Former FBI Head Defends Agency's Pre-9/11 Work

By David Thibault | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

( - The FBI "used all the means at its disposal to capture (Osama) bin Laden and to prevent future attacks against America," according to the agency's former director, Louis Freeh, whose commentary is published in Monday's Wall Street Journal.

Freeh did concede that the government was not ready to commit the resources necessary to fight the al Qaeda terror network before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "We have now seen how war is declared and waged against terrorists who attack our nation. The painful lesson is that fighting terrorism without such a declaration of war is unlikely to be successful," Freeh wrote.

Freeh led the FBI during the Clinton years -- between 1993 and 2001. He will testify before the 9/11 Commission Tuesday and Wednesday. Freeh's successor - Robert Mueller, the current U.S. Attorney General -- John Ashcroft and former Attorney General Janet Reno are also expected to testify before the panel.

The commission continues to try to determine the level of importance that both the Clinton and Bush administrations attached to counter-terrorism efforts prior to 9/11. Bush had been in office for eight months before al Qaeda struck. Clinton served as president for eight years.

In his Wall Street Journal commentary, Freeh said he spoke about al Qaeda and the group's previous terrorist attacks during his initial meeting with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on Jan. 26, 2001. Bush and Cheney had been in office less than one week.

"The al Qaeda threat was the same on Sept. 10 and Sept. 12," Freeh wrote, but he indicated that the government's attitude was anything but the same. "Nothing focuses a government quicker than a war," Freeh wrote.

Before 9/11 -- the FBI had asked for enough money to hire 1,895 special agents, analysts and linguists on staff for fiscal years 2000 through 2002. "We got 76 people for those critical years," Freeh stated. Just weeks after Sept. 11, he noted, Congress sped through approval for 823 counter-terrorism positions and those numbers continue to climb.

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