Shortly before 10:00 P.M. local time on June 25, 1996, a Datsun driven by Hani al-Sayegh, a prominent member of the Saudi branch of Hezbollah, or "Party of God," pulled into the far corner of a parking lot adjacent to Building 131 at the King Abdul Aziz Airbase in Dhahran, along the oil-rich Persian Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia. The eight-story apartment structure was part of a housing complex known collectively as Khobar Towers, then home to more than two thousand American, British, French, and Saudi troops. Building 131 was occupied almost exclusively by members of the U.S. Air Force, enforcing the no-fly zone that had been in effect over southern Iraq ever since the end of the first Gulf War. With al-Sayegh in the Datsun was Abdallah al-Jarash, who had been recruited into Hezbollah at the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine in Damascus.
A few minutes later, a white, four-door Chevrolet Caprice entered the parking lot and waited for the Datsun to blink its lights--the all-clear signal. When it did, a tanker truck followed the Chevy into the lot. The truck had been purchased earlier that month from a Saudi dealership for approximately 75,000 Saudi riyals and takento a farm outside Qatif, twenty minutes or so from Dhahran. There it had been outfitted with some five thousand pounds of explosives and turned into a massive bomb.
After the truck backed up to a fence just in front of the north side of Building 131, the driver, Ahmed al-Mughassil, commander of the military wing of the Saudi Hezbollah, and his passenger, Ali al-Houri, a main Hezbollah recruiter, leaped from the cab, raced to the Chevy, and drove off, followed by the Datsun.
Sgt. Alfredo Guerrero was pulling sentry duty on the rooftop at Building 131 when he saw the driver and passenger abandon the truck and the two cars speed away. Almost certain that they were staring at a bomb in the lot below them, Guerrero and two other sentries sounded an alarm. Then Guerrero, who had been stationed in Dhahran for only a month, began to race through the top floors of Building 131, warning people to leave. The sergeant had cleared the better part of two floors when the tank truck exploded, ripping a crater thirty-five feet deep and eighty-five feet wide and shearing off the north face of the apartment building.
Despite the heroism of Alfredo Guerrero, who escaped without serious injury, nineteen Americans were murdered at Khobar Towers and more than five dozen others were hospitalized. In all, 372 U.S. military personnel suffered wounds in the explosion. Khobar was the most deadly attack on American citizens abroad in thirteen years, since the October, 1983 explosion at a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killed 241 marines. And the totals might have been far higher. In his haste, the driver of the truck had parked perpendicular to Building 131. Had he parked parallel and delivered the impact of the explosion along a broader front, he might have succeeded in toppling the entire structure, with a catastrophically greater loss of life.
My wife, Marilyn, and I and our children were visiting my parents at their home in North Bergen, New Jersey, when the Khobar terrorists struck. June 25, 1996, was a Tuesday, not a Saturday or aSunday, but the day afforded a rare chance to get everyone together. I'd kept my schedule light. Just as important, schools had let out only a few days earlier, and summer camps and other activities would soon kick in. Marilyn and I grabbed a small window of opportunity, and as so often seems to happen in hyperbusy lives, the window closed before we were ever quite through it. My mother was preparing dinner for the family when the FBI command center called to tell me that the attack had taken place a half hour earlier. (Saudi Arabia is seven hours ahead of East Coast time.) I'd never heard of Khobar Towers, but that was irrelevant. Marilyn and I immediately began to refill the car with the kids and their gear.
My predecessor as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, William Sessions, had traveled with a large security detail, including a driver. He might have been wise to do so: the world is full of nuts. But I had been an FBI agent myself, one of the grunts, and I didn't choose to live in the grand style now that I ran the place. Nor did Marilyn and I want our children to grow up thinking they were in protective custody or that they had to travel in a convoy to see their own grandparents.
I was at the wheel of my own car, heading unaccompanied down the New Jersey Turnpike, when I first discussed the attack with Attorney General Janet Reno, my direct boss and first line of communication with the Clinton administration. I also talked with then Deputy National Security Adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger in those early hours after the attack. Sandy, who would take over as the principal adviser the next year with the resignation of Anthony Lake, was helping coordinate the national-security response, and the FBI was a vital part of that. I was on an unsecure car-phone line, though, and if Janet and Sandy did have more information than I had already picked up, they were unable to share it with me. In those early hours and for months to come, we all had far more questions than answers.
Six and a half hours after Khobar Towers was hit and Building131 destroyed--about 10:00 P.M. East Coast time--Marilyn and I were pulling into our driveway in Great Falls, Virginia, just as Bill Clinton first announced the attack to the public, in a brief address from the Oval Office.
"The explosion appears to be the work of terrorists," the president explained. "If that's the case, like all Americans I am outraged by it. The cowards who committed this murderous act must not go unpunished. Within a few hours, an FBI team will be on its way to Saudi Arabia to assist in the investigation ... ."
The president closed by echoing a point he had made earlier: "Let me say it again: We will pursue this," he said with a stern voice. "America takes care of our own. Those who did it must not go unpunished."
Those were words--and a promise--I would not forget.
For the FBI, the Khobar Towers attack was indeed a call to action. The Bureau's primary responsibilities were and remain domestic, but during my first three years as director, we had been expanding our global presence. Crime and terrorism had gone multinational, and we had to do so ourselves if we were to combat it effectively within our own borders. The Bureau also had specific extraterritorial responsibility for bombings where Americans were killed. That gave us jurisdiction, and we needed to exercise it as quickly as possible.
Crime scenes can grow stale in a hurry. Evidence is lost, or it decays beyond any useful capacity. Well-meaning efforts to clear up the site of a human disaster can destroy vital information about angles of impact, the size of an explosion, and the nature of the explosive materials themselves. Often, too, the smallest and most easily lost remnants can be the most telling. A piece of circuit board no bigger than a fingernail found in the fields around Lockerbie, Scotland,ultimately led us to the Libyans who had blown Pan Am flight 103 out of the sky. We didn't want to miss something similar in this instance.
All that is standard operating procedure for any crime scene, but from the very beginning it was clear that the attack on Khobar Towers was no ordinary criminal event. For one thing, it had occurred in an extraordinary place. Although it has long been one of America's most vital allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia ranks among the world's most closed societies. The usual problems of gaining access to a crime scene on foreign soil and establishing liaison with local authorities--never easy when you fly agents in to work an investigation--were compounded in this case not just by the secrecy that surrounds everything on the Arabian Peninsula but also by the special evidentiary needs of a legal system based on Islamic religious law, the Sharia. Just as Saudi overzealousness at the crime site could destroy evidence for us, so insensitivity on our part could destroy the admissibility of evidence for the Saudis.
The real possibility existed, too, that wherever the attack had been planned and whoever had carried it out, local fundamentalists might well be involved. Saudi Arabia's able ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, had been quick to announce a reward of 10 million riyals (then about $3 million in U.S. dollars) for information leading to the arrest of the bombers. But the kingdom exists in a delicate balance between its vast ruling monarchy and the Wahhabis, the more conservative Muslims who control the streets and mosques. Were the attackers foreign or homegrown terrorists? Either way, we were walking into the middle of an incendiary arrangement, to the discomfort of both sides.
The previous fall, following a similar bombing attack on a Riyadh compound where U.S. civilian contractors were training members of the Saudi National Guard, authorities had rounded up several suspects and questioned them over a period of many months.Just about a month before the Khobar attack, Saudi authorities had broadcast the subjects' confessions on state-controlled television, then beheaded the penitents before we had a chance to interview them, or even sit in on interviews the Saudis conducted. Again, the haste of the executions raised questions in the Clinton administration over what was being served: justice or expediency?
We had more jurisdiction in the crime this time than we'd had in that earlier bombing--nineteen dead U.S. servicemen, as opposed to five murdered Department of Defense contractors--but there was no guarantee the Saudi royal family would see it that way or cooperate to any greater degree even if they did. Without that cooperation, we would end up once again spinning our wheels in the sand.
Marilyn and I had no sooner unloaded the kids and their bags than I turned around and headed the two dozen miles back into Washington, to the command center at the FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue. In those days, the official name of the facility--the Strategic Investigations and Operations Center--was almost as large as the space itself: three rooms on the third floor, maybe two thousand square feet in all, crammed with monitors and secure phones with direct lines to the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and elsewhere.
Even before Khobar Towers, we were spilling out of the space. An eighty-one-day siege in Jordan, Montana, had ended less than two weeks earlier with the surrender of the sixteen remaining "Freemen" antigovernment extremists who had holed themselves up in a rural compound. The long memory of the fiery end of the fifty-one-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, three years earlier had kept us on high alert throughout the Montana ordeal. (The eleven-day siege ignited by the U.S. MarshalsService at Ruby Ridge in Idaho in 1992 was also much on our minds.) Khobar itself would soon seem a trigger to a summer of crises. Three weeks later, on July 17, TWA flight 800 exploded off Long Island minutes after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport, killing all 230 passengers aboard. No one knew what had brought it down: mechanical failure, a bomb, a ground-to-air missile all seemed possible in the early stages. Ten days after, a bomb exploded in Atlanta's Centennial Park during the height of the summer Olympic Games. With crisis piled on crisis, we had agents stashed in the hallway, working highly sensitive investigations on open phone lines. We had no choice. A new command center ten times larger (named by me after "Bush 41") would finally be ready in 1999, but that was three years down the road. For now, we had to make do with what was, and that was cramped beyond belief.
My national security adviser, Robert "Bear" Bryant, was waiting for me. So were John O'Neill, Bryant's section chief in charge of terrorism, and a few other agents of similar rank. (John would take over as chief of security for the World Trade Center in September 2001. He was killed September 11 of that year when the North Tower collapsed.) Bryant was in my view the best agent we ever had for counterintelligence and counterterrorism cases. Rock-solid, smart, and incredibly talented, he cared more about the people who worked for him than anyone else I know. As midnight came and went, we pored over intelligence reports, trying to work out theories of the attack.
Information was still scarce, which was telling in its own right. When something like Khobar Towers is the work of a loose confederation or of rank amateurs, listening posts at the CIA and NSA tend to light up with related chatter: participants phoning their wives and brothers to celebrate the great event or, better still, calling each other to plan a rendezvous or a next attack. The more disciplined the planners and bombers, the more silent the listening stations. For the moment, atleast, the Khobar attackers and their masters were being quiet as a tomb, a strong hint that they were among the pros of global mayhem.
As for a working theory, the best we could do on short notice was to assume that this attack was a continuation of the earlier one on the Saudi National Guard headquarters. That one had been carried out, so we were told, by disaffected Sunnis, young men in their twenties and thirties who were resentful of the royal family and in league with Osama bin Laden, the black sheep of one of the kingdom's richest families. We had, of course, no direct confirmation of that. The men in question had had their heads removed, with no consultation from us, but in the absence of other leads to pursue, we began to pull in intelligence from a variety of sources on Sunni radicals and the networks that supported them.
None of that, though, began to solve what for all of us in the room was the most pressing need: access. The Bureau had been true to Bill Clinton's word: 150 FBI pros--including agents, lab analysts, and forensic experts--were headed for Riyadh. But we could fly another ten thousand agents there and it wouldn't do a bit of good unless we could get them to the crime site and secure the cooperation of our hosts. That required the intervention of the royal family, and the only person I even faintly knew who fit that description was the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar. I picked up the phone and called him.
The prince took my call that night, and he couldn't have been more gracious. We need to work together, I told him, and we want to cooperate with the Saudis on the ground in the kingdom. First, though, we need your help. His answer was what I'd hoped to hear: please come out to see me.
Prince Bandar lives at the crest of Washington diplomatic and political society. Other ambassadors wait in line to see the president; Bandar practically has his own key to the Oval Office. Thanks to the special relationship with the Saudis, and because of threats against him, he is the only ambassador to the United States assignedState Department protection. Bandar's parties are legendary; the mansion in McLean, Virginia, where he lives and entertains, is epic. Passing between the enormous iron gates just off Virginia Route 123 that guard his driveway, I wondered who and how many people were waiting for me. I had come alone because I felt that the more the prince and I could put matters on a personal footing, the greater progress we would make, now and in the future. As it turned out, Bandar had only his highly competent principal deputy with him, Rihab Massoud, in effect the Saudi deputy chief of mission to the United States.
Over the course of perhaps two hours, including lunch, the three of us kicked around more working theories of the attack. The prince and Massoud, both excellent analysts, seemed to have no more idea than the Bureau did about who might be responsible, but Bandar did have new background information to offer. I learned for the first time that Hezbollah was active in the Sunni-dominated Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where the bombing had occurred. Although the Hezbollah is based in Lebanon, it takes its orders and draws financial and logistic support from Tehran, particularly Iran's two security services, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Intelligence and Security Ministry (MOIS). That raised the specter that the Iranian government had known of and backed the bombing of Khobar Towers. Bandar agreed it was possible, but he doubted that was the case. For Iran to officially sanction an attack in the Saudi kingdom would be very serious, he said--a grave turn of events.
"I'll work with you and the FBI to get what you need. President Clinton told me you are in charge," the prince said near the end of our meeting. It turned out Prince Bandar was true to his word--the beginning of a friendship that grew stronger as I came to know and trust him.
"What we need first," I said, "is access for the contingent we are sending over there. We also want to talk and work directly with your police."
Bandar promised to call Prince Nayef, the Saudi interior minister, to pave the way for the small army of agents we were flying into the kingdom.
"Do you know our police?" he asked.
"Well"--I laughed--"we have an agent in Rome ... ."
Rome was, in fact, as close as we had been able to get to stationing one of our own in the kingdom. He dealt with Riyadh the way circuit preachers used to deal with tiny remote hamlets in the Old West: twice a year or so. With Bandar's intervention, we would soon have an Arab-speaking agent living permanently in Riyadh, a huge leap forward.
As helpful as he was, Prince Bandar was not able to be completely forthright with me at that first meeting. He knew that two months earlier the Saudis had arrested a Qatif native named Fadel al-Alawe as he attempted to cross into the kingdom over the Jordanian border in a car loaded down with thirty-eight kilograms of plastic explosives. Under questioning, al-Alawe admitted to Saudi authorities that he had been involved in a series of surveillances at Khobar Towers. The car and its hidden explosives, he said, had been given to him in Beirut, and he had driven from Lebanon through Syria and Jordan to the border. By early April, three other plotters had been rounded up inside Saudi Arabia. As Bandar parceled the story out to me over the next several weeks, it became evident that the Saudis felt they had intercepted the plan and excised the terrorist cell that was to carry it out. In fact, the kingdom harbored numerous Hezbollah cells. With one rolled up, the plotters simply activated another.
Had we known about the earlier arrests, we certainly would have stepped up security at Dhahran. Quite possibly, we could have intercepted the tanker truck before it could be detonated. The nineteen dead might still be living. There's a terrible potential price for holding that type of information so close to the vest. But secrecy isa way of life in that part of the world, and Bandar, I suppose, could argue that he had let out all he could by telling me at our first meeting about the Hezbollah presence in the Eastern Province. Besides, hindsight is always 20/20. We had to deal with what was, not what could have been.
When I got back to my office, I phoned Janet Reno and Sandy Berger and told them that I'd had a very productive discussion with Bandar. The table had been set for the team we were sending. Our lab analysts and forensic experts would have access to the crime site. I met that afternoon with John Deutsch, then head of the CIA, and told him the same thing. In both instances, I passed on Prince Bandar's mention of the Hezbollah presence in eastern Saudi Arabia. That knowledge added to the stew, but in the absence of any stronger evidence, our working theory stayed as it was: Khobar was home grown, possibly connected to the earlier attack on the national guard building; for the Saudis, at least, an internal matter.
A little more than a day later, Bear Bryant, John O'Neill, a few others, and I boarded a plane at Andrews Air Force Base and followed our agents to the desert.
I would visit Saudi Arabia on multiple occasions over the next several years, but this was my first time. Until you've been there, I think, nothing can prepare you for the heat. After a seventeen-hour flight that took us through Frankfurt, Germany, in air-conditioned comfort--thanks to the Air Force's elite 89th Squadron, the same people who fly the president--I walked off the plane wearing my standard blue suit into what felt like a wall of fire. Local time was about two in the afternoon. The thermometer stood at nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit, just another day in Dhahran.
The ultimate goal of our visit was 225 miles west, in Riyadh.Prince Bandar had arranged for our small group to meet with the royal family, including King Fahd and Prince Nayef. Bandar had even arrived in advance of us to serve as translator. But that was for later in the evening--much later, I was to learn. For now, I wanted to visit what remained of Building 131.
The U.S. commander at the airbase, a one-star general, was on hand to greet us and escort us to Khobar Towers. He had been up, I would guess, for three straight days. Fatigue was written all over him, and a deep sense of personal responsibility that he had not done enough to protect the men and women under his charge. (And indeed he would later see his career derailed for allegedly failing to take adequate security measures at the base.)
At the crime site, the Saudis had laid down carpeting so people could watch the agents work--ours and theirs--without having to stand ankle-deep in the sand. The scene itself was staggering. The broad crater where the truck had exploded had a slick of mud-colored water across its bottom. Beyond, Building 131 looked as if some giant had ripped the front off.
The blast, clearly audible twenty miles away in Bahrain, had torn apart and scattered everything in its path. The human remains that had been discovered but not yet retrieved had been circled with red paint, a horrifying reminder of how fragile human life can be. The crime scene was littered with hairbrushes, photo frames, pieces of clothing--objects blown out of barracks rooms that no longer were surrounded by four walls.
As we approached the crime site from a distance, it seemed to be crawling with busy worker bees scurrying this way and that. Up close, the bees got a more human face. Most of them--our own agents, FBI personnel, and the Saudi police who were working alongside them--had been at it virtually nonstop for a day and a half: dealing with the body parts, using giant sifters to cull through the sand for any forensics that might be embedded there. The work ishard enough in normal conditions, physically and emotionally. Remember, people are looking for the smallest pieces of evidence; the strain on the eyes alone is monumental. Meanwhile, the temperature was slowly dropping from 120 to 110 as the afternoon wore on. I could see the exhaustion on all their faces. Some already had been treated for dehydration. Others would be. The unique smell of decaying human flesh was overwhelming, especially in the intense heat, but there was no way to hurry retrieval either. The evidentiary needs were too great.
I gathered our own people together to thank them for everything they were doing. I would be meeting with the king and his ministers later that evening, I told them, and I'd get the FBI all the help they needed and deserved. It seemed to be a boost they needed and appreciated.
An emergency hospital had been set up nearby, no more than a few hundred yards from the crater, and I went there next. The place was filled with the walking wounded--splints and bandages, facial wounds from the flying glass--and those still being examined and treated. I talked to as many of them as I could muster, mostly in smaller groups. I wanted them to know that their government was on the case, that we weren't going to rest until we found out who had done this and had brought them to justice. I was still in my mid-forties then, but as always when I'm around soldiers and sailors and airmen in situations like that, I was struck by how young so many of them seemed.
The images of those wounded servicemen and -women were still with me at two the next morning when our small party was finally received by King Fahd at his palace in Riyadh.
We had been flown by helicopter to Riyadh from Dhahran late that afternoon. Prince Bandar, who all of a sudden seemed to beeverywhere, greeted us at the airport and led us to a "waiting palace"--in effect, a large, very modern hotel where we were to cool our heels until King Fahd sent for us. (Specific appointments are out of the question: no one is the king's equal, and thus no one can command his time. He commands yours.) For our side, at least, the break was welcomed. We had been gone for twenty-four hours by then. Most of us hadn't had a chance to shower or shave, much less change clothes or get any meaningful sleep.
I used part of the time to get an intelligence briefing from John Brennan, the CIA's chief of station in Saudi Arabia. Amazingly, John had also grown up in North Bergen, across the Hudson River from Midtown Manhattan. Now here we were, halfway around the world, swapping leads about a bombing at the eastern edge of the Arabian desert. Meanwhile, a squadron of limousines and their drivers sat in front of our holding palace, waiting to whisk us into King Fahd's presence whenever the summons came.
When the call finally did arrive, about ninety minutes after midnight, we piled into the limos only to be delayed further by what seemed like innumerable checkpoints along our route. Better than anyone else, the Saudi royals understand the perilous world they live and rule in. The king's palace, or more accurately, the palace complex, was out of a storybook: a grand and ornate confection of marble, glass, and towering minarets, all centrally air-conditioned and so secure that a mouse would have trouble sneaking in. One of the members of the royal family met us and showed us eventually to the throne room, where King Fahd was waiting.
The U.S. contingent sat to one side of the king. John Brennan hadn't come along for obvious reasons, but the acting ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ted Kattouf, joined us. On the king's other side were Crown Prince Abdullah and most of the senior princes. Although King Fahd held the place of honor among us all, he said little other than to welcome us and express condolences for the Americanlosses. Fahd had suffered a debilitating stroke the previous November. Succession battles within the family had been anything but easy, but the crown prince appeared to be speaking for the king.
On behalf of our side, I thanked the king and his family for receiving us, assured them all that we were here to work in cooperation with but under the aegis of the Mubahith, the Saudi equivalent of a combined FBI and CIA, and expressed our condolences for the Saudi losses at Khobar Towers. As so often is the case in terrorist attacks, these dead had been minding their own business in a park across the street from the compound when the truck bomb went off.
As I had a few days earlier with Prince Bandar, we talked about who might be responsible for the bombing and why. No one on the Saudi side even hinted that members of a Hezbollah terrorist cell were then being held on suspicion of planning a similar attack, although, like Bandar, they all must have known about the arrest on the Jordanian border. For my part, I stated the U.S. position very carefully: we didn't know who was responsible, and we didn't want to make rash assumptions. That's why we needed to conduct an investigation on Saudi soil and why we needed the maximum cooperation from the Mubahith and other agencies under the royal family's control. At a minimum, I said, we would need to have our own agents in place in Saudi Arabia for months. By now, my American colleagues had heard me make the point so often--and the hour was so late and our small party so sleep-starved--that several of them seemed on the verge of falling over where they sat. Not so on the Saudi side. They've learned to adjust to life in an arid land under a broiling sun by being nocturnal. The night was still young. As if to prove it, the king, through the crown prince, assured me that leaving FBI agents on Saudi soil would be no problem. Then he suggested that Prince Nayef and I adjourn to the Interior Ministry to discuss details.
The sort of parity of office that diplomats fret over is nearly impossibleto achieve with the Saudis. As interior minister, Nayef and I shared many similar duties and responsibilities, but I was almost halfway through a ten-year appointment. His position was held by blood, for life, so long as he didn't end up on the wrong side of whoever was occupying the throne. Still, unequals that we were, we did manage to hammer out some working arrangements along with several senior Mubahith officers who had accompanied us. And then, around four o'clock in the morning, we finally sat down to dinner, a seven- or eight-course affair with blessedly few culinary surprises. I was well past hunger.
The arrangement wasn't perfect. So long as we were unable to directly question suspects--or even sit in while Saudi authorities did the questioning--we would always be investigating a vicious multiple murder with one hand tied behind our back. What's more, indictments would be hard to come by and convictions even harder to win without being able to offer such critical testimony. That, after all, is what the United States of America had promised its citizens and the world, as well as the families and loved ones of those who had been killed and grievously injured: that justice would be done. Seeing justice done was always the carrot dangling in front of our eyes.
But within the confines of a secretive and deeply conflicted culture, the Saudis, I thought, had probably gone as far as they could toward accommodating us. Pushing them further into our camp, getting them to see the investigation more through our eyes, would take pressure from the very top of our own government. And that, as the investigation wore on and more and more new information bubbled to the surface, was precisely where I found myself most stymied: not halfway around the world on the Arabian Peninsula but at home, a half dozen blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue.
Let me try to explain.
I was probably still suffering from jet lag from that initial trip to Saudi Arabia when I had my first serious conversations with Sandy Berger on how to handle the bombing. All things being equal, I told the then-deputy national security adviser, we would expect to undertake the criminal investigation. That was our statutory duty. We had the resources and talent to undertake the job, and the will to see it through. Just as important, we had the Saudis about as lined up as we were likely to get them on the front end. But all things weren't equal. That was obvious. Even though the attack had occurred on foreign soil, this had been an act of war against the United States of America. Saudis were killed, to be sure, but American military personnel had been targeted. If the president decided to take military or other action against the perpetrators, I didn't want the criminal investigation to get in the way, and I certainly didn't want the president deferring to the Department of Justice or the FBI just because he would be preempting our investigation.
In retrospect, the point I was trying to make sounds almost petty. An American military barracks was in ruins; people had been left blown apart in the blistering Saudi sun. I'd seen them there, and I would never forget the sight. To me, though, the matter I was raising was crucial, and in the months that followed, I repeated it constantly. The FBI was going after the killers with everything at our disposal. I couldn't guarantee we would ever bring them to trial, but we would continue to pursue them until we had run every last one of them to ground. But we understood that in the hierarchy of possible responses, ours was second tier. Bill Clinton was commander in chief. If he decided that we were getting in the way of more appropriate action, we would step aside.
Bill Clinton had courted me to become FBI director three years earlier, but by the early summer of 1996, fault lines were showing in our relationship. Maybe I was, in Clinton's eyes, too much the altarboy I once had been, or too insensitive to the nuances of politics. Whatever had driven a wedge between us, the strain was an open secret within the inner circle of the administration. That, too, was on my mind as I sought to clarify the Bureau's position relative to the Khobar Towers investigation: I'd fallen off the A-list at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But Sandy Berger knew all that, and he was very definitive in his response every time I raised the matter: The president is clear on this, he would tell me. He wants you to conduct the investigation, and he has told the Saudis that. The FBI is in charge; Louis Freeh is the point man. The Bureau, I was assured, had the president's complete cooperation and authority on this. I remember the phrase exactly because the administration was still repeating it three years later: we were to leave "no stone unturned" in finding the killers and bringing them to justice. Trouble was, the administration's actions didn't come close to matching its rhetoric.
I traveled twice again to Saudi Arabia during the months just after that first visit. On one of those trips, Prince Bandar took me aside and told me, "Listen, we have the goods," and slowly, very slowly, with many fits and starts, the "goods" did begin to come together. As they did, they pointed ineluctably toward Iran.
(On that same trip, during a dinner at Bandar's Riyadh palace, the elegant Saudi ambassador to the U.S. reached his well-manicured hand into a roast baby camel's hump, drew out a fistful of meat, and deposited it on my plate--a great honor, he assured me. It was my one and only experience with baby camel's hump, but it was good: closer to tenderloin than chicken in flavor.)
In March 1997, in the first truly big break in the case, Canadian authorities acting on a tip from the Saudis arrested the driver of the Datsun used in the Khobar Towers bombing, Hani al-Sayegh. Al-Sayegh, who had been living in Canada since August 1996 under afalse passport, denied any part in the attack, but that May, under questioning in an Ottawa detention center by an assistant U.S. attorney and several FBI agents, he did admit to having once been a member of the Hezbollah cell that carried it out. He had been recruited for the cell, he said, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and had taken part in two operations directed by one of the Guard's brigadier generals, Ahmad Sherifi.
Two months later, in mid-July, the Syrian government turned over to the Saudis Mustafa al-Qassab, another member of the Hezbollah cell responsible for the Khobar attack and like many of them a Qatif native. Not long after that, at a meeting in Pakistan, outgoing Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani essentially admitted to Saudi crown prince Abdullah that the Khobar attack had been planned and carried out with the knowledge of the Iranian supreme ruler, Ayatollah Khamenei.
Simultaneously, the Saudis were sending the same signals to the administration. Within the first months after the attack, Prince Bandar and Rihab Massoud had met with Tony Lake, still then the national security adviser, and Sandy Berger to prepare them for the likelihood of an Iranian connection to the Khobar Towers attack and to hash over the implications. This was four years before 9/11, remember. The bombing appeared to be the work of Hezbollah, Iran's exclusive terrorist agent, and at that point, Hezbollah, not al Qaeda, held the grim distinction of having slaughtered more Americans than any other terrorist organization.
A blind pig couldn't have missed the outlines, but to flesh out the connections and put the dots together, we needed permission for FBI agents to sit in on and help conduct the questioning of suspects held in Saudi custody. That, we were told time and again--by Bandar and others--could happen only if the president and his top people exerted pressure on Crown Prince Abdullah and King Fahd to make it happen.
In the White House, though, and at the State Department in Foggy Bottom, interest was headed in another direction. In May 1997, Mohammad Khatami was elected to succeed Rafsanjani as president of Iran. "Moderate" is a relative term in a country as radicalized at the top as Iran, but to the Clinton foreign-policy team, Khatami seemed the best hope for moving toward a normalization of relations between the two countries, and it soon became apparent that the Khobar Towers investigation was not going to get in the way of that.
The FBI didn't report to the State Department, but we needed its authorization to send our agents there. Suddenly, authorizations became far harder to secure. State was after us on another front as well. We had begun fingerprinting and making photos of all the athletes that Iran sent to the U.S. Our reasoning was simple: intelligence officers were almost always embedded in the teams. They would come here, make contacts, run a few sources, and head back home to Tehran with some friendly State Department liaison waving good-bye at the airport. We thought the fingerprints and photos would discourage the practice, and indeed it did, but it also raised the Iranians' ire, and finally that ire bubbled all the way up to the White House, which ordered us to stop the practice.
Not a good idea, I told Madeleine Albright, who had succeeded Warren Christopher as secretary of state.
"The Iranians are complaining," she responded.
"Of course, they are," I told her. "That's the point." But to no avail. Later, her assistant secretary for the Middle East, Martin Indyk, would tell us that the president was, in fact, furious. By then, I was used to it.
This is not to say that many great and dedicated people in Washington did not offer their much-needed support on Khobar. Porter Goss and Arlen Specter, most notably, never wavered in their helpand encouraged me to follow through with our investigation at whatever political cost. But that was coming from Capitol Hill. We needed the Executive Branch on our side, too.
The State Department, at least, was transparent in trying to thwart our dealings with the Saudis over Khobar Towers. The White House was far more opaque and, thus, more maddening. We would get word that the president or Al Gore was about to meet with Crown Prince Abdullah or one of the other very senior members of the royal family. Forewarned, we would put together a list of talking points leading up to a request for greater cooperation with our investigation and take them to Sandy Berger, by then the national security adviser and our designated point man on such matters, and Sandy would assure us that gaining access to the Saudi witnesses was one of the president's (or vice president's) highest priorities and that he was sure to bring it up. Then we would wait. And wait. And nothing would happen.
"Didn't the matter come up?" I would ask Sandy.
"Oh, it came up," he would assure me, "but in another context." Whatever that meant. Meanwhile, Prince Bandar, whom I had begun to alert about these talking-point opportunities, would shake his head the next time I saw him and wonder why Clinton or Gore had failed to raise the matter in anything like an urgent way.
Then, in September 1997, the Justice Department, my employer, moved to dismiss the indictment we had obtained against Hani al-Sayegh, who had been nabbed in Canada. The reasons are complicated. Al-Sayegh was a pain in the neck. He suffered frequent changes of heart. Because we were being frustrated in our attempts to interview the cell members being held in Saudi Arabia, we had no corroborating witnesses for al-Sayegh even if we could have gotten him to talk. As a lawyer, I understood all that. But al-Sayegh had been our foot in the door, and what I saw as the almost celebratory attitude at the White House in getting rid of him sat poorly withme. Three months later almost to the day, on December 11, 1997, I met at the FBI's training academy in Quantico, Virginia, with the families of those who had been killed at Khobar Towers.
The impetus behind the Quantico assembly was simple. Nearly a year and a half had passed since the attack at Dhahran, and neither the State Department nor the Department of Defense had spent any real time briefing the families of the Khobar victims. Understandably, the families were very upset. We couldn't bring back their loved ones, but we could let the mothers and fathers, the wives and husbands and brothers and sisters, the fiance;es and the children know that their dead hadn't been forgotten. I invited Sandy Berger to join us and add his perspective from the National Security Council. He declined. So did all the major White House figures. Janet Reno was there from Justice. Bill Cohen, the former Republican senator from Maine who had replaced Les Aspin as secretary of defense, showed up too. I'm still grateful to both of them. They were supportive and honest, and their presence was greatly appreciated.
The meetings lasted three days, and I was there for every moment of them and every meal: morning, noon, and night. We had a scale model of Building 131 and its crater to explain the explosion, and a slide show of the suspects we had so far identified. I didn't have to tell these people that the Saudis had been slow to provide information or that the Clinton administration had been reluctant to press the Saudis harder. They already knew.
When the families asked me to promise that the FBI would continue its investigation and do everything we could to see justice done, I vowed that we would do that. As I wrote earlier, that was always the prize in front of us. When one woman, the mother of a thirty-five-year-old master sergeant who had died in the attack,asked why we let the Saudis get away with withholding information and access, I told her that I was a policeman, not a politician. I meant both things, but I empathized deeply with her sense of being let down by her own country after her son had given his life for America.
The White House had never pulled us off the case, never told us that the administration was pursuing other avenues or policies that served other ends, never said stop. Until they did, we would not rest or turn away. I had cut my teeth as an FBI agent working to bring down some of the biggest organized crime families in America. Later, as an assistant and deputy U.S. attorney, I had prosecuted mafiosi who killed people almost casually. As a federal judge, I'd seen what happens when the government fails to be honest with the people it governs. We might bargain away a sentence for testimony to land a bigger fish, but we didn't walk away from murder. And we didn't close the books on nineteen dead just because it suddenly became inconvenient to pursue the matter. Yet all the evidence I could see suggested that's exactly what we were doing.
As 1998 wore on, Bill Clinton was pursuing rapprochement with the Iranians and finding himself in increasingly hot water domestically. Ken Starr was dogging the president; Monica Lewinsky had become maybe the best-known White House intern in history. Meanwhile, Khobar Towers was sliding further and further toward the back burner. By summer, the number of our agents stationed in Saudi Arabia had sunk from several dozen to a lone legal attache;. At one meeting, I can't remember exactly when, Sandy Berger made mention of the seventeen people who had been killed in the attack.
"Look," I said, "there were nineteen killed, not seventeen." I tried to say it as an aside, without putting the full weight behind it of the incredible frustration I was feeling, and I must have succeeded because my little correction slid right by everyone present. It wasjust Louie being a pain in the ass again about Khobar as far as they were concerned.
I should say here, since Sandy Berger has been fairly prominent in this story so far, that I had absolutely nothing against him personally. He was always a gentleman, always respectful of the Bureau and of me. Unlike a lot of people in the White House, he was punctual, too: If Sandy called a meeting for 10 A.M., you could pretty much count on it starting at 10 A.M. That's worth gold in Washington as far as I'm concerned.
But Sandy had come out of the political side of the Clinton machine. He'd been part of the campaign. Even when he was deputy national security adviser, he sat in on the once-a-week political meetings at the White House, and they weren't discussing foreign policy. Unlike his predecessor, Tony Lake, who had a long academic and professional background in foreign affairs, Sandy had been a trade lawyer with the Washington mega-firm of Hogan and Hartson.
Don't get me wrong: Sandy did have a very sincere interest in foreign policy--of that I'm certain--but the lens through which he seemed to view everything was the politics of getting Bill Clinton reelected and, later, of preserving Clinton's legacy and the Democratic party's hold on the presidency. Among other things, that meant shortchanging the needs of the Khobar Tower families. Or so I read the situation. But I wasn't out of resources.
That September, Crown Prince Abdullah and his entourage took over the entire 143-room Hay-Adams Hotel, just across Lafayette Park from the White House, for six days. The visit, I figured, was pretty much our last chance.
Again, we prepared talking points for the president. Again, I contactedPrince Bandar and asked him to soften up the crown prince for the moment when Clinton--or Al Gore, I didn't care who--would raise the matter and start to exert the necessary pressure. And again, nothing happened. Sandy Berger would later insist that Clinton had leaned hard on Abdullah for cooperation, but that's not the way I heard it. The story that came back to me, from "usually reliable sources," as they say in Washington, was that Bill Clinton briefly raised the subject only to tell the crown prince that he certainly understood the Saudis' reluctance to cooperate. Then, according to my sources, he hit Abdullah up for a contribution to the still-to-be-built Clinton presidential library. Gore, who was supposed to press hardest of all in his meeting with the crown prince, barely mentioned the matter, I was told.
In testimony before the Joint Intelligence Committees on October 8, 2002, I described for members of Congress the many difficult matters that had to be overcome in order that the Bureau might gain access to the Saudi nationals who were being held in the kingdom and who had already admitted to taking part in the Khobar bombing. We didn't want to taint the suspects' prosecution under Islamic law. We understood, too, what an ugly can of worms we would be opening, in Washington and Riyadh, if we could show that senior Iranian officials had been behind the Khobar attack. History was against us also: No FBI agent there had ever been given direct access to a detained Saudi national.
"Despite these extremely sensitive and complex issues," I told the committees, "the Saudis put their own interests aside to aid the FBI and the United States. Supported by Prince Bandar, Prince Nayef, and the Saudi Mubahith, Crown Prince Abdullah decided to grant the FBI's request to interview the detainees."
That's part of the story, but it's not the whole story. I was guilty of a sin of omission before the committee members. A president was instrumental in our gaining access to the Saudi detainees, but it wasn't President Bill Clinton.
The debacle of the meetings during the Hay-Adams Hotel stay had convinced me that we were never going to be able to achieve justice for the Khobar victims, or closure for their families and loved ones, by sticking with the status quo. The job wasn't getting done. From the administration's point of view, the case was a diminishing asset. Nor could I appeal directly to the Oval Office for a change of heart. By the fall of 1998 I had been Bill Clinton's top cop for half a decade, but he hadn't spoken to me in two years.
I did, however, know another president. George H. W. Bush and I had had a casual and friendly relationship ever since he had made me a federal district judge during the third year of his administration. Sometimes I would call the first President Bush for advice; other times he would simply phone to chat. It was during one of those conversations, in late September 1998, that the former president happened to mention that he was going to see Crown Prince Abdullah that Saturday.
"If you don't mind my asking," I said, "what are you going to talk about?"
It was a personal visit, Bush told me. Over many years, he and the crown prince had gotten to know each other very well. Abdullah was passing through Washington again, this time on his way to Hawaii. They were meeting at Prince Bandar's mansion in McLean.
"Well," I said, "would you mind making a request on our behalf?"
"We're trying to get FBI agents to see the detainees in the Khobar Towers bombing. If the crown prince heard the request from you, I think it would be very effective."
I made sure I was up-front with George Bush. I had no intentionof using him to do an end run around his successor without his being in on the plan. We're at an impasse, I told him. We've been trying to get our position to the Saudis at a high enough level to make a difference, but every time I seem to have assurances from on high in our administration that the matter will be brought up with the right people at the right time, it never is. Your help could go a long way to resolving this, I told the former president, but I don't want to put you in an uncomfortable position. I wasn't exaggerating on that last point. I didn't, but I felt as if I had run out of other alternatives for fulfilling the promise that had been made twenty-seven months earlier when the dust was still settling over the ruins of Building 131.
When the ex-president agreed, to my great delight, I wrote out talking points and faxed them to him. Then I sat back and waited, but not for long.
"I raised it," Bush said when he called me that Saturday afternoon. "They seem interested. I think you'll be hearing from them."
I did, on Monday morning, from Prince Bandar.
"Louie," he said, "can you come out here and talk with the crown prince?"
A few hours later, on September 29, 1998, I was being waved through Bandar's gates again, this time along with Dale Watson, the FBI antiterrorism chief, and Wyche Fowler, the ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who happened to be back in the States at the time. Straight and dedicated, Fowler was putting himself at risk by challenging the White House to do the right thing on this case. Dale ran our counter-terrorism (or CT) section and later the newly formed CT Division, and was my right hand in the most important FBI cases of the decade, the single best-qualified and knowledgeable CT leader and expert we had. None of the FBI's progress in this area would have happened without him.
"Tell me what you need," the crown prince said after he had received us.
"We need Your Highness to get our agents into the facility where the Khobar detainees are being held so we can interview them and come back to our courts and make the case against them."
I assured him that we, the United States and the FBI, respected the Sharia and promised we would do all in our power not to corrupt the Saudi investigation or prosecution. But the gist of my statement was exactly what I had been trying to get someone at the top of the food chain to say to Crown Prince Abdullah all along: we need access.
The crown prince proposed a compromise. Our agents could submit questions to be put to the suspects by Saudi officials, and we could monitor the answers directly. When I agreed, he turned to Bandar and told him to call Prince Nayef with instructions that our agents could have access to the detainees as outlined above. After all the waiting, all the runaround, all the frustration, that was it.
I have no doubt that, but for President Bush's personal intervention, we would never have gotten access to those critical witnesses. When I was finally able to tell the Khobar families about "41's" role, they were extraordinarily grateful. I am also certain that "41"--war hero, model public servant, and one of the primary architects of the Soviet Empire's collapse during his presidency--will be long regarded for his integrity, leadership, and historic accomplishments.
(I should add that when I first prepared to tell this story, in an article for the Wall Street Journal, I checked with former president Bush to see if he minded being named in print as the key intermediary. "Fire away!" he said, consistent to the end. I also got Prince Bandar's permission to tell the story.)
Six weeks later, on November 9, FBI agents sat behind a one-way mirror at a Riyadh detention center while Mubahith officials asked 212 questions of eight separate detainees. In the new spirit ofcooperation, the Saudis also gave us access to transcripts from other detainees as well as physical evidence they had collected for their own prosecution. The answers, along with the new materials and information we had previously uncovered or been handed by the Saudis, showed almost beyond a doubt that the Khobar Tower attacks had been sanctioned, funded, and directed by senior officials of the government of Iran. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had both been in on the planning and execution. The bombers had been trained by Iranians in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed Hezbollah is based. They had been issued passports by the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria, that allowed them to cross the border into Saudi Arabia.
To me, it was a devastating indictment. I went to Janet Reno with the news, once the picture had become clear, and told her we had to brief Sandy Berger. We immediately briefed Sandy in his corner office in the White House's fabled West Wing. His incredible response: "Who knows about this?" Sandy then opined that this was all hearsay. That was nonsense. Our sources were part of the conspiracy.
Later on, Sandy convened another meeting in the West Wing's Situation Room. Bill Cohen was there; army general Henry Shelton, the rock-solid Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; CIA director George Tenet--all the principals, the usual suspects. I thought that we were meeting to discuss what our next move would be, given the fact that we now had solid evidence that Iranians, with involvement at the highest official levels, had blown up nineteen Americans. But I was wrong. The meeting started with how to deal with the press and with Congress, should news of the Iranian involvement in the Khobar murders leak outside of the room.
Remarkably (although that's an insufficient word), Sandy's people had prepared a script A and script B for spinning the storyonce it did become public: script A for Republicans on the Hill, script B for those nosy reporters from The Washington Post and The New York Times, etc. Clearly, someone had been having a nightmare that featured a headline along the lines of "FBI Investigation Determines Iran Responsible for Khobar Attack."
"Wait a minute," I finally said, "are we going to talk about the fact that Iranians killed nineteen Americans?"
I wasn't the only person in the room who wanted to do that: General Shelton did. Others did. But it was Sandy's meeting, not ours, and the national security adviser had other things on his mind. It seemed we were here to manage the issue, not do a damn thing about it.
At some point, I tried to catch George Tenet's eye to give him one of those "What the hell is going on?" looks. Instead, I had to wait to buttonhole him as we were walking out of the meeting.
"Do you believe that?" I asked.
"We have a lot of meetings like that around here," George answered.
George, General Shelton, and the Joint Chiefs were my staunchest allies. Once the Iranian sponsorship was clear, General Shelton invited me over to the storied "tank" at the Pentagon to give him a briefing. There, the Marine Corps commandant, Chuck Krulak, known for his candor and integrity, committed himself to doing whatever was necessary to bring the Khobar bombers to justice, even if that meant taking on the White House.
In the eight years I was to spend as FBI director, there was nothing to match that moment in the Situation Room for sheer disappointment. It's a terrible story, but there's a better postscript.
Thanks to our continuing--and continually improving--relationship with the Saudis and the Mubahith, we did finally getdirect access to the Saudi detainees, and not just to those we had already seen from behind the one-way mirror. In the year 2000, we were able to question for the first time a Saudi Shi-ite named Mustafa al-Qassab. In the late 1980s, al-Qassab had traveled from Saudi Arabia to Iran to meet with Ahmed al-Mughassil, the commander of the military wing of the Saudi Hezbollah. Now, a decade later, al-Qassab laid out for us in detail the planning and logistics that had gone into the Khobar attack, traced the lineage irrefutably back to Tehran, and as far as I was concerned tied the whole package together for good. We still had to work our way around a wrong opinion from a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, a civil lawyer who had little knowledge of criminal law. But she, too, passed, as did the Clinton-Gore administration and its apparent indifference to Khobar Towers.
In my first postinauguration meeting with George W. Bush, I raised the issue of the ongoing investigation into the bombing and told him and Vice President Cheney about my frustrations. The president quickly assessed the situation and understood completely the implications of Iranian involvement. He suggested I talk to Condoleezza Rice, which I did that afternoon. Condi was a breath of fresh air, as she too sized up the situation and told me to pursue the indictment, letting the chips fall where they may. (We are fortunate to have her now as our secretary of state.) She sent me on to the new attorney general, and John Ashcroft let me have my new prosecutor of choice, James B. Comey Jr. John's complete support and decisiveness in this important case was greatly appreciated and allowed us to get an indictment, and Jim Comey was just the guy to handle the matter.
I'd come to know Jim in New York when he was a young assistant U.S. attorney there. Later, he had gotten himself assigned to the office in Richmond, in his native Virginia, where he was doing abang-up job of prosecuting federal gun crimes and sending a lot of very dangerous people to jail. (Jim would go on to become U.S. attorney in my old stomping grounds, the Southern District of New York, and later became the deputy attorney general of the United States. At six feet ten inches, he's hard to miss in a crowd.) Within forty-five days, Jim Comey had accomplished what an entire administration had failed to do over the course of four and a half years. I will always be grateful for his leadership and pursuit of justice. On June 21, 2001, a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, returned a forty-six-count indictment against fourteen defendants charged with bombing the Khobar Towers housing complex and murdering nineteen Americans.
The timing of the indictment was not by chance. Had we failed to bring the charges by June 26, a number of the counts would have been barred by the five-year statute of limitations. There was a second reason, though, why June 21 was important. Many of the family members of those killed at Khobar Towers had gathered in Washington that day for a fifth-anniversary commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery, where a number of the murdered airmen were buried. I couldn't tell them in advance that the indictment was pending: grand jury proceedings are secret. Nor could I promise the families that, even with the indictment, anyone would ever come to trial. As I write, the case is still open and pending. Warrants have been issued for the fourteen defendants and lodged with Interpol, but these are not people who are going to rush to turn themselves in to the nearest federal marshal or U.S. embassy. No grand jury indictment is ever anything more than just a piece of paper, but to these families, this particular one meant an enormous amount. It said that the government had followed up; that despite all the roadblocks and detours, we had remained committed to doing justice; that we were finally as good as our word.
(In his autobiography, My Life, Bill Clinton misstates not only the number of injured at Khobar Towers--"almost 300" in his account, as opposed to the 372 actually wounded--but the facts of the attack. He also appears to have somehow conflated the resolution of Khobar with that of the earlier attack on the Saudi National Guard building in Riyadh. "Eventually," Clinton writes, "Saudi Arabia would execute the people it determined to be responsible for the attack." Not so. Whether Clinton's mistakes resulted from speed of composition or indifference to the fate of those killed at Khobar and their survivors, I'm not prepared to say.)
For me, too, the Arlington ceremony was a form of closure. I had informed President Bush on May 1 that I would be resigning as director of the FBI by the end of June; now I was literally on my way out the door. Chairs had been set up on a green rug at the cemetery. Sitting there, waiting my turn to address the families, I was reminded of another outdoor rug, this one in the desert under a relentless sun. In my mind's eye, I could see the debris, the body parts outlined with red paint. Khobar Towers had been, I think, the biggest test for me, the case I felt the deepest about during my eight years as director of the Bureau. Now I had delivered on my own promise--something to feel good about in the storm of emotion that overwhelmed me at that moment.
Afterward, the families came back to my office for lunch. The place was a mess--boxes stacked on boxes--but my wonderful secretary, Noreen Gawley, who had been with me ever since my days as a judge and is with me still, managed to clear some space and provide us with a meal, even some beer to share if memory serves. We had a wonderful time talking, especially now that the indictments had been brought in, but my guests had an ulterior motive. Theyhad pooled together and had two commemorative plaques made up for me. Two of the mothers, Fran Heiser and Catherine Adams, rose as we were finishing lunch to present them.
For any director of the FBI plaques are almost a plague. They come from every angle: the Boy Scouts of America, the State Police of Mongolia. At the end of your tour of duty, the government boxes them up and mails them to you, and then mails you a bill for the postage. I've got plaques I have probably never seen, dozens of them I've long since forgotten about. But not these. Not ever. One had been signed by all the survivors, children included, and decorated with nineteen purple hearts. At the center was this inscription: "To Louis Freeh, the Most Honest Man in Washington." I don't believe that for a second, but I know the depth of feeling out of which they composed that message, the despair that nothing might ever get done, that their dead might simply be forgotten. I'm proud that didn't happen.
June 21, 2001, was my last official day as director of the FBI, the final curtain on twenty-six years of public service. Two years remained on my statutory ten-year term, but I'd finished most of what I wanted to do in Washington.
MY FBI. Copyright © 2005 by Louis J. Freeh. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.