January 2002

Monday, 14 January 2002

The Counter-Terrorist

John O'Neill was an F.B.I. agent with an obsession: the growing threat of Al Qaeda.

The legend of John P. O'Neill, who lost his life at the World Trade Center on September 11th, begins with a story by Richard A. Clarke, the national coördinator for counter-terrorism in the White House from the first Bush Administration until last year. On a Sunday morning in February, 1995, Clarke went to his office to review intelligence cables that had come in over the weekend. One of the cables reported that Ramzi Yousef, the suspected mastermind behind the first World Trade Center bombing, two years earlier, had been spotted in Pakistan. Clarke immediately called the F.B.I. A man whose voice was unfamiliar to him answered the phone. "O'Neill," he growled.

"Who are you?" Clarke said.

"I'm John O'Neill," the man replied. "Who the hell are you?"

O'Neill had just been appointed chief of the F.B.I.'s counter-terrorism section, in Washington. He was forty-two years old, and had been transferred from the bureau's Chicago office. After driving all night, he had gone directly to headquarters that Sunday morning without dropping off his bags. When he heard Clarke's report about Yousef, O'Neill entered the F.B.I.'s Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC) and telephoned Thomas Pickard, the head of the bureau's National Security Division in New York. Pickard then called Mary Jo White, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who had indicted Yousef in the bombing case.

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Last modified: Tue Mar 30 09:41:02 CST 2004