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Feature Story September 19, 2002
John O'Neill: An Unbelievable Life
By Mark Ames Browse author Email
Page 6 of 8
On the morning of September 11th, just after the first passenger jet slammed into the North Tower, O'Neill is said to have called his son and a friend in the local FBI branch to tell them that he was alive and fine. He is said, in some accounts, to have called from his office, and in others to have left the building first, then called. All agree that he did leave the office building, and all say that after phone calls or consultations, he disappeared back inside. That is the last anyone saw him alive.

When O'Neill was subsequently reported to be one of the victims, it barely made news. One would have thought that the irony alone -- no other single death comes close to O'Neill's in terms of irony, significance and cinematic quality -- you'd think the story of bin Laden's most ardent pursuer getting killed by bin Laden's soldiers in his first day at his new job would have kept the O'Neill story on the front pages for months. Yet it barely made the margins of the mainstream press. That irony might not only have depressed Americans in the weeks following the attacks, but also raised some disturbing questions. Like, why was America's top bin Laden weapon fired a few weeks before 9/11? Why was he barred from investigating the Cole? What the fuck was he doing in the World Trade Center?!

Even the year-old lost briefcase farce got better billing in the mainstream press than O'Neill's spectacular death.

Incredibly enough, his body was found and identified in the rubble just over a week later, when Ground Zero was still smoldering. His funeral was held in Atlantic City, the New Jersey gambling oasis where he was born and raised, at the end of September. The department in charge of the disaster site is FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency). FEMA's head, Joe Allbaugh, who served in Oklahoma's state government at the time of the bombing of the Federal Building, was Bush's campaign manager during his run for president and his chief of staff during his second terms as governor of Texas. Along with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, Allbaugh is considered the third part of the "iron triangle" that essentially runs Bush's political life.

The bizarre and impossible death of the one American who knew more about bin Laden than anyone else raises so many potentially disturbing questions that few in America -- where total indifference to anything beyond the cubicle and remote control are the rule, and the rich and powerful are loved and trusted more than the poor and struggling -- have dared question it. One would have to be completely dulled to accept this version. It doesn't add up. If this isn't a big story, a story to anchor one's 9/11 anniversary spread, I don't know what is.

Insane, or, like most American journalists, afraid of sounding like a "conspiracy theorist" to your boss and colleagues. If you don't write this story, it's one less problem in your life -- better to rely on government sources rather than poke them. That fear of standing out or appearing "weird" has worked far better as a censorship cudgel among mainstream American journalists than any ham-fisted Soviet tactic.

In fact, the only two in-depth accounts of O'Neill that I could find (except for some truly inane conspiracy theories that rank up there with the CIA and Mossad theories) -- an article in the New York Metro by Robert Kolker published last December, and another by Lawrence Wright in the New Yorker earlier this year -- seem to have been borrowed from the same source, with the same intention: to paint O'Neill as an amoral hedonist who had spun out of control, an arrogant prick who was not to be trusted and who got what he deserved.

In the Metro article, much is made of O'Neill's womanizing: "'He was living with Valene, he had another girlfriend in Washington, and he was dating someone else here in New York,' says one close friend."

The New Yorker hits harder on another side of his supposedly bad character: "'I am the F.B.I.,' John O'Neill liked to boast."

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The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

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