August 19, 2001: The New York Times reports that counter-terrorism expert John O'Neill is under investigation for an incident involving a missing briefcase. [New York Times, 8/19/01] In July 2000, he misplaced a briefcase containing important classified information, but it was found a couple of hours later still unlocked and untouched. Why such a trivial issue would come up over a year later and be published in the New York Times seemed entirely due to politics. Says the New Yorker, "The leak seemed to be timed to destroy O'Neill's chance of being confirmed for [an] NSC job," and force him into retirement. A high-ranking colleague says the leak was "somebody being pretty vicious to John." [New Yorker, 1/14/02] John O'Neill suspects the article was orchestrated by his enemy Tom Pickard, then interim director of the FBI. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/02] 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, 1/14/02]
August 22, 2001 (B): Counter-terrorism expert John O'Neill quits the FBI. He says it's partly because of the recent power play against him, but also because of repeated obstruction of his investigations into al-Qaeda. [New Yorker, 1/14/02] In his last act, he signs papers ordering FBI investigators back to Yemen to resume the USS Cole investigation, now that Barbara Bodine is leaving as Ambassador (they arrive a couple days before 9/11) (see October 12, 2000). He never hears the CIA warning about hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar sent out just one day later. Because he fell out of favor a few months earlier, he also is never told about Ken Williams' flight school memo (see July 10, 2001), nor about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001) [PBS Frontline, 10/3/02], nor is he at a June meeting when the CIA revealed some of what it knew about Alhazmi and Almihdhar (see June 11, 2001). [PBS Frontline, 10/3/02] The FBI New York office is eventually warned of Walid Arkeh's warning that the WTC would be attacked, but presumably not in time for O'Neill to hear it (see August 21, 2001). One can only wonder what the government's "most committed tracker of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network of terrorists" [New Yorker, 1/14/02] could have accomplished if he was aware of these things.
August 23, 2001 (B): John O'Neill begins his new job as head of security at the WTC. [New Yorker, 1/14/02] A friend says to him, "Well, that will be an easy job. They're not going to bomb that place again." O'Neill replies, "Well actually they've always wanted to finish that job. I think they're going to try again." On September 10 he moves into his new office on the 34th floor of the North Tower. That night, he tells colleague Jerry Hauer, "We're due for something big. I don't like the way things are lining up in Afghanistan" (a probable reference to the assassination of Afghan leader General Massoud the day before (see September 9, 2001)). O'Neill is killed the next day in the 9/11 attack. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/02]