Freeh dismisses claims by ex-counterterror head

In book, former FBI chief says Clarke was in no position to offer warnings before Sept. 11

October 10, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Settling a score, Louis J. Freeh, director of the FBI under President Bill Clinton and in the first six months of the Bush presidency, asserts in a new book that Richard A. Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism chief, was "basically a second-tier player" who had little access to power and was in no position to issue credible warnings in advance of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"If he was rushing around the executive branch trying to make a case that we were in imminent danger of a terrorist attack on our shores, he wasn't trying to make that case with me," Freeh writes of Clarke in a memoir to be published this week called My FBI: Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton and Fighting the War on Terror.

The publisher is St. Martin's Press.

In his own book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, published last year, Clarke describes himself as a herald of the dangers of terrorism and paints a scathing picture of Freeh and the FBI, blaming the former director and his agency for ignoring the possibility of terrorism in this country.

Freeh says that incidents involving the two of them that Clarke describes in his book never occurred and that the Clarke book can be fairly described in a phrase: "bad facts and no access."

Clarke was traveling over the weekend and did not respond to messages left on his office phone and his cell phone.

Freeh's accounts of the events leading up to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the bureau's anti-terrorism activities add little to his public testimony before investigating panels and articles he wrote about the topic.

Far from ignoring threats, Freeh declares that under his directorship, the FBI was "all but obsessed with terrorism and its proponents."

But the bureau was hamstrung, Freeh says, because Congress never provided sufficient money for a good computer system, a strong counterterrorism staff or Arabic translators.

In terms of technology, "we were in the Dark Ages," he says.

While "you can always do the job better in hindsight," Freeh writes, "I'm proud of the way I ran the FBI."

Freeh also uses his book to fan the flames of his incendiary relationship with Clinton.

"With Bill Clinton," Freeh writes in a chapter called "Bill and Me," "the scandals and rumored scandals, the incubating ones and the dying ones, never ended."

"Whatever moral compass the president was consulting, it was leading him in the wrong direction, and he lacked the discipline to pull back once he found himself stepping into trouble," Freeh writes. "Worse, he had been behaving that way so long that the closets were full of skeletons just waiting to burst out."

Freeh describes how he argued unsuccessfully for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Clinton's fundraising practices during the 1996 campaign and says he could never communicate with the president because "with him, it always seemed to be personal."

It was the campaign finance issue and conspicuous leaks of Freeh's private memorandums on the subject that led to the complete deterioration of the director's relationship with the president.

Freeh writes that from the outset of his tenure, he insisted on an arm's-length relationship with Clinton, going so far as to return the pass he had been given that would have allowed him to come and go from the White House without signing in and out.

"It might have come as a surprise to the man who hired me, but I didn't take the job of FBI director so I could roll over and play dead whenever it became convenient for the White House," he says.

Describing Clinton's relationship with a White House intern that led to his impeachment, Freeh writes, "Just when I thought things couldn't get any more outlandish, along came Monica Lewinsky and turned the White House into a theater of the absurd."

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