- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2001

FBI Director Louis Freeh 51-year-old father of six sons under the age of 17 announced Tuesday that he would resign "by the end of the school year in June," ending a 27-year career in government service during which he moved from being an FBI agent to a Mafia-busting federal prosecutor to a federal judge to the head of the nations most vaunted and the worlds most powerful law enforcement agency.

When Mr. Freeh departs after serving eight years of the term to which former president Bill Clinton appointed him in 1993, he will leave with the satisfaction that major crime in the United States fell during each year he was in office. And, equally important in an era of rapidly increasing globalization, he will leave behind a much-expanded agency which he transformed into a worldwide crime-fighting operation. Today, globally dispersed FBI agents, whose cooperative efforts with their foreign counterparts have markedly increased under Mr. Freeh, routinely target cross-border organized crime, international and domestic terrorism, cybercrime and other cutting-edge challenges that have significantly increased around the globe since 1993. During his tenure, Mr. Freeh more than doubled the FBI´s overseas presence, including establishing an office in Moscow. CIA Director George Tenet praised Mr. Freeh for his role in "the unprecedented strategic partnership between the FBI and the CIA." During Mr. Freeh´s tenure, the FBI has been on the front lines combating terrorism directed against overseas Americans. The agency has successfully investigated terrorist bombings at American embassies in Africa, the federal building in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center in New York City. Under his direction, the FBI captured the Unabomber in 1996, ending a 17-year bombing campaign.

Of course, not all events during Mr. Freeh´s term were as successful. The FBI badly mishandled the investigation of the bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where an innocent Richard Jewell was unfairly and wrongly persecuted by the FBI. And the agency was too lax at the beginning of the investigation of nuclear espionage being carried out at one of the national weapons laboratories. Meanwhile, the FBI laboratory was embroiled in controversies involving improperly handled evidence that was tainted. Arguably the FBI´s biggest failure during Mr. Freeh´s tenure, however, was its inability until February to capture accused spy Robert Hanssen, an FBI counter-intelligence agent who allegedly spied for the Soviet Union and Russia for 15 years.

On balance, however, Mr. Freeh has been a superb director of the FBI as the nation and the world entered the new millennium. President George W. Bush, who was caught by surprise by the resignation, expressed regret at Mr. Freeh´s decision, noting how "fortunate" the nation was to have had "a man of his caliber serve our country." No argument there. Attorney General John Ashcroft praised Mr. Freeh for his "uncompromising integrity" and called the departing director "a model law enforcement officer." Neither of Mr. Ashcroft´s compliments seemed too much.

In a statement, Mr. Freeh, who repeatedly and strongly but, ultimately, futilely implored Janet Reno to seek an independent counsel to investigate the fund-raising tactics of the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee, said that President Bush "has brought great honor and integrity to the Oval Office," an observation few would dispute today. To hear it from the FBI director, who saw the evidence against the previous occupant of the Oval Office as more than serious, those words have special meaning. As a man of uncompromising integrity, Mr. Freeh, relying on his finely honed principles, fought the good fight when there seemed to be nobody else in the previous administration willing to do so. A man like that will be difficult to replace.


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