!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

January 2001: Counterterrorism Chief Clarke Meets Senior FBI Agents and Warns Them about Al-Qaeda

Dale Watson, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, persuades FBI Director Louis Freeh to approve a meeting where senior FBI agents from around the US can learn about terrorism from Richard Clarke, the White House chief of counterterrorism. Watson wants the event held due to concerns around the general inaction and lack of interest in terrorism. The meeting, which takes place in Tampa, Florida, is attended by 250 special agents in charge and counterterrorism supervisors who come from all 56 FBI field offices. Attorney General Janet Reno also attends. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 218; 9/11 Commission, 1/6/2004 pdf file; Graff, 2011, pp. 272] The meeting will subsequently be nicknamed the “Terrorism for Dummies” seminar. [Weiner, 2012, pp. 406] During it, Clarke gives the attendees a summary of al-Qaeda’s aims, goals, and methods.
One Al-Qaeda Goal Is the Destruction of the US, Clarke Says - “Al-Qaeda is a worldwide political conspiracy masquerading as a religious sect,” he tells them. The terrorist network, he says, “engages in murder of innocent people to grab attention. Its goal is a 14th-century style theocracy in which women have no rights, everyone is forced to be a Muslim, and the Sharia legal system is used to cut off hands and stone people to death.” He explains that the group “uses a global banking network and financial system to support its activities,” and its members “are smart; many trained in our colleges and they have a very long view.” “They think it may take them a century to accomplish their goals,” he says and adds that one of these goals is “the destruction of the United States of America.” He says al-Qaeda members “have good spy tradecraft,” and the network employs “sleeper cells and front groups that plan for years before acting.” He says the group’s members “are our number one enemy and they are amongst us, in your cities.” He then gives the FBI agents the simple instruction, “Find them.”
Watson Says Agents Will Be Evaluated on Their Performance against Terrorists - After Clarke has spoken, Watson addresses the FBI agents. He tells them terrorism is the bureau’s “number one priority.” He says: “You will find [the terrorists]. If you have to arrest them for jaywalking, do it. If the local US attorney won’t prosecute them, call me. If you can’t get your FISA wiretap approved by Justice, call us. Don’t just sit out there and sulk.” Some of the attendees appear to be indifferent about what Watson is telling them, according to Clarke. “People were taking notes, but some looked like they had heard this sort of ‘new priority’ speech before,” he will later recall. Watson ends with one final point. “Your bonus, your promotion, your city of assignment all depend upon how well you do on this mission,” he says, adding: “I mean it. I’ve got [Freeh’s] backing. If you don’t believe me, try me.” After Watson and Clarke leave the meeting, Watson explains to Clarke how his agency functions. “The FBI is like an aircraft carrier,” he says. “It takes a long time to get going in one direction and turn around and go in another.” He adds: “These field offices have all had their own way, little fiefdoms, for years. At least I’m starting.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 218-219; Graff, 2011, pp. 272]

Entity Tags: Dale Watson, Louis J. Freeh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Janet Reno, Richard A. Clarke, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike