Able Danger Blog

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Another Side of Pat Fitzgerald


As the Libby trial starts: TRIPLE CROSS: Chapter 21: In early 1996, almost three years after the WTC bombing, the Clinton administration began to focus its response to the “jihad army” whose members had been convicted the... previous October. In the middle of the Day of Terror trial, the president had signed Presidential Decision Directive 39, a secret order designed to “deter, defeat and respond vigorously to all terrorist attacks.” The PDD tasked the CIA to take “an aggressive program of foreign intelligence collection, analysis, counterintelligence and covert action”—authorizing the “return of suspects by force, without the cooperation of host government(s)” if necessary. The FBI was charged as lead U.S. agency to reduce the nation’s security vulnerabilities.

Though the unclassified version of the PDD is heavily redacted, it’s clear that Osama bin Laden soon became a principal target.

Before January was over, the CIA had created “Alec Station,” the first “virtual” office that focused on a specific individual (as opposed to a country). Formally known as “the bin Laden issue station,” it was initially staffed by sixteen analysts and located in an office park a few miles from the headquarters at Langley. It was run by Michael Scheuer, by then a fourteen-year veteran of the Agency. Scheuer named the station “Alec” after his son. The FBI representative from the NYO at the station was Dan Coleman, who soon developed such an expertise on al Qaeda he was nicknamed “the professor. In order to work the station, Coleman had to submit to a polygraph and get a series of new clearances that would allow him to gain access to the CIA’s Hercules database system.

At the same time, the two bin Laden “offices of origin” in New York, the SDNY and the FBI’s NYO, dedicated an existing unit, “Squad I-49,” to building a case against the Saudi billionaire. Coleman became a key component, along with Special Agent Jack Cloonan. Patrick Fitzgerald, the AUSA who was the “second seat” to Andrew McCarthy in the Day of Terror trial, had since become chief of the Organized Crime-Terrorism Unit in the SDNY. He was effectively tasked to direct the squad as lead prosecutor.

It would be a career-making position for Fitzgerald, the Harvard-educated son of Irish immigrants. In years to come he would emerge as the DOJ’s leading bin Laden authority, described in a February 2006 Vanity Fair profile as a man with “scary smart intelligence,” an “uncanny memory,” and “a mainframe computer brain.” As lead prosecutor in United States v. bin Laden, the African Embassy bombing case in 2001, Fitzgerald would be rewarded for his conviction of the Saudi billionaire in absentia with an appointment as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois—becoming the top Fed in Chicago, a city infamous for political corruption. With a staff of 161 AUSAs, Fitzgerald, whose close friends called him “Fitzie,” would oversee Operation Safe Road, a public corruption case that would result in the conviction of seventy-three defendants, including thirty public employees and officials.

If that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, by December 2003 Fitzgerald would be tapped by George W. Bush’s Justice Department as special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation. It would be his job, in essence, to determine whether presidential aide Karl Rove, one of the most powerful men in Washington, had leaked the name of former CIA covert operative Valerie Plame in an effort to punish her husband, for writing an op-ed page piece critical of the Bush White House for using false intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.