Fran Townsend’s role in the biggest counter-terrorism investigation in history

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Fran Townsend’s role in the biggest counter-terrorism investigation in history

Posted on March 22, 2022

Aki J. Peritz’s new book details how Activision Blizzard’s Fran Townsend Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs, helped protect the United States from a terrorist attack in 2006.

In 2006, intelligence agencies from the United States, United Kingdom and Pakistan worked together to thwart al-Qaeda’s plans for a massive terrorist attack. At the request of President George W. Bush, Frances Townsend took charge of White House communications with international intelligence to track the terrorist threat. In the fascinating new book Disruption: behind the scenes of the biggest counter-terrorism investigation in historyauthor Aki J. Peritz, a former counterterrorism analyst, shares the details of how al-Qaeda nearly carried out a massive attack on civilians in 2006.

Peritz’s new book portrays Fran Townsend as a crucial player in the coalition of international intelligence agencies working around the clock to stop al-Qaeda’s plot to massively attack civilians using explosives made with the highly volatile chemical triacetone triperoxide. The chemical is so dangerous that it is nicknamed the “Mother of Satan”.

Fight against terrorist threats: Frances Townsend is under fire from critics

Disruption: At the heart of the greatest counterterrorism investigation in history tells the harrowing real-life story of how five years after the 9/11 attacks, one of al-Qaeda’s masterminds of the London Underground bombing known as the attacks of 7/7 led a terrorist plot to blow up a passenger plane, headed from England to America, across the Atlantic. When news of the plot hit Washington, DC, President George W. Bush turned to the best woman for the job, his Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor, Fran Townsend.

She is described in the book as being 100% focused on the task at hand. “Townsend had more or less started sleeping on her office couch at the White House, just in case she had to be there if events broke out and she had to be at her battle station,” Peritz writes. “I’m in an office that’s literally equal in steps and distance to the White House Situation Room or the back stairs of the Oval Office. Those are the two places where I ended up spending the most time,” Townsend explained.

Because British intelligence was monitoring a well-known terrorist cell, they were able to decipher that the terrorists were stockpiling bombs – using soda bottles, glass jars loaded with batteries and a dangerous chemical. Al-Qaida members used medical syringes and meticulously filled unopened soda bottles with volatile triacetone triperoxide. Since the soda appeared unopened, it wouldn’t be difficult to get the bombs past the TSA and straight onto a transatlantic flight.

Frances Fragos Townsend took charge, asking the British Secret Service if they knew how many people were in the cell. She wanted to know who the terrorists had been in communication with recently. And she asked if any of the suspects had friends or family in the transportation or airline industries.

Frances Townsend shares her homeland security concerns

Townsend was particularly concerned that British intelligence had failed to prepare security personnel and baggage checkers in the transport sector for the impending threat. Stealth soda bottle bombs were a brand new type of explosive, which controllers would not be able to identify. Even the high-tech detection machines operating in the aftermath of the September 11 attack would not be able to detect the explosive soda. Peritz writes, “The only way to make an accurate determination was to take the bottle and shake it to see if the liquids behaved as soda normally would.”

Fran Townsend became frustrated with the way the British were handling the operation from their side. In the book, Peritz quotes Townsend as saying that the British were “extremely infuriated to have been given a lot of rudder from a lady in the White House – when they were.” But since these planes were going to fly to America very soon, Townsend considered it an emergency. “It was like August 2001 on steroids,” she told Peritz.

Townsend said: “The main thing I did every day was watch threat information. The president said it very clearly [that] our primary responsibility was to stop the next attack. And so, what you want to be sure of is that you know what the current intelligence and developments are, and we are taking all possible measures to prevent the next attack. And in this particular circumstance, Townsend accomplished the mission.


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