Analysis of John ONeill in The Man Who Knew

2021-05-31 21:29:41
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Wesleyan University
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The Man Who Knew is a 2002 documentary by The Frontline television program. It narrates the story of an FBI counterterrorism expert called John ONeill who had long figured out the threat posed by Al Qaeda terror group and warned about it. He was of the opinion that the United States should eliminate Osama bin Laden, the groups leader, before he launched a major attack. However, no one in the American government took him seriously. On the 11th of September 2001, Al Qaeda launched an attack on world trade center that killed thousands of people. The attack showed that ONeill was right all along. This essay shows that John ONeill in The Man Who Knew demonstrated the characteristics of Eriksons generativity versus stagnation stage.

Generativity vs. stagnation is the 7th stage of the theory of psychosocial development fronted by Erik Erikson that occurs approximately between the ages of 40 and 65 years. During this period, an individual strives to nurture things whose results will occur when they are no longer there; often by making contributions to constructive changes beneficial to others. Performing deeds that benefit future generations as well as contributing to the community and society at large are notable characteristics of the Generativity vs. stagnation development stage. Generativity involves the individual making a mark on society by caring for other people and achieving things that make the world a much better place to live in. stagnation is all about the inability to find a way of making this contribution. The person may feel detached from his or her community as well as from the society at large. These characteristics are evident in what John ONeill goes through in his attempt to mitigate the threat posed by the Al Qaeda group.

The Man Who Knew narrates how ONeill, who was once the head of New York Citys branch of FBI anti-terrorism unit, had investigated terror attacks targeting Americans in Africa and the Middle East. For several years, he led the effort to find and prosecute Al Qaeda members scattered throughout the world. However, his flamboyant and unorthodox way of doing things did not go down well with the FBIs by-the-book style. ONeill buried himself into finding out everything he could about Islamic extremist militancy and global terrorism. In1997, he got promoted and took the post of special agent-in-charge of the FBIs national security division in New York. According to observers, he capitalized on this promotion to lead the team whose role was to investigate and prosecute most high profile cases involving international terrorism. The post turned out to be the ideal base from which to mount his pursuit of Al Qaeda and bin Laden.

As much as ONeill succeeded in making friends in the Central Intelligence Agency and foreign spy agencies, not all his colleagues in the FBI were enthusiastic about what he was doing. His unusual personal life had for a long time raised eyebrows within the Bureau. For instance, he was regularly featured in New Yorks celebrity social scene while also cheating on his wife with a string of mistresses. His FBI team in the city was at the center of a bureaucratic squabble over who would spearhead the 1998 investigation into the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Also, ONeill was at entangled in an intense political battle over investigations into an attack of USS Cole in Yemen back in 2000. In the documentary, several government officials recounted how he desired that the FBI go hard on Yemeni security forces as he was of the opinion that they did not co-operate as would have been desired. This attitude was among the numerous issues to do with the investigation that did not go down well with Barbara Bodine, then a US Ambassador.

When ONeill made a short-lived visit to his home for Thanksgiving, his re-entry visa was revoked by Bodine, thus preventing him from getting back into the USS Cole investigation. It is believed that removal from the Yemen scene significantly derailed the investigation. There are speculations that, were it not for this removal, ONeill could have figured out the 9/11 masterminds plans earlier enough to foil the attack. The Man Who Knew also highlights how frustrated ONeill was with the US governments relaxed attitude towards the threat that bin Laden posed. Of particular concern was the possibility that the terror groups sleeper cells were already in operation within America. ONeill was so isolated by the FBI by the summer of 2001 to the extent that key clues concerning the looming 9/11 plot were apparently kept away from him. His career at the Bureau, spanning 25 years, would come to an abrupt end after investigations were conducted into the loss of a briefcase under his watch that contained classified information. He decided to retire in August 2001 at the age of 49. He then took a new job as the World Trade Centers head of security. A mere eight days into the job, the terrorists that he had pursued for so long struck the towers. He died while helping with rescue efforts inside the burning towers.

John ONeills efforts in trying to stop the 9/11 attacks perfectly characterize Eriksons generativity versus stagnation stage. His critics point out that his career at the FBI came to a disgraceful end due to his personal failings. On the other hand, his supporters believe his downfall was due to his failure to conform to the FBIs way of doing things. Whatever the case, ONeill played a crucial role in helping his community and making the world a safe place.

Works Cited

Darling-Fisher, Cynthia, and Nancy Leidy. "The Modified Erikson Psychosocial Stage Inventory." (2015).

Malone, Johanna C., et al. "Midlife Eriksonian psychosocial development: Setting the stage for late-life cognitive and emotional health." (2015).

Wright, Lawrence. The Counter-Terrorist: John ONeill was an F.B.I. agent with an obsession: the growing threat of Al Qaeda. The New Yorker, Conde Nast, 14 Jan. 2002.

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