“I think John started to see the big picture and to see the connectivity, since his investigative team had been the first to investigate a lot of these cases. The Washington field office had also been involved in some of these investigations, but John was able to get process on a lot of these people, including bin Laden early on.” (Clint Guenther, Former FBI Agent NYC – Counterterrorism)
The manner in which USS Cole Investigation went about highly frustrated O’Neill. So much so that after the fiasco he would terminate his association with the FBI. There was constant friction between O’Neill’s counter-terror priorities and those of Ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine. For the latter, the priority was maintaining diplomatic ties without recourse to aggression. While Bodine wanted to adopt a wait and watch policy, O’Neill, perhaps prompted by the intelligence he had gathered, wanted more immediate action. At times, many bureaucrats and civil services officers did not want to co-operate with O’Neill for fear of offending the Ambassador. Instead of teamwork between diplomats and investigators, it unraveled into a clash for authority and assertion of superiority. As US Attorney Mary Jo White notes of the affair:
“I don’t think personalities meshed. But I think the difficulties went far beyond that. It was difficult, irrespective of how that relationship would have been. And no question, there were some differences — as there typically can be — in points of view between our diplomatic side of the brain and our law enforcement side of the brain. I think that certainly was present in Yemen.” (Mary Jo White, US Attorney)
The USS Cole episode just goes on to show how FBI had undermined its own cause by not backing O’Neill. Though O’Neill’s temperament is somewhat problematic, his work ethic was impeccable. It is quite regrettable that his enthusiasm and enterprise weren’t encouraged by his superiors. The consequence is a catastrophe of unprecedented magnitude. The 911 attacks were the first direct act of aggression in American soil for nearly two centuries. But it would probably have been prevented if only John O’Neill was allowed to have his way.
John O’Neill’s Life and Career, PBS Frontline, retrieved from <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/knew/john/> on 13th December, 2013