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Context of 'April 2001: Speculation that Bin Laden Could Be Interested in Using Commercial Pilots as Terrorists'

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Pat Patterson.Pat Patterson. [Source: Publicity photo]Los Angeles FBI agent Pat Patterson is sent to Yemen to assist in the investigation of the USS Cole bombing (see October 14-Late November, 2000). While there, he spends several evenings with John O’Neill, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, who is leading the investigation. O’Neill is the FBI’s top expert on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The two men speculate about what bin Laden’s next target might be, and end up considering the World Trade Center. Patterson will later recall: “I thought it was unlikely they would hit a target a second time, but John was convinced of it. He said, ‘No, they definitely want to bring that building down.’ He just had that sense and was insistent about it.” (Kolker 12/17/2001; Weiss 2003, pp. 291-292 and 321) After leaving the FBI, O’Neill will actually start work as director of security for the World Trade Center shortly before 9/11 (see August 23, 2001).

A white paper is produced, which recommends that federal buildings in Lower Manhattan, where the World Trade Center is located, receive increased protection, due to the threat of terrorism. 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste will describe the white paper during a public hearing of the 9/11 Commission in April 2004. It is produced, he will say, by an “interagency group” and urges “greater protection of federal buildings in Lower Manhattan.” It also notes that “Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaeda organization, and affiliated extremist groups currently pose a clear and immediate threat to US interests.” The white paper is produced in response to the concerns of John O’Neill, special agent in charge of the national security division in the FBI’s New York office. (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004) O’Neill is the FBI’s “most committed tracker of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network of terrorists,” the New Yorker magazine will later describe. (Wright 1/14/2002) He has “reiterated since 1995 to any official in Washington who would listen” that he is “sure bin Laden would attack on American soil” and he expects the al-Qaeda leader’s target will be “the Twin Towers again,” according to journalist and author Murray Weiss. (Weiss 2003, pp. 360)

A source with al-Qaeda connections speculates to US intelligence that Osama “bin Laden would be interested in commercial pilots as potential terrorists.” The source warns that the US should not focus only on embassy bombings, because al-Qaeda is seeking “spectacular and traumatic” attacks along the lines of the WTC bombing in 1993. Because the source is offering personal speculation and not hard information, the information is not disseminated widely. (US Congress 9/18/2002; Risen 9/18/2002)


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