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October 14-Late November, 2000: Investigation Into USS Cole Bombing Is Thwarted

Barbara Bodine at a press conference days after the bombing of the USS Cole.Barbara Bodine at a press conference days after the bombing of the USS Cole. [Source: Reuters]The first FBI agents enter Yemen two days after the bombing of the USS Cole in an attempt to discover who was responsible. However, the main part of the team initially gets stuck in Germany because they do not have permission to enter Yemen and they are then unable to accomplish much due to restrictions placed on them and tensions between lead investigator John O’Neill and US Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine. All but about 50 investigators are forced to leave by the end of October. O’Neill’s boss Barry Mawn visits to assess the situation. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 237; Wright 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) Mawn will later comment, “It became clear [Bodine] simply hated his guts.” After a ten day investigation, he concludes O’Neill is doing a fine job, tells Bodine that she is O’Neill’s “only detractor,” and refuses her request to recall him. (Wright 2006, pp. 32) But O’Neill and much of his team are pressured to leave by late November and Bodine will not give him permission to return any time after that. The investigation stalls without his personal relationships to top Yemeni officials. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 237; Wright 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002) Increased security threats force the reduced FBI team still in Yemen to withdraw altogether in June 2001. (PBS Frontline 10/3/2002) The prime minister of Yemen at the time later claims (see Early October 2001) that hijacker “Khalid Almihdhar was one of the Cole perpetrators, involved in preparations. He was in Yemen at the time and stayed after the Cole bombing for a while, then he left.” The Sunday Times later notes, “The failure in Yemen may have blocked off lines of investigation that could have led directly to the terrorists preparing for September 11.” (Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002)


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