"After years of investigating Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, John O'Neill came to the conclusion that 'All the answers, everything needed to dismantle Osama bin Laden's organization can be found in Saudi Arabia.' That conviction went with him to his grave. Unfortunately for O'Neill and 3,000 other men and women, at every turn after January 2001, the Bush administration blocked the efforts of the 'most knowledgable agent it had' to investigate Saudi ties to Bin Laden." So writes Cheryl Seal.
SMOKING GUN: The Evidence that May Hang G.W. Bush
John O'Neill: Was He a Casualty of the Bush Administration?
By Cheryl Seal
"No longer is it just the fear of being attacked by international terrorist organizations -- attacks against Americans and American interests overseas. A lot of these groups now have the capability and the support infrastructure in the United States to attack us here if they choose to do so."
-- John P. O'Neill, 1996
Until he resigned in August of 2001, John O'Neill was the director of counterterrorism for the FBI's New York office, not far from the WTC. O'Neill investigated the bombings of the World Trade Centre in 1993, a US base in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-Es-Salaam in 1998, and the USS Cole.
In the course of these investigations, he became one of the world's top experts on Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, determined to hunt Bin Laden and his followers down and bring them to justice. Those who worked with him said he “lived, breathed and ate terrorism.” A scrappy, stubborn Irishman with a quick temper, a fondness for the ladies, and a reputation for being brutally blunt on some occasions, and pushy on others, O'Neill was often frustrated by the button-down boundaries of the modern FBI. But he was one of the best sleuths the agency had – as anyone who worked with him would be quick to acknowledge. U.S. attorney Mary Jo White says this of O’Neill: "John went at it comprehensively, yielding things from people in London or people in Yemen we never otherwise would have gotten." Another admirer, former FBI director Louis Freeh remembers O’Neill as “ the paramount, most knowledgeable agent we had in the FBI, probably in the government, with respect to counterintelligence matters."
After years of investigating OBL and Al Qaeda, O’Neill came to the conclusion that "All the answers, everything needed to dismantle Osama bin Laden's organization can be found in Saudi Arabia." That conviction went with him to his grave. Unfortunately for O’Neill and 3,000 other men and women, at every turn after January 2001, the Bush administration blocked the efforts of the “most knowledgable agent it had” to investigate Saudi ties to Bin Laden.
O’Neill saw through Bush from the start and by the summer of 2001 declared that the main obstacles to investigating Islamic terrorism were U.S. oil corporate interests and the role Saudi Arabia played in furthering those interests. Bush not only thwarted an FBI investigation of the bin Laden family, he kept the specific nature of his family's business ties to the Bin Ladens as secret as Cheney’s energy task force list. A few disturbing facts are known, however. For example, Bin Ladens were investors in the Carlyle Group, the secretive energy-and-arms corporation cofounded by George Bush, Sr.. Carlyle was earlier reputed to have been a major stakeholder in Central Asian oil interests, though they have, not surprisingly, dropped from the foreground in the past year. Bin Laden money was also sunk into George W. Bush's first oil companies. A Bin Laden was involved in BioPort, the company that G.W. Bush granted a federal contract for producing anthrax vaccine, even though the company had failed three FDA inspections. It is hard to imagine, given this cosy history, that O’Neill had much use for the Bush clan. It must have truly enraged him when he learned (as he inevitably must have, given his position inside the intelligence grapevine) that Osama bin Laden had flown to Dubai for 10 days for treatment at the American hospital, where he was visited by local CIA agent Larry Mitchell on July 12.
But let’s backtrack to the year before 9/11, back to the fall of 2000.
In October of 2000, after entering the Port of Aden off the coast of Yemen, the USS Cole was hit by suicide bomber. The blast killed 17 and injured 35 Americans. O’Neill was sent over to investigate, as head of the FBI team. Accompanying O’Neill to Yemen were over 100 FBI agents, laboratory experts and forensics specialists, as well as FBI Director Louis J. Freeh. From the earliest moments of the investigation, O’Neill was sure Bin Laden was responsible. However, from the start, his efforts to work the case were sabotaged by US ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine. Bodine refused to cooperate in the investigation or to encourage Yemenis to cooperate. Despite repeated death threats against agents, she refused to allow them to carry the type of weapons O’Neill considered adequate. O’Neill reportedly called Louis Freeh in the middle of the night once expressing anxiety about the safety of his men. The clash between O’Neill and Bodine went steadily from bad to worse, peaking when Bodine publicly called O’Neill a liar. Incredibly, Bodine claimed that through her actions, she was merely trying to keep diplomatic relations running smoothly.
But a look at Ms. Bodine’s history suggests a very different motivation. Throughout her career, Barbara Bodine has served primarily under rightwing old boys and in areas where the oil interests of said old boys are being furthered. Under Reagan, she served as Deputy Principle Officer in Baghdad, Iraq. Under Bush, Sr., she served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Kuwait and was there during the Gulf War. She has also worked for Bob Dole, and far more ominously, for Henry Kissinger. So, in 2000 we find her in Yemen, and though a Clinton appointee, impeding the Clinton administration’s efforts to conduct an investigation of a crime of terrorism in which the chief suspect is the son of a Bush family business associate (see http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/biography/bodine.html.
What makes Bodine’s actions toward O'Neill particularly indefensible is that there is credible evidence that she herself was to blame, at least in part, for the Cole disaster. Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency counterterrorism analyst, had issued a report before the disaster, warning of the danger of just such an attack in Yemen. As it turned out, the report was suppressed by senior DIA officals, and by Bodine and Gen. Anthony Zinn, who decided to allow the Cole to enter the Port under the lowest grade of secdurity permitted in the Middle East – though they were both aware of the warning. Fallis quit in protest the day after the bombing.
The report Fallis refers to was “officially” issued six hours after the attack by the NSA. The report said terrorists were known to be actively engaged in “operational planning” for an attack and had traveled to Dubai and Beirut in preparation for this attack. Yet, on Oct 29, senior intelligence officials issued a statement claiming that the warnings they had received were too vague to have justified issuing a stronger alert. (Sound familiar?) (http://navymars.org/national/publicity/Fore%20N%20Aft/2000/Days%20of%20%20Rage.htm)
The Clinton administration intervened in the investigation, and an arrangement was made that at least made it possible for agents to question suspects (thanks to Bodine, even this had been impossible before). O’Neill returned to the States for the holidays. By that time, Bush had succeeded in pulling off the theft of the presidency. O’Neill was barred from returning to Yemen to continue his investigation. Shortly after he returned, while attending a seminar in Tampa, O’Neill’s briefcase, which contained some sensitive papers, was stolen. Although the briefcase was found intact shortly afterward, with only a cigar lighter missing, the incident later proved to be something much more than a petty theft, as you shall see.
From this point on out, incidents, actions, and decisions become so complex and interwoven that a chronology seems the best way to present the information.
. CHRONOLOGY LATE JANUARY 2001 THROUGH SEPTEMBER 11 2001
Late January: Within 10 days of being sworn in until a few weeks before 9/11, Bush becomes preoccupied – obsessed, some have whispered - with trying to cut a deal with the Taliban that would make Afghanistan a new playground for American oil interests. The game plan involved swiping the oil-rich Caspian region from Russian control – proving just how loyal Bush is to his “soul mates” (Putin). From January through August, a time during which he felt sure he could cajole or pressure the Taliban into playing ball, Bush did not consider the Afghan religious despots "evil." In fact, he is reported to have described their repressive regime “as a source of stability in Central Asia" that would provide the ideal environment for the construction of an oil pipeline
February 2001: In a masterpiece of conflicting signals, Bush, after expressing interest in negotiations, orders the Taliban government offices in U.S. closed. The Taliban responds by saying it might be willing to turn over Osama Bin Laden. This suggestion is ignored.
March 2001, Laila Helms, daughter of former CIA director Richard Helms, brings one of Mullah Omar's advisors, Sayed Hashimi to Washington. During that visit, Hashimi meets with the directorate of Central Intelligence at the CIA and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department. At one meeting, says Helms, Hashami proposes that the Taliban would be willing to hold bin Laden in one location long enough for the U.S. to locate and destroy him. However, this offer is refused by the Bush administration.
April through August: one warning after another of terrorists attack directed against the U.S. come into the Bush administration, from the UK, Russia, Egypt, Israel, France, Germany, and Russia.
Early May: FBI director Louis Freeh, after being the subject of an intensive rightwing smear campaign (see various NewsMax stories as prime samples) quits - or, more accurately, is forced out.
May: Bush gives Taliban $43 million in what is reported to be a "pot sweetening deal"
June: Freeh now gone, the last of the FBI agents investigating the Cole are suddenly pulled out of Yemen, ostensibly because of the lack of progress and danger.
June: O'Neill meets with French intelligence expert Jean-Charles Brisard in Paris and expresses his frustration at the Bush administration. He tells Brisard he believes the key to making headway against terrorism lies in Saudi Arabia, but that oil interests lie in the way of any serious investigation.
Brisard and his associate Guillaume Dasquié, an intelligence analyst and the editor of Intelligence Online, dedicated their book "Bin Laden: the Forbidden Truth" (released in France in November 2001) to O'Neill. The book has been vigorously avoided by U.S. publishers and everyone in the mainstream U.S. press except Paula Zahn, who has presented excerpts of it.
July: Francesc Vendrell and Tom Simmons (former ambassador to Pakistan)meet with Taliban in Berlin on Bush administration's behalf. A deal that offers a coalition government and a pipeline is proposed to the Taliban. When Tom Simmons threatens the Taliban with military action as an alternative to not accepting the deal, the Taliban reps storm out of the meetings.
July: Possibly as a way to mollify the Taliban, Bush directs FBI to back off Osama Bin Laden
July 6: In response to public pressure, the FBI is sent back to Yemen, but O'Neill is told he is barred from entering the country.
July 10: 'An FBI agent named Kenneth Williams who is based in Phoenix AZ sends a memo to John O'Neill that he suspected an OBL hijacker in training was taking flight lessons at a local flight school. The memo never gets further than whoever O'Neill transmitted it to. And, knowing O'Neill's history, there is no doubt the info was transmitted.
July: 12: Osama Bin Laden receives treatment at an American hospital in Dubai and is visited by CIA agent Larry Mitchell
Mid July: O'Neill meets with again with French intelligence analyst Brisard, this time in NYC. He again expresses frustration at Bush's refusal to pursue OBL or Saudi terrorist ties seriously. It is absolutely certain that O'Neill by now realized that even the memo from Williams would not be followed up on.
August 2. Christina Rocca director of Asian affairs at the State Department, meets the Taliban ambassador in Islamabad to reopen negotiations. Her message from Bush according to intelligence reports repeated in Brisard and Dasquie's book. "Either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs." This medieval offer is refused.
August 6: The most serious terrorist attack warning is delivered to Bush. At this point, it should have been clear to the Bush that, having just four days before threatened the Taliban with military action, there would be a very good chance that something serious might happen, perhaps in the nature of a preemptive strike. Yet it is at this point that Bush decides against taking serious action on the threats.
The answer seems painfully clear. As of August 6, we have a president who has delivered an ultimatum to the Taliban, threatening to bomb them. However, there is at this point no pretext to justify "carpeting" Afghanistan with bombs. We also have a president whose ratings have tanked to below 50% and thus needs the sort of infusion of public support a war would provide.
With the warning on his desk, Bush must have seen an opportunity. All he needed to do was... nothing. Time will tell whether or not he realized the scope of the resulting disaster.
Early August: Dick Clarke, the president's terrorism czar at the National Security Council, tells O'Neill he would like to put his name is as his successor. "It would be a powerful position," fellow agent Barry Mawn says. "That person would have direct contact with the FBI and turn around and influence top Cabinet people, and possibly even the president."
Mid-August: A flight school in Minnesota flight reports Zaccarias Moussouai to the local FBI office after Moussouai requested training in how to fly a jet, but not in how to land or take off. Although Moussaoui is arrested, agents did not search his computer and thus missed vital clues.
August 19: New York Times reports that O'Neill is suddently under investigation for the "brief case incident." Tom Pickard, second in command at FBI tells O'Neill he can pretty much kiss the promotion chance goodbye. It is clear O'Neill, like Freeh, is being squeezed out. Friends of O'Neill have said that Pickard, who was very cozy with Ashcroft and the Bush team, acted as the number one road block to O'Neill's efforts to progress in the agency. After Sept. 11, Pickard, who, unlike O'Neill and Freeh, had NO experience invetsigating terrorism (his speciality was white collar crime) was placed in charge of the Sept. 11 investigation and also the anthrax investigation. In November, Pickard retired.
Late August: O'Neill quits the FBI
Early Sept.: O'Neill takes a job as head of security for the WTC. He mentions to friends in New York that he fully expects the building to be targeted by terrorists in the future. http://www.nymag.com/page.cfm?page_id=5513
September 7: The CIA's Promis program begins picking up unusual trading activity for United and American Airlines.
September 11: On O'Neill's second day of work on the 34th floor, the WTC is hit by the first plane. O'Neill makes it out of the building safely, calls his son to say he is OK,. then goes into the other tower to help guide those still inside to safety. Minutes later, O'Neill, along with hundreds of others, is dead, killed by the terrorist the Bush administration refused to allow him to pursue to the best of his ability.
History will be kind to John O’Neill… It will not be kind to George W. Bush.