Monday, October 10

How Freeh was Fooled

Crossposted on Dailykos:

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh has blasted the Clinton Whitehouse as being "Soft" on Terrorism, but are his charges legitimate or was the Former Director and far from closeted Republican in fact being fooled by the Saudis?

From this Sunday's 60's Minutes Report:

Freeh says he stayed on longer as FBI director because he didn't want to give Clinton a chance to name his successor. "I was concerned about who he would put in there as FBI director because he had expressed antipathy for the FBI, for the director. I was going to stay there and make sure that he couldn't replace me."

Freeh had another reason for wanting to outlast Clinton. It was the 1996 Khobar Towers terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, where 19 U.S. servicemen died and more than 370 were wounded.

President Clinton had sent the FBI to investigate and promised Americans that those responsible would pay. "The cowards who committed this murderous act must not go unpunished. Let me say it again: we will pursue this. America takes care of our own. Those who did it must not go unpunished," the president said.

But Freeh says the President failed to keep his promise.

The FBI wanted access to the suspects the Saudis had arrested but then-Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar said the only way to get access to prisoners would be if the president personally asked the crown prince for access.

Freeh says Clinton did not help him. He writes in his book:

"Bill Clinton raised the subject only to tell the crown prince that he understood the Saudi's reluctance to cooperate, and then he hit Abdullah up for a contribution to the Clinton Presidential Library."

"That's a fact that I'm reporting," says Freeh.

It's a strong charge. And 60 Minutes wanted Mr. Clinton's side of all this. He declined to talk to 60 Minutes, but told his spokesman to say: "The assertion that he asked the Saudis for funding for his library while he was president is absolutely false."

And Clinton's former national security advisor, Sandy Berger, told us that Mr. Clinton did press the Saudis to cooperate with the FBI.

Freeh says to get access to the Saudis' suspects, he eventually sought help from another president, the first President Bush. "Former President Bush, at my request interceded with the Saudis, spoke to Crown Prince, now King Abdullah, asked for his assistance and it happened just like that."

The FBI concluded that Iran had orchestrated the Khobar attack, but Freeh said the White House did not want to pursue the prosecution, because Iran had just elected a new president and Clinton hoped to improve relations with Iran.

"I was very disappointed that the political leadership of the United States would tell the families of these 19 heroes that we were going to leave no stone unturned and find the people who killed them, to give that order to the director, because that's the order that I got, and then to do nothing to assist and facilitate that investigation. In fact to undermine it," says Freeh.

But he kept his fury private.

Why didn't Freeh go public at the time? "I had a better response. What I said is, `This is too damn important to me to stop investigating it.' And I didn't stop investigating it. I waited for a change of administration, which happened when this President Bush was elected."

And with the new president's approval on Freeh's last day as FBI director, he announced indictments of those responsible for the Khobar attack, but they're still overseas and out of America's reach.

The most interesting thing about this scenario besides Freeh's claim that he only received help from former President Bush, who was well known as a close friend of the Saudi Royal Family, is the fact that he refused to have the indictments served for those reponsible for the attack until after President Clinton left office - almost 5 years after the attack. Exactly who was dragging their feet on what here?

Despite Freeh's charges, the issue of the Khobar investigation had already been reported in detail - by former NSA Counter-terrorism Chief Richard Clark in his book - "Against All Enemies" on Page 114.

The dar after the Khobar attack, we presented Tony Lake with a detailed NSC Staff report placing the blame on Iran's Qods Force and their front, Saudi Hezbollah. Lake believed us and wondered why CIA had not reached the same conclusion. He sent the report to CIA Director John Deutch, who replied only that ours was one of many themes.

At FBI, Director Louis Freeh responded eagerly to the White House reqest for an FBI investigation. It was one the frew times Freeh did anything eagerly that the White House had asked him to do. Freeh had told senior FBI officers that the White House staff were all "politicals" who could not be trusted. Many of his senior officers, however, had been working with and other career national security officials in the White House for years on sensitive counter-terrorism, counterintelligence, and anti-narcotics activitites. They continued to do so, while admitting that they were no longer teling Freeh about all their meetings at the White House Complex.

For Freeh, who had worked on narcotics and organzied crime cases in New York, international affairs was a new arena. Soon after the Khobar attack, Freeh was sought out by Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar. Bandar charmed Freeh at frequent meetings at the Saudi's Virginia estages. Bandar facilited meetings in Saudi Arabia for Freeh, who went there to coordinate the investigation personally. (FBI Counterterrism Point-man with the NSA) John O'Neill accompanied Freeh to the Kingdom. O'Neill told me he was struck by the contrast between the fawning protocol the Saudis showed to Freeh and their mandacity whenever the conversation got around to the investigation. Freeh according to O'Neill, did not seem to detect the duplicity.

Behind the glad hand, the Saudis had no intention of cooperating with the FBI. The attack had revealed an internal vulnerability in the Kingdom. The Saudis did not want that embarissment publically revealed. Saudi Interior Minister Nayef denied the FBI access to evidence and witnesses. When the Saudis traced the attack back to Mugassal and Iran, they arrest some of the Saudi Hezbollah group still in the country, but denied the FBI access to the prisoners and refused to admit to the FBI the the attack was orchestrated by Iran. Nayef and others in the royal family worried about what the U.S. would do with that information.

Clearly as a neophyte in international investigations and diplomacy, Freeh - who decided for his own self-aggrandizement to personally head these investigations - was being played. But the full extent of this was made more clear by Clark on Page 116, in full and detailed support of his former boss Sandy Berger's denials as (briefly) reported on 60 Minutes.

Freeh sought to understand from Prince Bandar why the FBI was not getting better cooperation from the Saudi government. I learned that Bandar had explaiend to Freeh that the White House did not want the Saudis to cooperate with Freeh. Clinton, Bandar claimed, did not want the evidence that Iran had bombed an American Air Force base; Clinton did not want to goto war with Iran. Freeh believed it. It fit with his dim view of the President, the man to whom he owed his rapid elevation from a low-level federal job in New York. In the White House, we heard that Freeh began to repeat Bandar's explaination for the failed Khobar investigation, telling Congressmen and reporters of the supposed Clinton cover-up.

Freeh should have been spending his time fixing the mess that the FBI had become, an organization of fifty-six princedoms (the fifty six very independent field offices) without any modern information technology to support them. He might have spent some time hunting the terrorists in the United States, where al Qaeda an its affiliates had put down roots, where many terrorist organization were illegally raising money. Instead, he reportedly chose to be chief investigator in high-profile cases like Khobar, the Atlanta Olympics bombing (Edit: Which went oh-so-well for one Mr Richard Jewel) and the possible Chinese espionage at our nuclear labs. In all of these cases, his personal involvement appeared to contribute to the cases going down dark alleys, empty wells. His back channels to Republicans in the Congress and to supporters in the media made it impossible for the President to dismiss him without running the risk of making him a martyr of the Republican Right and his firing a cause celebre.

In actuality, Clinton had been pursuing the opposite path to what Freeh imagined. In discussions with Saudi officials, the U.S. made very clear at presidential direction that there must be full cooperation, not the rapid decapitation of suspects as had been done in the Riyadh case. Having been advised that the Saudis were reluctant to see the United States start another war in the Persian Gulf by retaliting against Iran, we assured the Saudi leadership that there would be no surprises, that the U.S. would consult fully with the Saudis before responding to whatever it learned about those behind the attack. Clinton was promised that Saudi Arabia would tell us all it knew and cooperate fully with the FBI. They proceeded to do the exact opposite.

Apparently it seems, the Saudis played both sides against the middle - stonewalling both Freeh and Clinton's NSA and State Department people, then eventually used Freeh to ultimately embarriss Clinton in support of their longtime friend former President Bush by ensuring that the information didn't reach the President while he was in office and wouldn't be acted upon.

They played Freeh for the fool - a role he seems to be continuing to relish, while those responsible for the Khobar attack have had five years of freedom in Iran, and may have in all probability been involved in the continuing insurgency in Iraq. Nice job, Louie.


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