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Blame the dead...

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Frank S.

Blame the dead...

#1 Post by Frank S. »

... they can't talk back.
In O'Neill's case, I think it may be coming.

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 it".

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 Center.

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 president".

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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#2 Post by Whitey »

Frank I figure Clarke is doing what he thinks is right. The Rep. Team is shady, but this whole thing is poison for the dems and reps. As far as the dead guy? Well he is dead, if they are gonna put words into his mouth, make sure them is the right ones.
Let them call me a rebel and I welcome it, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of demons were I to make a whore of my soul. (Thomas Paine)

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