Ruby Ridge, the FBI, and Louis Freeh – My 1995 Cover Story

Here is my all-time favorite magazine cover story – my 1995 tribute to FBI boss Louis Freeh.  This story came out five months after Freeh publicly denounced me in a letter to the Wall Street Journal. Freeh was outraged over a piece I did on the FBI’s killing at Ruby Ridge.  One of Randy Weaver’s lawyers told the Idaho Statesman that this pending American Spectator story may have helped spur the Justice Department to re-open their investigation of Ruby Ridge.  The following month, the Justice Department announced a $3 million payment to the Weaver family to settle the wrongful death lawsuits for the federal killings of Weaver’s wife and son.

Here is the full text of that 1995 cover story. The article covered FBI abuses that extended far beyond Ruby Ridge:

The American Spectator

August, 1995

LENGTH: 9934 words

HEADLINE: The New J. Edgar Hoover
Clinton FBI director Louis Freeh runs an agency inclined to destroy evidence of its botched investigations. Now he is pushing the most ambitious program of federal surveillance since the Watergate era.

BYLINE: James Bovard
James Bovard is the author of Shakedown [coming from Viking Penguin this September] and Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty [St. Martin’s].

When Louis Freeh appeared at his confirmation hearings before the Senate
Judiciary Committee, he was as popular a nominee for the post of FBI Director
as the Clinton administration could have wished. Freeh had come highly
recommended by Robert Fiske, who later became Whitewater special counsel; and
White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum. He had the backing of Sen. Sam Nunn, with
whom he had organized hearings on organized crime. President Clinton called him
“a brilliant investigator, a tough prosecutor, a born leader,” and the Economist
gushed that Freeh “boast[ed] perfect qualifications for the job.” He had so much
political support going into the hearings, in fact, that, as Associated Press
reported, senators at the confirmation “vied . . . to see which one could evoke
the closest personal association with the nominee.”

Freeh had been making a name for himself since 1975, when he first joined the
FBI and worked on several prominent Mafia cases. He left in 1981 to become a
federal prosecutor in New York, and distinguished himself with further attacks
on the Mob, as well as by solving a prominent mail-bombing case. On the
recommendation of Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, President Bush nominated him for a
federal judgeship in 1990. And in 1991, U.S. News & World Report, in a piece
entitled “The Year’s Class Acts,” gushed that “few who worked for [U.S.
Attorney Rudolph] Giuliani did more to make his successes possible than Freeh.”

Freeh’s tough-on-crime posture gets the Capitol Hill pols to roll over–he
ignored the Clinton administration’s budget request for his agency last year,
and instead lobbied for, and won, a larger appropriation. But his real goal
seems to be an enlargement of the bureaucracy and a radical expansion of the
FBI’s powers. He has skillfully played the Oklahoma City bombing to his
advantage, pretending to be sorely in need of money for his anti-terrorism
crusade, while instead indulging his appetite for bureaucratic
self-aggrandizement.

His grab for greater influence comes at a Time when his beleaguered agency is
facing public hostility and skepticism wider than in the final years of J. Edgar
Hoover. In several recent cases–the Ruby Ridge shootout in Idaho, the FBI sting
of Qubilah Shabazz to concoct a plot to kill Louis Farrakhan, and a number of
wiretapping innovations that Freeh has pushed on his own initiative–a troubling
profile emerges. If Freeh does not actually hold the freedom of the American
people in contempt, he seems to have little grasp of why the FBI’s arrogance has
angered so many citizens.

Meanwhile his easy way around Washington’s corridors is helping to nourish a
sense of self-righteousness. At a May commencement address, the 45-year-old
Freeh actually compared himself to the prophet Isaiah, quoting the Old Testament
in reference to his law-enforcement work: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord
saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am, I said; Send me.'”
Though by all accounts hard-working and dedicated, Louis Freeh appears to be
turning into the kind of Beltway insider Americans instinctively distrust.

And a look into a handful of Freeh’s early courtroom efforts makes it
unlikely that he will be a fit judge of the public interest in most cases.
Dirty Jeans In 1985, the Internal Revenue Service launched an investigation of
blue-jeans manufacturer Jordache Inc. that turned into one of the most abusive
U.S. government prosecutions of the decade. Freeh became lead U.S. attorney in
the case. The probe had been instigated by Ronald Saranow, chief of the Los
Angeles office of the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS. Saranow had
close social ties with the Marciano brothers, owners of Guess? jeans, a Jordache
competitor. Saranow accepted a job offer from the Marcianos at the Time he was
involved in prosecuting the Jordache case, and in sworn testimony even described
himself as a Marciano “front man.”

As a report by the House Government Operations Committee later noted, “The
investigations of Jordache. . . were initiated based solely on the information
brought to the Government by the Marcianos and championed by Ronald Saranow
while Mr. Saranow was in a conflict-of-interest situation.” Three million
documents and more than one hundred computer tapes were confiscated from
Jordache’s New York and New Jersey facilities in 1986, solely on the basis of
information provided by the Marcianos. It took three years before Freeh, the
federal prosecutor in charge of the investigation, dropped all charges against
the company and closed the investigation. A congressional report later concluded
that the IRS may have engaged in a wholesale destruction of documents in order
to cover up its attack on Jordache.

Freeh was also a supervising attorney in the prosecution of E. Robert
Wallach, an associate of Reagan attorney general Edwin Meese, who was convicted
in 1989 for his role in the Wedtech scandal. Wallach’s conviction was overturned
in 1991, when an appeals court concluded that the government had ignored or
covered up blatant perjury by its main witness. Stuart Taylor of the American
Lawyer gave this dramatically rendered description of the case:

Imagine a big case in which prosecutors in the proudest U.S. attorney’s office
in the land are presented in midtrial with strong evidence of perjury in their
star witness.

Imagine the witness then privately admitting to the prosecutors that he has
just told a false cover story and offered them a revised story so preposterous
that a child could see through it.

Imagine the prosecutors putting the witness back on the stand to tell this
story while omitting the details most devastating to its plausibility. Imagine
them persuading the rabidly pro-prosecution judge to bar the defense from
putting evidence before the jury that conclusively proved the witness’s perjury.
Imagine them vouching for the witness’s truthfulness in their summations.
The American Spectator, August, 1995

According to at least one lawyer involved in the case, Freeh was no mere passive
accomplice in the prosecution strategy. When the case was remanded back to
federal district court, Baruch Weiss–one of the attorneys involved in the first
prosecution–filed an affidavit claiming that Freeh, along with the Justice
Department’s Mark Hellerer, both knew and “personally approved” the other U.S.
attorneys’ handling of the dishonest witness. Weiss’s affidavit declared that,
although Freeh and Hellerer were aware of the problems with the witness’s
statements, they “agreed that we should proceed to elicit [the witness’s]
version of events” for court testimony. Former federal judge Robert Bork
condemned this behavior, saying that reliance on the testimony of a perjurer
“which corrupted Wallach’s trial was . . . a well-considered stratagem” by U.S.
attorneys.
Abuzz Over Shabazz Nothing illustrates Freeh’s cavalier attitude better than
last year’s botched scheme to entrap Qubilah Shabazz, the daughter of slain
Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X. Although it is not known why the agency
targeted Shabazz, she was telephoned in May 1994 by Michael Fitzpatrick, a
former Jewish Defense League member convicted in a 1977 bombing of a Soviet
bookstore in Manhattan. Fitzpatrick was a government informant who had been
busted on cocaine charges in 1993, and faced five years in prison if convicted.
FBI transcripts of thirty-eight calls that Fitzpatrick made to Shabazz reveal
that Fitzpatrick did most of the talking, and kept returning the conversation to
the killing of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam minister whom Betty
The American Spectator, August, 1995

Shabazz–Malcolm’s widow and Qubilah’s mother–has long believed was involved in
her husband’s murder.

The transcripts reveal that when Shabazz tried to back away from the plot,
Fitzpatrick told her, “I’ve gotten everything together that I need. I’ve spent,
without getting–this is not a guilt thing here, OK–I’ve spent thousands of
dollars. I’ve got everything. I’ve got Time invested. I know how to do what I
need to do. I mean I’m basically set to go. I don’t need anything from you.”

On December 20, 1994, FBI agents entered Shabazz’s apartment without a
warrant, lied to her about the reason for their visit [they claimed to be
investigating Fitzpatrick], and pressured her into signing a confession. Freeh,
in a move that demonstrates his astute handling of the press, granted Time
magazine an exclusive interview in January to put his spin on the Shabazz case.
Time reported, “Throughout the seven month investigation, Freeh says,
Fitzpatrick’s FBI handlers were overseen by bureau supervisors and the U.S.
attorney’s office, whose reports were sent east for further review. Freeh said
he was ‘aware’ of the investigation though he ‘did not review all the details.’
Nevertheless, ‘I’m satisfied that we were well within the law,'” Freeh said.

The FBI’s case, however, unraveled quickly. A federal magistrate threw
Shabazz’s confession out of court, since the FBI had violated Shabazz’s
The American Spectator, August, 1995

constitutional rights in the process of obtaining it. Shabazz later claimed her
confession had been “coerced.” At a preliminary court hearing, Fitzpatrick
stated that he had been paid $34,000 for making secret tapes of his discussions
with Shabazz, and expected to be paid another $11,000 for trial testimony to
convict her. He also revealed that he had been named in a search warrant in a
federal investigation of fraud in the rare coin business.

As things fell apart, Louis Freeh’s name began vanishing from press accounts
of the case. By late March, the official line, as reported in the New York
Times, had changed entirely: “Justice Department officials in Washington said
today that senior officials played no role in the decision to pay Mr.
Fitzpatrick and that such agreements were virtually always made by the local
office of the FBI.”

Then, on May 1, the night before Shabazz’s trial was scheduled to begin, the
government offered to drop the murder-for-hire charges–which could have landed
her in prison for 90 years–if Shabazz would agree to undergo three months of
psychiatric counseling and as spend two years on probation. If the FBI actually
had the goods on Shabazz, of course, then letting her off the hook with a
promise to see a therapist would be making a mockery of Freeh’s “tough on crime”
rhetoric.
The American Spectator, August, 1995

In fact, the agency had nothing with which to build a case. Chicago Tribune
columnist Clarence Page observed, “The case smacked of entrapment, even an FBI
set-up to help divide blacks into pro-Malcolm X, pro-Farrakhan factions.” The
New York Times described the settlement as a “near rout” of the government, and
declared, “The biggest winner in the case may be Louis Farrakhan.”
Plotting Against Weaver If one episode crystallized doubts about Freeh’s
leadership and credibility, it was his handling of the FBI’s 1992 raid on Randy
Weaver in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Though the shooting occurred before he took command
of the agency, Freeh has been heavily involved in whitewashing the FBI agents
involved in the killing of Vicki Weaver and her son. The case has become still
more prominent since the bombing at Oklahoma City, due to the widespread
perception of federal abuses and cover-ups at Ruby Ridge that has been a major
cause of the militia movement.

Randy Weaver lived with his wife and four children in an isolated cabin in
the Idaho mountains. In 1989, an undercover agent from the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms [BATF] approached Weaver and sought to get him to sell some
sawed-off shotguns. Weaver refused, but the agent was persistent, and Weaver
eventually relented, selling the agent two shotguns and thereby violating
federal firearms law.
The American Spectator, August, 1995

The BATF targeted Weaver because they wanted to use the threat of criminal
charges against him to force him to become an informant for the government
against the Aryan Nation, a racist group with violent tendencies. Weaver, a
“white separatist,” did not favor or endorse violence against any race; he
merely believed that the races should live separately. [He had attended two
Aryan Nation meetings, but claimed he stopped going because he didn’t share the
group’s values.] Weaver refused to become an informant against the group. A
court official then sent him the wrong day to appear in court, and when Weaver
did not show up, Justice Department attorney Ron Howen, who knew he’d been sent
incorrect information, secured a warrant for Weaver’s arrest.

Federal agents launched an 18-month surveillance of Weaver’s property, until
on August 21, 1992, six U.S. marshals–outfitted in full camouflage and ski
masks, and toting sub-machine guns–came onto the property and shot one of
Weaver’s dogs. Fourteen-year-old Sammy Weaver ran out and fired his gun in the
direction the shots had come from. His father hollered for him to come back to
the cabin, but when he was running back, a federal agent shot him in the back
and killed him. In response, Kevin Harris, a family friend who was living at the
cabin, was also present, shot one of the marshals.

The marshal’s death sent the government into a frenzy. The commander of the
FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team was called in from Washington, D.C., and ordered
The American Spectator, August, 1995

federal agents to shoot to kill. One FBI SWAT team member later told Justice
Department officials that he remembered the rules as, “If you see ’em, shoot
’em.” Four hundred government agents, armed with night-vision scopes, automatic
weapons, and sniper rifles, swarmed in the mountains around the cabin.

The next day, August 22, Randy Weaver walked from his cabin to the little
shack where his son’s body lay. As Weaver lifted the latch on the shack’s door,
he was shot from behind by FBI sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi. He struggled back to
the cabin, where his wife Vicki stood in the doorway, holding a 10-month-old
baby in her arms and calling for her husband to hurry. Horiuchi shot Vicki
Weaver in the temple, killing her instantly. Randy Weaver surrendered after
eleven days.
The opening statement by the U.S. attorney at Weaver’s trial painted him as part
of a vast conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. Weaver was depicted as a
man who had been conspiring for eight years to have a violent confrontation with
federal agents. Yet the Idaho jury found Weaver innocent of almost all charges,
and ruled that Kevin Harris–who shot and killed a U.S. marshal after the
marshal shot and killed Weaver’s 14-year-old son Sammy–had acted in
self-defense. Federal Judge Edward Lodge condemned the FBI: “The actions of the
government, acting through the FBI, evidence a callous disregard for the rights
of the defendants and the interests of justice and demonstrate a complete lack
of respect for the order and directions of this court.” Judge Lodge issued a
The American Spectator, August, 1995

lengthy list detailing the Justice Department’s misconduct, fabrication of
evidence, and refusals to obey court orders.

A Justice Department task force, including FBI officials, investigated the
FBI’s handling of the Weaver case and recommended that criminal prosecution be
considered for several FBI officials. The task force produced a 542-page report
evaluating the government’s action on Ruby Ridge. Though federal officials have
thus far refused to release the report, copies have leaked out to the New York
Times and Legal Times, which published an excerpt in March. Deval Patrick, the
assistant attorney general for civil rights, rejected the recommendations in the
report, deciding that excessive force had not been used.

Freeh’s FBI conducted its own investigation of its handling of the Weaver
debacle, and produced what can only be described as a complete whitewash. Freeh
announced that only minor sanctions would be imposed on the agents involved in
the killing of Vicki and Sammy Weaver. Freeh found that twelve FBI officials had
“exhibited errors of judgment, neglect of duty, inadequate performance and
failure to exert proper managerial oversight,” but the heaviest penalty that
Freeh imposed on them was fifteen days’ unpaid leave–less, David Johnston of
the New York Times noted, than the penalties given to agents for using official
cars to drive their children to school. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary
Committee, Freeh emphatically repeated that FBI officials were guilty of “no
The American Spectator, August, 1995

misconduct” in the case.

The FBI’s pattern of deception continued even with its official press
statement on Freeh’s action. The FBI claimed that Weaver had been convicted of
the original weapons violations charge. Actually, an Idaho jury ruled that
Weaver had been entrapped, and convicted him only of failing to show up for the
trial in 1991. Regarding the shooting of the U.S. marshal, Freeh asserted that
“the deputy marshals did not try to provoke a confrontation; their intent was to
retreat from the area without violence and they attempted to do so.” This is the
same explanation that U.S. marshals on the witness stand first offered to the
Idaho jury. After hours of cross-examination, however, a U.S. marshal admitted
that the conflict began when a marshal shot and killed one of the Weavers’ dogs.
Freeh justified the FBI shooting of Randy Weaver because sniper Horiuchi
“observed one of the suspects raise a weapon in the direction of a helicopter
carrying other FBI personnel.” But other federal officials testified at the
trial that no helicopters were flying in the vicinity of the Weavers’ cabin at
the Time of the FBI sniping.

Freeh stated in a letter a few weeks later to the Wall Street Journal,
regarding the shot that killed Vicki Weaver, that it “wounded its intended
target and . . . also accidentally struck and killed Vicki Weaver.” Freeh’s
letter implies that the “intended target” was Randy Weaver; however, the
The American Spectator, August, 1995

sniper claimed at the trial that he was shooting at Kevin Harris, the family
friend staying in the cabin, who was near the door and not even accused of
aiming at the helicopter. Apparently, since he was in the vicinity of Randy
Weaver, that was sufficient reason for the FBI to attempt to kill him. Freeh’s
wording implies that the bullet first hit the “intended target” and then hit
Vicki Weaver. However, the bullet first passed through Vicki Weaver’s head
before hitting Kevin Harris.

Freeh was also satisfied that Horiuchi’s second shot–the one that killed
Vicki Weaver–was justified, and that the killing was accidental. Freeh
declared, “The question is whether someone running into a fortified position who
is going to shoot at you is as much a threat to you as somebody turning in an
open space and pointing a gun at you. I don’t distinguish between those.”

But Weaver had never fired upon the FBI agents–he was merely a wounded man
trying to struggle into his home and the arms of his family. Freeh’s doctrine
essentially means that if a government agent shoots and wounds a private
citizen, then the government agent must be presumed to have an unlimited right
to kill the private citizen–because otherwise the citizen might shoot back at
the government agent. This is a peculiar guide for law enforcement in a free
society.
The American Spectator, August, 1995

Freeh’s allegation that Weaver was “running into a fortified position” is an
absurdity. Weaver’s home was little more than a rickety cabin built with wood
left over from local sawmills. The leaked Justice Department report stressed
“the reality that the subjects were retreating to their home and had not
returned fire when shot upon. Thus, their actions as they ran into the cabin
were not aggressive, but rather protective or defensive.”

Freeh justified the sniper attack by saying, “The suspects neither
surrendered nor dropped their weapons.” But the Justice Department confidential
report notes that the FBI never even requested a surrender from the suspects:
“Although we believe that Harris and the Weavers knew that law enforcement was
present, no call out or surrender announcement followed the first shot. The
subjects were never given a chance to drop their arms to show that they did not
pose a threat. The subjects simply did what any person would do under the
circumstances. They ran for cover.” Why would Randy Weaver have thought that the
government was interested in his surrender, after they had shot him in the back
with no provocation on his part?

Just as distressing, the Justice Department report indicated that FBI
officials openly considered destroying evidence relating to the Weaver case. The
report notes that the FBI fought disclosing a two-page document summarizing its
critique of the action of the U.S. Marshals. The report observed:
The American Spectator, August, 1995

Because of the critical nature of the [FBI] critique [of the U.S. Marshals], the
Bureau resisted its disclosure. [FBI Supervisory Agent Michael] Dillon
reportedly told Deputy Marshal Masaitis that he would rather see a mistrial than
produce the marshals’ critique in discovery. When [U.S. Attorney Kim] Lindquist
tried to explain to Dillon the serious repercussions that would occur if the
government failed to produce the critique in discovery but later produced it in
response to a Freedom of Information Act request, Dillon responded that the
document had come from someone’s desk and was not in any official file that
would be searched for a FOIA request. From Dillon’s comment, Lindquist was
concerned that someone from the Bureau might be contemplating destroying the
document so that it would not have to be produced. Lindquist advised
strenuously against such action.
Potts Rehabilitated The most controversial aspect of Freeh’s handling of the
Ruby Ridge case was his recommendation of a promotion for Larry Potts, the
senior official in charge of the Idaho operation. According to two senior FBI
officials on the scene, he signed off on the shoot-without-provocation orders.
[Potts denies that he read them.] Despite the finding by the Justice Department
that the orders “contravened the constitution of the United States,” Freeh
recommended that the only penalty Potts receive be a letter of censure–the same
penalty Freeh received when he reported losing an FBI cellular telephone.
The American Spectator, August, 1995

The Freeh-Potts connection could become crucial for determining the future
credibility of the FBI. Shortly after Freeh’s installation as director,
newspaper reports listed Potts as “a long Time Freeh intimate” [Washington
Post], an “old pal” [Time], and the one specific person to whom Freeh had “close
ties” [New York Times]. In press accounts, Potts was the only name that came up
again and again among Freeh’s friends at the FBI.

Janet Reno announced Potts’s promotion on May 2. The move led to
denunciations by the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the Potts appointment “will further slow down
the terrorist legislation and will mean even greater concern over civil
liberties, which I don’t think is inappropriate.” Gingrich noted, “We have to
understand that there is, in rural America, a genuine–particularly in the
West–a genuine fear of the federal government and of Washington, D.C., as a
place that doesn’t understand their way of life and doesn’t understand their
values.”

Gene Glenn, an FBI official who helped manage Ruby Ridge and received a
heavier sanction [fifteen days of unpaid leave] than did Potts, formally
protested the promotion on May 3, accusing FBI officials of engaging in a
cover-up to protect Potts. In his letter to the head of the Justice Department’s
Office of Responsibility, Glenn complained that the FBI’s review of the Ruby
The American Spectator, August, 1995

Ridge case was incomplete and compromised by flaws that “reveal a purpose to
create scapegoats and false impressions.”

Freeh showed similar willful blindness in evaluating his agency’s performance
at Waco, where Potts commanded the final attack on the Branch Davidian compound.
In October 1993, Freeh lavishly praised FBI agents for demonstrating “great
excellence” during the Waco confrontation: “I am quite satisfied with the
operational aspects, planning aspects, chain-of-command aspects and leadership
aspects of that operation.” Freeh told the National Press Club in December 1993,
“The Bureau’s behavior and performance [at Waco] was not only exemplary but
showed the greatest restraint and they did the best possible job under the most
difficult circumstances.” If Waco is Freeh’s idea of FBI restraint, what could
he possibly consider an excess?
Paying to Have Our Phones Tapped One of the most alarming aspects of Freeh’s
lust for power has been his push to expand the FBI’s ability to tap telephones.
Law enforcement agents have been fretting that new developments such as
call-forwarding make it too difficult for them to snoop on citizens’ phone
lines. Freeh told Congress that preserving the ability to intercept
communications legally is “the number-one law enforcement, public safety and
national security issue facing us today.” He pressured congressional lawmakers
to force the nation’s telephone companies to change their technology to make
wiretaps far easier, even though there was little or no evidence that the FBI
The American Spectator, August, 1995

needed additional access into people’s communications in order to carry out
wiretaps.

Thanks to Freeh’s lobbying efforts, the Digital Telephony and Communications
Privacy Improvement Act was passed last year. It requires telephone and cable
television companies to modify their equipment by 1998 to make it easier for the
FBI to conduct wiretaps. The government will provide $500 million to help the
companies pay for the development and installation of the new technology and
equipment. But phone companies estimate that the actual cost of installing wire
devices on every phone line will be much higher, and could cost consumers
billions of dollars per year.

Telephone companies will also be required to provide instant access to phone
lines in response to any authorized government demand. Roy Neel, president of
the United States Telephone Association, complained that to assure access at any
given Time, all telephone companies will have to post someone as a “law
enforcement liaison” at all Times–or risk a $10,000 a day fine or even being
shut down entirely. Neel said, “It forces the telephone companies to become the
agencies of law enforcement, and that is a dramatic change.”

The new law also gives the attorney general authority to approve or
disapprove new technology used by phone companies and other communication
The American Spectator, August, 1995

makers. When the FBI first proposed the new controls, the ACLU’s Jan Lori
Goldman observed, “It is wrongheaded and dangerous to require the industry to
put surveillance first by slowing innovation and retarding efficiency. The FBI
is not only asking the industry to dumb down existing software, it wants to
prohibit it from developing new technologies that might interfere with the
government’s ability to intercept various oral and electronic communications.”
Freeh is also seeking to control private citizens’ ability to use encryption in
their computer communications. Encryption software allows individuals to send
messages between computers that cannot be read by third parties; it is vital to
prevent fraud or abuse of financial transactions, and is widely used worldwide.
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in April, Freeh warned, “An
even more difficult problem with court authorized wiretaps looms: powerful
encryption that is becoming more commonplace. . . . As much as any issue, this
jeopardizes the public safety and national security of this country.”

Freeh has repeatedly portrayed these sweeping new wiretap powers as
instrumental in the fight against terrorism. But a May report by the
Administrative Office of the United States Courts revealed that the FBI and
other federal agencies have failed to use existing legal authority against
domestic terrorist groups. Though the federal and state governments imposed a
record 1,154 wiretaps last year, not a single one was in pursuit of arsonists,
bombers, or gun law violators. No wiretap against alleged terrorists has been
The American Spectator, August, 1995

requested since 1988.

Yet the anti-terrorist legislation recently proposed in the wake of the
Oklahoma City bombing radically expands federal wiretap authority. The
legislation allows for the use of illegal wiretaps in court, and also permits
“roving wiretaps”–covering a large number of pay phones in the hopes of
catching some lawbreaker. There is widespread and justified fear among both
liberals and conservatives that the Clinton administration could use the new
wiretap authority to go after vast numbers of critics of government policy who
pose no threat of violence.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jamie Gorelick fanned such flames when she
told a House International Relations Committee that tax protesters could be one
type of “criminal” targeted by the expanded wiretap authority. Rep. Robert Scott
[D-Va.], questioning Louis Freeh on the same subject, asked: “Where would you
have drawn the line to differentiate that tax protester from any other person
that’s just mad about paying taxes? I mean, are you going to subject them all to
wiretaps to find out?” Freeh responded quite seriously, “No, we wouldn’t have
the resources to do that.”

The Clinton administration has also announced plans to reinterpret the
guidelines under which the FBI conducts surveillance of domestic political
The American Spectator, August, 1995

organizations. The revised guidelines will give the FBI a green light to
infiltrate far more private and political groups. Gorelick told the Senate
Judiciary Committee that even “without a reasonable indication of a crime, a
preliminary indication can be undertaken”; and “you could use informants and you
could collect information, and then determine whether you have reasonable
indication for a full-fledged investigation.”

Freeh has been either manipulative or naive when he speaks of public concern
about government abuses. He declared on May 13, for example, “To my amazement,
there are voices that . . . claim repression by government–and fear of
government. . . . Sadly, I am astounded at these developments, as I think most
Americans are.” His implication is that the only decent attitude an American
should have toward his government is blind trust, if not blind adoration. “I had
this sense the government was always right,” as Freeh told the American Lawyer
last year about his opposition to student protests during his college years.

Ominously, there is probably a higher percentage of people now who believe
that government is an immediate threat to their rights and liberties than the
percentage in 1775 who actively supported the American Revolution against the
British. It is especially ludicrous for an FBI chief to express amazement at
people’s fear of the government, when the FBI itself trampled many citizens’
rights in the 1950s and 1960s with burglaries, illegal wiretaps, character
The American Spectator, August, 1995

assassination, and intimidation–and when the FBI refuses to admit any
misconduct in more recent debacles such as Ruby Ridge.
Guns and Butter Freeh has also been on a crusade to increase the agency’s
budget. Last November, he issued a special report to FBI employees–also hyped
to major media–that claimed budget cuts were gravely endangering FBI agents,
who did not have sufficient ammunition for target practice. Freeh declared,
“Every citizen–to say nothing of public officials–should try to imagine the
dangers, the sheer lunacy, of FBI agents not even having enough bullets. That is
intolerable and will not be allowed to recur.”

Yet while crying poor, Freeh has had no difficulty finding money to finance
his own pet projects. He has reassigned 70 agents to pursue environmental crime,
and 156 agents to pursue health-care fraud–two areas sure to win brownie points
with the Clinton administration. Freeh has also won favor with Clintonites and
the media with his repeated assaults on the Second Amendment. In December 1993,
Freeh told a National Press Club luncheon that “in a civilized society like
ours, there’s simply no place for assault weapons.” Claiming they “provide a
source of strength and power to American criminal elements,” he called for a ban
on these weapons, “not just a ban on importation, but a ban on domestic
manufacture and a ban on distribution of these weapons of death.” Freeh’s
position on guns contains a great deal of posturing. Assault weapons have played
a minimal role in violent crime in recent years.
The American Spectator, August, 1995

Consistent with Freeh’s distortions in the name of gun-control was a story he
told at that National Press Club luncheon: “An 11-year-old was arrested in St.
Louis several days ago when a police officer observed him dismantling an
automatic weapon which the 11-year-old said he was taking on the bus to kill the
bus driver, because the bus driver had reported some misconduct the day before.”
The specter of children running around on school buses with machine guns no
doubt served Freeh’s purpose in whipping up support for a proposed
assault-weapons ban in Congress. However, it turned out that the child did not
have a machine gun; he merely had a .22 semi-automatic rifle, which fires only
one bullet with each pull of the trigger. And while children taking guns on
school buses in St. Louis should be condemned no matter what, it should also be
noted that semi-automatic rifles have been common in the U.S. for a hundred
years. [Clinton’s budget proposal last year officially recommended the banning
of all semi-automatic weapons–which could have meant the confiscation of 35
million rifles and pistols.]
World Be Freeh If Freeh is not afraid of the NRA, he is certainly not afraid of
the CIA, as he’s moved to expand the FBI’s counterintelligence efforts. Freeh
toured east Europe and Russia extensively last year at government expense,
ostensibly to discuss nuclear terrorism and the threat posed by smugglers of
parts and nuclear material. U.S. News & World Report noted that there was
“grumbling that Freeh’s upcoming tour of Moscow and a half dozen other European
capitals has all the trappings of a state visit.” Freeh later bragged in a
The American Spectator, August, 1995

speech back home that he had met with five heads of state during his foray. Some
east Europeans were openly skeptical of Freeh’s advocacy of undercover sting
operations and wiretaps–trademarks of the old Soviet Bloc regimes.

Yet, as Dan Freedman noted in the San Francisco Examiner, “There was irony in
the top law enforcement official of a violence-ridden nation like the U.S.
preaching the need for international law enforcement to nations that, by U.S.
standards, appear relatively tame when it comes to crime.”

In a speech in Poland on the Holocaust, Freeh declared, “Those trusted to
protect the people become the instruments of terror. . . . For the police, more
than any other segment of society or government, the rule of law must always
remain sacrosanct.” In the wake of his tenure thus far, it seems Freeh’s views
on police abuse are manufactured solely for export.

 

 

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