Ashcroft, Ex-FBI Chief Spar Over 2001 Priorities


Attorney General John Ashcroft and former interim FBI director Thomas Pickard disagreed sharply over the level of Ashcroft’s interest in fighting terrorism before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Pichard told the commission investigating the attacks that Ashcroft didn’t want to hear about terrorism when Pickard tried to brief him during the summer of 2001, as intelligence reports about terrorist threats mounted.

Ashcroft denied the charge and blamed the Clinton administration for creating bureaucratic hurdles that impeded intelligence gathering, reports the Chicago Tribune. He portrayed himself as taking decisive action against Osama bin Laden and charged that former President Bill Clinton failed to authorize bin Laden’s assassination.

Pickard said he didn’t know why his 56 local FBI chiefs across the nation didn’t do more in the summer of 2001 after he asked them to do so

Louis Freeh, who headed the agency for almost eight years before retiring in June 2001, blamed legal impediments and a lack of resources. He suggested the CIA should have done more to alert him that two Al Qaeda members who would become hijackers were in the country.

Commission members heard their own investigators lay out a series of missteps at the FBI that Thomas Kean, the chairman, called “an indictment of the FBI” that stretched “over a long period of time.” Witnesses rejected calls for the creation of a new domestic intelligence agency; Freeh said “you would, in effect, be establishing a secret police.”

The New York Times quoted Kean as saying of the FBI: “It failed and it failed and it failed and it failed. This is an agency that does not work. It makes you angry. And I don’t know how to fix it.”


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