June 22, 2001
| KWAME HOLMAN: On his
next to last day in office, Louis Freeh joined in announcing that a two-
year investigation into the terrorist bombing deaths of U.S. Service members
in Saudi Arabia finally resulted in indictments. It was a major achievement
for the FBI and for Freeh, who had substantial personal involvement in
the diplomatically difficult case.
LOUIS FREEH: It certainly will be my last press conference, and I am leaving very satisfied and pleased.
KWAME HOLMAN: But such successes have been overshadowed by problems since Freeh took over the nation's top law enforcement agency in 1993. At the time, the FBI still was reeling from criticism after the deadly outcome of the stand- off with the Branch Davidian cult at Waco, Texas, and events at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in which an agent killed the wife of a suspect. And there was turmoil internally from the abrupt departure of Freeh's predecessor, William Sessions, who resigned after admitting to a number of ethical lapses.
SPOKESMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.
KWAME HOLMAN: Chosen by President Clinton, Louis Freeh arrived in Washington with sterling credentials. He once was an FBI Agent and later served as a federal prosecutor and a federal judge in New York.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Today I am pleased to nominate a law enforcement legend to be the director of the FBI, Judge Louis Freeh.
KWAME HOLMAN: But his tenure included a new set of problems and controversies, some of which remain under investigation today. Last year, a Presidentially appointed commission investigating the 1993 standoff and catastrophic fire at Waco found that the FBI repeatedly withheld from then-Attorney General Janet Reno important details about the siege. The FBI's case against scientist Wen Ho Lee, suspected of passing nuclear secrets to China, largely fell apart amid evidence of bungling and misleading testimony by the FBI. Ultimately, 58 of the 59 charges against lee were dropped. The FBI's crime lab was found to have mishandled evidence in dozens of major cases, including the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings. The lab was revamped after a review by the Justice Department's Inspector-General. Last month, the execution of Timothy McVeigh had to be delayed after disclosure that the FBI failed to turn over thousands of pages of case- related documents to McVeigh's lawyers. And the investigation continues into the activities of Robert Hanssen, a senior FBI Counter intelligence agent, accused of selling classified information to the Soviet Union and Russia for 15 years. When the problems landed Freeh before Congress, he often shouldered the blame.
LOUIS FREEH: For problems that have occurred during my watch and to problems, which have developed prior to my watch, I take full responsibility.
KWAME HOLMAN: On the plus side, Freeh often got the benefit of the doubt from sympathetic members of Congress. During his tenure, Congress has increased the FBI's budget by some 65%. The Bureau hired 5,000 new agents, including many minorities and women for an agency long criticized as dominated by white men, improved relations with the CIA and law enforcement agencies, and doubled its presence overseas. But critics say Freeh has been less successful in breaking down what they call a "cowboy culture" within the FBI.
REP. DAVID OBEY: When you have the kind of examples, continuous, ongoing, repetitive which have plagued your agency under virtually every administration as long as I've been here, it says to me that there is a fundamental problem of management, as well as a fundamental problem with the culture over there.
KWAME HOLMAN: Freeh acknowledged some failures in management, but says the culture in the bureau has changed for the better.
LOUIS FREEH: I think we have to be extremely diligent and conscious about a culture which I do think existed at one point, maybe when I was a young agent in 1975, where FBI agents and perhaps the institution tended to think of themselves as the best, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But if it's the best that "we can never make a mistake" and "everybody needs us" and "we're the only game in town," then that's a significant culture problem. I think we were caught up in that for maybe a long period of time, for all the wrong reasons. I think that's changed. I think that's changed very substantially.
KWAME HOLMAN: On Wednesday, a Senate committee brought together some of the many experts who have been called on to examine the FBI. Former Senator John Danforth, who headed the Waco investigation, noted the agency took six years to disclose that it used an incendiary device at the compound even though that did not cause the fire.
FORMER SENATOR JOHN DANFORTH: I didn't think there was a cover-up of a bad act. I think it was basically trying to cover embarrassment. Somebody made a mistake in a statement and mistakes aren't permitted. And let's not admit to mistakes so let's not say anything to set the record straight.
KWAME HOLMAN: Danforth said he found it difficult to investigate the FBI.
FORMER SENATOR JOHN DANFORTH: There were people within the FBI who just plain didn't want to cooperate with us. I think it was a small fraction, but I think they were some pretty well-placed people. I think that there is a culture in the FBI-- somewhere in the FBI-- to keep this... to keep this from coming out in the public.
KWAME HOLMAN: This week, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the Justice Department will undertake it's own full-scale review of FBI Performance. President Bush is expected to nominate a new FBI Director shortly.