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Summer 1999: FBI Agent O’Neill Breaks Protocols by Taking His Girlfriend to a Secret FBI Facility

Valerie James.Valerie James. [Source: PBS]John O’Neill, special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, violates security protocols when he takes Valerie James, his longtime girlfriend, to a secret FBI garage and lets her use the bathroom there—an incident that will subsequently cause him to be placed under investigation. One weekend, O’Neill and James head out on a trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey, intending to visit an old friend of O’Neill’s. The couple travel in O’Neill’s personal vehicle, a 1991 Buick. However, about 10 miles outside Manhattan, the aging car breaks down. O’Neill contacts the AAA and when someone arrives to tow it away, he instructs them to take it to an industrial park a couple of miles away, where the FBI garage at which he keeps his bureau car is located.
Girlfriend Uses the Bathroom at the Secret Garage - The location of the garage is a closely guarded secret since, in addition to agents’ cars, the FBI keeps a fleet of undercover vehicles that it uses in investigations, such as fake ambulances and telephone trucks, there. Taking James to the garage is therefore a violation of FBI security protocols. The infringement of protocols is worsened when O’Neill allows his girlfriend to use the bathroom there to freshen up. Furthermore, he then drives her away from the garage in his FBI car, even though agents are strictly prohibited from using their bureau vehicles for nongovernment business and having civilians in them. “O’Neill was breaking the rules and he knew it,” journalist and author Murray Weiss will later comment.
Incident Will Subsequently Be Investigated by the FBI - The incident will only have consequences, though, four month later when the mechanic at the garage comes under investigation for allegedly repairing and servicing the personal vehicles of agents at the FBI facility, and he mentions what happened during his questioning. O’Neill’s apparent security breach will then trigger an in-depth internal investigation of the incident, and O’Neill and James will both be formally questioned about it. O’Neill will be found guilty and be suspended for a month without pay, although upon appeal the suspension will be reduced to 15 days.
Incident Is 'the Beginning of the End' for O'Neill - “Insiders” will call the incident “the beginning of the end of O’Neill’s FBI career,” according to Weiss. [Weiss, 2003, pp. 198-201; Graff, 2011, pp. 260-261] O’Neill will again get into trouble after his briefcase, containing classified material, is stolen when he leaves it unattended during a conference in July 2000 (see July 2000). [PBS, 10/3/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 317] O’Neill is the FBI’s “most committed tracker of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network of terrorists,” according to the New Yorker. But he will retire from the bureau in August 2001 and subsequently become head of security at the World Trade Center (see August 22, 2001 and August 23, 2001). [New Yorker, 1/14/2002; Weiss, 2003, pp. 349-350]

Entity Tags: John O’Neill, Valerie James

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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