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FBI, State Dept. at odds over USS Cole probe

The attack on October 12, 2000, against the USS Cole killed 17 sailors, injured 39 others, and nearly sank the ship.
The attack on October 12, 2000, against the USS Cole killed 17 sailors, injured 39 others, and nearly sank the ship.  

By Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Tension between the State Department and the FBI over the investigation of the USS Cole bombing in October contributed to a decision to reject a repeat visit to Yemen by the FBI's lead investigator, according to State Department officials.

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine turned down a request by FBI investigator John O'Neil that he return to Yemen, the officials said.

O'Neil, from the FBI's New York office, was believed to be an irritant in the U.S.-Yemen relationship during the investigation because of his brash methods, they said.

"These guys went in like gangbusters," one senior official said. "They don't understand that you have to show some respect for your host country."

FBI officials did not immediately respond to CNN requests for comment.

Officials said what had been viewed as an overly large FBI presence at points during the investigation also contributed to tension in the relationship.

Another source of tension was the FBI's desire to carry large weapons, another senior official said.

"It wouldn't be appropriate for our people to be carrying around guns," he said.

The State Department and the FBI were also at odds over the perceived danger of terrorist threats to the U.S. Embassy in San'a and to FBI agents, officials said.

Although FBI officials believed there was a serious risk, Bodine declared the embassy to be safe, following an increase in security.

According to several senior State Department officials, U.S. diplomatic security officers were assigned to protect the FBI agents in the country.

"Clearly there was a difference in opinion about the threat," Deputy of State Richard Armitage said Friday, adding that the State Department stood by Bodine.

"The FBI clearly had a different view," Armitage said, noting the FBI withdrew its investigators "almost simultaneously" with the arrest of suspected terrorists by Yemeni authorities.

"We're pretty convinced Barbara made the right call," he said.

Another senior State Department official, in a thinly veiled jab at the FBI, said that although she "doesn't carry around as many guns as others ... nobody is as hard charging" as Bodine.

He pointed out that U.S. Embassy personnel were still working in the country with enhanced security.

Armitage and other officials said that the FBI would be welcomed back to Yemen to continue their investigation, if needed.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns, the administration's point main on the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, is expected to discuss the Cole investigation while in Yemen this week.

Armitage said that in addition to providing a "first-person brief" of U.S. efforts toward the peace process, Burns' goal was to "reinvigorate the bilateral relationship.

• Federal Bureau of Investigation
• U.S. Department of State
• U.S. Navy

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