SCAPEGOAT! How Bush Nearly Ruined the FBI
By Cheryl Seal
I've come to have a strong, almost personal feeling for John P. O'Neill, having just spent many hours reading material about him for Smoking Gun Part 3. About 2:00 AM a few nights back as I put the finishing touches on that article, I could almost imagine him - his ghost, anyway - peering over my shoulder with a broad Irish grin, saying, "Tell it like it is, honey! Don't let 'em get away with it!"
Needless to say, I find myself taking a real interest in the whole slam job to which Bush and Co. treated this fine servant of America in his final months on Earth. From all the evidence I have poured over in recent days, it seems to me that when Bush took office, U.S. intelligence was doing a pretty damn good job. Sure, there was the bizarre case of Robert Hanssen, but his case was an EXCEPTION, not the rule in the U.S. intelligence community (of course, to this day, I wonder if the Hanssen case is all it was made to appear, given the timing of the revelations to the press).
Throughout the 1990s, as terrorism grew throughout the world, U.S. intelligence managed to be one step ahead of terrorists, or at least to keep pace with their devious efforts. Thus, thanks to the vigilance of the FBI and NSA, the U.S. Olympics of 1996, seriously threatened by terrorism sustained just one fatality. A few years earlier, an attempt to blow up multiple airlines in 1994 was derailed before it ever got off the ground, as was an attack on CIA headquarters and the Pentagon. In short, there have been many would-be tragedies that never happened thanks to a system that worked remarkably well, given the well-funded and ambitious nature of the terrorists.
The lapses in security before 9/11 - the USS Cole as the major case in point - seemed more to do with the failure of those in "high places" to heed intelligence reports (see Smoking Gun 3) than it did with lack of timely intelligence information. John O'Neill, Louis Freeh and others were becoming seasoned experts in monitoring and tracking Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. The NSA was becoming seasoned in the use of the Echelon communications monitoring system and building a team of experienced encyrption system crackers. In short, intelligence and security was getting better all the time while Clinton diplomacy was slowly beginning to defuse tensions on the international political scene.
So, in comes Bush, breaking treaties, fomenting international tensions, plotting ways to increase his power and scheming to lay claim to Central Asia and its bounty of oil and gas - all while keeping his corporate pals, and his Dad's corporate pals - a list that included the name Bin Laden - happy. In the FBI, Bush saw the perfect collective fall guy. From the time G. W. took office until the present, the FBI has taken a constant beating, not just as Bush's personal scapegoat and smokescreen from the public and press but in its internal affairs.
Under Bush, being a damn good investigator quickly became a liability, especially if your area of expertise happened to be Al Qaeda. In short, it was no longer what you knew, but WHO you knew - or to be more blunt- whose ass you were willing to kiss - that mattered. Though I have no doubt competitive manuvering and office politics have always been unpleasant aspects of life at the FBI, as at any high-profile and/or federal agency, these issues seemed, overall, to take a back seat to the meaning of the job itself before Bush. A high percentage of the folks in the FBI are there truly for the job description. O'Neill, for one, said he got into this line of work because he loved America and had been inspired by classic agency heroes like Efrem Zimbalist's character in the old FBI TV show.
But after January 2001, at least in some highly critical areas of the bureau, politics began to stir - and muddy - the waters like spring overturn in a pond. While Bush mouthed to the press that he supported FBI director Louis Freeh, he allowed his minions in the press and bureau to wage a shameless smear campaign against Freeh. Freeh finally handed in the towel and quit in May - just about the time the terrorist warnings had become to flow in pretty regularly. In July, O'Neill was barred from returning to Yemen (which is not far from Dubai) to investigate the Cole disaster - most likely because he was convinced Bin Laden was reponsible and was determined to get at the truth.
Four days after O'Neill was blocked from the investigation, Arizona agent Kenneth Williams reported the suspicious activity of an Arab student in a flight school. O'Neill passed the memo on, but both Williams and O'Neill were ignored by those above them - those closest to the political center. Two days after Williams turned in his to-be-ignored report, Bin Laden was flown to an American hospital in Dubai for medical treatment and visited by CIA agent Larry Mitchell. In August, a field agent in Minnesota, trying to do her job, reported Zaccarias Moussaoui as highly suspicious, but was hamstrung from following through properly. Games were now being played almost fulltime; Bush was not about to allow a little thing like the safety of the American public interfere with his touch and go negotiations with the Taliban over an oil pipeline through Afghanistan.
In despair, O'Neill reached out to a fellow intelligence expert - one who was not under the thumb of the Bush administration. In meetings with French intelligence analyst Jean-Charles Brisard in June and July, O"Neill said that oil was getting in the way of any serious investigation of Bin Laden, whom, O'Neill feared, would strike again and strike harder than he ever had before. Brisard later dedicated the book he co-authored with Jacques Dasquie "The Forbidden Truth."
Dick Clarke knew O'Neill was a good man - that he was, in fact, just the man America needed right then as if confronted a threat from Al Qaeda greater than any yet posed. When Clarke decided to step down from his position as terrorism czar at the National Security Council, it was O'Neill he wanted to name as his successor. The position would have placed O'Neill in that inner circle, at the perimeter of which all memos, all warnings seem to disappear as if being sucked over an event horizon and into a black hole. However, it immediately became very clear no one wanted O'Neill anywhere near this center of decision making.
Just as with Freeh, a reason for a smear campaign was found and news of a trumped up "investigation" leaked to the press. It seems that nearly a year before, O'Neill had his brief case stolen at a hotel. The briefcase, which contained some sensitive papers, was recovered, with nothing missing except a cigar lighter. But that August, months after the fact, it was used to "question" O'Neill's fitness for the job. Tom Pickard, at that time hovering eagerly at the perimeter of the inner circle, made it clear to O'Neill he could forget the NSC post. Pickard, a fixture in D.C. with a degree in accounting whose specialty was white collar crime, in the end, was named - unbelievably!- to head the 9/11 and anthrax investigations!
The man who replaced Louis Freeh as FBI director that summer was Robert Mueller, a man whose name was way near the bottom of the list of people the FBI considered best for the job. But Mueller had qualities that put him at the very top of G.W. Bush's list. In the 1980s, Mueller was third in command in the FBI under under George Terwilliger. Mueller apparently put in a lot of overtime working to keep the Iran-Contra scheme under wraps, and then, once things got sticky for Reagan, helped the Dept. of Justice's Domestic Criminal Secition Chief Dave Margolis and International Criminal Section Chief Mark Richards limit liability for Reagan, and then Bush, Sr. According to political watchdog Al Martin, Mueller personally handled damage containment for Bush Sr. during Bush's potentially scandalous dealings with Jordanian coffee merchant Mansour Barbouti. Barbouti was involved in the illegal exportation of chemicals used in chemical weapons to both Iraq and Iran.
So, while on the FBI payroll technically, Mueller appeared to have worked in actuality as a master cover up artist for Republican presidents involved in scheming and intrigues. So...what better man could Bush, involved up to his eyebrows in scheming and intrigues, want? If Mueller could shield Bush, Sr. and Reagan from consequences while just the No. 3 man - just imagine the tracks he could sweep clean as FBI director!
O'Neill, on the other hand, had had enough. He simply quit and went to the WTC to work as chief of security. It was there, trying to help others escape after the planes struck the center, that he was killed. Unlike Bush, his heroics during 9/11 were real and spontaneous - not politically expedient afterthoughts (Bush's photo op at the WTC site nearly a week after the fact.)
So, for the past year, we have been reading headlines like this: FBI BUNGLES INVESTIGATION, FBI MISSES CRITICAL CLUE,: or BUSH ADMINISTRATION CONCERNED BY LOSS OF PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN FBI, when we should have been reading honest headlines like this: BUSH ADMINISTRATION THWARTS FBI AGENTS' EFFORTS....HIGH-RANKING FBI/BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL IGNORES YET ANOTHER FBI WARNING....FBI EFFICIENCY HAMPERED BY UNQUALIFIED APPOINTEES TO TOP POSTS....or maybe FBI FORCED TO CARRY OUT ASSIGNMENTS AGAINST BETTER JUDGEMENT.
But want to know the headline I can't wait to read? FBI DEMANDS ANSWERS FROM THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION.