- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Without the political covering fire of a bureaucracy, political party, interest group or congressional committee which invariably are available to witnesses who are currently in office former FBI Director Louis Freeh made a nonetheless strong and justified defense of his eight years of service to the country. Refusing to play the role of scapegoat assigned to him by the House and Senate intelligence committee staffs, Mr. Freeh cooly and methodically pointed out many of the other Washington players who blocked his persistent efforts to fight terrorism while in office.

He reminded the congressmen that it was they who turned down his request in fiscal year 2000 for 864 new counter-terrorism positions. They gave him seven. He reminded them of the multiyear fight he had with Congress to try to persuade it to fund an update for the FBI's antiquated computer system a failed system that has come in for much congressional finger-pointing over the last year of recriminations. He ticked off the several laws passed by Congress and fiercely enforced by then-Attorney General Janet Reno that barred the FBI from investigating terrorism. His agents were not permitted to go to suspects' public e-mail sites. They were barred from even obtaining terrorism suspects' credit reports, things which are readily available to used car dealers. All this and more was Congress' handiwork.

However, Mr. Freeh was too tactful to mention the conduct of former President Clinton in undercutting his ability to do his job. For those with short memories, Mr. Freeh had courageously refused to cover up for Mr. Clinton's misconduct. He had issued a long memorandum that, applying the facts to the relevant laws, had recommended a special prosecutor for Clinton/Gore. Janet Reno opposed the memorandum. After that, Mr. Clinton missed few opportunities to undercut Mr. Freeh. On one occasion he sent his press secretary, Mike McCurry, to the podium of the White House Press Room to explicitly say that Mr. Freeh had lost the confidence of the president. As veteran Washington hands understand, trying to manage such an old and devious bureaucracy as the FBI is difficult at the best of times. With a president and attorney general in active and public opposition, it is virtually unmanageable.

And yet, despite this unprecedented presidential assault on an FBI director, Mr. Freeh went on to establish, for the first time in the FBI's history, vital new counter-terrorism offices throughout the troubled Middle East and elsewhere. Working closely with the Saudi ambassador to the United States, he gained important investigative successes in the terrorist attacks on our facilities in that country. He went on to establish early and excellent relations with Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf a prescient act that has paid dividends since September 11th. And, it should be remembered, the two worst FBI missteps the ignored Phoenix FBI agent's warnings and the failure to follow up on the Zacarias Moussaoui clues happened after Mr. Freeh's tenure. But Mr. Freeh readily admitted that there are limitations to what any law enforcement agency can accomplish against terrorism. He claimed no more successes than the facts would clearly support. At some point, he noted in his testimony, the struggle must shift from law enforcement to diplomacy, foreign policy and, if necessary, war. Had Mr. Clinton listened to such advice years ago and declared war on al Qaeda instead of on his own FBI director Congress might not feel the need to be looking for scapegoats now.


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