Who Is Thomas Pickard?

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August 22, 2000: Memo Claims FBI Lacks Strategy to Prevent Terrorist Attacks
An internal FBI memo warns that the agency lacks a coherent strategy to prevent terrorist attacks. The memo is sent from Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism program, to interim FBI Director Tom Pickard. The memo reads, “While the FBI has traditionally relied on an approach that focused generally on the identification, penetration and neutralization of terrorist organizations, the [FBI] has not developed a ‘grand strategy’ in which resources and programs are systematically directed toward progressively reducing and neutralizing and ultimately eliminating the terrorist threat to US interests.” After 9/11, a former top FBI official will claim, “The counterterrorism guys never arrested anyone, never stopped anything.” Senior FBI officials will later acknowledge “that [the FBI’s] counterterrorism program was deeply troubled and largely ineffective.” The New York Times will also later claim that the FBI’s “internal affairs unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility, became a much-feared inquisitor, sometimes damaging careers over minor offenses like using a bureau car for personal matters.” [New York Times, 6/2/2002]

May 1, 2001: FBI Director Louis Freeh Announces Resignation
Louis Freeh, FBI Director since September 1993 (see September 1993), unexpectedly announces his resignation. He will continue to serve until June 25. Assistant Director Thomas Pickard will serve as acting director until Robert Mueller will take over in early September 2001 (see September 4, 2001). [BBC, 5/1/2001] The BBC reports, “Mr. Freeh did not give specific reasons for his decision to leave, but he had been the target of criticism following the arrest in February [2001] of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent accused of working for Moscow for more than 15 years.” [BBC, 7/5/2001]

Summer 2001: FBI Lacks Resources But Ashcroft Denies More Funding
The New York Times will later report that, according to senior government officials, “A top secret report warned top officials of the FBI in the months before Sept. 11 that the bureau faced significant terrorist threats from Middle Eastern groups like al-Qaeda but lacked enough resources to meet the threat…” The internal assessment finds that virtually every major FBI field office is undermanned when evaluating and dealing with the threat from groups like al-Qaeda. The report gives detailed recommendations and spending increases to address the problem. However, in August 2001, acting FBI Director Tom Pickard meets Attorney General John Ashcroft to ask for supplemental funding for counterterrorism, but his request is turned down. On September 10, 2001, Ashcroft rejects a proposed $58 million increase in FBI counterterrorism funding for the next year’s budget (see September 10, 2001). [New York Times, 6/1/2002]

July 2, 2001: FBI Warns of Possible Al-Qaeda Attacks; Little Action Results
The FBI’s Counterterrorism Division issues a warning of possible al-Qaeda attacks to law enforcement agencies called “Potential Anti-US Attacks.” It states, “[T]here are threats to be worried about overseas. While we cannot foresee attacks domestically, we cannot rule them out.” It further states, “[T]he FBI has no information indicating a credible threat of terrorist attack in the United States.” It asks law enforcement agencies to “exercise vigilance” and “report suspicious activities” to the FBI. Two weeks later, acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard has a conference call with all field office heads mentioning the heightened threat. However, FBI personnel later fail to recall any heightened sense of threat from summer 2001. Only those in the New York field office took any action or recall this later. [CNN, 3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]

July 12, 2001: Ashcroft Reputedly Uninterested in Terrorism
On July 5, the CIA briefed Attorney General Ashcroft on the al-Qaeda threat, warning that a significant overseas terrorist attack is imminent, and a strike could occur at any time (see July 5, 2001). On this day, acting FBI Director Tom Pickard briefs Ashcroft about the terror threat inside the US. Pickard later swears under oath that Ashcroft tells him, “[I do] not want to hear about this anymore.” Ashcroft, also under oath, later categorically denies the allegation, saying, “I did never speak to him saying that I didn’t want to hear about terrorism.” However, Ruben Garcia, head of the Criminal Division, and another senior FBI official corroborate Pickard’s account. Ashcroft’s account is supported by his top aide, but another official in Ashcroft’s office who could also support Ashcroft’s account says he cannot remember what happened. Pickard briefs Ashcroft on terrorism four more times that summer, but he never mentions al-Qaeda to Ashcroft again before 9/11. [MSNBC, 6/22/2004] Pickard later makes an appeal to Ashcroft for more counterterrorism funding; Ashcroft rejects the appeal on September 10, 2001 (see September 10, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004] Pickard later says, “Before September 11th, I couldn’t get half an hour on terrorism with Ashcroft. He was only interested in three things: guns, drugs, and civil rights.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 293]

July 19, 2001: FBI Director Tells Field Offices to Be Ready to Respond to New Attack but Not to Prevent It
Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard holds a periodic conference call with the heads of all FBI field offices. According to a later account by Pickard, one item he discusses is the need to have evidence response teams ready to move quickly in case of a new attack. This is brought up in light of all the increased threat reporting. However, he does not task the field offices to look into whether any plots are being considered within the US; nor does he tell them to take any action to disrupt any such plots. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259]

August 16-September 10, 2001: FBI Fails to Inform Own Director of Moussaoui Case
The FBI fails to inform its own head of the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui. It is unclear how this failure occurs. The highest FBI official to be informed of Moussaoui’s arrest is apparently Michael Rolince, head of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section (see Late August 2001), but it seems he fails to pass the information on. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 275] Thomas Pickard, who is acting FBI director at this time, will later blame CIA director George Tenet, who was briefed repeatedly on the case (see August 23, 2001), for not informing him of Moussaoui’s arrest, but Tenet will comment: “I was stunned to hear [Pickard’s comments] suggesting that I had somehow failed to notify him about Moussaoui. Failed to tell him? Hell, it was the FBI’s case, their arrest. I had no idea that the Bureau wasn’t aware of what its own people were doing.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200-201]

August 19, 2001: FBI’s Best Al-Qaeda Expert Under Investigation for Trivial Issue, His Retirement Soon Follows
The New York Times reports that counterterrorism expert John O’Neill is under investigation for an incident involving a missing briefcase. [New York Times, 8/19/2001] In July 2000, he misplaced a briefcase containing important classified information, but it was found a couple of hours later still locked and untouched. Why such a trivial issue would come up over a year later and be published in the New York Times seems entirely due to politics. Says the New Yorker, “The leak seemed to be timed to destroy O’Neill’s chance of being confirmed for [a National Security Council] job,” and force him into retirement. A high-ranking colleague says the leak was “somebody being pretty vicious to John.” [New Yorker, 1/14/2002] John O’Neill suspects his enemy Tom Pickard, then interim director of the FBI, orchestrated the article. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The New Yorker later speculates that with the retirement of FBI Director Freeh in June, it appears O’Neill lost his friends in high places, and the new FBI director wanted him replaced with a Bush ally. [New Yorker, 1/14/2002] O’Neill retires a few days later.