March 27, 2004

New light on the life and death of John O'Neill

The inspiration for the LNS came in large part from
the story of John O'Neill with whom many I know
served, and for whose memory I have the deepest
respect...Someone at the airport yesterday saw I was
carrying Richard Clarke's book, the person said she
had seen some of the testimony, and asked me if I had
read it yet. "Well, yes, I read it on the plane last
night, but you know I knew most of this story already
and many of us have been waiting three years for some
of it to be told." Of course, we are still waiting for
someone in a position of power or influence to dare
mention John O'Neill's name. The most the NYTwits have ever
mentioned about John O'Neill is that he left his
laptop in a meeting room once. PBS Frontline did a
magnificent documentary on him, and New Yorker
Magazine, but otherwise the Bush cabal's has succeeded
in keeping his story out of the US electorate's
pysche. But thanks to Dick Clarke we are a lot closer.
Indeed, Clarke dedicated his book to all the innocent
who lost their lives on 9/11 but to John O'Neill in
particular....They were friends...There is more to

Tom Griffin, Asia Times: The Bush administration
typically moves swiftly to rebut its critics. It may
yet find itself having to challenge the memory of a
man who died in the twin towers on September 11.

Repudiate the 9/11 Cover-Up and the Iraq War Lies, Show Uo for Demicracy in 2004: Defeat Bush (again!)

New light on the life and death of John O'Neill
By Tom Griffin

LONDON - Former White House counter-terrorism expert
Richard Clarke has rocked the Bush administration with
his criticism of the "war on terror". However, doubts
about the administration's commitment to the fight
against al-Qaeda are not new.

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, another
counter-terrorism expert, Irish-American John O'Neill,
became the focus for those concerns. O'Neill had been
one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI)
leading specialists on al-Qaeda, but he was destined
never to play a role in America's response to
September 11. In a supremely ironic twist of fate, he
was himself killed in the World Trade Center attacks.

The story of John O'Neill, Richard Clarke and their
battle against al-Qaeda began at the Twin Towers eight
years earlier, when Islamic fundamentalists made their
first attempt to destroy the World Trade Center with
the 1993 bombing masterminded by Ramzi Yousef.

Yousef was eventually tracked down in Pakistan. The
intelligence ended up on the desk of Richard Clarke on
a Sunday morning. There were only a few hours to act
on it. Clarke rang the FBI in the forlorn hope that
there would be somebody to take the call. Clarke
described what happened next in a 2002 interview.

"I called and John answered the phone. I said, 'Who's
this'? He responded, 'Well, who the hell are you? I'm
John O'Neill'. I explained, 'I'm from the White House.
I do terrorism. I need some help'."

O'Neill had never worked on the case before, but
together with Clarke he manned the phones coordinating
the capture of Yousef before he could slip over the
border into Afghanistan. It was, according to Clarke,
"the beginning of a beautiful friendship".

After the capture of Yousef, O'Neill learned
everything he could about the threat of Islamic
fundamentalist terrorism. He became one of the first
people to understand the "new terrorism" which was
already taking shape.

He set about convincing his colleagues of the threat
with similar determination. "John would come into the
room and there would be a presence about him," Clarke
said. "He would go around the room like it was a ward
meeting and he was an Irish politician."

There were some obstacles that O'Neill's charismatic
persona couldn't overcome, however. That first became
clear after the Khobar Towers bombings in Saudi Arabia
in 1996, which killed 19 American soldiers.

According to his friend Chris Isham, O'Neill "felt the
Saudis were definitely playing games and that the
senior officials in the US government just didn't get

Similar problems dogged O'Neill's investigation of the
2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, when he clashed
so severely with US ambassador Barbara Bodine that he
was refused clearance to enter the country.

The level of opposition he faced within the US
government may have contributed to O'Neill's decision
to leave the FBI in July 2001, even though there were
signs of increasing al-Qaeda activity. He took up a
new post as head of security at the World Trade

He was in his office on the 34th floor of the North
Tower when he was hit by American Airlines Flight 11
at 8.46am on September 11. From there he made his way
to an emergency command center, the last place he was
seen alive, before entering the South Tower where his
body was found.

The career and untimely death of John O'Neill have
given rise to a great deal of speculation about the
source of the obstacles he faced. Its clear that the
turf battles between O'Neill and diplomats anxious to
maintain good relations with Arab states began in the
Bill Clinton years.

There were signs that problems intensified under the
Bush administration. When O'Neill retired, someone
leaked the story to the New York Times, together with
details of an incident when he had lost a briefcase
carrying sensitive documents. O'Neill blamed the
incoming FBI director Tom Pickard for the disclosure.

The most serious allegation against the Bush
administration came in the controversial French book
Bin Laden, la verite interdite (Bin Laden, the
forbidden truth), released shortly after September 11.

Authors Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie
claimed to have been told by O'Neill that "the main
obstacles to investigate Islamic terrorism were US oil
corporate interests and the role played by Saudi
Arabia in it".

Brisard and Dasquie drew attention to the strong
business links between members of the Bush
administration and Saudi Arabia through the oil
industry, and even through defense company the Carlyle
Group, between the Bush and Bin Laden families.

Richard Clarke's latest statements do not provide
outright support to the thesis that these links led
the Bush administration to obstruct O'Neill.
Nevertheless, in a CBS interview last weekend, Clarke
portrayed an administration that was remarkably
reluctant to get to grips with al-Qaeda.

In the aftermath of September 11, Clarke claimed: "The
president dragged me into a room with a couple of
other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to
find whether Iraq did this'. Now he never said, 'Make
it up'. But the entire conversation left me in
absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come
back with a report that said Iraq did this."

When Clarke insisted that there was no Iraqi
connection, he claimed that the president responded
"in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should
come back with that answer."

Clarke followed up that interview on Wednesday with
his testimony to America's official September 11
Commission. "By invading Iraq, the president has
greatly undermined the war on terrorism," he told the
bipartisan commission to applause from an audience
which included many relatives of September 11 victims.

Clarke's insider criticisms of the administration have
the potential to be uniquely damaging to a Republican
election campaign built around George W Bush, the "war

Accordingly, the administration has hit back hard,
asking why Clarke did not make similar points in
previous interviews after September 11, given when he
was still a public official.

Those interviews are still so far the only ones in
which Clarke has elaborated on the role of John
O'Neill, and that means that there may yet be further
revelations about the obstacles O'Neill faced, the
reasons he left the FBI and the source of the leak to
the New York Times about his departure.

The Bush administration typically moves swiftly to
rebut its critics. It may yet find itself having to
challenge the memory of a man who died in the twin
towers on September 11.

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Posted by richard at March 27, 2004 09:56 PM