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The Man Who Warned America


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In the 1990s, FBI counterterrorism expert John O'Neill was widely regarded as one of the government's foremost authorities on Mideastern politics and terrorism; he was also a prominent fixture at Manhattan nightlife hot spots like Elaine's. He spent nearly a decade investigating the bombings orchestrated by religious extremists, recognizing Osama bin Laden as a threat long before other federal authorities did. But O'Neill died in another bin Laden attack shortly after leaving the FBI, just a few weeks into a new job as security chief at the World Trade Center. Weiss, as criminal justice reporter for the New York Post, knew O'Neill as a valued source, but from the story he presents, it's unclear how well anybody-even those closest to him-really knew O'Neill, a man described by friends as "on the run from himself" his entire adult life. It wasn't until after his death, for example, that his three girlfriends learned about one another-and that he was still legally bound to the wife he said he had divorced. The biography acknowledges his complicated relationships without lingering over details, putting them in the context of a lifelong need for admiration and approval both personally and professionally. Weiss handles the terrorism angle with slightly less subtlety, asserting that the Clinton administration was distracted from the issue by endless scandal and suggesting that if the rest of the government had investigated it with O'Neill's tenacity, September 11 might have been avoided. But the political overtones never get in the way of this portrait of a dynamic yet enigmatic crusader who was as human as he was heroic. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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