In the summer of 2001, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Robert Wright, a counterterrorism expert from the Chicago office, made some startling claims about the Bureau in a written statement outlining the difficulties he had doing his job. Three months before 9/11, he wrote: “The FBI has proven for the past decade it cannot identify and prevent acts of terrorism against the United States and its citizens at home and abroad. Even worse, there is virtually no effort on the part of the FBI’s International Terrorism Unit to neutralize known and suspected terrorists residing within the United States.”
Revelations since 9/11 have confirmed Wright’s claims. FBI management did little or nothing to stop terrorism in the decade before 9/11 and, in some cases, appeared to have supported terrorists. This is more disturbing considering that the power of the FBI over terrorism investigations was supreme. In 1998, the FBI’s strategic plan stated that terrorist activities fell “almost exclusively within the jurisdiction of the FBI” and that “the FBI has no higher priority than to combat terrorism.”
A number of people are suspect in these failures, including the leaders of the FBI’s counterterrorism programs. But at the time of Wright’s written complaint, which was not shared with the public until May 2002, the man most responsible was Louis Freeh, Director of the FBI from 1993 to 2001.
Agent Wright was not FBI leadership’s only detractor, and not the only one to criticize Freeh. The public advocacy law firm Judicial Watch, which prosecutes government abuse and corruption, rejoiced at the news of Freeh’s May 2001 resignation. Judicial Watch pointed to a “legacy of corruption” at the FBI under Freeh, listing the espionage scandal at Los Alamos National Laboratories, as well as “Filegate, Waco, the Ruby Ridge cover-up, the Olympic bombing frame-up of Richard Jewell, [and] falsification of evidence concerning the Oklahoma City bombing.”
Judicial Watch said that Director Freeh believed he was above the law. The group went on to say that Freeh was “a man so corrupt he destroyed the office he led, and a man so cowardly he refuses to face the music for the illegalities he has allegedly committed.” To this was added a claim that the FBI under Freeh was being directed by sinister yet unknown forces. ”In case after case throughout the 1990′s, the FBI seems to have tailored its investigative efforts to fit somebody’s pre-arranged script. The question is, who wrote that script — and why?”
Freeh became FBI Director on July 19, 1993, just five months after the first WTC bombing, three months after the Waco siege, and one day before the alleged suicide of Hillary Clinton’s former Rose Law Firm associate, deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster. Freeh’s predecessor was William Sessions.
Prior to his appointment by President Clinton, Freeh was a federal judge. He had been selected for that position by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. Before that, Freeh had been an Assistant District Attorney for the Southern District of New York and an FBI field agent.
Freeh was involved with U.S. counter-terrorism efforts for many years prior to his appointment as FBI Director in 1993. As an FBI agent he worked for the New York Field Office, which led the FBI’s counterterrorism effort. It was later the lead field office for Bin Laden investigations and was the first to establish a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) of state and federal law enforcement and intelligence personnel. Freeh worked there for seven years until he was promoted to Assistant U.S. Attorney in 1981. Throughout the 1980s, Freeh worked with or for U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor of New York City on 9/11.
Although Clinton was a Democrat, after his appointment as FBI Director Freeh immediately began forming alliances with Republicans in Congress. This apparently caused difficulty between the FBI and Clinton’s White House. Freeh also developed a secret relationship with his former supporter, former President George H. W. Bush. He used that relationship to communicate with the Saudi royal family without Clinton’s knowledge.
Ignoring or facilitating domestic terrorism
Just five months before Freeh’s appointment as FBI Director, the World Trade Center (WTC) was bombed in an attack that killed six people and wounded a thousand others. It was blamed on a Pakistani-Kuwaiti by the name of Ramzi Yousef, along with about half a dozen others. However, as the New York Times reported, it was clear that the FBI was somehow involved as well.
“Law-enforcement officials were told that terrorists were building a bomb that was eventually used to blow up the World Trade Center, and they planned to thwart the plotters by secretly substituting harmless powder for the explosives, an informer said after the blast.
The informer was to have helped the plotters build the bomb and supply the fake powder, but the plan was called off by an F.B.I. supervisor who had other ideas about how the informer, Emad A. Salem, should be used, the informer said.”
The 1993 WTC bombing was a terrorist operation that had been infiltrated by the FBI but the role that the FBI played in trying to prevent that operation, or allow it to go forward, has never been revealed. What has been revealed is that forensic data was falsified and “conclusions were altered to help the government’s case.” These facts were revealed by Frederick Whitehurst, the chemist and supervisory special agent in charge of the FBI’s crime lab who became a whistleblower. The altered conclusions that Whitehurst described were made under the leadership of Louis Freeh.
A similar case occurred in April 1995, when the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (OKC) was bombed, killing 168 people including 19 children. Investigators have since learned that the FBI played a role in that bombing as well. Reasons that the OKC bombing was suspicious include the fact that there were secondary explosives found in the building that were not reported as part of the official account. And as with the events of 9/11, the FBI immediately confiscated, and refused to release, security videos that would have revealed what actually happened.
Freeh’s colleague and personal friend, Larry Potts, was the FBI supervisor who was responsible for the tragedies at Ruby Ridge in 1992, and Waco in 1993. Potts was then given responsibility for investigating the Oklahoma City bombing. Later it was claimed by one of the convicted conspirators that lead bomber Timothy McVeigh was actually acting under the direction of Potts. As an apparent reward for Potts’ performance, in May 1995 Freeh promoted him to be his number two man as Deputy Director of the FBI. Two months later, Freeh removed Potts from that position due to public outrage at the appointment.
On the FBI links to the OKC bombing, author Peter Dale Scott wrote — “One such case of a penetrated operation “gone wrong” in 1993 might be attributed to confusion, bureaucratic incompetence, or the problems of determining when sufficient evidence had been gathered to justify arrests. A repeated catastrophe two years later raises the question whether the lethal outcome was not intended.”.
The result of the OKC bombing in governmental terms was the passage of a new anti–terrorism law in April 1996. This was a bill that would be mirrored by the USA Patriot Act six years later, and it was described as representing an assault on civil liberties. The Houston Chronicle called the bill a “frightening” and “grievous” attack on domestic freedoms. But Louis Freeh supported it.
Because many Congressional representatives opposed the bill, it was passed only after having been watered down. In Freeh’s words, it had been “stripped… of just about every meaningful provision.” Freeh’s call for this legislation to be more restrictive of civil liberties must be considered with the fact that his agency was accused of facilitating the event that precipitated the legislation.
One of the obstacles often cited as a root cause for the FBI not doing its anti-terrorism job effectively was “the Wall.” This was a set of procedures that restricted the flow of information between law enforcement officers pursuing criminal investigations and officers pursuing intelligence information via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The procedures, set out in a 1995 memo from deputy attorney general (and future 9/11 Commissioner) Jamie Gorelick, were seemingly intended to prevent the loss of evidence, due to technicalities, that might be obtained via a FISA warrant. Because such losses were never actually experienced, later claims about “the Wall” appear to be weak excuses to explain why information was not shared or actions were not taken.
In July 1996, TWA Flight 800 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just after taking off from JFK Airport in New York, killing all 230 people on board. Freeh later claimed that “No one knew what brought it down.” Curiously, the FBI took over the investigation despite the fact that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had priority over the investigation as established by law. FBI agents then blocked attempts by the NTSB to interview witnesses.
One month after the explosion, chemists at the FBI crime laboratory in Washington found traces of PETN, an explosive component of bombs and surface-to-air missiles, in the wreckage. Despite this, in November 1997, the FBI closed its investigation and announced that “No evidence has been found which would indicate that a criminal act was the cause of the tragedy of TWA flight 800.”
This reversal of findings was led by Freeh and Jamie Gorelick. After meeting with Freeh and Gorelick, James Kallstrom, the agent in charge of the New York office where the TWA 800 investigation was being handled, produced several unlikely explanations for the detection of the PETN. Although none of these hypotheses was probable, the FBI was able to convince the media to change the story.
Louis Freeh was leading the FBI during the investigation into the 1993 WTC bombing, at the time of the OKC bombing, and at the time of the crash of TWA Flight 800. All of these events suggest the facilitation, or cover-up, of terrorist acts by the FBI. However, these were not the only indications that Louis Freeh was leading an agency that facilitated terrorism.
Ignoring or facilitating “Islamic” terrorism
Before leaving his position in the summer of 2001, Freeh was responsible for overseeing more than a dozen failures related to “Islamic” terrorism and the alleged 9/11 hijackers. Here are the first nine.
From these nine incidents, we know that FBI management under Freeh was not working to prevent “Islamic” terrorism in the years before 9/11. These examples also suggest that the FBI was suppressing and ignoring information about terrorism, perhaps for the purpose of protecting or co-opting the related terrorist networks. As for al Qaeda, author Lawrence Wright wrote that, in the late 1990s, “Director Freeh repeatedly stressed in White House meetings that al Qaeda posed no domestic threat. Bin Laden didn’t even make the FBI’s most wanted list until June 1999,” nearly a year after the embassy bombings.
Robert Hanssen, a veteran FBI counterintelligence agent, was arrested for espionage in February 2001. Freeh claimed the CIA and FBI worked very well together to catch Hanssen. Apparently there was no difficulty, of the type later cited by the 9/11 Commission, that prevented collaboration between the two agencies.
It was claimed that Hanssen, while betraying his country for financial gain, sold a special software program called PROMIS to the Russians. William Hamilton, the president of Inslaw, the company that manufactured PROMIS, said that the Russians then sold the program to Osama bin Laden and that it might have played a part in facilitating the 9/11 attacks. This claim was also reported by The Washington Times and it was said that the software would have given Bin Laden the ability to monitor US efforts to track him down and also the ability to monitor electronic-banking transactions, enabling money-laundering operations.
PROMIS had a history going back over two decades. In the 1980s, Oliver North of Iran-Contra fame had used the software to create lists of national security threats in conjunction with the secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program. In an interesting coincidence, before his death British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the House of Commons that “Al Qaeda” was not really a terrorist group but a database of international Mujahideen and arms smugglers used by the CIA and Saudis.
The Justice Department oversight committee on the use of PROMIS included Rudy Giuliani and, therefore presumably, Louis Freeh. The lawyer for Inslaw, in its legal dealings with the Justice Department, was Roderick M. Hills, who would shortly thereafter be Frank Carlucci’s boss at Sears World Trade.
Investigator Michael Ruppert and his colleagues have proposed that software programs evolving from PROMIS were used on 9/11 to disable the U.S. air defenses. This hypothesis involves Mitre Corporation and its contractor PTech, which were known to be operating at the Pentagon on projects that affected the operability of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) systems. It is not clear how a database program might have evolved into an executable aviation control program, but there are other reasons to consider PTech.
After 9/11, the FBI did not report known links between PTech and its Saudi investor Yassin al Qadi to the U.S. Customs Department investigation into terrorist financing. This concealment was despite PTech having contracts with many U.S. agencies controlling sensitive information, including the FBI, and Al-Qadi being declared a terrorist financier. It is also known that PTech director Yaqub Mirza had contacts at high levels within the FBI.
Working for the Bush Administration
The month before Hanssen’s arrest, George W. Bush was inaugurated as President. The only cabinet-level figure to be retained from the outgoing Clinton administration was CIA Director George Tenet, who was said to be a long-time friend of George H. W. Bush. But Freeh stayed on as well until his unexpected resignation in May that year. Freeh did not give specific reasons for leaving at the time and he remained in the position until June 25.
Having been FBI Director for eight years, Freeh had put most of the FBI’s leadership in place. This included his deputy as of 1999, Thomas Pickard, who would go on to be acting director of the FBI from June to September 2001. It also included Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism program as of 1999, and the people in his organization. Watson had worked with Freeh in the New York FBI office years before and had worked on the investigations into the U.S. embassy bombings and the bombing of the USS Cole. Between FBI assignments, in 1996 and 1997, Watson had been the Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.
Working for Watson in the FBI’s counterterrorism division was Michel Rolince, the head of the International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS). Under Rolince were the heads of the Usama Bin laden Unit (UBLU) and the Radical Fundamentalism Unit (RFU).
Three major FBI failures relating to “Islamic” terrorism occurred during the early months of 2001.
The FBI agents noted in the last example were all assigned as liaisons to the CIA’s Alec Station unit, focused on Osama Bin Laden. It is interesting that neither Richard Blee, the head of that unit at the time, nor Rodney Middelton, the head of the FBI’s UBLU, were ever interviewed by independent journalists about these critical issues. Middleton left the FBI the day before 9/11, and Blee went on to be named CIA station chief in Kabul as the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan began.
Between April and September 2001, several major changes occurred in the FBI’s counterterrorism program. In May, the head of the RFU was replaced by Dave Frasca, who would go on to be a central character in the obstruction of opportunities to identify and capture the alleged hijackers. At the same time, Louis Freeh announced his resignation despite not having another job.
Freeh left the FBI on June 25, 2001 with nowhere to go. It was said that he approached acting New Jersey Governor Donald DiFrancesco and offered to serve, without salary, as the state’s anti-terrorism “czar”. This would have brought Freeh close to the 9/11 attacks in NYC but it didn’t happen. Instead, Freeh was apparently doing nothing for the three months before 9/11, or at least doing nothing that we know about. Freeh then took a job as director, counsel, and ethics officer at credit card issuer MBNA.
The final three 9/11-related failures that can be attributed to Freeh, through the subordinates he put in place, are as follows. If any of these had been handled appropriately, the alleged 9/11 hijackers would have been caught and their plans foiled.
FBI agent Robert Fuller, only recently transferred to UBLU, claimed to take the August information and use it to search databases looking for Al-Mihdhar and Al-Hazmi but he claims to have found nothing. Fuller had another JTTF officer help him to search a database run by Choicepoint, the company known for purging Florida voters in the 2000 presidential election. The Justice Department IG report says Fuller did an NCIC criminal history check, credit checks, and a motor vehicle records search. But the 9/11 Commission Report clearly contradicted this, saying “Searches of readily available databases could have unearthed the drivers licenses, the car registration, and the telephone listing” all of which were in Al Mihdhar and Al Hazmi’s names.
Later it was noted that “the hijackers had contact with 14 people known to the FBI because of counterterror investigations prior to 9/11.” This was known to the 9/11 Commission as its staff director made a clear statement about how close the FBI was to catching the alleged hijackers. “Rather than the hijackers being invisible to the FBI, they were, in fact, right in the middle of the FBI‘s counterterrorism coverage,” said Eleanor Hill. “And yet, the FBI didn‘t detect them.”
All of this certainly seems to suggest that FBI headquarters and Director Freeh had sufficient information to track and capture the alleged 9/11 hijackers. Freeh’s close association with the Saudis is also troubling considering the role of suspected Saudi spy Al-Bayoumi. The company Al-Bayoumi worked for, Dalla Al-Baraka, was owned by Saleh Abdullah Kamel, reportedly a member of the “Golden Chain” financiers of Osama bin Laden. And the wife of Freeh’s friend Prince Bandar was reported to have sent funding to the alleged hijackers through Al-Bayoumi’s wife.
In his resignation speech, Freeh praised the integrity of George W. Bush and dedication of Dick Cheney. “President Bush has brought great honor and integrity to the Oval Office. It was equally an honor to be appointed by his father to serve as a federal judge. I also wish to thank Vice President Dick Cheney for conducting an effective transition process and for his dedication to duty in serving the Nation,” said Freeh.
Going on, Freeh thanked his colleagues at the CIA and emphasized how well the two agencies had worked together. “Through the leadership of Director George Tenet, we have forged an unprecedented relationship with the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency in the counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism arenas,” he claimed. “This, in turn, has enabled us to place greater emphasis on counter-intelligence [and] counter-terrorism.”
These remarks are in direct contradiction to the 9/11 Commission Report, which placed blame for the failure to track down and capture the alleged hijackers on two root causes. The first was that, although the “system was blinking red,” the FBI and CIA were not working well together, partly because of “the Wall” of procedures that supposedly prevented adequate information sharing between the agencies. The second presumed root cause was that the information needed to stop the attacks did not rise high enough within the FBI and CIA to ensure action would be taken. Neither of these excuses is believable, given the examples already reviewed.
At the end of Freeh’s tenure as director, the FBI was under severe criticism from all directions. Patrick J. Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee whose office would a few months later be one of the targets of the anthrax attacks, said, “There are some very, very serious management problems at the FBI.” Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said, “It’s hard to believe the situation has deteriorated and disintegrated the way it has. How did this great agency fall so far so fast? The FBI has been starved for leadership.”
Nine days after Freeh announced his retirement, the FBI told Timothy McVeigh’s attorneys that it had failed to give them about 3,000 pages of documents related to the OKC bombing investigation. “Self-righteous and sanctimonious, Freeh never admitted a personal mistake. He never pointed out his own role in the McVeigh debacle.”
If there is nothing to hide, why hide it?
Testifying before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry in October 2002, Freeh said: “I am aware of nothing that to me demonstrates that the FBI and the intelligence community had the type of information or tactical intelligence which could have prevented September 11th. In terms of the FBI’s capability to identify, investigate and prevent the nineteen hijackers from carrying out their attacks, the facts so far on the public record do not support the conclusion that these tragic events could have been prevented by the FBI and intelligence community acting by themselves.”
This assessment contradicts that of FBI agent Robert Wright, whose written warning prior to 9/11 was ignored. Wright later stated that: “September the 11th is a direct result of the incompetence of the FBI’s International Terrorism Unit. No doubt about that. Absolutely no doubt about that. You can’t know the things I know and not go public.” Agent Wright was prohibited by the U.S. Justice Department from telling all he knew about the pre-9/11 FBI failures. But he added: “There’s so much more. God, there’s so much more. A lot more.”
Why did the FBI, if it had nothing to hide, go into full-blown cover-up mode immediately after the attacks? For example, FBI agents confiscated all of the surveillance videos which would have shown what happened at the Pentagon. The Bureau harassed witnesses in Florida who suggested that the alleged hijackers were not the devout Muslims the official account made them out to be. In Pennsylvania, FBI agents took control of the United 93 crash site and intentionally ignored eyewitness testimony that contradicted the official account. At the WTC debris collection site, FBI agents were caught stealing evidence.
The FBI also went to great lengths to avoid cooperating with the Joint Congressional Inquiry. For example, the Bureau refused to allow the interviewing or deposing of Abdussatar Shaikh, the FBI informant who had lived with alleged hijackers Al-Mihdhar and Al-Hazmi. Through the FBI’s maneuvering, Shaikh was never required to testify. The FBI also tried to prevent the testimony of Shaikh’s FBI handler, which occurred only secretly at a later date.
The protection of Abdusttar Shaikh by the FBI makes no sense considering that the Bureau encouraged the torture of other suspects, like Hani El-Sayegh. Reputed al Qaeda associate Abu Zubaydah, who was later found to have nothing to do with al Qaeda, had already been tortured many times to gain information related to 9/11 while Shaikh was allowed to negotiate his entire removal from the 9/11 investigation.
The FBI also failed to cooperate with the 9/11 Commission. According to author Philip Shenon, the FBI was “as uncooperative with the 9/11 Commission as it had been in the Congressional investigation” and was “painfully slow to meet the Commission’s initial request for documents and interviews.”
The only reasonable explanation for FBI management’s behavior in the decade before 9/11 and in the ensuing investigations is that they were somehow complicit in the attacks. But why would Freeh and the FBI want to support the activities of alleged terrorists?
We know that the accused 19 hijackers could not have accomplished most of what needs explaining about 9/11. They could not have disabled the U.S. air defenses for two hours, they could not have made the U.S. chain of command fail to respond appropriately, and they could not have caused the destruction of the three tall buildings at the WTC. However, the myth of al Qaeda was a necessary part of the official account and was able to provide a grain of truth in an otherwise unbelievable story.
In 2006, Freeh joined George Tenet on the board of a company that had been flagged, but never investigated, for 9/11 insider trading. He also became the personal attorney for Saudi Prince Bandar who, as stated before, was implicated through his wife in financing of the alleged hijackers. Recently Freeh has been trotted out to pass judgment on the late coach Joe Paterno. But he is in no position to pass judgment on others.
Under Louis Freeh, the FBI failed miserably at preventing terrorism when preventing terrorism was the FBI’s primary goal. Moreover, the actions of FBI management suggest that it was facilitating and covering-up acts of terrorism throughout the time that Freeh was the Bureau’s director. Fifteen examples have been cited here from the time of Freeh’s tenure and three other examples were given from the time just after he left, when it was unclear why he left or what he was doing. Add to these examples the fact that the FBI took extraordinary measures to hide evidence related to the 9/11 attacks and it becomes abundantly clear that Mr. Freeh should be a prime suspect in any honest investigation.
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