pbs references = dwindling readership

“What the hell is he doing?”

I have no doubt that this blog will continue to negatively grow its readership numbers as more and more people catch on to the fact that the quality is spotty, the themes are as bizarre as they are haphazard, and the writer is not terribly engaging.

You, dear reader, are quite likely the only person on the earth other than me to see this posting. Thank you for not giving up on me.

So, let’s jump right back into my coverage of PBS.

As for Frontline last night. It was good. It was about a fellow named John O’Neil, a 25 year veteran of the FBI. The guy was, by most accounts, a loud and flashy guy. He was also aggressive and ambitious. He rubbed people the wrong way with his late night drinking at up-scale New York eateries like Elaine’s and his wearing of Bruno Magli shoes (the “ugly ass” kind of shoes that OJ wore on the night he tried to sever his ex-wife’s head from her shoulders.)

In spite of being kind of a dandy though, he was also, by almost all accounts, our nation’s most capable anti-terrorism expert. The guy started tracking al Queda in the mid 1990’s and he was obsessed by it. He was involved in our investigations of previous al Queda attacks and he led an FBI mission to Yemen in search of answers.

Unfortunately, some folks didn’t like his colorful use of language and his unorthodox ways of doing business. He was, as almost everyone confirmed, a maverick. But, he got results. He was turning over rocks and uprooting al Queda cells. He was instrumental in unraveling the support network behind the planned millennium attacks which were thwarted.

But, he rubbed folks the wrong way. When in Yemen, he went up against the Ambassador to Yemen, a women who didn’t like the fact that he was usurping her authority and making inroads that she had not been able to. She, through the State Department, pressured the FBI to call him back to the FBI field office in New York. That was just one of the first in a series of political missteps that eventually cost him his career.

Unless I interpreted the information incorrectly, they were also suggesting the possibility that someone else in the FBI stole his briefcase for a period of time, thus triggering an internal investigation… You aren’t, as an agent, supposed to leave your bag unattended (he walked out of an FBI symposium to take a cell call), and he did. It turns out that he also happened to have classified documents in his bag that were not supposed to leave his office. At any rate, this incident created a black mark on his record and, after that, he was deemed ineligible for further promotion in the squeaky clean FBI.

After watching this episode of Frontline you leave with the distinct impression that this guy could have perhaps mitigated the damage done on September 11 in some way. If he had been in a position to receive the now-infamous memo from an FBI field agent concerning the number of middle eastern students taking flight training in the US, he might have been able to dig something up. If he had been allowed to stay on the trail of the Yemeni cell, he may have been able to ferret out the two Yemeni pilots who eventually piloted the plane into the Pentagon. If he had been in on the Zacarias Moussaoui case, he may have been able to make connections that others weren’t able to. At least that’s what the report led me to think.

While it’s certainly not definite that he could have changed history, it is easy to accept the fact that we were hindered by not having his presence during the moths leading up to September 11. As fate would have it, he left the FBI in late 2000 and took a position as the head of security for the World Trade Center… That’s where he died on the morning of the 11th.

John O’Neil

For a good Q&A with the creator of the Frontline piece, check out this link.

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