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Context of 'March 21, 2006: Some FBI Agents Still Lack E-mail'

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FBI agents in New York quickly set up a temporary field office in an FBI parking garage, where they will be based for the next few weeks, after the attacks on the World Trade Center rendered their original office unusable. The New York office is the FBI’s largest field office, comprising some 1,100 special agents. It is located at 26 Federal Plaza, just a few blocks away from the WTC site. However, the collapses of the Twin Towers (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001) disabled its telephone service, thereby rendering it useless. Officials are also concerned that 26 Federal Plaza might be the target of another terrorist attack.
New Facility Is Set Up in 24 Hours - Therefore, “Almost immediately” after the Twin Towers came down, according to the New York Times, the FBI starts relocating to a garage in Manhattan. The block-long, multilevel garage at 26th Street and the West Side Highway is usually used by the FBI to store and repair its fleet of vehicles. But within 24 hours of the attacks on the WTC, a temporary field office is up and running there. The facility is equipped with about 100 laptop computers. Three hundred phone lines are installed, with phones hooked up to a satellite truck positioned outside the garage.
Investigation Is Coordinated from the Temporary Facility - Officials from over two dozen federal, state, and local agencies are then based at the makeshift facility. Barry Mawn, director of the FBI’s New York office, and key federal prosecutors, including Mary Jo White, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, coordinate the work of almost 2,000 investigators from there. The garage will serve as the command center for the first four weeks of the FBI’s investigation of the terrorist attacks. [New York Times, 9/24/2001; Washington Post, 10/20/2001; Kessler, 2002, pp. 5, 424; Journal of Public Inquiry, 3/2002 pdf file] It will be “New York’s nerve center for information about the attacks,” according to the Associated Press. [Associated Press, 9/27/2001] Agents will move back to their original field office at 26 Federal Plaza early in October. [Washington Post, 10/20/2001]

Entity Tags: FBI New York Field Office, Barry Mawn, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mary Jo White

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Pasquale D’Amuro.Pasquale D’Amuro. [Source: Concordia]The FBI’s New York field office and FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, argue over which of them should lead the bureau’s investigation of the 9/11 attacks and, against precedent, FBI Director Robert Mueller decides to put the headquarters in charge of it.
New York Office Usually Deals with Al-Qaeda Attacks - In the days after the attacks, a major confrontation arises over which facility should be the office of origin for the case. [Graff, 2011, pp. 333-334; Wired, 6/14/2017] The FBI operates under an “office of origin” system, which means that whichever of its 56 field offices opens an official case on a particular subject or group subsequently manages all related matters. The method prevents work being duplicated, and ensures that institutional expertise learned during previous investigations is retained and built on, rather than having to be relearned by a new office when another incident occurs. Under the system, the FBI’s New York office has become the office of origin for al-Qaeda cases and normally deals with al-Qaeda attacks. The office retains most of the bureau’s “institutional knowledge” on Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. It led the FBI’s investigations of the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 74; Soufan, 2011, pp. 82] Mueller, though, wants to run the investigation of the 9/11 attacks from FBI headquarters.
New York Official Objects to Running the Investigation from Washington - He goes to the FBI’s temporary New York field office (see After 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001) and talks with senior officials there, including Barry Mawn, director of the New York office, Kenneth Maxwell, an assistant special agent in charge at the New York office, and Pasquale D’Amuro, assistant special agent in charge of counterterrorism at the New York office. He explains why he wants FBI headquarters to be the office of origin. Mawn objects, saying the New York office has been the office of origin for the entire al-Qaeda case so far. It has the relevant expertise, investigative capabilities, and files to lead the investigation, he points out, and is also near the Ground Zero crime scene. But Mueller refuses to back down. He says he won’t run the investigation from the headquarters over a conference call. “I want to look someone in the eye,” he comments. [Graff, 2011, pp. 333-334] By October, he will have made the decision to run the investigation from Washington. This is the first time an “operational investigation” has been based at FBI headquarters, according to the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 6/14/2004]
Domestic Terrorism Squad Will Be Assigned to the Case - The case will soon be given the codename PENTTBOM, using the FBI’s standard system for naming cases. This stands for “Pentagon/Twin Towers Bombing.” It is unclear why “BOM” is included in the name, since no bombs were used in the 9/11 attacks. Some agents will later guess that, in the initial confusion, the person who opened the case file incorrectly thought a bomb had been involved. [Graff, 2011, pp. 319-320] D’Amuro will be transferred to Washington and become the leader of the entire case. Instead of being run by one of the FBI’s experienced al-Qaeda squads, I-49 and I-45, a New York domestic terrorism squad called I-44 will be moved to Washington to handle the case. Mary Galligan, who previously spent time as the on-scene commander in the investigation of the attack on the USS Cole, will lead this squad. Some members of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force will also move to Washington to work on the case.
Former Director Will Disagree with the Decision to Run the Case from Headquarters - Investigators will be based in a large room in the basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, where FBI headquarters is located. Two thousand agents will work on the case full-time, following thousands of leads as they pursue information about the attacks. Agents will conduct over 180,000 interviews and review millions of pages of documents. They will log over 155,000 items of evidence and put together a massive timeline, detailing the activities of the alleged 9/11 hijackers in the United States. The investigation will become the largest the FBI has ever conducted. [Washington Post, 6/14/2004; Graff, 2011, pp. 334] However, Louis Freeh, Mueller’s predecessor as FBI director, will criticize Mueller’s decision to run it from FBI headquarters. “I don’t think you can run counterterrorism cases out of headquarters,” he will say. “I think you have to coordinate them out of headquarters,” he will explain, “but you can’t prepare a criminal case for a field presentation in a US district court in headquarters.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]

Entity Tags: Barry Mawn, Robert S. Mueller III, Kenneth Maxwell, Pasquale D’Amuro, Mary Galligan, Louis J. Freeh, PENTTBOM, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof says it’s time to “light a fire under the FBI in its investigation of the anthrax case. Experts in the bioterror field are already buzzing about a handful of individuals who had the ability, access, and motive to send the anthrax.” [New York Times, 5/24/2002] Similarly, the Guardian suggests that the FBI investigation is moving deliberately slow because the federal authorities have something to hide, stating “there is surely a point after which incompetence becomes an insufficient explanation for failure.” [Guardian, 5/21/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The FBI has been slow in making use of computers and it is reported on this day that some New York FBI agents still lack e-mail accounts. The FBI’s New York office has often been the lead office in dealing with al-Qaeda. An FBI official says, “As ridiculous as this might sound, we have real money issues right now, and the government is reluctant to give all agents and analysts dot-gov accounts.” An FBI spokesperson says the accounts will be given before the end of 2006. [CBS News, 3/21/2006]

Entity Tags: FBI New York Field Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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