by Sabina Clarke

The gravesite of former FBI Agent John O.Neill is in Holy Cross Cemetery, Mays Landing, New Jersey (Photo by Katharine Gilbert)

“The Man Who Warned America,” by Murray Weiss (Harper Collins, New York, 2003, $14.95), is a fascinating biography of former FBI agent John O’Neill, the nations’ top counterterrorism cop in both Washington, D.C., and later New York City. Author Murray Weiss offers an accurate and factual account of O’Neill’s spectacular career and his complex, convoluted personal life.

O’Neill was either loved or hated; there were no in-betweens. He did not fit the mold of the traditional FBI agent but was cut from a different cloth; dressing in Burberry suits and entertaining visitors lavishly, often at his own expense. A tireless investigator, he was also a bon vivant who mingled with the clubby crowd at Elaine’s, one of the trendy New York night spots he often frequented.

Surprisingly, not too many Americans know who John O’Neill is or even what his connection is to events leading up to 9/11. It was John O’Neill who led the investigations of the bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the USS Cole naval ship in 2000. Yet, this unsung American hero was thwarted at every step of the way by both the Clinton and later the Bush administrations.

Dating back to 1995, O’Neill repeatedly warned his supervisors at the Bureau that Osama bin Laden was the greatest threat to our national security; he insisted that bin Laden and other Islamic fundamentalist radicals had the capacity to strike on American soil, but it appears the government wasn’t really listening or had a very different agenda. Also, there was that special relationship the Bush dynasty has had with the bin Ladens going back to the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush.

And, it was precisely because of his activism and his relentless search for the truth that O’Neill became the government’s principal target; he was quickly becoming the man who knew too much.

In June, 1998, when he let a girlfriend use a bathroom in a secret FBI garage after his car broke down, he was suspended by the department for 15 days and passed over for a promotion to deputy director of the national security division at FBI headquarters because of what the Bureau referred to as the “car incident.” Then in May 2000, he was once again passed over to head the FBI’s New York Office, a job he both coveted and deserved.

Another minor infraction by O’Neill in July 2000 prompted an FBI internal probe when his briefcase containing classified information was missing at an FBI retirement seminar in Florida. Although it was quickly recovered with no documents missing, this breach, like the first one, was exploited and exaggerated by the department. It put another blemish on O’Neill’s otherwise stellar career.

But in spite these so-called “breaches,” soon after the bombing of the USS Cole on October 12, 2000, O’Neill was sent to Yemen to head the U.S. investigation team and almost immediately was confronted by Barbara Bodine, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen who later refused to allow him to return to Yemen, making him the first FBI official ever denied ‘country clearance’ by a State Department official. The FBI brass, it could be conjectured, may have been under orders from above since they did not back O’Neill up, a somewhat unusual stand.

By then O’Neill was becoming disenchanted with the obstacles he faced daily investigating global terrorism. For the first time, he contemplated retiring from the job he loved, the only job he ever wanted since he was a young boy watching his favorite TV show, “The FBI,” starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., as the unflappable FBI agent, Lewis Erskine.

On August 16, 2001, O’Neill accepted the offer of a job as Director of Security at the World Trade Center, retiring from the FBI on August 22, 2001, just three days before the New York Times published a story stating the FBI was investigating John O’Neill’s “briefcase incident.” A press release was most likely sent out by the Bureau to further embarrass and discredit him.

On the last day of his 31-year career with the FBI, John O’Neill signed the order for the FBI to return to Yemen to continue the investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole. (Reviewer’s Note: At no time in his book does author Murray Weiss question the circumstances surrounding 9/11 or suggest that O’Neill may have been killed or targeted by our government but with his stark presentation of the facts of O’Neill’s career, he sets the stage for speculation.)

The circumstances surrounding O’Neill’s death on September 11, 2001 are indeed suspicious. The official version is that he that he survived the impact of the first terrorist-operated plane but was killed on his way to Building # 2 when it was struck by a plane or brought down by explosives — the latter being the more likely scenario given the new information we now have. How convenient to have John O’Neill dead. From the government’s perspective, he knew where the bodies were buried.

There are so many questions about 9/11. As transmitted across the globe, the world watched in disbelief as President George W. Bush appearing nonplussed and continued to read to children in a Florida classroom after being informed that America was under attack.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was already in place in New York on the eve before 9/11; U.S. troops were already sitting on the Afghanistan border before 9/11; Several top government officials were warned not to fly on the morning of 9/11.; The FBI was performing ‘mock’ terrorist drills on the morning of 9/11; CNN reported that no plane ever hit the Pentagon, despite the official report to the contrary from our government; and World Trade Center building #7, which was not hit by a plane, imploded to the ground on the afternoon of 9/11, falling into its own footprints exactly like buildings # 1 and #2. And the list goes on.

If you go online, Google the mysterious deaths of 9/11 on YouTube; Google retired theologian and philosopher David Ray Griffin, the leading author in the “9/11 Truth Movement,” which now includes 1100 architects and engineers for “Truth about 9/11.” The consensus among these professionals is that the buildings were brought down by explosives.

And, consider how convenient it would be for the government’s chief critic and chief defender to die in 9/11. If he had lived, John O’Neill would have gotten to the bottom of it all. That, you can count on.

Sabina Clarke is a Chestnut Hill resident and long-time freelance writer for several area publications.