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Context of 'September 4, 2001: Mueller Takes Over as FBI Director; Criticized for BCCI Investigation'

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FBI Director Louis Freeh and other top FBI officials are briefed about the ongoing al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) as part of their regular daily update. They are told the CIA is in the lead and that the CIA promises to let the FBI know if an FBI angle to the case develops. But they are not told that the CIA has just found out that one of the participants, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] It is unclear who the other top FBI officials that are briefed are. However, Dale Watson, the assistant director of the counterterrorism division, and Thomas Pickard, the FBI’s deputy director at this time and its acting director in the summer of 2001, will also learn of the summit by July 2001, although it is unclear exactly when they are informed (see July 12, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] According to Vanity Fair, Richard Blee, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, “provided surveillance updates for [the CIA’s] top officers, the FBI, and the White House” while the summit is in progress. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] One FBI official familiar with the case will later complain: “[The CIA] purposely hid [Almihdhar] from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau.… The thing was, they didn’t want John O’Neill and the FBI running over their case. And that’s why September 11 happened.… They have blood on their hands.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Jack Cloonan, an FBI agent in the I-49 squad that focuses on al-Qaeda, will later say: “If that information [got] disseminated, would it have had an impact on the events of 9/11? I’m telling you that it would have.” [ABC News, 5/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Louis J. Freeh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jack Cloonan, John O’Neill, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Louis Freeh, FBI Director since September 1993 (see September 1993), unexpectedly announces his resignation. He will continue to serve until June 25. Assistant Director Thomas Pickard will serve as acting director until Robert Mueller will take over in early September 2001 (see September 4, 2001). [BBC, 5/1/2001] The BBC reports, “Mr. Freeh did not give specific reasons for his decision to leave, but he had been the target of criticism following the arrest in February [2001] of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent accused of working for Moscow for more than 15 years.” [BBC, 7/5/2001]

Entity Tags: Louis J. Freeh, Thomas Pickard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Robert Mueller assumes the job of FBI Director. He had been nominated for the job in July 2001 after Louis Freeh’s unexpected and sudden resignation (see May 1, 2001). Thomas Pickard was interim director for three months. Mueller held a variety of jobs in the Justice Department for over a decade prior to his nomination. Most notably, he led Justice Department investigations into the 1991 collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) (see July 5, 1991) and the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. [BBC, 7/5/2001; CNN, 9/5/2001] Mueller was heavily criticized for his role in the BCCI investigation (see February 1988-December 1992). For instance, a bipartisan Congressional BCCI investigation led by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Hank Brown (R-CO) stated, “Unfortunately, as time has passed it has become increasingly clear that the Justice Department did indeed make critical errors in its handling of BCCI… and moreover masked inactivity in prosecuting and investigating the bank by advising critics that matters pertaining to BCCI were ‘under investigation,’ when in fact they were not” and also “[hindered] other legitimate investigative efforts, and [failed] to admit that it had made any of these mistakes.” [US Congress, 12/1992] Mueller himself noted in 1991 that there was an “appearance of, one, foot-dragging; two, perhaps a cover-up,” but denied the cover-up claims. A Wall Street Journal editorial notes that “Even George W. Bush bumped up against the outer fringes of the BCCI crowd during his tenure with Harken Energy and in his friendship with Texas entrepreneur James Bath,” and opines, “On general principles, our view is that it would be a mistake to appoint as FBI head anyone who had any role in the failed BCCI probe. Too many important questions remain unanswered…” [Wall Street Journal, 6/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Thomas Pickard, Louis J. Freeh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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