By Jim Kouri
Each year on September 11, many police officers and security managers remember the contributions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counterterrorism Chief, the late John P. O’Neill. And Sept. 11, 2012 will be no different.
While the Clinton Administration slept during the terrorists’ war against the United States, O’Neill did all he could to fight the radical Islamists who wished to place the American people in harm’s way. Unlike America’s leadership, O’Neill realized early-on that the Islamists were at war with the United States.
O’Neill faced political opposition from members of the Clinton Administration, who ignored his reports and warnings. On many occasions he was denied funding for his frequent trips to the Middle East to investigate leads on terrorist groups. On several trips, he paid for his own expenses — plane fare, hotel accommodations, etc. — in order to wage his one man war against terrorism.
In fact, Clinton’s own FBI director, Louis Freeh, says the former president let down the American people and the families of American victims of the Khobar Towers terror attack in Saudi Arabia during the Clinton administration.
After promising to bring to justice those responsible for the bombing at Khobar Towers — a bombing that killed 19 and injured hundreds — Freeh says Clinton refused to personally ask Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to allow the FBI’s leader counterterrorist, SAIC O’Neill, to question bombing suspects the Kingdom had in their custody.
Freeh says he was determined to stay on as FBI director until President Clinton left office so that Clinton could not appoint his successor.
“I was concerned about who he would put in there as FBI director because [Clinton] had expressed antipathy for the FBI, for the director. [So] I was going to stay there and make sure he couldn’t replace me,” Freeh told Mike Wallace of CBS’ 60 Minutes.
O’Neill served in a number of critical positions in the FBI prior to his retirement. He became an FBI agent in July, 1976. His first office was Baltimore where his investigative assignments included Foreign Counterintelligence, Organized Crime, and White-Collar crimes. From 1987-1991, he served in several positions within the Criminal Investigative Division and Inspection Division at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 1991, he was the Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office. In 1994, Mr. O’Neill was designated Inspector in Charge of a multi-agency task force investigating domestic violence in the United States.
Then in January 1995 Mr. O’Neill was appointed Chief of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Section at FBI Headquarters where he was responsible for the direction and support of all of the FBI’s international and domestic counterterrorism investigations.
Of particular note during this time, was the capture and extradition of bombing suspect Ramzi Yousef for his role in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the investigation of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the investigations of the bombings of U.S. facilities in Saudi Arabia. He also supervised investigations of numerous other terrorist incidents involving Americans and American interests around the world.
Mr. O’Neill served as the FBI representative on the Interagency Counterterrorism Committee of the National Security Council. He was also a member of the Terrorism Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Terrorism Subcommittee of the American Society for Industrial Security.
From January 1997 until his retirement in August 2001, he served as the Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Office overseeing all of the national security matters including counterterrorism operations. He was well-known within the FBI and throughout the law enforcement community worldwide. He was well-regarded for his insight, work ethic, passion, and aggressiveness as a terrorism fighter.
Turf wars and dislike of O’Neill by members of the Clinton Administration in Washington meant that the FBI’s New York office was left out of Middle East investigations and O’Neill was left behind when other New York-based agents were sent to the region to pick up leads. O’Neill decided to continue fighting terrorism in the private sector.
After his retirement from the FBI, O’Neill took a position as Director of Security at the World Trade Center in New York City. He was on the job for just a few weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center claimed his life at age 49.
The law enforcement, intelligence and security communities lost a dedicated counterterrorist on September 11, 2001. America lost a brave patriot.