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Profile: FBI Washington Field Office
FBI Washington Field Office was a participant or observer in the following events:
Christopher Combs. [Source: Harvard Kennedy School]The FBI’s Washington, DC, field office (WFO) starts sponsoring training with fire department and law enforcement commanders in the Washington area on how emergency response workers and the FBI should coordinate their activities if there is a terrorist attack in the region. [Griffin, 3/30/2010, pp. 76 ]
FBI Has Developed Relationships with Fire Departments - The WFO has already established relationships with fire chiefs in the Washington area, on the initiative of Special Agent Christopher Combs. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. 10 ; Arlington TV, 10/8/2014] Combs is the assistant weapons of mass destruction (WMD) coordinator on the National Capital Response Squad (NCRS)—an antiterrorism rapid response unit—out of the WFO. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 76; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011] When he was assigned to the NCRS in 1998, he realized that if there was a major emergency or a terrorist attack, the agency that would be doing rescues, tackling fires, and going into any wrecked buildings would be the fire department. He told his bosses: “If there was a major bombing today, the fire chief is going to own that scene. He needs a relationship with the FBI.” Combs was consequently allowed to begin a liaison program with the local fire departments. As the WFO’s fire service liaison, he then got to know fire department officials in Washington, Maryland, and Virginia; set up joint training programs; and made sure the FBI understood fire department procedures. He also taught courses at the area’s fire academies on terrorism, WMDs, and the responsibilities of the FBI. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A47 ; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 8]
FBI Sponsors Training with Fire and Law Enforcement Departments - The WFO now expands its regional outreach activities by starting to sponsor training with the fire and law enforcement command staffs in the Washington area. This training will introduce FBI officials to local first responders. It will allow these officials to share lessons learned from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), and present “conceptual operational theories” of how the FBI and first responders could coordinate their actions during a terrorist attack.
Outreach Efforts Improve the Response to the Pentagon Attack - Combs’s outreach efforts with emergency response agencies in the Washington area will reportedly pay dividends when these agencies have to respond to the attack on the Pentagon on September 11. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A47 ; Kettl, 2008, pp. 203-204; Griffin, 3/30/2010, pp. 76-77 ] Emergency responders and the FBI will have “been through numerous exercises together so that at the Pentagon we all knew each other and the capabilities of each agency,” Combs will later say. “We knew the roles and responsibilities, so we already knew who was in charge and what phase we were in,” he will add. [Public Management, 9/2011]
According to statements by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds in 2004 and 2005, in July or August 2001, an unnamed FBI field agent discovers foreign documentation revealing “certain information regarding blueprints, pictures, and building material for skyscrapers being sent overseas. It also reveal[s] certain illegal activities in obtaining visas from certain embassies in the Middle East, through network contacts and bribery.” The document is in a foreign language and apparently the agent isn’t given an adequate translation of it before 9/11. Approximately one month after 9/11, the agent will suspect the original translation is insufficient and will ask the FBI Washington Field Office to retranslate it. The significant information mentioned above will finally be revealed, but FBI translation unit supervisor Mike Feghali will decide not to send this information back to the field agent. Instead, he will send a note stating that the translation was reviewed and the original translation was accurate. The field agent will never receive the accurate translation. This is all according to Edmonds’s letter. Edmonds will claim Feghali “has participated in certain criminal activities and security breaches, and [engaged] in covering up failures and criminal conducts within the department.” While the mainstream media will not report on this incident, in January 2005 an internal government report will determine that most of Edmonds’s allegations have been verified and none of them could be refuted. [Edmonds, 8/1/2004; Anti-War (.com), 8/22/2005]
The FBI’s Washington Field Office. [Source: FBI]The FBI’s Washington, DC, field office (WFO) holds a field training exercise in which various agencies practice their response to a terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The exercise is led by Special Agent Christopher Combs on behalf of the FBI. [9/11 Commission, 8/5/2003 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011] Combs is the assistant WMD coordinator on the National Capital Response Squad—an antiterrorism rapid response unit—out of the WFO.
Exercise Is Based around a Chemical Weapons Attack - The exercise is based around the scenario of a terrorist attack, according to Combs. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 76; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011] Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department will later describe it as a “major chemical exercise,” presumably meaning it involves a hypothetical attack with a chemical weapon. It is held at an unspecified location in Fairfax County in Northern Virginia and is attended by “all the area fire departments, police departments, and the FBI,” Combs will say. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011; Arlington TV, 7/18/2011; Arlington TV, 10/8/2014] It is held on the Sunday before 9/11—September 9—according to Combs. [Kettl, 2008, pp. 203; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011] Other accounts, however, will state that it is held on September 8, the Saturday before 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 8/5/2003 ; Arlington TV, 7/18/2011; Arlington TV, 10/8/2014]
Exercise Improves the Response to the Pentagon Attack - Many people who participate in the exercise will be involved in the emergency response to the attack on the Pentagon on September 11. [Kettl, 2008, pp. 203] Combs, for example, will arrive at the Pentagon just minutes after the attack there and initially serve as the on-scene FBI commander at the crash site. [9/11 Commission, 8/5/2003 ; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 76] The exercise reportedly has a beneficial effect on the ability of its participants to respond to the Pentagon attack. It is “one more of those opportunities for us to not only get to know each other but [also to] figure out how we were going to interoperate with each other,” Schwartz will comment. Consequently, on September 11, there will already be “a great deal of understanding about how we were going to work together on this kind of an incident.” [Arlington TV, 7/18/2011] The FBI’s WFO and the Arlington County Fire Department, which participates in today’s exercise, regularly train together and often respond jointly to real-world incidents. [9/11 Commission, 8/5/2003 ]
David McNulty. [Source: Air National Guard]An intelligence officer with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles outside Washington, is unable to obtain further information about the attacks from other agencies, and instead has to make do with what he can learn from television reports. [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155-156] Having learned of the two attacks in New York, Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the 113th Wing of the DCANG, checks the SIPRNET—the Department of Defense’s classified version of the Internet—for pertinent information, but apparently without success. He phones anyone he can think of who might be able to provide information, including the Air Combat Command Intelligence Squadron at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, the 609th Air Intelligence Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, the FBI field office in Washington, and the Secret Service’s White House Joint Operations Center. Yet, as he will later recall, the agencies have “nothing to report.” Even his call to the FBI is “a fruitless effort.” [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155-156] McNulty will say, “I even called the National Security Agency 24-hour information desk and they knew nothing more than I did.” He adds, “We were all getting our information from CNN.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] According to Knight Ridder, “Air defense around Washington, DC, is provided mainly by fighter planes from Andrews Air Force Base.” [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2001] However, author Lynn Spencer will claim that because the DCANG “is a general purpose F-16 unit, no one is specifically tasked with keeping the squadron informed.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 156]
Arthur Eberhart. [Source: Spc. Edgar R. Gonzalez]In a government report analyzing the effectiveness of rescue worker response to the Pentagon crash, it is mentioned that, “At about 9:20 a.m., the WFO [FBI Washington Field Office] Command Center [is] notified that American Airlines Flight 77 had been hijacked shortly after takeoff from Washington Dulles International Airport. [Special Agent in Charge Arthur] Eberhart dispatche[s] a team of 50 agents to investigate the Dulles hijacking and provide additional security to prevent another. He sen[ds] a second team to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport as a precautionary step. At the WFO Command Center, Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Jim Rice [is] on the telephone with the Pentagon when Flight 77 crashe[s] into the building.” [US Department of Health & Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C-55] Yet according to the 9/11 Commission, NORAD is not told that Flight 77 had been hijacked at this time or any time before it crashes. However, the FAA has claimed they officially warned NORAD at 9:24 a.m. (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and informally warned them even earlier (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Van Harp. [Source: US Department of Defense]Van Harp, the head of the FBI’s Washington, DC, field office, is away from the capital in South Carolina for his summer vacation, and has to be flown back to Washington in an FBI plane to help respond to the terrorist attacks. [Washington Post, 3/4/2002; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C45, C47 ; 9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 ] Harp took command of the Washington field office (WFO) as its new assistant director in charge in July this year. [Washington Post, 4/18/2003; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010] But on this day he is in Hilton Head, South Carolina, on vacation with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He learned of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center when his secretary, Donna Cummings, paged him shortly after the attack occurred. Harp then called Cummings and she told him what had happened. He switched on the television in time to see the second plane crashing into the WTC, and had known then that he needed to return to Washington.
FBI Granted Permission to Send Plane to Collect Harp - Because all planes have been grounded across the US (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the FBI initially arranged for state troopers in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to drive Harp back to Washington. But the bureau was then able to get special permission from the FAA to send an aircraft to fly Harp home. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 424; Washington Post, 3/4/2002; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C47 ] The FBI therefore sent one of its aircraft to collect Harp from Hilton Head Airport. The small, single-engine plane received clearance to take off from Manassas Regional Airport, 30 miles west of Washington, at around 2:30 p.m. The time when it lands in Hilton Head is unstated, as is the time when it lands back at the Manassas airport. From the Manassas airport, Harp drives to an FBI command post at Washington Dulles International Airport and then arrives at the WFO sometime later in the afternoon. He will stay at the field office until 2:20 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Kessler, 2002, pp. 424; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-2, S-41 ]
Three of Office's Four Leaders Absent - The WFO is the second largest of the FBI’s 56 field offices in terms of staffing. It comprises 657 agents and 650 professional support staff. Serving under Harp, three special agents in charge (SACs) direct the office’s administrative and technical, criminal investigations, and national security divisions. However, of the WFO’s four senior leaders, only SAC Arthur Eberhart, the head of the administrative and technical division, was present at the office when the terrorist attacks took place. SAC Ellen Knowlton, who headed the criminal investigative division, was recently reassigned to FBI headquarters, and so her position is currently vacant. SAC Timothy Bereznay was only recently appointed to head the national security division, and so he has not yet reported to the WFO. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C3, C45 ; 9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/6/2006] The WFO will be one of the key FBI offices involved in the fight against terrorism following the 9/11 attacks. [Washington Post, 4/18/2003]
A US Army intelligence officer comes forward, saying he was involved with a secret military intelligence unit, which had identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers by mid-2000. He says the unit, called Able Danger, had tried to meet with agents at the FBI’s Washington field office that summer to share its information, but was prevented from doing so by military lawyers (see September 2000). Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who served as a liaison officer between Able Danger and the Defense Intelligence Agency, is the first military officer associated with Able Danger to publicly acknowledge his involvement with the unit. Shaffer says that, had they been allowed to alert the FBI to Mohamed Atta being in the US, they might have been able to prevent 9/11. [New York Times, 8/17/2005; Guardian, 8/18/2005; New York Post, 8/18/2005] A week prior to Shaffer’s coming forward, Able Danger was brought to the public’s attention in a New York Times front page article (see August 9, 2005). Shaffer says he met privately with staff from the 9/11 Commission in Afghanistan in October 2003, and explicitly mentioned Atta as a member of the “Brooklyn” al-Qaeda cell (see October 21, 2003).
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