As soon as she heard that a commercial airliner had crashed into the World Trade Center, FBI special agent Mary Galligan knew al Qaeda was responsible. She had recently returned from Yemen where she had spent months as an on-scene commander investigating al Qaeda’s attack on the USS Cole and had served in Tanzania working the U.S. Embassy bombing case. She was familiar of the threat that the terror network posed.
Galligan reported to ground zero on the evening of Sept. 11. She was soon assigned to supervise the largest investigation in the bureau’s history. She then continued to the makeshift command center because the offices in lower Manhattan were uninhabitable.
Here she and her team would spend months following thousands of leads, collecting evidence to investigate what had happened and to determine the threat level. When program moderator Clifford Chanin asked if there were any “a-ha moments” in the investigation, Galligan discussed linking a hijacker to al Qaeda through a FedEx envelope containing money that was delayed at John F. Kennedy Airport because of the attacks.
In 2010, FBI Director Robert Mueller named Galligan the first female special agent in charge of Cyber/Special Operations for the New York Division. This was a rare honor in an agency that had not often awarded females leadership positions.
Chanin asked Galligan what it was like to rise to this role. “It’s always a challenge. I didn’t care if you liked me, but I cared if you respected me.” Galligan credits much of her success to her mentor, John O’Neil, who had recently retired from the FBI when he was killed in the attacks. The agency also lost special agent Leonard Hatton.
Galligan reached the mandatory retirement age and left the bureau in 2013. She is now a cyber security consultant at Deloitte & Touche.
By Jenny Pachucki, 9/11 Memorial Content Strategist