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Could 9/11 have been stopped before it happened?

Long Shadow

Long Lead & PRX & The Trace & Campside Media

Narrative, 9-11, History, Terrorism, Anniversary, America

4.81.8K Ratings

🗓️ 3 September 2021

⏱️ 47 minutes

🧾️ Download transcript


Before 9/11, FBI Special Agent John O’Neill kept setting off alarms about the emerging terrorist organization al-Qaeda and their mysterious leader Osama Bin Laden. As a result of his warnings the FBI knew terrorists were planning a big attack and the CIA even had eyes on two of the eventual hijackers prior to the attacks.

So what went wrong? Why didn’t they capture the hijackers? What more could law enforcement have done to stop the attacks? And could they have been prevented?

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Imagine sweeping through green fields, floating five feet above ground, sun on your face as you slide by on track to your destination, not a car in the world, as you simply lean back.


And before you know it, you're there.


This is how travel should feel, and on our trains, it does.


Avanti West Coast. Feel good travel.


A warning for listeners. Throughout this podcast, we have descriptions and recreations of terrorism, plus some harsh language.


It's important history to hear, but it can also be disturbing.


I started reporting on the FBI and the War on Terror in the years after 9-11, writing first about the then little known FBI director, a man named Robert Mueller.


Later, I wrote a book that traced the 40-year rise of the FBI's counterterrorism program.


And over the course of that reporting, I spoke with nearly everyone who played a major role in the Bureau's counterterrorism work since the 1980s.


Everyone that is, except for one man, John O'Neill.


I never got a chance to meet O'Neill, but I finished my book feeling like I knew him.


After all, seemingly anyone who worked at the FBI, the US government, or tons more who just lived in New York City in the 1990s, they all seem to have a John O'Neill story.


He was friends with the Cardinal and a rock on tour at the city's famed watering hole elanes, not exactly the usual profile for an FBI special agent.


Steve Godden is full of John O'Neill stories. He spent over two decades in the FBI and reported to O'Neill in the late 1990s.


John was a very flamboyant person, as the best way I could describe him.


He was always dressed, what we would say in my neighborhood, he was dressed to the 9s all the time, even in occasions where you didn't need to be dressed that way.


If you saw him at 2 in the morning, which was not uncommon, or if you saw him at 2 in the afternoon, he looked exactly the same.


In the years since the attacks, John O'Neill has been featured in countless books and documentaries about 9-11.


Actors, Jeff Daniels and Harvey Kytel have portrayed him.


The New Yorker profiled him in 2002, simply as the counterterrorist, and PBS's front line called him the man who knew.


He's become a popular character for many reasons.


First, in some ways, he personified the G-Men. This is from a 1997 interview with O'Neill, one of the few he ever gave.


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