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Profile: Louis J. Freeh
Louis J. Freeh was a participant or observer in the following events:
President Clinton appoints Louis Freeh to be the new director of the FBI. Freeh was once an FBI field agent. He will forge alliances with Republicans in Congress. This will drive a wedge between the FBI and Clinton’s White House and national security staff. Freeh will retire in the summer of 2001 (see May 1, 2001). The New York Times will later claim that he “left the FBI badly damaged. Lawmakers in both parties clamored for change at an agency they attacked as ineptly managed, resistant to change, and unwilling to admit mistakes.” [New York Times, 6/2/2002] Increasingly opposed to Clinton, Freeh develops a secret back-channel relationship with former president George H. W. Bush. He uses this relationship to liaison with the Saudi royal family without Clinton’s knowledge. [Trento, 2005, pp. 351]
In January 1995, the New York Times reports, “For more than a year the Federal Bureau of Investigation has closely monitored supporters of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in several cities, including Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Dallas.” [New York Times, 1/26/1995] In August 1995, the Times reports, “For well over a year, the FBI has monitored Hamas supporters in several American cities.” [New York Times, 8/16/1995] On March 12, 1996, FBI Director Louis Freeh says to Congress, “We have several instances where we have been able to show the transfer of substantial cash funds from the US to areas in the Mideast where we could show Hamas received, and even made expenditure of, those funds.” He says some of the money raised is sent back from the Middle East to the US to support and expand phony front organizations for Hamas. The FBI, he adds, has a “very inadequate picture of what perhaps is much greater activity” in the US. He notes the difficulty of tracing “those funds to actual military or terrorist operations anywhere outside the US.” Hamas leaders say any such money raised is used for charitable and humanitarian purposes. (Legally, after 1995 it became a crime in the US to fund Hamas, no matter how they spent their money (see January 1995)) In 1997, a Congressional analyst will say it is estimated Hamas receives from 30 percent to 80 percent of its budget from sources inside the US. [New York Daily News, 3/13/1996; Associated Press, 5/26/1997] But in 2002, FBI agent Robert Wright will claim, “Against the wishes of some at the FBI in 1995, when I uncovered criminal violations in several of my cases, I promptly initiated active terrorism criminal investigations on these subjects. I developed probable cause to believe that some of these transfers or transmissions had been of money intended to be used in the support of domestic and international terrorism activities. The illegal transfers that supported specific terrorist activities involving extortion, kidnapping, and murder…” Much of Wright’s evidence will focus on Hamas figures Mohammad Salah and Mousa Abu Marzouk. [Federal News Service, 5/30/2002] FBI agent Joe Hummel will say in 1997 that he has evidence “millions of dollars” passed through the bank accounts of Marzouk. But even though Marzouk is in US custody, he will merely be deported later in 1997 (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). [Associated Press, 5/26/1997] Federal prosecutor Mark Flessner will later claim that Wright and others in the Vulgar Betrayal investigation were building a strong criminal case against some in this Hamas support network, but they were not allowed to charge anyone no matter how strong their evidence was (see October 1998). [Federal News Service, 5/30/2002] In March 2002, the FBI will still publicly claim that it is watching an “elaborate network” of Hamas supporters in the US (see March 15, 2002).
As President Clinton issues an executive order making it a felony to raise or transfer funds to designated terrorist groups or their front organizations (see January 1995), counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and Treasury official Richard Newcomb look for opportunities to use the new power. They review files to see if there are any clear cut cases to use it on. They decide that the Holy Land Foundation is in violation of the new order. Customs officials prepare to raid Holy Land’s headquarters in Arlington, Texas, and seize all their assets. However, FBI Director Louis Freeh and Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin object. Both claim the executive order might not hold up to legal challenges. Freeh additionally says he is concerned with alienating Arabs in the US, and Rubin is afraid the raid might discourage investment in the US. The raid is cancelled. [New York Times, 1/26/1995; Clarke, 2004, pp. 98] The FBI is also aware of a public event held in January where the leader of Hamas’ political wing is the keynote speaker. He urges the crowd, “I am going to speak the truth to you. It’s simple. Finish off the Israelis. Kill them all! Exterminate them! No peace ever!” Holy Land raises over $200,000 for Hamas from the event. The same speaker helps Holy Land raise money with many other events in the US. [Los Angeles Times, 12/6/2001; Associated Press, 3/15/2002] After Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk is arrested trying to enter the US in July 1995 (see July 5, 1995-May 1997), agents who search his belongings find financial records showing that he invested $250,000 in Holy Land in 1992. Holy Land continues to pay him monthly profits on his investment even after Hamas was declared a terrorist organization and news of his arrest made the front pages of US newspapers (in fact, Holy Land will continue to pay him through 2001). Although Holy Land is in clear violation of the law, the raid still does not occur. [Dallas Morning News, 12/19/2002] In 1996, Congress will pass a law that confirms it is illegal to financially support officially designated terrorism groups such as Hamas. (see April 25, 1996). Clarke has never explained why Holy Land is not raided after the passage of this law, or in subsequent years when yet more evidence of terrorist ties are uncovered (see 1997; September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001). Holy Land will finally be raided after 9/11 (see December 4, 2001), largely on the basis of evidence collected in 1993 (see October 1993). In 2004, the US government will claim that Holy Land raised over $12 million for Hamas between January 1995, when funding Hamas became illegal in the US, and December 2001, when Holy Land was shut down. [Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 7/27/2004]
Merrick Garland, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division in Washington, receives an “Urgent” report on his computer from Oklahoma City. The report concerns the bomb that has just ripped through the Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Some of the report is speculation and some of it is incorrect. It was hastily compiled and sent out from the administrative office of the US Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. The report reads in part: “An explosion was heard. Black smoke billowed from a few blocks north.… The explosion rocked the private leased space which houses the US Attorney’s office three blocks north from the federal courthouse.” The report gives details about the federal safety officials sent to investigate: “Along the three-block walk, they found massive glass in the streets from several of the high-rise buildings. Along the way, walking wounded were everywhere, along with emergency rescue vehicles. It appears, and has been speculated, that a massive bomb exploded in the area of ATF, DEA, or Secret Service offices in the Murrah Federal Building. Employees from HUD indicated there were a few suspected deaths, and a couple of critically injured.… Damage to the Murrah building included the front of the building being blown off, several floors seem to be missing, and you can see right through the building in the area of the 7th, 8th, and 9th floors.” Safety officials have inspected the nearby federal courthouse and found extensive damage there as well. “It appeared some small explosions were continuing, perhaps gas lines.” Garland enters the office of Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who calls Attorney General Janet Reno with the news. Reno asks for further information as it comes in. Garland looks for television news reports but sees nothing yet. Another “Urgent” report comes over his computer, again from the US Attorney’s office for the Western District in Oklahoma, and again mixing factual details with errors. “Information was received by the district that it was a bomb,” it reads. “Information was received by the district that there was a second bomb and it was NOT detonated. The northeast side of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was blown out. The 9th floor of the building is gone. All grand jurors have been evacuated. One WDOK (Western District of Oklahoma) employee has a child in the day care center in the Federal Building. Unconfirmed reports from the district were six children in the day care center killed, although CNN is reporting that all of the children are safe. The district reported that there was a bomb threat at a church located north of Oklahoma City. In reviewing cases, the US Attorney’s office initially reported that a defendant in a methamphetamine case had apparently made threats against the government.” Garland now sees pictures from the scene on television news reports, and realizes immediately that the devastation had to have been caused by a bomb and not a gas main break or any other accidental occurrance. By this time, Garland’s office is filling with prosecutors and staffers, stunned at the scenes they are witnessing on TV. Garland meets again with Gorelick, and both meet with Reno. Their first priority is to take control of the situation, and Reno alerts the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). A third “Urgent” report comes in; Garland reads: “A Channel 4 [local Oklahoma City television station] reporter reported the Nation of Islam has claimed responsibility for the bombing.… (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After) Dahlia Lehman, the victim witness coordinator in the Western District of Oklahoma, has a daughter employed at the DEA office in the Alfred Murrah Federal Building.” Garland leaves the Justice Department and runs across the street to the FBI building. Stepping into the Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC), he is amazed at the number of tips already pouring in about the bombing. He stays in the SIOC office for much of the day, coordinating leads and details as information arrives. FBI Director Louis Freeh is in an adjacent room; like Garland, he is collating and processing information. Reports of bomb threats swamp the offices throughout the day (see 9:22 a.m. April 19, 1995 and 10:00 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995). [Serrano, 1998, pp. 182-187]
The rear axle of the Ryder truck from the bombing (foreground), used by the FBI to identify the truck and discover the identity of the bomber. The axle was blown 575 feet and crushed the Ford Festiva depicted in the photo. [Source: Associated Press]The White House announces that the FBI will be the lead investigative agency for the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Some in federal law enforcement feel that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) is the better choice to conduct the investigation, considering that agency’s expertise with explosives, but the White House wants to avoid the infighting and turf wars that ensued after the Branch Davidian raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and culminated in the tragedy that claimed 78 lives (see April 19, 1993). The FBI has also been training intensively since the Davidian tragedy on handling major events such as this one. The BATF will be involved, and some internal bickering will take place. FBI supervisor Weldon Kennedy, who runs the Phoenix FBI office, is named lead agent. Kennedy supplants Robert “Bob” Ricks, the FBI’s special agent in charge of Oklahoma City. Ricks had worked on the Branch Davidian siege. FBI Director Louis Freeh names Kennedy, not Ricks, to lead the investigation because of new FBI procedures, implemented after the Davidian tragedy, that call for increased group responses to major crisis situations. Kennedy has been training other agents in the new system and has experience working with a recent series of prison riots in Atlanta. Moreover, Kennedy has no connection to Oklahoma City and therefore does not know any of the victims or the law enforcement officials involved. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 184, 191-192] Some 350 agents and specialists, many of whom have friends and co-workers in the Murrah Building, are assigned to the investigative task force. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 33] In the following days, the FBI will perform intensive searches of the site of the bombing and of the surrounding area, marking off the areas in small grids and questioning everyone available. Gas stations and truck stops on highways leading in and out of Oklahoma City will be searched, and their employees questioned. A hundred and twenty-nine dump truck loads of debris will be carted to a sifting site at the county sheriff’s gun range 10 miles away, and the debris examined and sorted. In all, 1,035 tons of debris will be examined, much of it by hand. Telephone leads are followed up. The Justice Department’s Merrick Garland will spend the next three months leading the investigation until a group of US Attorneys named by Attorney General Janet Reno takes over. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 221]
Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani. [Source: Fethi Belaid/ Agence France-Presse]Since Operation Bojinka was uncovered in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995), many of the plot’s major planners, including Ramzi Yousef, are found and arrested. One major exception is 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). He flees to Qatar in the Persian Gulf, where he has been living openly using his real name, enjoying the patronage of Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, Qatar’s Interior Minister and a member of the royal family (see 1992-1996). [ABC News, 2/7/2003] He had accepted al-Thani’s invitation to live on his farm around 1992 (see 1992-1995). The CIA learned KSM was living in Qatar in 1995 after his nephew Ramzi Yousef attempted to call him there while in US custody (see After February 7, 1995-January 1996). The Sudanese government also tipped off the FBI that KSM was traveling to Qatar. Some CIA agents strongly urged action against KSM after his exact location in Qatar was determined, but no action was taken (see October 1995). In January 1996, KSM is indicted in the US for his role in the 1993 WTC bombing, and apparently this leads to an effort to apprehend him in Qatar that same month. FBI Director Louis Freeh sends a letter to the Qatari government asking for permission to send a team after him. [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] One of Freeh’s diplomatic notes states that KSM was involved in a conspiracy to “bomb US airliners” and is believed to be “in the process of manufacturing an explosive device.” [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] Qatar confirms that KSM is there and is making explosives, but they delay handing him over. After waiting several months, a high-level meeting takes place in Washington to consider a commando raid to seize him. However, the raid is deemed too risky, and another letter is sent to the Qatari government instead. One person at the meeting later states, “If we had gone in and nabbed this guy, or just cut his head off, the Qatari government would not have complained a bit. Everyone around the table for their own reasons refused to go after someone who fundamentally threatened American interests….” [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] Around May 1996, Mohammed’s patron al-Thani makes sure that Mohammed and four others are given blank passports and a chance to escape. A former Qatari police chief later says the other men include Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atef, al-Qaeda’s number two and number three leaders, respectively (see Early 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; ABC News, 2/7/2003] In 1999, the New York Times will report that “Although American officials said they had no conclusive proof, current and former officials said they believed that the Foreign Minister [Sheik Hamed bin Jasim al-Thani] was involved, directly or indirectly” in tipping off KSM. [New York Times, 7/8/1999] KSM will continue to occasionally use Qatar as a safe haven, even staying there for two weeks after 9/11 (see Late 2001).
Two armed Freemen man a patrol outpost on their besieged ranch. The US flag is flown upside down to indicate distress. [Source: Idaho Observer]Undercover FBI agents arrest the leader of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994), LeRoy Schweitzer, and two of his colleagues, Daniel E. Petersen Jr. and Lavon T. Hanson, on the “Justus Township” ranch (see September 28, 1995 and After). Schweitzer and Peterson go out in the early morning to inspect the site of a ham radio antenna they were having set up to facilitate communications; the site is on the ranch, but some distance from the main compound. The two are responding to a request from the chief of the installation crew to inspect the antenna. When they arrive, they learn that the installation crew is actually composed of FBI agents. Though Schweitzer and Petersen are heavily armed, they do not resist arrest. Hanson is also arrested without incident. Federal agents then surround the ranch with over 100 agents. Six Freemen voluntarily leave the compound; 20 or more heavily armed Freemen remain inside the ranch, along with several children, and a standoff between the Freemen and the FBI begins. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996; Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] A lawyer who visited a Freemen residence in the fall of 1995 recalls seeing guns such as AR-15 assault rifles, shotguns, and hunting rifles in every corner, and gas masks hanging from the doors. Authorities believe that the Freemen ensconsced in the ranch house have those weapons and more besides. [Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996]
Tactics Very Different from Ruby Ridge, Waco - US Attorney Sherry Matteucci says that federal authorities are seeking eight other people who are not in custody in the Freeman case, including Rodney Skurdal, who has been at large since a warrant for his arrest was issued in March 1995. Skurdal is the de facto leader of the Freemen holed up inside the ranch. The FBI says it is going to great lengths to ensure that this standoff does not end badly, as previous confrontations have in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). “The FBI has gone to great pains to ensure that there is no armed confrontation, no siege, no armed perimeter, and no use of military assault-type tactics or equipment,” says Attorney General Janet Reno. “The FBI is trying to negotiate a peaceful solution.” The FBI says the confrontation is not a “siege,” as two of the three roads leading out of the Freeman compound are not blocked. Matteucci says authorities believe there are women and children among the besieged Freemen, but will not speculate as to the Freemen’s numbers or composition. FBI Director Louis Freeh decides at the outset not to use overt military tactics, as was done at both Ruby Ridge and Waco. Agents and law enforcement officials on the scene do not wear camouflage or black uniforms, but civilian clothes, and no armored personnel carriers are brought in. The FBI’s quasi-military Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) is heavily supplemented by trained negotiators and “profilers.” Instead of snipers, the FBI installs video surveillance cameras on a microwave tower leading into the farm, as well as extensive audio surveillance equipment. No perimeter is established, only roads leading into the ranch are blocked, and many people are allowed to drive in and out of the farm after being stopped and questioned by FBI or law enforcement agents. (Days after the arrests, the Freemen themselves will block the county road in front of their farm with a barbed wire barricade.) The HRT does not manage the standoff, as it did in Waco; instead, the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group is in charge. The FBI agent in charge is Robert “Bear” Bryant, an assistant FBI director who in 1988 participated in the Marion, Utah, siege of a group of armed religious zealots that ended peacefully. Local police block media access to the farm, allegedly fearing violence against journalists. The FBI and the various law enforcement agencies establish an operations center at the Jordan county fairgrounds, with vehicles, command post trailers, and even an airstrip. The FBI sets up a dedicated telephone line into the farm for family members, and cuts the other phone lines. Jim Pate of Soldier of Fortune magazine, who met the Freemen leaders last year, warns that the confrontation could easily become violent. Lynn Davis of the Montana Human Rights Network agrees. “They haven’t shot anybody, but they’ve held people at gunpoint,” she says. “They’ve threatened. I’ve had two calls in the past week threatening my life, my children. Phone calls to both my home and office.” [CNN, 3/28/1996; Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996; Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]
'Sad, Middle-Aged Men' - Nick Murnion, the Garfield County attorney and a lifelong resident of Jordan, says of the Freemen, “It’s like they’re brainwashed.” The Freemen represent maybe one percent of the town, Murnion says, but “they are causing misery for the whole county.” A Jordan resident who asks to remain anonymous says: “We’re tore up about it. A lot of us have family out there.” She says that the Freemen have rejected everyone who does not share their beliefs, even family members. “If we’re not with them, we’re against them,” she says. [Washington Post, 4/1996] Matthew Sisler, the lawyer who visited the Freemen last year, has a somewhat different view. When he saw the group of heavily armed men, he says he did not fear them: “What we saw was a bunch of sad, middle-aged men who had lost their homes, who had not paid loans back or taxes, and wanted someone to blame.” [Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996]
Entity Tags: Nick Murnion, Sherry Matteucci, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Robert (“Bear”) Bryant, Matthew Sisler, Montana Freemen, Louis J. Freeh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Critical Incident Response Group, Daniel Petersen, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lynn Davis, Jim Pate, LeRoy Schweitzer, Lavon T. Hanson, Janet Reno
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
President Clinton signs the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which the New York Times calls “broad legislation that provides new tools and penalties for federal law-enforcement officials to use in fighting terrorism.” The Clinton administration proposed the bill in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). In many ways, the original bill will be mirrored by the USA Patriot Act six years later (see October 26, 2001). Civil libertarians on both the left and right opposed the legislation. Political analyst Michael Freeman called the proposal one of the “worst assaults on civil liberties in decades,” and the Houston Chronicle called it a “frightening” and “grievous” assault on domestic freedoms. Many Republicans opposed the bill, and forced a compromise that removed increased wiretap authority and lower standards for lawsuits against sellers of guns used in crimes. CNN called the version that finally passed the Republican-controlled Congress a “watered-down version of the White House’s proposal. The Clinton administration has been critical of the bill, calling it too weak. The original House bill, passed last month, had deleted many of the Senate’s anti-terrorism provisions because of lawmakers’ concerns about increasing federal law enforcement powers. Some of those provisions were restored in the compromise bill.” [CNN, 4/18/1996; New York Times, 4/25/1996; Roberts, 2008, pp. 35] An unusual coalition of gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) led the opposition to the law. [New York Times, 4/17/1996] By the time Congress passed the bill, it had been, in the words of FBI Director Louis Freeh, “stripped… of just about every meaningful provision.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 35] The law makes it illegal in the US to provide “material support” to any organization banned by the State Department. [Guardian, 9/10/2001]
In its escalating pressure against the besieged Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996), the FBI shuts off the electricity to the Freemen’s compound. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The Freemen have at least one generator, so they are not entirely without electricity; it is possible that they could go for months without outside power. If the power shutdown elicts no response, the FBI has other options it can implement, including moving agents incrementally closer to the main buildings, disrupting the Freemen’s satellite feeds and other communications, and even blocking their access to outside food sources such as fish ponds and storage buildings. “In effect, we could shut them off from the world,” says one official, who adds that the steps would be put into effect gradually in the hope that any one of them might lead to negotiations. Officials say any escalation would have to be gradual to ensure that the situation does not escalate out of control. They say they have no plans to raid the compound at this time. FBI Director Louis Freeh is monitoring the standoff very closely, officials say, and has mediated discussions and disputes between his aides and his field commanders. [New York Times, 6/5/1996; Associated Press, 6/10/1996]
Dissenting Viewpoints on Efficacy of Power Shutdown - The next day, retired FBI agent Joe Conley tells PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer that he thinks the power shutdown is “basically going to send a signal. In and of itself, turning off the electricity isn’t going to prompt these people to come directly to the negotiating table, but it is telling them that the FBI is there, law enforcement is there, and law enforcement is not going to go away.” Freelance writer and reporter Lawrence Myers disagrees with Conley about the efficacy of shutting down the Freemen’s power, saying: “They, first of all, don’t recognize the jurisdictional authority of the people who have them surrounded. Second of all, as I recall looking into this, I flew up there last year to talk with these people and look into it, and the fact is that in the late 1980s, the electricity was shut off on the Clark ranch (see September 28, 1995 and After) for three years. Nobody came out. Nobody moved away.” State Senator Charles Duke (R-CO), who has come off a series of frustrating negotiations with the Freemen (see May 15-21, 1996), says while he believes the electricity shutdown will have a “helpful long-term” effect, the Freemen are not a unified whole: “Had it just been up to the Clarks, this would have been over sometime ago, I believe. But what you’ve got there are some destabilizing factors, such as Russ Landers, Dale Jacobi, and Rod Skurdal,” he says, and those men are influencing the others to stay put in defiance of the FBI. “[T]hose are the three main destabilizing factors, and my recommendation to the FBI when I left is that those three somehow be isolated from the remainder of the farm, if necessary by force. And I think the rest of the farm would capitulate. I have seen people who are prepared to die for their beliefs, and these people don’t strike me as that type of person.”
Senator: FBI Showing Admirable Restraint - In a sidebar to the conversation about the power shutdown, Duke tells Lehrer that he admires the FBI’s restraint in handling the Freemen. “I think they have been lenient deliberately,” he says. “That’s really to the FBI’s credit—not to say they will always do this, but they’re at least doing that in this case. I think it’s more going out of their way, even over-correcting, if necessary, in order to make sure that the constitutional rights of these people is observed, and an example of how far the FBI was willing to go is they were willing to step aside if these people on the Clark ranch would simply walk across the cattle guard, the FBI would step aside and let the county sheriff process this, these people or the Montana State Police, or the Montana state legislature.” Myers agrees, noting that Attorney General Janet Reno said if given the chance to redo the FBI siege in Waco, Texas, which resulted in the deaths of almost 80 Branch Davidians (see April 19, 1993), “she’d do a lot of things differently. Well, this is the opportunity to demonstrate what type of patience they’re willing to show with American citizens. I think they’re doing fine so far and I know it’s problematic.… I think [Duke] and I and Mr. Conley can agree, this is a very unique, very difficult, and incredibly complicated negotiating situation here.” [PBS, 6/4/1996]
Entity Tags: Louis J. Freeh, Montana Freemen, Russell Dean Landers, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Lawrence Myers, Jim Lehrer, Dale Jacobi, Charles Duke, Janet Reno, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joe Conley
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
A distant shot of the Freemen compound. Reporters were not given much access to the area, and photographs of the area and the participants in the standoff are limited. [Source: CNN]The besieged Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996) surrender peacefully to federal authorities. Officials credit Freemen leader Edwin Clark (see June 11, 1996) with playing a key role in negotiating the surrender. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The New York Times writes that the siege ends “so peacefully that the surrender [does] not even disturb the cows grazing at the group’s remote Montana ranch.” Local postal carrier and rancher Ruth Coulter exclaims after the surrender: “My God, it’s finally over! And nobody got killed! Wonderful. Wonderful!” [New York Times, 6/14/1996]
16 Freemen Surrender - CNN identifies 16 people still inside the compound: Ralph Clark (see 1980s-1994), the elderly leader of the Clark family and one of the group’s leaders; Clark’s wife Kay; Clark’s brother Emmett Clark, the actual former owner of the 960-acre wheat farm occupied by the Freemen and dubbed “Justus Township” (see September 28, 1995 and After); Emmett Clark’s wife Rosie; Ralph Clark’s son Edwin; Edwin Clark’s son Casey Clark; Rodney Skurdal, a founder of the group (see 1983-1995); Russell Dean Landers, one of the leaders of the group and a member of a North Carolina anti-government, anti-tax group called “Civil Rights Task Force”; Dana Dudley Landers, Landers’s common-law wife, a fugitive from federal and state charges, and a member of the “Civil Rights Task Force”; Dale Jacobi, a former Canadian policemen; Steven Hance, who faces state charges from North Carolina; Hance’s sons John Hance and James Hance; Cherlyn Petersen, the wife of arrested Freemen member Daniel Petersen; Casey Valheimer; and Barry Nelson, who with another man entered the ranch after eluding blockades (see March 25 - April 1, 1996). [CNN, 6/12/1996] The surrender is peaceful; the Freemen drive to the ranch gates in cars, trucks, and a Winnebago motor home. They gather in a quiet circle for a final prayer. Then Edwin Clark approaches an agent and shakes hands. Finally, in pairs escorted by Clark, they surrender to waiting agents, who ease them into passenger vans. Clark is the last one to enter custody. Fourteen of the Freemen are taken to the Yellowstone County jail in Billings, 175 miles away from Jordan. Two, Kay Clark and Rosie Clark, face no charges and are not jailed, though the FBI says they will not be allowed to return to the compound. After hearing of the surrender, President Clinton tells guests at a state dinner, “We will all say a little prayer tonight for this peaceful settlement.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/14/1996]
FBI Director 'Obviously Relieved' - FBI Director Louis Freeh, described by the Los Angeles Times as “obviously relieved,” says the FBI “put patience above the risk of bloodshed” to end the standoff. He says the bureau “made no deals to drop or lessen the federal charges” against any of the Freemen in order to precipitate the surrender. Of critics who called for quicker and perhaps more “tactical” solutions, Freeh says: “I understand their impatience. But it was essential that we followed our established crisis management procedures.” He says the standoff proves the worth of the new crisis response plans implemented after the tragedies in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). This time, the bureau used “a fundamentally different approach” that “may not always work, but it worked here.” Giving negotiators more influence during the standoff did cause some “disagreements” and “friction” within the FBI, Freeh acknowledges, but it was the right decision to make. Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick says “[t]he tactical option was always on the table.” Freeh notes that as the standoff wore on, the Freemen gained a certain level of reluctant trust in the bureau. “We never broke a promise to them,” he says, and “we told them before things happened,” such as cutting off electrical power (see June 3, 1996). [Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996]
Outreach to Rightist Figures, Low-Key Techniques Brought Successful Resolution - FBI agents credit help they received from militia members in helping to resolve the standoff, along with the new, more low-key techniques of handling such confrontations now being used by the bureau. “Overall, our approach was to find a balance between negotiations and other lawful means,” says FBI agent Ron VanVranken, who took part in the final settlement negotiations. “We recognized it would be prudent and beneficial to use the services of third-party intermediaries and to be constantly soliciting the advice of outside experts.” Freeh says he was supportive of the decision to use third-party negotiators who hold similar anti-government views to those of the Freemen: “I think that, given all the other cumulative steps over the last 81 days, that that helped persuade the remaining subjects to finally come out of the compound.” The Los Angeles Times says that the FBI’s strategy of reaching out to far-right figures may have had an added benefit of creating dissension among rightist groups (see March 25 - April 1, 1996) and avoiding a “united front” of opposition that might have helped strengthen the Freemen’s resolve to continue holding out. “It was probably a wise move that the Freemen came out, as opposed to being burned out or shot,” says Clay Douglas, publisher of the far-right Free American newspaper and a leading member of the “Patriot” movement. “And it’s an election year, so the FBI had to be good.” However, the FBI’s decision to use “Patriot” negotiators “was pretty smart on their part. It has divided a lot of patriots. A lot of people thought they were being traitors for going in and trying to talk them out. Some people side with the Freemen. Some people side with the ‘Patriot’ leaders. So it’s just another small part of how the government keeps America divided. It’s called gradualism. They keep gradually encroaching on our freedoms.” The FBI brought in militia leaders James “Bo” Gritz and Jack McLamb (see April 27, 1996), Colorado State Senator Charles Duke, a rightist sympathizer (see May 15-21, 1996), and white supremacist lawyer Kirk Lyons (see June 11, 1996); even though most of their attempts at negotiations failed, it served to build a “bridge” between the FBI and the Freemen. Another technique was to promote Edwin Clark, the Freeman the FBI considered the most likely to leave the compound, as a leader in the absence of arrested Freemen LeRoy Schweitzer and Daniel Petersen (see March 25, 1996). The final element was the introduction of Lyons, who was contacted three weeks ago by FBI agents and asked for a plan to negotiate with the Freemen. Lyons’s colleague Neill Payne says somewhat incredulously, “It is to Director Freeh’s credit that he was broad-minded enough to go along with a crazy scheme like ours.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/15/1996]
Entity Tags: Cherlyn Bronson Petersen, Ralph Clark, New York Times, Neill Payne, Montana Freemen, Charles Duke, Ron VanVranken, Rosie Clark, Russell Dean Landers, Barry Nelson, Louis J. Freeh, Casey Clark, Ruth Coulter, Steven Hance, Casey Valheimer, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Kay Clark, Dana Dudley Landers, Kirk Lyons, Dale Jacobi, Clay Douglas, Civil Rights Task Force, Daniel Petersen, Edwin Clark, LeRoy Schweitzer, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Hance, Jamie Gorelick, James (“Bo”) Gritz, Emmett Clark, Jack McLamb, John Hance
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
FBI Director Louis Freeh announces a strategic plan for his agency. He notes that domestic counterterrorism falls “almost exclusively within the jurisdiction of the FBI.” He summarizes the FBI’s policy on terrorism established in 1998: “Some terrorism now comes from abroad. Some terrorism is home-grown. But whatever its origin, terrorism is deadly and the FBI has no higher priority than to combat terrorism, to prevent it where possible. Our goal is to prevent, detect and deter.” [US Congress, 10/8/2002]
South Carolina militia member Paul T. Chastain is charged with weapons, explosives, and drug violations after he allegedly tries to trade drugs for a machine gun and enough C-4 plastic explosive to demolish a five-room house. Chastain, who has written of the need to counter what he calls government tyranny with “brute force,” swapped 300 tablets of Dilaudid to undercover police officers. South Carolina law enforcement official Robert Stewart later says: “I think it is safe to say Paul T. Chastain was not planning to go duck-hunting with C-4 explosives and an M-16 rifle.… I truly believe lives were saved by this arrest.” Chastain is a member of a newly formed militia, the “South Carolina Minutemen Corps.” Officials say the militia group operates out of a dilapidated former boating and fishing campground named Sky Ranch. The next year, Chastain will plead guilty to an array of charges, including threatening to kill Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh, and be sentenced to 15 years in prison. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/1998; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
The FBI announces that it is charging anti-abortion activist Eric Robert Rudolph with the 1996 bombing of Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park as well as with the 1997 bombing of an Atlanta abortion clinic (see January 16, 1997) and an Atlanta nightclub (see February 21, 1997). Rudolph has been a fugitive from law enforcement authorities since his January 1998 bombing of an Alabama clinic (see January 29, 1998), for which he has already been charged. “We are going to keep searching until we find him,” says Attorney General Janet Reno. The current complaint against Rudolph cites five counts of malicious use of an explosive in violation of federal law. FBI Director Louis Freeh calls Rudolph a domestic terrorist. The FBI has Rudolph on its Most Wanted list. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/14/1998] The charges will be formalized, and new charges added, in November 2000, when grand juries hand down additional indictments. [CNN, 5/31/2003] Rudolph will be captured after almost five years of living as a fugitive (see May 31, 2003).
US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announcing the indictment of Osama bin Laden. [Source: Henny Ray Abrams/ Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]The US publicly indicts bin Laden, Mohammed Atef, and others for the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Bin Laden had been secretly indicted on different charges earlier in the year in June (see June 8, 1998). Record $5 million rewards are announced for information leading to his arrest and the arrest of Mohammed Atef. [PBS Frontline, 2001] Shortly thereafter, bin Laden allocates $9 million in reward money for the assassinations of four US government officials in response to the reward on him. A year later, it is learned that the secretary of state, defense secretary, FBI director, and CIA director are the targets. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; MSNBC, 9/18/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
FBI Director Louis Freeh, speaking of the possibility of future violence from radical-right militia groups, says: “With the coming of the next millennium, some religious/apocalyptic groups or individuals may turn to violence as they seek to achieve dramatic effects to fulfill their prophecies.… Many white supremacist groups adhere to the Christian Identity belief system (see 1960s and After), which holds that the world is on the verge of a final apocalyptic struggle… and teaches that the white race is the chosen race of God.” Some of these Christian Identity members will commit crimes to prepare for their anticipated Apocalypse, Freeh warns, and says that the US government, Jews, and non-whites are likely targets. [Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 5/30/2006] Freeh’s statement anticipates the FBI’s “Project Megiddo” report, which will focus on the possibility of a wave of domestic terrorism coinciding with the “end of the millennium” (see October 20, 1999).
Hua Di. [Source: Stanford University]A report commissioned in mid-1999 by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) looks into possible Chinese front companies in the US seeking technology for the Chinese military. Dr. Eileen Preisser and Michael Maloof are commissioned to make the report. Dr. Preisser, who runs the Information Dominance Center at the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) and will later become closely tied to Able Danger, uses LIWA’s data mining capabilities to search unclassified information. According to Maloof, their results show Chinese front companies in the US posing as US corporations that acquire technology from US defense contractors. When the study is completed in November 1999, the General Counsel’s office in the Office of the Defense Secretary orders the study destroyed. Weldon complains about this to Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, and apparently delays the destruction of the report. Weldon also writes a letter to FBI Director Louis Freeh requesting an espionage investigation into these Chinese links, but Freeh never responds to this. [Washington Times, 10/9/2005] As part of this report, LIWA analysts had produced a chart of Chinese strategic and business connections in the US. But this data mining effort runs into controversy when the chart apparently shows connections between future National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and other prominent US figures, and business deals benefiting the Chinese military. [New York Post, 8/27/2005; Washington Times, 9/22/2005] The China chart was put together by private contractor James D. Smith, who will come forward in August 2005 to corroborate revelations about the Able Danger unit and its findings (see August 22-September 1, 2005). The New York Post later says there is “no suggestion that Rice or any of the others had done anything wrong.” [New York Post, 8/27/2005] However, articles first appear one month later and through 2001 in the conservative publications WorldNetDaily and NewsMax, which connect Perry and Rice to Hua Di, a Chinese missile scientist and possible spy, and question the nature of their relationship with him. [WorldNetDaily, 12/21/1999; WorldNetDaily, 4/5/2000; NewsMax, 1/24/2001] Di defected to the US in 1989 and worked most of the 1990s at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Arms Control, which was co-directed by Perry. Di later returned to China and is subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison for writing influential articles said to reveal vital Chinese state secrets. [Stanford Report, 2/7/2001] However, other accounts claim that he was in fact passing on disinformation through these articles, successfully misleading the US military for a couple of years about the abilities of certain Chinese missile programs. [WorldNetDaily, 12/21/1999] Additionally, Hua Di teamed in 1994 with Stanford professor Dr. John Lewis and William Perry to buy an advanced AT&T fiber-optic communications system for “civilian” use inside China that instead is used by the Chinese army. The General Accounting Office later criticized the sale. In 1997, Stanford University investigated Dr. Lewis for his role in it, but Condoleezza Rice, serving as a Stanford provost at the time, apparently stopped the investigation. [WorldNetDaily, 4/5/2000; NewsMax, 1/24/2001] Able Danger and LIWA’s data mining efforts will be severely proscribed in April 2000 as part of the fallout from this China controversy (see April 2000), and the destruction of their collected data will follow shortly thereafter (see May-June 2000).
Entity Tags: F. Michael Maloof, William Perry, James D. Smith, Eric Shinseki, Hua Di, Eileen Preisser, Condoleezza Rice, Land Information Warfare Activity, Curt Weldon, Louis J. Freeh, China
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The FBI launches an internal inquiry into why it took six years to admit that agents may have fired potentially flammable tear gas canisters on the final day of the 1993 standoff with the Branch Davidian cult near Waco, Texas (see August 25, 1999 and After). Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh order 40 FBI agents led by an FBI inspector to re-interview everyone who was at the Waco scene. James Francis, the chairman of the Texas Department of Public Safety who pressed for evidence to be reexamined (see August 10, 1999 and After), says federal officials must explain why Delta Force members were at the scene of the final assault (see August 28, 1999). “Everyone involved knows they were there. If there is an issue, it was what was their role at the time,” Francis says. “Some of the evidence that I have reviewed and been made aware of is very problematical as to the role of Delta Force at the siege.” A Defense Department document shows that a Special Forces unit was at the assault; the US military is prohibited from involvement in domestic police work without a presidential order. FBI spokesman James Collingwood says the bureau continues to insist that it did nothing to start the fires that consumed the Davidian compound and killed almost 80 Davidians (see April 19, 1993). “Freeh is deeply concerned that prior Congressional testimony and public statements [about the use of flammable devices] may prove to be inaccurate, a possibility we sincerely would regret.… [A]ll available indications are that those [pyrotechnic gas] rounds were not directed at the main, wooden compound. The rounds did not land near the wooden compound, and they were discharged several hours before the fire started.” Dan Burton (R-IN), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, says: “I am deeply concerned by these inconsistencies.… I intend for the committee to get to the bottom of this.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) says that the new evidence indicated “further erosion of the FBI’s credibility.” Privately, Justice Department officials are said to be furious that Reno was allowed to maintain for years that no such incendiary rounds were used during the assault, when some FBI officials presumably knew otherwise. [Associated Press, 8/26/1999] Reno has publicly said she is “very, very upset” at the sequence of events, and Collingwood describes Freeh as “incredulous.” [Newsweek, 9/6/1999]
The US deports Hani El-Sayegh, a Saudi National who is a suspect in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing (see June 25, 1996), back to Saudi Arabia. [Grey, 2007, pp. 247] The deportation is approved by a US judge. [Washington Post, 10/29/2000]
History - In 1996, el-Sayegh, who had been living in Iran, moved to Kuwait. He later went to Canada, where he cut a deal with American officials that called for him to plead guilty in an unrelated plot against Americans in Saudi Arabia that was never carried out. In 1997, Canada expelled el-Sayegh for suspected terrorist activity. Attorney General Janet Reno allowed him into the United States solely for prosecution under the pact. But after arriving, he said he had not understood the accord, knew nothing about the Khobar attack, and was out of Saudi Arabia when the bombing occurred. Despite this, the Saudis suspected him of being present at the bombing and his brother was held in connection with it, and allegedly tortured in a Saudi jail. [New York Times, 10/12/1999]
Agreement - The deportation follows an agreement between FBI Director Louis Freeh and Prince Naif, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister. Under the agreement, el-Sayagh is returned to Saudi Arabia, and, according to officials familiar with the arrangement, FBI agents will be allowed to watch his interrogation through a one-way mirror and submit questions to his Saudi inquisitors. Washington Post journalist David Vine will comment, “Such practices are sharply at odds with Freeh’s oft-stated message about the FBI’s need to respect human dignity and the tenets of democracy while fighting crime.” Although FBI officials will say a year later they have not seen any indication that el-Sayegh has been tortured, Vine will add, “But agents say privately that when entering a foreign culture to do police work they do not have control over how prisoners are treated and must tread lightly.” [Washington Post, 10/29/2000]
Khobar Towers Attack Could Have Been Prosecuted in US - The Khobar Towers attacks may have been in Saudi Arabia, but were against US nationals, so suspects can be prosecuted in the US. Tony Karon of Time magazine will express surprise at the deportation: “Run that one by again: The United States doesn’t want to try a man suspected of a bomb attack that killed Americans—and they’re sending him home?!” However, the Justice Department apparently thinks there is not enough evidence to try him in the US, and, according to Time correspondent William Dowell, “Clearly, there’s a lower standard of proof in Saudi courts,” so, “It may be easier for Washington if the Saudis handle the trial—and the execution, which would likely follow.”
Possible Geopolitical Motive - According to Karon, an alternative explanation is that geopolitics may be behind the decision: “Sending el-Sayegh… back to Saudi Arabia could solve another touchy problem for Washington.” This is because President Clinton said the US would retaliate against any government that was involved in the attacks, and an Iranian hand is suspected in the bombing. However, according to Time Middle East bureau chief Scott Macleod: “the attack occurred before the election of President Khatami, who has clearly demonstrated a commitment to end state terrorism and normalize Iran’s relations with the rest of the world. Given Washington’s desire to strengthen his reformist government against its hard-line opponents, the US would be unlikely to take military action against Iran unless there were fresh acts of terrorism.” [Time, 10/5/1999]
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]
On January 6, 2000, the CIA station in Malaysia begins passing details from the Malaysian government’s surveillance of the al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Cofer Black, head of the CTC, orders that he be continually informed about the meeting. CIA Director George Tenet is frequently informed as well. They are given continual updates until the meeting ends on January 8. [Stern, 8/13/2003] National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, FBI Director Louis Freeh, and other top officials are briefed, but apparently President Clinton is not. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 225-26] However, it appears that the CIA deliberately and repeatedly fails to tell the FBI that one attendee, future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, has an active visa to visit the US (see Mid-July 2004, January 6, 2000, and January 5-6, 2000). No evidence will be presented suggesting anyone else outside the CIA is told this crucial fact either. The Malaysia summit ends on January 8. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] Officially, the CIA will later claim to have lost future hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar as they left the meeting (see January 8, 2000). However, Almihdhar will later report back to al-Qaeda that he thought he was followed to the US (see Mid-July 2000). It will not be reported whether any of the other attendees are monitored after leaving the meeting.
Based on information obtained during the investigation of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000), the FBI asks the CIA for information about al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash and a possible al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia in early 2000, but the CIA withholds the information. The request is sent by FBI Director Louis Freeh on behalf of agent Ali Soufan, who is working on the Cole investigation. Soufan began to suspect such a meeting may have taken place when he learned that two of the operatives involved in the bombing had taken money out of Yemen to give to bin Attash in Thailand before the attack (see January 13, 2000), making him think the money may have been intended for a bigger plot. The CIA is highly aware of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), which was considered so important that CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA leaders were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000). The CIA has photos of bin Attash and al-Quso attending the meeting (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After), which took place only a few days before al-Quso’s meeting with bin Attash in Thailand. Yet the CIA does not respond to Soufan’s clearly stated request. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “The fact that the CIA withheld information about the mastermind of the Cole bombing and the meeting in Malaysia, when directly asked by the FBI, amount[s] to obstruction of justice in the death of seventeen American sailors [who were killed in the Cole bombing].” Although he was not told one of the 9/11 hijackers had a US visa, Freeh was briefed on the Malaysia summit when it took place (see January 6, 2000), but apparently he does not tell Soufan what he knows, and Soufan remains unaware that any kind of al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia even occurred. [Wright, 2006, pp. 328-9; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
The Chevron oil tanker named after National Security Advisor Rice. [Source: ABC News]George W. Bush is inaugurated as the 43rd US President, replacing Bill Clinton. The only Cabinet-level figure to remain permanently in office is CIA Director Tenet, appointed in 1997 and reputedly a long-time friend of George H. W. Bush. FBI Director Louis Freeh stays on until June 2001. Numerous figures in Bush’s administration have been directly employed in the oil industry, including Bush, Vice President Cheney, and National Security Adviser Rice. Rice had been on Chevron’s Board of Directors since 1991, and even had a Chevron oil tanker named after her. [Salon, 11/19/2001] It is later revealed that Cheney is still being paid up to $1 million a year in “deferred payments” from Halliburton, the oil company he headed. [Guardian, 3/12/2003] Enron’s ties also reach deep into the administration. [Washington Post, 1/18/2002]
Attorney General John Ashcroft. [Source: US Department of Justice]Attorney General John Ashcroft talks with FBI Director Louis Freeh before an annual meeting of special agents. Ashcroft lays out his priorities, which according to one participant is “basically violent crime and drugs.” Freeh bluntly replies that those are not his priorities and he talks about counterterrorism. “Ashcroft does not want to hear about it,” says one witness. [Newsweek, 5/27/2002]
Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism program, sends a memo to FBI Director Louis Freeh warning that Islamic radicals are planning a “terrorist operation.” The memo states that “Sunni extremists with links to Ibn al Kahhatb, an extremist leader in Chechnya, and to Osama bin Laden [have been involved in] serious operational planning… since late 2000, with an intended culmination in late spring 2001.” Watson says the planning was sparked by the renewal of the Palestinian Intifada in September 2000. “[A]ll the players are heavily intertwined,” the memo notes. Additionally, the memo says that “[m]ultiple sources also suggest that [bin Laden’s] organization is planning a terrorist attack against US interests.” The memo is also sent to other FBI officials, such as International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS) chief Michael Rolince, who will later be involved in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui (see Late August 2001 and (August 30-September 10, 2001)) [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/2001 ] Based on this report, ITOS sends an e-mail (see April 13, 2001) to all field offices, asking agents to help identify information pertaining to the “current operational activities relating to Sunni extremism.” The e-mail does not mention Ibn Khattab. [Associated Press, 3/21/2006] These plans may be for the 9/11 attacks—at least some of the alleged hijackers are linked to bin Laden (see January 5-8, 2000), and Zacarias Moussaoui is linked to Ibn Khattab (see Late 1999-Late 2000). Some of the hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000). Officials at FBI headquarters will later refuse a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings saying they believe Ibn Khattab is not closely connected to Osama bin Laden and is not hostile to the US (see August 22, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001).
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  of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent accused of working for Moscow for more than 15 years.”
FBI Director Louis J. Freeh admits that the bureau made a “serious error” in failing to produce nearly 4,000 pages of documents related to the Oklahoma City bombing before the convictions of conspirators Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) and Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). McVeigh’s lawyers are seeking a delay in McVeigh’s execution to give them a chance to review the newly-released documents (see May 10-11, 2001); the execution, scheduled for today, has already been postponed until June 11. Nichols’s lawyers have asked for a new trial based on the documents’ release (see May 15, 2001). In a hearing before a House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee, Freeh gives details of how the breakdown occurred, and says he has ordered immediate corrective steps. “The FBI committed a serious error by not ensuring that every piece of information was properly accounted for and, when appropriate, provided to the prosecutors so that they could fulfill their discovery obligations,” Freeh tells the House committee members. “It was our unquestionable obligation to identify every document regardless of where it was generated and regardless of where in our many, many offices it resided.” However, Freeh says, none of the documents would have had a bearing on the trials of either McVeigh or Nichols: “Several lawyers and agents from the Justice Department and the FBI conducted a page-by-page review of the material. Nothing in the documents raises any doubt about the guilt of McVeigh and Nichols.” Representative David R. Obey (D-WI) says, “I find it incredibly frustrating that year after year the agency which is supposed to be the quintessential example of excellence in law enforcement winds up being an example of Mr. Foul-up.” [New York Times, 5/17/2001] Lawyers for both Nichols and McVeigh will receive the documents. [New York Times, 5/27/2001]
A guard on the US embassy in Sana’a, Yemen. [Source: CNN]In early June, new threats are received in Yemen and create a security crisis for the FBI team investigating the bombing of the USS Cole, as Yemeni authorities say they have arrested eight men who are part of a plot to blow up the US embassy in Sana’a, where the team is staying. Although the FBI is apparently on the verge of being granted access to a group of people who may have further information about the bombing, FBI manager John O’Neill and director Louis Freeh agree that the team should be pulled out and they all fly home. The investigation moved at a reduced pace after staff were relocated from Aden, where the attack occurred, to Sana’a, the country’s capital. O’Neill will send agents back to Yemen on his last day with the FBI in late August (see August 22, 2001). [Time, 7/10/2001; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
[Source: FBI]The New York Times reports that counterterrorism expert John O’Neill is under investigation for an incident involving a missing briefcase. [New York Times, 8/19/2001] In July 2000, he misplaced a briefcase containing important classified information, but it was found a couple of hours later still locked and untouched. Why such a trivial issue would come up over a year later and be published in the New York Times seems entirely due to politics. Says the New Yorker, “The leak seemed to be timed to destroy O’Neill’s chance of being confirmed for [a National Security Council] job,” and force him into retirement. A high-ranking colleague says the leak was “somebody being pretty vicious to John.” [New Yorker, 1/14/2002] John O’Neill suspects his enemy Tom Pickard, then interim director of the FBI, orchestrated the article. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The New Yorker later speculates that with the retirement of FBI Director Freeh in June, it appears O’Neill lost his friends in high places, and the new FBI director wanted him replaced with a Bush ally. [New Yorker, 1/14/2002] O’Neill retires a few days later.
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]
Patrick J. Fitzgerald is confirmed as US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, centering in Chicago. Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL—no relation to Patrick Fitzgerald) nominated Fitzgerald for the position because he felt Fitzgerald, a native New Yorker and veteran prosecutor with no ties to Chicago, would be less likely to become corrupted by what he thought to be the “Chicago Democrat machine.” Fitzgerald had come highly recommended by, among others, Louis Freeh, then the director of the FBI. White House political chief Karl Rove later says that he did not oppose Fitzgerald’s nomination, though he was somewhat disturbed by Senator Fitzgerald’s insistence on the nomination. Rove will recall: “Senator Fitzgerald’s attitude was: ‘I’m not going to submit multiple names. I will take only one name, and this is all that is going to be acceptable.’ And we asked him to submit multiple names, and we also asked him to think about people from within the districts. Our predilection was to have people from within the district selected. We thought it, you know, encouraged a civic-minded attitude among lawyers. It made certain that you had some fresh blood that would flow in. If you pick people from outside the district, they tend to be career prosecutors. And Senator Fitzgerald was particularly unimpressed by this. He said that, in Chicago, the politics in Chicago were such that no US Attorney from Chicago could exist without being subverted by the political influence peddlers in Chicago, that they would be bought off by the big law firms and the Chicago Democrat machine. And so he was going to only provide us one name for each, the Northern District and the Southern District. Following my very effective telephone conversation with him, he responded by going out and announcing to the press that the president was nominating his two names from the Northern and Southern Districts.” Rove will say that he did not oppose Fitzgerald’s nomination, and it would not have been proper for him to do so: “That wasn’t mine—once that conversation was over, it wasn’t mine to have an opinion. I believe the president has a right to appoint. And that means that senators have, by tradition, the right to recommend. But they are usurping a presidential right when they go out and name the nominee before the president has even had a chance to evaluate multiple names and settle on who he wants and do the necessary staff work to arrive at it. Fortunately, Senator Fitzgerald recommended two good names, and both of them worked out. But it was an unusual process that involved, in my opinion, a congressional usurpation of a presidential power.” Senator Fitzgerald will later say that Rove told him the selection of Patrick Fitzgerald “ticked off the [Illinois Republican] base,” a statement Rove will call “inaccurate.… I chalk it up to an overactive imagination.” Rove will go on to imply, without directly saying, that US Attorney Fitzgerald prosecutes Governor George Ryan (R-IL) as something of a political favor to Senator Fitzgerald, as the governor and the senator are political rivals within the Illinois Republican Party. Experienced in prosecuting high-profile terrorism cases (see January 1996), Fitzgerald will go on to chair the terrorism subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC) and later become special counsel for the Lewis Libby leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). [The American Lawyer, 12/11/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ]
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) turns down the Justice Department’s bid for sweeping new powers to monitor and wiretap US citizens. FISC judges rule that the government has misused the law and misled the court dozens of times. The court finds that Justice Department and FBI officials supplied false or misleading information to the court in over 75 applications for search warrants and wiretaps, including one signed by then-FBI director Louis Freeh. While the court does not find that the misrepresentations were deliberate, it does rule that not only were erroneous statements made, but important information was omitted from some FISA applications. The judges found so many inaccuracies and errors in FBI agent Michael Resnick’s affidavits that they bar him from ever appearing before the court again. The court cites “the troubling number of inaccurate FBI affidavits in so many FISA applications,” and says, “In virtually every instance, the government’s misstatements and omissions in FISA applications and violations of the Court’s orders involved information sharing and unauthorized disseminations to criminal investigators and prosecutors.” The court is also unhappy with the Justice Department’s failure to answer for these errors and omissions, writing, “How these misrepresentations occurred remains unexplained to the court.” The court finds that in light of such impropriety, the new procedures proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft in March would give prosecutors too much control over counterintelligence investigations, and would allow the government to misuse intelligence information for criminal cases. The ruling is a severe blow to Ashcroft’s attempts since the 9/11 attacks to allow investigators working in terrorism and espionage to share more information with criminal investigators. (These limitations were put in place after the Church Commission’s findings of massive fraud and misuse of domestic surveillance programs during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. See April, 1976, January 29, 1976, and December 21, 1974). The Justice Department says of the decision, “We believe the court’s action unnecessarily narrowed the Patriot Act and limited our ability to fully utilize the authority Congress gave us.” Interestingly, the Justice Department also opposed the public release of FISC’s decision not to grant the requested powers. Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA, calls the opinion “a public rebuke. The message is you need better quality control. The judges want to ensure they have information they can rely on implicitly.” Bush officials have complained since the 9/11 attacks that FISA requirements hamper the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agents to track terrorist suspects, including alleged hijacking conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001). Those requirements mandate that agents must show probable cause that the subject of a search or wiretap is an agent of a foreign government or terrorist group, and, because FISA standards for obtaining warrants is far lower than for ordinary criminal warrants, mandate strict limits on the distribution of information secured from such investigations. The FBI searched Moussaoui’s laptop computer and other belongings without a FISA warrant because some officials did not believe they could adequately show the court that Moussaoui had any connections to a foreign government or terrorist group. In its ruling, FISC suggests that if the Justice Department finds FISA too restrictive, they should ask Congress to update the law. Many senators on the Judiciary Committee say they are willing to enact such reforms, but have complained of resistance from Ashcroft and a lack of cooperation from the Bush administration. [Washington Post, 8/23/2002] In November 2002, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review will overturn the FISC decision and give the Justice Department what it asked for (see November 18, 2002).
Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charles Grassley, US Department of Justice, Stewart Baker, Zacarias Moussaoui, National Security Agency, John Ashcroft, Church Commission, USA Patriot Act, Louis J. Freeh, Michael Resnick
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Testifying before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, former FBI Director Louis Freeh says, “I am aware of nothing that to me demonstrates that the FBI and the intelligence community had the type of information or tactical intelligence which could have prevented September 11th. In terms of the FBI’s capability to identify, investigate and prevent the nineteen hijackers from carrying out their attacks, the facts so far on the public record do not support the conclusion that these tragic events could have been prevented by the FBI and intelligence community acting by themselves.” [US Congress, 10/8/2002]
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry concludes its seven-month investigation of the performance of government agencies before the 9/11 attacks. A report hundreds of pages long has been written, but only nine pages of findings and 15 pages of recommendations are released at this time, and these have blacked out sections. [Los Angeles Times, 12/12/2002] After months of wrangling over what has to be classified, the final report will be released in July 2003 (see July 24, 2003). In the findings released at the present time, the inquiry accuses the Bush administration of refusing to declassify information about possible Saudi Arabian financial links to US-based Islamic militants, criticizes the FBI for not adapting into a domestic intelligence bureau after the 9/11 attacks, and says the CIA lacked an effective system for holding its officials accountable for their actions. Asked if 9/11 could have been prevented, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the committee chairman, gives “a conditional yes.” Graham says the Bush administration has given Americans an “incomplete and distorted picture” of the foreign assistance the hijackers may have received. [ABC News, 12/10/2002] Graham further says, “There are many more findings to be disclosed” that Americans would find “more than interesting,” and he and others express frustration that information that should be released is being kept classified by the Bush administration. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/12/2002] Many of these findings will remain classified after the inquiry’s final report is released. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the vice chairman, singles out six people as having “failed in significant ways to ensure that this country was as prepared as it could have been”: CIA Director George Tenet; Tenet’s predecessor, John Deutch; former FBI Director Louis Freeh; NSA Director Michael Hayden; Hayden’s predecessor, Lieutenant General Kenneth Minihan; and former Deputy Director Barbara McNamara. [US Congress, 12/11/2002; Washington Post, 12/12/2002] Shelby says that Tenet should resign. “There have been more failures on his watch as far as massive intelligence failures than any CIA director in history. Yet he’s still there. It’s inexplicable to me.” [Reuters, 12/10/2002; PBS, 12/11/2002] But the Los Angeles Times criticizes the inquiry’s plan of action, stating, “A list of 19 recommendations consists largely of recycled proposals and tepid calls for further study of thorny issues members themselves could not resolve.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/12/2002]
Entity Tags: John Deutch, George J. Tenet, Michael Hayden, Louis J. Freeh, Richard Shelby, Saudi Arabia, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Kenneth Minihan, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Barbara McNamara
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Louis Freeh, FBI Director for the duration of the Able Danger program, calls Able Danger “a missed opportunity that could have potentially prevented 9/11.” He also says, “The Able Danger intelligence, if confirmed, is undoubtedly the most relevant fact of the entire post-9/11 inquiry.… Yet the 9/11 Commission inexplicably concluded that it ‘was not historically significant.’ This astounding conclusion—in combination with the failure to investigate Able Danger and incorporate it into its findings—raises serious challenges to the commission’s credibility and, if the facts prove out, might just render the commission historically insignificant itself.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/17/2005]
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