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Monday, April 17, 2006

My FBI — Book Review

Louis J. Freeh ran the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the most tumultuous times in recent history. He oversaw the tail end of the FBI’s deepest infiltration of the mafia, the investigation of President Bill Clinton, and their efforts in the war on terror leading up to the events of 9/11. Unfortunately, in his book, My FBI, Freeh is more interested in defending himself, most of his colleagues, and the Bureau, than in giving his readers a look at what is still clearly one of the most interesting and important jobs in the country.

Freeh seemed incredibly concerned with responding to Clinton’s assertions about him. While understandable — Freeh makes it clear that keeping his job out of politics was no easy task — it got in the way of more compelling reading for me. I’m guessing the he chose to go out of his way to laud most of the people he mentions having worked with for many of the same reasons. However, the result of slowing down the reading was the same.

Readers do get a glimpse behind the scenes of some of the more historic moments of the last decade or so. The Oklahoma City bombing, Donnie Brasco case, bombing of Khobar Towers, and efforts to bring down the Sicilian mob, are just a few of stories Freeh discusses. Yet it seems clear that Freeh’s self-described reserved nature wouldn’t allow him to offer details that might have truly engrossed readers. Instead, while we’re offered some inside information, readers are left wondering what we didn’t get to read.

Some of the more intriguing pages display Freeh’s balancing act between reporting to and investigating the president. But, again, the loyal FBI director seems only to crack the door enough to give readers a glimpse inside.

Freeh, however, does not hold back in his praise of the FBI. He offers a picture of agents taking on terrorists with outdated equipment, yet still managing to stay on top of things if only Washington had listened more. Admitting hindsight is 20/20, he suggests Osama bin Laden was on their radar for years before September 11, 2001. In fact, the suggestion was clear that bin Laden was within their grasp, and escaped only because political support was lacking. Taking his slanted view into account, it was almost sad reading about the political games that handcuffed (no pun intended) anti-terrorist efforts.

Freeh’s political slant not withstanding, his sermon on doing things by the book at the end just didn’t sit well with me. At a time when Saddam Hussein is allowed to continue spewing his propaganda while he stands trial — as opposed to having been shot on site upon being caught — Freeh took his straight-laced opinions just a bit too far for me.

I’m not making any judgments on Freeh as a person for his political, or nonpolitical, slant, nor his unwillingness to reveal more. I didn’t read Clinton’s book yet, and don’t make any special effort to keep up with political banter. But as a casual reader, I do think it detracted from the book.

Despite that, My FBI is worth reading if, like me, you’re looking to begin understanding the real stories behind the events that fill the evening news every night.

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