John Patrick O’Neil born in New Jersey grew up as a child watching programs about crime. His favourite program was a TV drama called F.B.I, which dramatised true FBI case files. John after graduating from high school went off to college in Washington in 1971. While there, he got himself a job as a fingerprint clerk at the FBI’s Washington head offices. In 1973 he achieved a good degree in Administration of Justice from The American University and later a Master’s degree in forensics. Noted by friends and colleagues as being a ‘perfectionist’ and always ‘top of his class’ his dream was to work for the FBI and that dream came true in 1976 when he was signed as an agent for what he believed to be the best investigative agency in the world, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Over the next 15 years O’Neil worked his way investigating organised crime, white- collar crime and later while at the Washington FBI office in counterintelligence. Bright, intelligent, ambitious and tenacious, everyone that worked with him said he was ‘the best’. He was ‘one of a kind’, maverick was the term often associated with him. Good looking, beautifully dressed with very expensive tastes, although well liked and admired, there were those less talented than him and those that had things to hide that felt threatened by John O’Neil.
Due to his professional success, in 1991 O’Neil was promoted and was moved to the FBI’s field office in Chicago, where he was given the important role as Assistant Special Agent in Charge. He also worked to promote inter-agency cooperation and enhance ties and breakdown bureaucracy between the FBI and local law enforcement. A task that some found counter-productive and ‘irritating’. He was later known as one of the ‘top American anti-terrorism experts’ who eventually became the Assistant Director for The Federal Bureau of Investigation until late 2001.
O’Neil’s connection with 9/11 really started back In 1993, after he was directly involved with the capture of Ramzi Yousef, the leader of the first WTC bomb plot. O’Neil went on to investigate the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings of Saudi Arabia. While investigating the Saudi bombings, he became frustrated by the lack of Saudi co operation and complained to then FBI director Lois Freeh that the Saudis were ‘blowing smoke up your ass’ which wasn’t taken lightly and wasn’t meant to be! O’Neil was not only a brilliant agent with real balls, but he could not be bought. His experience in Islamic militants, middle eastern cells and counterintelligence was superior to many other senior counterintelligence agents and it was for this that later he became the subject of a frontline documentary ‘The man that knew’.
By 1997 he was moved to the New York office where he was one of the senior agents in charge of counterterrorism and national security. In 1998, two United States Embassies were bombed in quick succession one in Nairobi, Kenya, and the other in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. O’Neil immediately put his hand up to say he was willing to be involved in the investigation, as he already had vast knowledge of Islamic militants. However, people high up in Washington were starting to tire of O’Neil’s successes and ways of obtaining information which one has to ask why? O’Neil was excluded from the Embassy bombings investigation and in his place, inferior and much less knowledgeable agents with no experience of the region were sent to ‘pick up leads’ O’Neil was infuriated by this as he felt he could fast track the investigation but to no avail.
In the year 2000 again investigations led him to the Arab world and Yemen, where he was sent to investigate the USS Cole Bombing
His trips to Yemen in the late 90’s had opened up vital new sources of information for him and it was in Yemen that O’Neil made many important underworld Arab connections that started to feed him vital information, not only about the dynamics of the Islamic Militant cells, but who those cells were connected to and funded by. O’Neil kept his sources close to his chest as he knew even the best agencies had infiltrators.
On his arrival in Yemen in 2000 O’Neil complained about the ‘lack of security’ for his team surrounding his investigation for the USS Cole bombings.At this time the US Ambassador to Yemen was Barbara Bodine. The ambassador didn’t like O’Neil and was petty about his style and approach. She was possessive about what she felt to be her territory and created obstacles to O’Neil’s modus operandi. After the first month of investigation, O’Neil returned to The US with new information and 9 kilos less in weight. His friends said they noticed O’Neil was ‘concerned’, ‘worried’, ‘edgy’, certainly not his usual self. They believed he had received information from his connections which was connected to the CIA. Whatever O’Neil had learned, it was certainly something ‘significant’. A few weeks later, O’Neil told his superiors that he needed to return to Yemen to conclude his investigation. Barbara Bodine and others in Washington blocked his return and refused to authorise his permits required for travel to the Yemen region.
Bodine was later quoted as saying;
“Too much is being made of John O’Neill’s being in Yemen or not,” “John O’Neill did not discover Al Qaeda. He did not discover Osama bin Laden. So the idea that John or his people or the F.B.I. were somehow barred from doing their job is insulting to the U.S. government, which was working on Al Qaeda before John ever showed up. This is all my embassy did for ten months. The fact that not every single thing John O’Neill asked for was appropriate or possible does not mean that we did not support the investigation.”
It was at this time things started to get confusing. O’Neil was accused of losing a briefcase of highly classified documents at a FBI conference when he ‘popped outside’ from a room with over 350 FBI agents to hear a badly connected cell phone call. When he returned minutes later the case was gone. Strangely enough, the briefcase ‘turned up’ a few hours later with nothing missing or even touched! Forensic analysis proved this, as the papers were so highly sensitive they were subjected to tests. One has to ask, how could a briefcase be ‘stolen’ in the midst of 350 FBI agents? Oh, one may think; it must have been a mistake, wrong bag picked up by the wrong person, but if that was the case, why was the bag returned anonymously? Why did no one own up to the taking of the bag if it was a genuine error? He was then accused of being ‘negligent’ after losing a cell phone and a Palm. O Neil said that he never ‘lost’ anything and if anything went missing, it was taken by people that knew it was there.
He was then subjected to a series of internal FBI investigations. Colleagues of O’Neil came to his defence and suggest that he was the victim of a ‘senior smear campaign’ and that he had ‘worried’ people about what he had learned while in Yemen. Eventually O’Neil was forced into resigning from the FBI after constant hounding from his superiors and bypassing O’Neil when he should have been promoted. O’Neil knew his career with the FBI had come to a very dead end. But while he was contemplating his leave from the FBI he was headhunted by Jerome Hauer.
Hauer was a national security advisor with the Dept. of Health and Human Services and also the managing director with Kroll Associates a company that specializes in security and terrorism prevention. Hauer had a solid background in counter-terror and a specialized knowledge of biological warfare.
Hauer had previously been employed by his pal Mayor Giuliani from 1996 to 2000 as the director of The office of Emergency Management. Hauer came up with a job for O’Neil. Hauer told O’Neil that his ‘client’ Larry Silverstein wanted him to be Chief of Security at the WTC, this was now the end of August 2001. O’Neil liked the offer which was a generous one, US$350.000 P.A plus perks, but O’Neil wanted a few days off before he started his new job. He was told that Silverstein wanted him ‘in the office no later than 11th September’. So September 11th was to be John O’Neil’s first day at work in the WTC. Others since have said that O’Neil started his job on the 26th of August 2001 but that was when he was contracted. Confirmation of his start date can be heard in an interview with New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik;
“That Tuesday was his first or second day on the job,” (Kerik in an interview with CNN’s Larry King Live.)
Both of Larry’s children, directors of Silverstein properties were miraculously late to work on 9/11. Larry would as a habit have breakfast each morning in the WTC, not that day though, Larry was miraculously lucky in that he had cancelled the mornings business meetings in favour of a last minute dermatologist’s appointment and therefore none of the Silverstein family perished in the collapse that day, even though all three of them should have been at their desks. Not so lucky was Larry’s newest employee, former FBI counterintelligence agent John O’Neil.
Out of the 2,780 victims of the WTC only 12 bodies were found physically intact, John O’Neil was one of those rare 12 bodies that were identifiable by sight. John’s body was found at the bottom of a stairwell in the south tower on Sept 22nd where he had supposedly lain for 11 days, he was formally identified by Jerome Hauer.