A skillful survivor
Friction. Several Reno aides say the attorney general relied too heavily on Townsend. "There's no single person that Janet Reno had a bigger blind spot for than her," says a Justice official. In fact, some of Reno's senior aides distrusted Townsend so much, sources say, that one asked that Reno's confidential assistant inform him if Town-send violated protocol and approached Reno directly.
Some senior FBI officials blame Lamberth, not Townsend, for the FISA problems. Townsend says she repeatedly tried to persuade the judge to lower the "wall" but knew she had crossed the line when in November 2000, the FISA court held a rare meeting of the full court to discuss "wall" -related issues. "The chief judge was so annoyed with me," says Townsend, "that he wouldn't permit me personally to attend, because I had pushed so hard against the restrictions they had imposed." Others say the real root of Lamberth's anger at Townsend was the false information given by the FBI in dozens of wiretap applications to the FISA court. Lamberth declined to comment. But he told Reno's successor, Ashcroft, that he had lost faith in Townsend. Knowing she was in an untenable situation, Townsend says, she told Ashcroft's then acting deputy, Robert Mueller, that she was willing to step aside. Townsend says Mueller consulted with Ashcroft and told her that she was out. Mueller, who is now the FBI director, declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that Townsend had "voluntarily moved" during the Bush transition. "Fran is a true professional," Mueller said, "with extensive experience in addressing terrorism. As such, she brings experienced leadership to the war on terror."
Townsend, described as "furious" by a former Bush administration official, was out of a job--but not for long. In August 2001, she became assistant commandant of intelligence at the U.S. Coast Guard, back then an orphan agency that was viewed as a law enforcement Siberia. After the September 11 attacks, however, the Coast Guard became a key player in the war on terrorism--and so did Townsend. "We thought it was a great catch," Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thomas Collins told U.S. News in an interview, saying Townsend helped "break dishes" to merge the agency's intelligence and criminal operations. "She had an incredible value for us," Collins added.
Others in the counterterrorism community took notice. Barely two years later, Townsend was on her way back to the top. As National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's counterterrorism deputy, Townsend beefed up White House involvement in security planning for the Olympic Games in Athens and made several trips to Saudi Arabia. "She's been very important on issues of terrorist financing," Rice told U.S. News. Rice said Townsend also played a key "debottlenecking" role in Iraq, to "make sure people were getting the kind of merged intelligence that was needed."
When Rice's counterpart at the homeland security council, Gen. John Gordon--another Townsend mentor--retired, he pushed her as his replacement. Today, Townsend's biggest challenge will be to ensure that the administration's color-coded threat system is not viewed as political scaremongering, as it was back in August. Townsend has "precious little interaction, if any," she says, with the White House political operation. "Terrorism ought not to be about politics," Townsend says, "and I don't think it is in this administration."