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Smoking Out the Terrorists

G-Man Pat D'Amuro is helping the FBI wage war on America's enemies but still finds time to light up
Alejandro Benes
From the Print Edition:
Greg Raymer, Sept/Oct 2004

Pasquale J. (Pat) D'Amuro got the call one Sunday that some visitors from a "foreign intelligence service" were having trouble in New York. Seems they couldn't find a place to smoke in the city.

"They were from a Middle Eastern country, I can't tell you which one," says D'Amuro, the head of the FBI's New York office. "They had just come up from [Washington,] D.C., and were having some problems finding what they needed. I got a call from one of the agents helping them and was able to resolve the issue with one phone call."

D'Amuro, a cigar aficionado, called his contacts at one of Manhattan's larger tobacco shops and persuaded them to open their conference room. Everyone was happy. D'Amuro remembers cigar-friendlier days. "This city's becoming very difficult. We always had people come in from overseas. We'd entertain them and we'd always have cigars with us," he says. D'Amuro is relaxed as he talks about what has turned out to be a minor diplomatic obstacle.

He welcomes the break, one of the few he's enjoyed over the past three years.

"It's been a blur," says D'Amuro. Just prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, D'Amuro had been in charge of the FBI's special operations division in New York. Shortly after 9/11, the director of the FBI "requested" that D'Amuro spend some time at headquarters. From January 2002 until August 2003, he served as the assistant director of the counterterrorism unit in Washington, fighting the bureau's war on terror and battling charges from domestic critics that the FBI had failed to pick up on clues that would have prevented the calamity of 9/11.

"You can't be right 100 percent of the time," says D'Amuro, who assumed his present post—his formal title is assistant director in charge of the FBI, New York—in August 2003. "That's not reality. Nobody is right 100 percent of the time. We strive for that. Every employee in this office wishes they could have prevented 9/11. There isn't one person here that goes back and takes a look at what was done and doesn't ask, How could you have done it better?" D'Amuro emphasizes that he understands that public expectations, although unrealistic, are high. "But the truth is, we need to be right every time. A terrorist has to be right, has to be lucky, only once."

D'Amuro is on a campaign to restore the faith in and the credibility of the FBI's counterterrorism efforts. He has been remarkably media-friendly, inviting television crews to interview special agents of the FBI's Joint Terrorist Task Force in New York City. That's extremely rare. "You'll see and hear the anger and frustration," D'Amuro says. "They have had so many successes that no one knows about and they're taking a big hit on this." According to a number of experts, both inside and outside the bureau, before 9/11 the FBI prevented some 40 terror plots that would have cost tens of thousands of lives.

Ask him who's to blame for 9/11 and the response comes quickly: "Osama bin Laden and the radical fundamentalists. And with luck we'll bring them to justice." D'Amuro believes that the United States is not out of the woods when it comes to terrorism. "I think we're much safer today than we were prior to 9/11," D'Amuro confides. "A tremendous amount of resources have been put into hardening our infrastructure, into helping build a better FBI and a better information technology system. I don't think we are yet where we need to be. I think there are still areas of improvement. I think it's going to be years before homeland security is as operational as it should be."

This may explain why D'Amuro says the likelihood of another catastrophe like 9/11 is a real threat. "You know, look at the history of terrorism in this country. It's still a very new phenomenon. When you look at Israel, they've lived with it on a daily basis. It's become part of their society. We are a long way from protecting our infrastructure, from protecting our citizens against a terrorist attack in the future. We've not seen an end of attacks domestically. Unfortunately, I think that's just the reality."

Today, however, D'Amuro is taking a break from reality to talk about his passion: cigars.

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