!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Barry Mawn
Barry Mawn was a participant or observer in the following events:
John O’Neill, special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, has his briefcase, which contains important classified information, stolen when he leaves it unattended during a conference and he will subsequently be placed under investigation over the incident. [New Yorker, 1/14/2002; PBS, 10/3/2002] O’Neill is required to attend a pre-retirement conference in Orlando, Florida, even though he currently has no plans to retire from the FBI. He brings his division’s annual field office report with him, so he can complete it during the event. The important document outlines every counterterrorism and counterespionage case in New York, and will be used to help determine his division’s future funding levels. During the seminar, O’Neill sits at the back of the conference room so he can ignore the presentations and instead work on the report.
Briefcase Is Taken While O'Neill Makes a Phone Call - His pager goes off during the seminar. He goes out of the room to return the call, but leaves his briefcase in the room unattended while he does so. When he returns a few minutes later, he finds the other agents at the conference have left for lunch. Moreover, his briefcase is missing. He immediately realizes the seriousness of this. [Weiss, 2003, pp. 278-280; Wright, 2006, pp. 317; Graff, 2011, pp. 260] FBI agents are prohibited from removing classified documents from their offices without authorization and violations can be punished by censure, suspension, or dismissal, depending on how serious they are. [New York Times, 8/19/2001] Furthermore, the annual field office report contains strategic plans that show what the FBI is doing around the issues of terrorism and counterintelligence. O’Neill knows if it fell into the hands of foreign agents or enemies of the US, these people would have details of every case the FBI is working on under his command. The report is “the crown jewel of an FBI office” and, “in the wrong hands, it would undo years of the entire division’s work,” journalist and author Garrett Graff will later comment.
Briefcase Is Found with the Report Still Inside - O’Neill immediately calls the local police to report the theft. He then calls his boss, Barry Mawn, director of the FBI’s New York office, and Neil Gallagher, the head of the FBI’s national security division, and tells them what has happened. FBI Director Louis Freeh and Attorney General Janet Reno will subsequently be notified of the incident. Fortunately, the briefcase is found a few hours later in a nearby hotel. It appears to have been stolen by a petty thief who was unaware of the value of the documents in it, since the annual field office report is still there. All that has been taken are O’Neill’s Montblanc pen, his silver cigar cutter, and an expensive lighter. FBI fingerprint examiners will soon determine that no one has touched the report.
FBI Will Investigate the Incident - All the same, the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) will promptly launch an investigation to determine whether any criminal charges should be brought against O’Neill over the incident. There will also be an internal investigation to determine if O’Neill violated FBI guidelines and should be punished. [Weiss, 2003, pp. 280-281; Wright, 2006, pp. 317; Graff, 2011, pp. 260] The OPR inquiry will end in the summer of 2001 with a decision not to prosecute and O’Neill will retire from the FBI before the internal investigation has been completed (see August 22, 2001). [New York Times, 8/19/2001; New Yorker, 1/14/2002] O’Neill is “the FBI’s top expert on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden,” according to New York magazine. [New York Magazine, 12/17/2001] He previously got into trouble for taking his longtime girlfriend to a secret FBI garage and letting her use the bathroom there (see Summer 1999). [Graff, 2011, pp. 260-261]
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; New Yorker, 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] 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; New Yorker, 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]
John O’Neill, special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, and two other senior FBI officials meet New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to discuss the threat of an imminent terrorist attack. O’Neill attends the briefing along with Kenneth Maxwell, the FBI agent in charge of counterterrorism in New York, and Barry Mawn, director of the FBI’s New York office. The three men present evidence indicating an imminent terrorist plot. Maxwell says everything suggests a big attack is being planned. At the end of the briefing, Kerik asks, “Could that happen here?” Maxwell says the attack is more likely to occur abroad than in the United States. “I can’t say for sure that it wouldn’t, but historically al-Qaeda has always attacked us overseas,” he replies. All the same, he adds, “They’re definitely planning something huge.” FBI agents are currently trying to determine what is happening with the summer’s high level of al-Qaeda threats (see Summer 2001). “Things were happening; people were on standby,” FBI agent Abby Perkins will later comment. But, Perkins will say, “Everyone thought it’d be an international attack.” [Graff, 2011, pp. 298]
Satam Al Suqami’s remarkably undamaged passport, marked and wrapped in plastic. It is shown as evidence in the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial. [Source: FBI]The passport of 9/11 hijacker Satam Al Suqami is reportedly found a few blocks from the World Trade Center. [ABC News, 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/16/2001; ABC News, 9/16/2001] Barry Mawn, the director of the FBI’s New York office, will say that police and the FBI found it during a “grid search” of the area. [CNN, 9/18/2001] However, according to the 9/11 Commission, the passport is actually discovered by a male passer-by who is about 30 years old and wearing a business suit. The man gives it to New York City Police Department Detective Yuk H. Chin shortly before 9:59 a.m., when the South Tower of the WTC collapses. The man leaves before he is identified. Chin, according to the 9/11 Commission, will give the passport to the FBI later in the day. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 40 ] An FBI timeline concerned with the 9/11 hijackers will state that the passport is found by a civilian “on the street near [the] World Trade Center,” and is “soaked in jet fuel.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 291 ] According to FBI agent Dan Coleman, Al Suqami’s passport is handed to a New York City detective who is “down there, trying to talk to people as they were coming out of the buildings.” By the time the detective looks up again after receiving the passport, the man who handed it to him has run off, “which doesn’t make sense,” Coleman will say. The passport is then given to a detective on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Coleman will say that by this evening, “we realized… that this was the passport of one of the people that headquarters had identified as one of the 19 probable hijackers.” [France 5, 3/14/2010] Investigative journalist Nick Davies will later write that he talked to “senior British sources who said they believed that the discovery of a terrorist’s passport in the rubble of the Twin Towers in September 2001 had been ‘a throwdown,’ i.e. it was placed there by somebody official.” [Davies, 2009, pp. 248] The Guardian will comment, “The idea that Mohamed Atta’s passport had escaped from that inferno unsinged [tests] the credulity of the staunchest supporter of the FBI’s crackdown on terrorism.” (Note that, as in this Guardian account, the passport will frequently be mistakenly referred to as belonging to Atta, not Al Suqami.) [Guardian, 3/19/2002]
David Kelley. [Source: New York Law School]Barry Mawn, director of the FBI’s New York office, sends specialized teams to the World Trade Center site after hearing Flight 11 crashing into the North Tower, even though he initially thinks the crash is an accident. Mawn is in his office on the 28th floor of 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan and has just heard the explosion when Flight 11 hit the WTC, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Kathy MacGowan, his secretary, shouted: “The World Trade! The World Trade!” Mawn now goes to her window, from where he can see smoke billowing from the North Tower. MacGowan says a commercial jet has crashed into the building. However, it supposedly does not occur to Mawn that the incident was a terrorist attack. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 1-2; CNN, 2/18/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 357] “At that point, I thought it was an accident,” he will later recall. [Washington Post, 10/20/2001] Mawn’s colleagues look to the director for guidance. “People were turning to me and asking, ‘What are we going to do next, boss?’” Mawn will recall. Mawn instructs MacGowan to call the FBI evidence response team. Despite thinking the crash is an accident, he adds, “Just in case, call the SWAT [the FBI special weapons and tactics team] and the Joint Terrorism Task Force,” which has exclusive jurisdiction over local terrorism investigations. He tells MacGowan to send the teams to Church and Vesey Streets, and says he will head that way himself. Before he leaves his office, though, he is called by David Kelley, chief of Manhattan US Attorney Mary Jo White’s terrorism unit. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 2; Wright, 2006, pp. 357; Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, 9/10/2016] White has instructed Kelley to go to the WTC site. [New York Metro Super Lawyers, 7/2006] Mawn agrees to meet him and then goes and joins him outside his building. The two men make their way toward the WTC, which is eight blocks away from the FBI office. They stop at the corner of Church and Vesey Streets, at the northeast corner of the WTC site. There, they join Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and other law enforcement officials. [Washington Post, 10/20/2001; Kessler, 2002, pp. 2] Mawn and Kelley will be at the WTC site when Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), and Mawn will then realize that the US is under attack (see After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Daily News, 10/1/2001; CNN, 2/18/2002; New York Metro Super Lawyers, 7/2006]
Barry Mawn, director of the FBI’s New York office, calls FBI Director Robert Mueller sometime after seeing Flight 175 crashing into the World Trade Center and says fighter jets are needed. Mawn was in his office at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan when Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower and, in response to the incident, he promptly made his way to the WTC site (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). He was with other officials there when Flight 175 hit the South Tower, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). While he supposedly thought the first crash was accidental, he realizes now that this is terrorism. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 1-2] “At that moment, I think we all knew we were under attack—these are no accidents—that potentially we’re at war here,” he will later comment. [CNN, 2/18/2002] Furthermore, he determines that al-Qaeda is to blame. “At that point I knew it was al-Qaeda,” he will recall. [Wicked Local, 9/15/2011; Treasure Coast Newspapers, 2/18/2013] This conclusion is presumably based on the expertise in terrorism he has acquired in his three decades with the FBI, during which he has been involved in several high-profile terrorism cases. [Washington Post, 10/20/2001; CNN, 2/18/2002] In the 18 months he has spent at the FBI’s New York office, he will say, he and his colleagues have “told everyone… that the biggest threat to the US was al-Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden.” [Wicked Local, 9/15/2011] Following the second attack, hundreds of FBI agents converge on the WTC site and Mawn instructs some of them to set up a command post. He also tries calling Mueller, who is at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC (see Shortly After 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), using his cell phone. His initial attempts are unsuccessful, but he eventually gets through. He tells the FBI director that “the phones [are] down and they needed Air Force jets,” according to journalist and author Ronald Kessler. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 2] It is unclear whether Mueller takes any action in response to this request. Fighters will arrive over Manhattan at 9:25 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] However, numerous witnesses on the ground will recall only noticing fighters overhead after 10:00 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
FBI agents in New York quickly set up a temporary field office in an FBI parking garage, where they will be based for the next few weeks, after the attacks on the World Trade Center rendered their original office unusable. The New York office is the FBI’s largest field office, comprising some 1,100 special agents. It is located at 26 Federal Plaza, just a few blocks away from the WTC site. However, the collapses of the Twin Towers (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001) disabled its telephone service, thereby rendering it useless. Officials are also concerned that 26 Federal Plaza might be the target of another terrorist attack.
New Facility Is Set Up in 24 Hours - Therefore, “Almost immediately” after the Twin Towers came down, according to the New York Times, the FBI starts relocating to a garage in Manhattan. The block-long, multilevel garage at 26th Street and the West Side Highway is usually used by the FBI to store and repair its fleet of vehicles. But within 24 hours of the attacks on the WTC, a temporary field office is up and running there. The facility is equipped with about 100 laptop computers. Three hundred phone lines are installed, with phones hooked up to a satellite truck positioned outside the garage.
Investigation Is Coordinated from the Temporary Facility - Officials from over two dozen federal, state, and local agencies are then based at the makeshift facility. Barry Mawn, director of the FBI’s New York office, and key federal prosecutors, including Mary Jo White, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, coordinate the work of almost 2,000 investigators from there. The garage will serve as the command center for the first four weeks of the FBI’s investigation of the terrorist attacks. [New York Times, 9/24/2001; Washington Post, 10/20/2001; Kessler, 2002, pp. 5, 424; Journal of Public Inquiry, 3/2002 ] It will be “New York’s nerve center for information about the attacks,” according to the Associated Press. [Associated Press, 9/27/2001] Agents will move back to their original field office at 26 Federal Plaza early in October. [Washington Post, 10/20/2001]
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]
Barry Mawn. [Source: Associated Press]On September 13, New York authorities take into custody ten people of Middle Eastern descent at JFK International and La Guardia Airports, reportedly fearing they intend to hijack aircraft and commit another suicidal terrorist attack on a US target. This leads to all three major New York-area airports—JFK, La Guardia, and Newark—being abruptly shut down, just hours after they reopened for the first time since the 9/11 attacks took place. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001; Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001; New York Times, 9/14/2001; Washington Post, 9/14/2001]
Armed and Carrying False ID - According to the Washington Post, the detained individuals are carrying knives and false identification. [Washington Post, 9/14/2001] Four of them are reportedly arrested as they try to board a flight from JFK Airport to Los Angeles, and a woman is held on suspicion of assisting these four. Some of the four are reported as having pilots’ certificates from Flight Safety International in Vero Beach, Florida, where some of the alleged 9/11 hijackers are currently believed to have taken flying lessons. Later on, the other five men are arrested at La Guardia Airport “under similar circumstances.” [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001] According to the New York Times, “Law enforcement officials said one of those held was carrying a false pilot’s identification.” Furthermore, several of the detained men “showed up at the airport with tickets for flights canceled on Tuesday [September 11] and tried to use them.” Investigators say they believe one of the men had been among a group of passengers that behaved suspiciously and became aggressive after their aircraft—United Airlines Flight 23—had its takeoff canceled on the morning of 9/11 (see (After 9:19 a.m.) September 11, 2001). New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik says one of the men arrested at JFK Airport “attempted to clear security and he was stopped.” [New York Times, 9/14/2001]
Men Released, No Connections Found to 9/11 Attacks - However, the following morning the FBI announces that none of the detainees had any connection to the 9/11 attacks, and all but one of them have been released. Barry Mawn, the head of the New York FBI office, says: “The reporting that has been going on all night, I can definitively tell you, is inaccurate.… [W]e did talk to approximately a dozen individuals. We have only one individual left who is still being questioned by the task force. All other ten have been released.” [CNN, 9/14/2001; PBS, 9/14/2001] Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker says that no knives, box cutters, guns, or other weapons were found on the individuals. [Washington Post, 9/15/2001] After talking to the directors of the FBI and CIA, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) tells CNN that the detained men had “no connection whatsoever to what happened at the World Trade towers or the Pentagon, or this organizational network.” He explains: “One guy, an actual pilot, got on the plane, coincidentally had his brother’s identification as well. His brother happened to live in the apartment complex that was one in Boston where some of [the alleged hijackers] had actually been.” Biden adds: “Ten other people were going to a Boeing conference. They had stickers on their bags.… The folks at the airport thought, hey, wait a minute, are they impersonating crew? And they weren’t.” Biden says the one man who has not yet been released “was a screwball who was acting out, you know, acting out and saying and demanding.… Making problems, and they arrested him.” By 11:20 a.m. on September 14, the three New York-area airports are reopened. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001; CNN, 9/14/2001]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.