WASHINGTON – Former FBI Director Louis Freeh (search) defends the bureau's efforts to combat terrorism before the 2001 attacks but says the government was not then ready to commit the resources necessary to fight a war against Al Qaeda (search).
Freeh, in an opinion piece published in Monday's editions of The Wall Street Journal, said that "short of total war" the FBI (search) did what it could given the budget and manpower it had to work with at the time.
"Pre-9/11, the FBI used all the means at its disposal to capture (Usama) bin Laden and to prevent future attacks against America," Freeh wrote.
"We have now seen how war is declared and waged against terrorists who attack our nation," he added. "The painful lesson is that fighting terrorism without such a declaration of war is unlikely to be successful."
Freeh, who was FBI director from 1993 to 2001, is among the current and former FBI and Justice Department officials scheduled to testify Tuesday and Wednesday before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Attorney General Janet Reno (search) and current FBI Director Robert Mueller also are scheduled to appear before the panel.
They are expected to face tough questioning about what the FBI was doing to identify and stop Al Qaeda operatives known to be in the United States and how high a priority terrorism was in the Clinton and Bush administrations.
In his opinion piece, Freeh said that Al Qaeda and several previous terrorist attacks were among the topics discussed at his first meeting with President Bush and Vice President Cheney on Jan. 26, 2001. Freeh noted that terrorism and Al Qaeda had not been an issue in the 2000 presidential campaign, a sign that the nation's attention was elsewhere.
The FBI's counterterrorism budget also reflected those pre-Sept. 11 priorities, Freeh said. For example, he said the FBI asked for 1,895 special agents, analysts and linguists in budget requests for fiscal years 2000 through 2002.
"We got 76 people for those critical years," Freeh said.
In the weeks after Sept. 11, Congress hurriedly approved money for 823 counterterrorism positions and the numbers have steadily climbed since then.
"The Al Qaeda threat was the same on Sept. 10 and Sept. 12," Freeh said. "Nothing focuses a government quicker than a war."