- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2001

The FBI's long arms reach farther than ever, with 19 of the bureau's 44 overseas offices having opened in the past five years. That presence has helped bring embassy bombers in Africa and drug dealers in Italy to justice.

But the hard-charging style of FBI agents has caused resentment and culture clashes, too.

New FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said in his recent Senate confirmation hearings that he would work to shed the FBI's reputation for arrogance both at home and abroad.

"The FBI must develop the respect and confidence of those with whom it interacts, including other law enforcement agencies, both domestic and international," he said.

Tension rose so high in Yemen that Ambassador Barbara Bodine vetoed a return visit in February by the FBI agent supervising the investigation into last year's bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 U.S. sailors.

Yemeni officials privately called Agent John O'Neill and his associates "Rambos."

The FBI says its overseas growth is justified by a series of successes. They included this year's conviction of four men involved in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and the tracking of white-collar crooks who hide their money in foreign accounts.

"Crime gravitates to how the legitimate business world operates, and corporations are globalizing," said Les Kaciban, the deputy assistant director of the FBI's international operations branch. "Transportation, crossing borders, communication, financial transactions have become much easier."

The FBI's 112 overseas operatives about 1 percent of its agents are on the front line of the bureau's fight against computer crime, which it says has cost the global economy more than $1.6 trillion.

FBI legal attaches known as "legats" have been in U.S. embassies since the 1940s, when they countered Nazi espionage. But it was not until Louis Freeh became director in 1993 that their work assumed central importance. He doubled their number.

Mr. Freeh was a strong believer in international cooperation. His work with Italian authorities in solving the "Pizza Connection," a Sicily-based drug smuggling ring that dealt its product out of New York-area pizza parlors in the 1980s, earned him fame as a federal prosecutor.

He encouraged agents to cultivate what Mr. Kaciban calls "cop-to-cop" relationships with other national forces. Under his leadership, the FBI trained 50,000 foreign police at its Quantico, Va., academy and at a center in Budapest.

"Our purpose was not only to bring up their investigative standards, but also to share information," said Mr. Kaciban, who set up the Budapest academy.

Local police often credit the FBI with crucial help.

"The FBI agents did a good job together with the local police," said Tanzanian police spokesman Mohammed Mhina, who worked with the FBI in the investigation of embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam and in Nairobi, Kenya. "What we learned from them is that we need modern equipment."

Other times, however, the FBI's single-mindedness can undermine delicate relations, U.S. politicians and diplomats say.

In Saudi Arabia, police would not let FBI agents interrogate suspects in the 1996 Khobar Tower bombings that killed 19 U.S. servicemen. Mr. Freeh wanted President Clinton to press the Saudis to cooperate more, but the president was mindful of offending an important ally.

In Yemen, local officials were offended that FBI investigators decamped to U.S. ships each evening instead of spending the night in Aden. FBI officials said a security threat made that necessary; Mrs. Bodine said she trusted Yemeni security.

"The FBI's view is that everything is a law-enforcement problem," said Bob Litt, a Clinton-era deputy attorney general whose responsibilities included national security. "But some things need to be addressed diplomatically or in rarer instances militarily."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide