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Context of 'March 30-April 2, 2004: Terror Alert Warns of Al-Qaeda Attack on Trains and Buses in US'

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Joe Webber.Joe Webber. [Source: US Customs]Joe Webber, running the Houston office of the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, starts investigating a man believed to be raising money for Islamic militants. The suspect is in direct contact with people who are known to be associated with Osama bin Laden. Webber has good cooperation with the local FBI office, federal prosecutors in Houston, and Justice Department officials in Washington. However, he claims that FBI headquarters officials tell him point blank that he will not be allowed to conduct his investigation. After many months of delays from the FBI, friends from within the bureau tell him that headquarters will not allow the investigation to proceed because it is being run by Customs and not by the FBI. Webber is so upset that he eventually becomes a whistleblower. Sen. Charles Grassley and other politicians support his case and say there are other instances where the FBI impedes investigations because of turf battles. Asked if the FBI would put a turf battle above national security, Webber says, “That’s absolutely my impression. You would think, in a post-9/11 environment, that an event like that wouldn’t occur. But it did.” [MSNBC, 6/3/2005]

Entity Tags: US Customs Service, Joe Webber, Charles Grassley, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI issues a bulletin to state and local law enforcement agencies which states that terrorists may use cultural, artistic or athletic visas to slip into the United States undetected. This is followed by another bulletin one day later from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warning of pending terrorist attacks on buses and trains in major cities during the summer. The uncorroborated intelligence cited by the warning indicates the possible use of a bomb made out of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and diesel fuel, similar to the one used in the Oklahoma City federal building attack. This intelligence, as well as the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), reportedly increases the level of concern that terrorists are planning an attack in the US. It is reported that the intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda has the full intent and capability to execute coordinated and deadly attacks on public transportation systems. [PBS, 4/2/2004] No such attacks occur. The warning apparently is given because a number of suspects are arrested in Britain who had been working on a fertilizer bomb, but they have been under surveillance and their fertilizer had been replaced with a harmless substance. In the thousands of hours of monitored conversations, none of them mentioned anything about bombing the US (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). One day prior to the first alert, Charles Duelfer, the chief weapons inspector in Iraq, informed Congress that no WMD have been found to date. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charles Duelfer, US Department of Homeland Security

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In Lebanon, Ohio, Warren County officials close the county administration building to the public where the vote is being tallied. The lockdown—the only one to occur in the state—is a result of a decision that was made during a closed-door meeting the previous week (See October 28, 2004). Warren County Emergency Services Director Frank Young had recommended the increased security because of information received from the US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/5/2004] An FBI agent reportedly said that Warren County ranked a “10” on a terrorism scale of 1 to 10. The threat was said to be of domestic origins. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/10/2004] But these claims are later challenged when officials from the FBI and DHS say that they were not aware of any such threats. Media organizations protest the lockdown, arguing that the officials are violating the law and the public’s rights. “The media should have been permitted into the area where there was counting,” Enquirer attorney Jack Greiner complains. “This is a process that should be done in complete transparency and it wasn’t.” In other Ohio counties, such as Butler County, people are permitted to observe ballot checkers through a window. In past elections, the Warren County commissioners’ room was open to the public so they could observe the process. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/3/2004; Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/5/2004] The news director at WCPO-TV, Bob Morford, says he’s suspicious of the decision to close the building to the public. I’ve “never seen anything like it,” he says. “Frankly, we consider that a red herring…. That’s something that’s put up when you don’t know what else to put up to keep us out.” [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/5/2004] Additionally, election officials fail to set up an area with telephones for the media as they were supposed to. When reporters attempt to enter the building, they are refused, although they are later permitted into the building’s lobby located two floors below the elections office. The Associated Press, which has reporters at every Ohio board of elections site, says that Warren County is the only county to implement such tight restrictions. County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel claims that having reporters and photographers around could interfere with the vote count. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/5/2004] It is later explained that these restrictions were also due to homeland security concerns. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Jack Greiner, Rachel Hutzel, Bob Morford

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

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