
Alma materUniversity of Southern California
SpouseSusan Twetten
Victim of • Pan Am Flight 103
• murder
CIA officer killed in the Lockerbie Bombing

Matthew Gannon was a CIA officer killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on 21 December 1988.[1]

Gannon was an Arabist who spent much of his career serving in the Middle East. He married Susan Twetten, daughter of Thomas Twetten (later Deputy Director of Operations at CIA).

During his career, Matt mastered the Arabic language and had a solid grasp of Arab culture. He also succeeded in recruiting an asset in one of the most notorious international terrorist organisations.[2]

Early life

Matthew Gannon spent the majority of his childhood in San Juan Capistrano, California. He was the eighth of ten children from a devoutly Catholic family. During high school Matt worked for a local farm, setting up irrigation lines, planting crops, plowing and cultivating the land, and transporting fruit and vegetables to local markets. He also worked as a restaurant waiter. On weekends and in summers he served as assistant manager at the Mission San Juan Capistrano performing administrative and maintenance duties. He graduated in 1972 from St Michael’s Preparatory High School in Orange County.

USC graduate

Matthew Gannon attended the University of Southern California (USC), graduating in 1976 with a degree in International Relations. He spent his senior year studying abroad, mostly in Europe and the Middle East, and deepened his already strong interest in Arab culture, religion, and politics.

Gannon quickly landed his first professional-level job in July 1976 as a trainee loan manager with Nationwide Financial Corporation. At Nationwide, he underwent an intensive training program while also carrying out a wide array of administrative support duties. Not long after beginning his bank job, however, Matt became interested in the CIA — influenced, no doubt, by his brother, a US State Department employee. Matt saw the Agency as an opportunity to further develop and apply his Arabic and Middle East area studies.

CIA operative

Matthew Gannon joined the CIA in May 1977 and was soon accepted into the Career Trainee Program (now known as the Clandestine Service Trainee Program) as a junior Operations Officer. He successfully completed all phases of this highly challenging training regimen.

Gannon continued his Arabic language study and was rated as an “exceptional” student. He tested at the 2+ and 3 levels (5 represents native speakers) for speaking and understanding a foreign language — no small feat for someone who had less than two years of formal study of this difficult language. He was assigned to the Near East Division and began working on several assignments in the Middle East. He was popular amongst his colleagues and managers and was known for his quick mind, language ability, and rapidly advancing operational skills. He even helped with several sensitive and successful clandestine operations in a hostile environment.

Gannon’s next Mideast assignment began in September 1981, where senior Station managers observed that he had come into his own as an operations officer. He orchestrated a complicated scenario involving the handling of many agents. He also continued to recruit assets, and he worked effectively against hard targets, all while handling a full-time job. Gannon was transferred in October 1984 to a small but active station in the Middle East. In the semi-hostile environment that prevailed at that time, his recruitments soon were providing three-quarters of the Station’s reporting. In a highly unusual development, Matt received a special achievement award from his management for outstanding performance of his full-time job duties.

Matthew Gannon came back to Washington DC in May 1987, serving in the Counterterrorism Center as a deputy branch chief working against terrorist groups. As an Arabist by training with nearly a decade of experience working on the Mideast, he was a major asset to the Center. He had mastered the key elements of the Arabic language and had a solid grasp of Arab culture. He had also succeeded in recruiting an asset in one of the most notorious international terrorist organisations. For four months during this assignment, Gannon also served as acting chief of the branch, where he was an effective and popular manager and leader.

Final mission

What turned out to be Matthew Gannon’s last assignment, in the late fall of 1988, was important, sensitive, and risky. As one of only a handful of case officers who possessed the language and operational skills required for this assignment, he agreed to fill in temporarily in a hectic position in Beirut, Lebanon. Soon after his arrival, he produced 24 intelligence reports in as many days.

By late December 1988, Gannon had been in the Middle East for several challenging weeks and was eager to come home for Christmas to spend time with his wife and two children. He had made flight reservations that would put him back in Washington by the 22nd December 1988. Gannon spent a good part of his last day at the Station scurrying around Beirut to purchase local wine as gifts for colleagues who helped him during his TDY assignment. By December 21, he had traveled from the Station, through several countries, and had finally arrived in the United Kingdom. In London that day, he boarded Pan Am Flight 103 for the last leg of his journey home to America.

On the evening of 21 December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103, a Boeing 747, took off from London headed for New York City. As it was climbing on its northerly flight path and was nearing 30,000 feet in altitude, the aircraft exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, when a terrorist bomb ripped the fuselage apart. The explosion scattered wreckage and remains over the nearby hillsides and in the village below. All 259 passengers and crew members, and 11 people on the ground were killed.[3]


Matthew Gannon is buried in Arlington National Cemetery and honoured with a star on the CIA Memorial Wall. His wife and two children survived him.

In May 2012, the CIA officially confirmed that Gannon was a CIA officer.[4]


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Lockerbie LiesArticle22 December 2017Steven WalkerThe Lockerbie bombing remains a text book case of a terrible tragedy causing considerable pain and suffering to relatives whose search for answers and clarification about why and how their loved ones died have taken second place to geo-political manoeuvres, deliberate meddling in legal processes, and the murky world of secret service wheeling and dealing on behalf of governments with no respect for human decency.


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