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Context of '(Between July 1995 and September 2000): Senior FBI Agent Says There Are No Threats to Aviation'

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Bruce Butterworth.Bruce Butterworth. [Source: Mineta Transportation Institute]John O’Neill, a senior FBI agent, tells congressional staffers there are no threats to aviation in the US. The staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the FBI, the director of central intelligence, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a briefing about threats to civil aviation. O’Neill goes to the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, to respond to this request on behalf of the FBI. Cathal Flynn, the FAA’s associate administrator for civil aviation security, who goes on behalf of the FAA, will later recall that at the briefing, Senate Intelligence Committee staffers ask, “What are the indications—or what are the threats—to aviation?” In response, according to Flynn, “John O’Neill said there are none.” [9/11 Commission, 9/9/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] Bruce Butterworth, the FAA’s director of civil aviation security operations, who is apparently at the briefing, will similarly describe O’Neill’s response. He will say he “recalled FBI agent John O’Neill’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee wherein he was unwilling to corroborate FAA claims about credible threats to civil aviation.” [9/11 Commission, 9/29/2003 pdf file]
FBI Has Learned of 'Indications' of Threats to Aviation - Flynn finds O’Neill’s response to the Intelligence Committee staffers odd, since, he will say, the FBI has learned of a “few indications” of possible threats to aviation, such as a suspicious individual trying to get “a job with airport access” at Los Angeles International Airport. He writes a note to O’Neill, reminding him about this incident. But, according to Flynn, O’Neill “looked at the note” and “still didn’t say anything, didn’t change what he had said.” As the two men are leaving the briefing, Flynn asks O’Neill about the incident and O’Neill tells him there was “nothing to it.” [9/11 Commission, 9/9/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004]
O'Neill Is the FBI's 'Most Committed Tracker of Osama bin Laden' - It is unclear when this briefing takes place. It presumably occurs sometime between July 1995 and September 2000—the time period during which Butterworth is the FAA’s director of civil aviation security operations. [9/11 Commission, 9/29/2003 pdf file] According to Flynn, O’Neill is “the head of antiterrorism for the FBI” when the briefing is held. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] This suggests that it takes place sometime between January 1995 and January 1997, when O’Neill is chief of the counterterrorism section at the FBI’s Washington headquarters. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2006] During his time working for the FBI, O’Neill becomes “the bureau’s most committed tracker of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network of terrorists,” according to the New Yorker. [New Yorker, 1/14/2002] Journalist and author Murray Weiss will write that O’Neill “had reiterated since 1995 to any official in Washington who would listen” that “he was sure bin Laden would attack on American soil.” [Weiss, 2003, pp. 360]

Entity Tags: Senate Intelligence Committee, John O’Neill, Cathal Flynn, Bruce Butterworth

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

By the start of 1997, Alec Station, the CIA unit created the year before to focus entirely on bin Laden (see February 1996), is certain that bin Laden is not just a financier but an organizer of terrorist activity. It is aware bin Laden is conducting an extensive effort to get and use a nuclear weapon (see Late 1996). It knows that al-Qaeda has a military committee planning operations against US interests worldwide. However, although this information is disseminated in many reports, the unit’s sense of alarm about bin Laden isn’t widely shared or understood within the intelligence and policy communities. Employees in the unit feel their zeal attracts ridicule from their peers. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Some higher-ups begin to deride the unit as hysterical doomsayers, and refer to the unit as “The Manson Family.” Michael Scheuer, head of the unit until 1999, has an abrasive style. He and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke do not get along and do not work well together. Scheuer also does not get along with John O’Neill, the FBI’s most knowledgeable agent regarding bin Laden. The FBI and Alec Station rarely share information, and at one point an FBI agent is caught stuffing some of the unit’s files under his shirt to take back to O’Neill. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: John O’Neill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alec Station, Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Cathal Flynn.Cathal Flynn. [Source: PBS]An Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) employee tells journalist Seymour Hersh that the 9/11 hijackings were accomplished with guns put on the planes by airport employees. Hersh then calls Rear Admiral Cathal Flynn, associate administrator of security at the Federal Aviation Administration, and tells him, “The guns were put onto the plane by the ramp workers.” When Flynn argues that there are no reports of this, Hersh replies, “Those ramp workers aren’t even checked,” and insists, “There were pistols and they were put onto the plane by the ramp workers.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 47-8] Although there are some reports of guns being used on the hijacked flights (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001), the 9/11 Commission, for example, will not say that guns were used by the hijackers. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Cathal Flynn

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee refuse to allow an inquiry into the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005), with the committee voting 10-8 along party lines to reject such a probe. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had advocated such a probe, but White House officials refused to cooperate with his committee, saying they would only cooperate via classified briefings to the Intelligence Committee. However, committee Republicans, led by chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), have no intention of allowing such an inquiry. Roberts and his fellows say they will push to impose limitations on the program. Committee Democrats accuse their Republican colleagues of colluding with the administration to block the inquiry. “The committee is, to put it bluntly, is basically under the control of the White House,” says ranking committee member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). “You can’t legislate properly unless you know what’s going on.” The Republicans have left Congress to “legislate in darkness and ignorance,” he says. Republicans say that a new, select subcommittee will increase oversight of the administration’s wiretapping. “It provides for a case-by-case examination and oversight by the United States Congress,” says Mike DeWine (R-OH), who is helping draft the bill for the new oversight subcommittee. “It will be very consistent with what our constitutional obligations are.” DeWine’s bill would allow the administration to ignore restrictions on wiretapping merely by invoking national security, and would not allow the committee to intervene even in clearly unjustified cases of wiretapping. “The White House could just decide not to tell them everything, and there’s no sanction,” says Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration lawyer. “And the president can still claim that he has inherent power to conduct surveillance.” The bill is “extremely generous to the president,” says conservative law professor Douglas Kmiec. “It is not significantly different from the status quo. And I think the president would be quite delighted by that.” [Boston Globe, 3/8/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 204]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Bruce Fein, Arlen Specter, Bush administration (43), Pat Roberts, Douglas Kmiec, Mike DeWine, John D. Rockefeller, Senate Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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