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Context of 'July 11, 2001: Assistant FBI Director Predicts Terrorist Attack in the US'

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Attorney General John Ashcroft sends a letter to department heads telling them the Justice Department’s new agenda. He cites seven goals, but counterterrorism is not one of them. Yet just one day earlier, he testified before Congress and said of counterterrorism, “The Department of Justice has no higher priority.” [New York Times, 2/28/2002] Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, will later recall nearly falling out of his chair when he sees counterterrorism not mentioned as a goal. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004] Watson goes to see FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard and asks him, “Did you see this?” in what author Philip Shenon will describe as a “disgusted tone.” Pickard finds it hard to believe that Ashcroft’s office had accidentally left terrorism off the list, due to the focus on it elsewhere in the government. “If he didn’t think about it, his staff should have,” Pickard will recall thinking. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 246] In August, a strategic plan will be distributed, listing the same seven goals and 36 objectives. Thirteen objectives are highlighted, but the single objective relating to counterterrorism is not highlighted. [New York Times, 2/28/2002]

Entity Tags: Thomas Pickard, Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Dale Watson, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The New York Times will later report that, according to senior government officials, “A top secret report warned top officials of the FBI in the months before Sept. 11 that the bureau faced significant terrorist threats from Middle Eastern groups like al-Qaeda but lacked enough resources to meet the threat.” The internal assessment finds that virtually every major FBI field office is undermanned for evaluating and dealing with the threat from groups like al-Qaeda. The report gives detailed recommendations and proposes spending increases to address the problem. [New York Times, 6/1/2002] The report is the result of “MAXCAP 05,” short for maximum feasible capability, an evaluation effort launched by Dale Watson, the head of the new counterterrorism division created in 1999 (see December 1999), to identify the FBI’s weaknesses in counterterrorism and remedy them by 2005. It is presented to Robert Mueller upon his appointment as FBI director in early September. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 78-79; Zegart, 2007, pp. 142] The report will not be made public. [New York Times, 6/27/2007] However, in August 2001, acting FBI Director Tom Pickard meets Attorney General John Ashcroft to ask for supplemental funding for counterterrorism, but his request is turned down. On September 10, 2001, Ashcroft rejects a proposed $58 million increase in FBI counterterrorism funding for the next year’s budget (see September 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Thomas Pickard, Robert S. Mueller III, Dale Watson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft, Counterterrorism Division (FBI)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Anthony Williams.Anthony Williams. [Source: Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press]The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the National Emergency Management Association co-sponsor a two-day event held in Washington called Preparing the Nation: A National Policy Summit on Domestic Terrorism. Federal officials, state teams of governors’ key policy advisors, and state leaders in law enforcement, public health, fire, and emergency management attend. Speakers include Attorney General John Ashcroft, Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT), and Governor Robert Wise (D-WV). [National Governors Association, 6/25/2001; Red Cross, 7/11/2001; National Governors Association, 7/13/2001] The agenda of the event is structured around a tabletop exercise, based on a hypothetical bioterrorist attack. The scenario involves a neo-nazi terrorist releasing six liters of plague slurry in a fictional city resembling New York, called Gotham. [National Governors Association, 6/25/2001; National Governors Association, 7/10/2001 pdf file; National Governors Association, 7/10/2001, pp. 7 pdf file] In his speech at the event, Anthony Williams, the mayor of the District of Columbia, says it is especially appropriate that the summit is being held in DC, because “our city has been called ground zero for a potential terrorism incident. ‘It’s only a matter of time,’ they say, ‘before Washington, DC is the site of a terrorist attack.’” [National Governors Association, 7/10/2001 pdf file] Assistant FBI Director Dale Watson tells the summit that a significant terrorist attack is likely on US soil (see July 11, 2001). [Reuters, 7/12/2001] In his speech, Ashcroft says, “Our number one priority is the prevention of terrorist attacks” (see July 11, 2001). [National Governors Association, 7/11/2001 pdf file] Charles DeVita, the vice president for global safety and security for the Red Cross, says, “Conferences like these are starting to take place because even the federal government is realizing that [acts of terrorism are a major] threat. It’s not a matter of if, but when this is going to happen.” [Red Cross, 7/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Christopher Shays, Charles DeVita, Dale Watson, John Ashcroft, Anthony Williams, Robert Wise

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Dale Watson.
Dale Watson. [Source: FBI]At a conference on domestic terrorism held in Washington, DC (see July 10-11, 2001), Assistant FBI Director Dale Watson, the head of the Counterterrorism Division, warns that a significant terrorist attack is likely on US soil. He says, “I’m not a gloom-and-doom-type person. But I will tell you this. [We are] headed for an incident inside the United States.” This quote appears in a Reuters news story about the conference, entitled, “Terrorist Attack on US Soil Predicted.” Apparently paraphasing Watson, the Reuters article reports, “The FBI predicts terrorists will launch a major attack on American interests abroad every year for the next five years and thinks an attack using a weapon of mass destruction is likely at home.” The article also says that the number one threat is “from exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden.” Attorney General John Ashcroft also speaks at the conference about security measures for upcoming public events such as the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City (see July 11, 2001). [National Governors Association, 7/10/2001 pdf file; Reuters, 7/12/2001; Newsday, 4/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Counterterrorism Division (FBI), John Ashcroft, Dale Watson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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