The FBI has finally drawn a line in the sand. There will be no more favors for this White House or any other White House, it seems.
Henceforth the Bureau will look after its own interests and, apparently, stop squandering its once vaunted prestige by carrying out the bidding of the Clinton administration.
In a blistering outburst at the end of last week, Louis Freeh, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, accused the Clinton White House of “egregious violations” in seeking 408 secret background files on political opponents. The White House had failed to act on “good faith and honor,” he said, adding that “the FBI and I were victimized.”
It has been a painful learning experience for Louis Freeh, the wunderkind prosecutor so eulogized by Democrats and Republicans when he took over the Bureau in 1993. A former member of Opus Dei _ his brother John Freeh was once a top “Numerary” in the tight-knit, ultra- conservative Catholic organization _ he came to the job with a reputation for unimpeachable integrity.
But his appointment was compromised from the beginning. His predecessor, William sessions, was sacked by President Clinton in the middle of his 10-year term, even thought the FBI director is supposed to be protected against assault from the White House. It was a classic Washington putsch.
Director Sessions was fired on the grounds that he had used official resources for personal benefit _ his wife had carried a bundle of firewood on the Director’s small aircraft, and other such absurdities. It was an obvious set-up, although the Washington press corps allowed it to pass unchallenged.
His real offense was his refusal to yield to political pressure from the White House _ first under President Bush, and then under President Clinton. Interestingly, Sessions was fired abruptly on July 19, 1993, the day before White House aide Vincent Foster was found dead in a park. Sessions now says that the Foster investigation was “compromised” from the beginning.
When Freeh took over the FBI, he acknowledged that the Bureau had lost many people’s trust and that it was now seen as a militarized security force.
Freeh was handpicked by White House Counsel Bernie Nussbaum, an old friend from their New York days. We now learn that the request for the 408 FBI files was filled out in Nussbaum’s name, although he never actually signed the forms and he says that he knew nothing about the matter.
When Freeh took over the FBI, he acknowledged that the Bureau had lost many people’s trust and that it was now seen as a militarized security force. “The American people have good reason to fear the FBI,” he said at the time.
But before he could even begin to put his own imprint on the Bureau, he was swept up in a storm of anti-government emotion. A military movement burst on to the national scene, openly vowing to confront the FBI’s “storm troopers” with armed resistance, if pressed. The federal building in Oklahoma was blown up, killing 168 people in the worst act of domestic terrorism in US history.
Disasters are now accumulating at a giddying pace. An infra-red surveillance tape has come to light showing that FBI snipers almost certainly opened fire on the Branch Davidians who burned to death in the Waco inferno in April 1993. More than 80 people died in that episode, many of them children, making it the worst tragedy caused by government action since the massacre of Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee in 1890.
The FBI insists that it never fired a shot but the tape, which has been shown to The Sunday Telegraph, shows bursts of gunfire coming from snipers crouched alongside an FBI tank. The tape also shows that the FBI may have used “flash-bang” devices, in spite of official denials, that could have caused the fire. The Oklahoma bombing investigation has also been compromised by allegations from the FBI’s top scientist in explosive analysis, Frederick Whitehurst. He says that the FBI crime lab has fabricated evidence in several important cases, including the World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma investigation.
It is now clear that the US prosecutors want to restrict the scope of the Oklahoma case to charges against two men, Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
If an FBI lab is willing to suppress, distort, or even plant evidence, what does that say about the rest of the organization?
Louis Freeh is now scrambling to save the Bureau before it is overtaken by catastrophe. He could still prove to be a great director. But to do that he must free the FBI from its current servitude to the Justice Department _ especially in the Oklahoma bombing investigation.
It is now clear that the US prosecutors want to restrict the scope of the Oklahoma case to charges against two men, Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols, disregarding mountains of evidence that the conspiracy was in fact a much broader one and that it was probably penetrated by the government.
FBI agents do not have to traipse across Oklahoma and Kansas telling eyewitnesses time and again that they cannot possibly have seen what they saw, that they cannot have seen Tim McVeigh with the mysterious suspect John Doe II, that they are delusional and should shut up.
Nor does the FBI have to destroy itself by doing the work of senior prosecutors who have been appointed by the Clinton administration.
This report appeared in the last edition of The Sunday Telegraph.