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(September 12-30, 2001): FBI Headquarters Is Put in Charge of Investigating the 9/11 Attacks, against Usual FBI Practice

Pasquale D’Amuro.Pasquale D’Amuro. [Source: Concordia]The FBI’s New York field office and FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, argue over which of them should lead the bureau’s investigation of the 9/11 attacks and, against precedent, FBI Director Robert Mueller decides to put the headquarters in charge of it.
New York Office Usually Deals with Al-Qaeda Attacks - In the days after the attacks, a major confrontation arises over which facility should be the office of origin for the case. [Graff, 2011, pp. 333-334; Wired, 6/14/2017] The FBI operates under an “office of origin” system, which means that whichever of its 56 field offices opens an official case on a particular subject or group subsequently manages all related matters. The method prevents work being duplicated, and ensures that institutional expertise learned during previous investigations is retained and built on, rather than having to be relearned by a new office when another incident occurs. Under the system, the FBI’s New York office has become the office of origin for al-Qaeda cases and normally deals with al-Qaeda attacks. The office retains most of the bureau’s “institutional knowledge” on Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. It led the FBI’s investigations of the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 74; Soufan, 2011, pp. 82] Mueller, though, wants to run the investigation of the 9/11 attacks from FBI headquarters.
New York Official Objects to Running the Investigation from Washington - He goes to the FBI’s temporary New York field office (see After 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001) and talks with senior officials there, including Barry Mawn, director of the New York office, Kenneth Maxwell, an assistant special agent in charge at the New York office, and Pasquale D’Amuro, assistant special agent in charge of counterterrorism at the New York office. He explains why he wants FBI headquarters to be the office of origin. Mawn objects, saying the New York office has been the office of origin for the entire al-Qaeda case so far. It has the relevant expertise, investigative capabilities, and files to lead the investigation, he points out, and is also near the Ground Zero crime scene. But Mueller refuses to back down. He says he won’t run the investigation from the headquarters over a conference call. “I want to look someone in the eye,” he comments. [Graff, 2011, pp. 333-334] By October, he will have made the decision to run the investigation from Washington. This is the first time an “operational investigation” has been based at FBI headquarters, according to the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 6/14/2004]
Domestic Terrorism Squad Will Be Assigned to the Case - The case will soon be given the codename PENTTBOM, using the FBI’s standard system for naming cases. This stands for “Pentagon/Twin Towers Bombing.” It is unclear why “BOM” is included in the name, since no bombs were used in the 9/11 attacks. Some agents will later guess that, in the initial confusion, the person who opened the case file incorrectly thought a bomb had been involved. [Graff, 2011, pp. 319-320] D’Amuro will be transferred to Washington and become the leader of the entire case. Instead of being run by one of the FBI’s experienced al-Qaeda squads, I-49 and I-45, a New York domestic terrorism squad called I-44 will be moved to Washington to handle the case. Mary Galligan, who previously spent time as the on-scene commander in the investigation of the attack on the USS Cole, will lead this squad. Some members of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force will also move to Washington to work on the case.
Former Director Will Disagree with the Decision to Run the Case from Headquarters - Investigators will be based in a large room in the basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, where FBI headquarters is located. Two thousand agents will work on the case full-time, following thousands of leads as they pursue information about the attacks. Agents will conduct over 180,000 interviews and review millions of pages of documents. They will log over 155,000 items of evidence and put together a massive timeline, detailing the activities of the alleged 9/11 hijackers in the United States. The investigation will become the largest the FBI has ever conducted. [Washington Post, 6/14/2004; Graff, 2011, pp. 334] However, Louis Freeh, Mueller’s predecessor as FBI director, will criticize Mueller’s decision to run it from FBI headquarters. “I don’t think you can run counterterrorism cases out of headquarters,” he will say. “I think you have to coordinate them out of headquarters,” he will explain, “but you can’t prepare a criminal case for a field presentation in a US district court in headquarters.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]

Entity Tags: Barry Mawn, Robert S. Mueller III, Kenneth Maxwell, Pasquale D’Amuro, Mary Galligan, Louis J. Freeh, PENTTBOM, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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