On Jan. 10, you published an editorial-page piece by James Bovard entitled
"No Accountability at
the FBI" concerning my decision to discipline FBI employees for their actions associated with the
crisis at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992. I am disappointed that Mr. Bovard would write an article
that contained misstatements and distorted facts.
Although this crisis occurred before I became director, I have made it a priority
to ensure that all
the allegations of misconduct by the FBI and its employees were examined and all necessary
remedial action taken. Contrary to Mr. Bovard's opening canard, there has been no "patchwork of
deception" at the FBI. That I publicly announced that FBI employees had exhibited errors of
judgment, neglect of duty, inadequate performance and failure to exert proper managerial
oversight -- within two weeks of completion of the administrative review I ordered on Oct. 31,
1994 -- belies Mr. Bovard's allegations that the FBI has sought to cover up any wrongdoing by
the FBI or its employees.
The deaths of Deputy United States Marshal William Degan, Vicki Weaver and
are undeniably tragic. Sadly, Mr. Bovard compounds the tragedy by mischaracterizing the
circumstances surrounding these deaths.
Deputy Marshal Degan was shot and killed as he and fellow marshals were withdrawing
area of the Weaver cabin after conducting a surveillance preparatory to executing the arrest
warrant outstanding for Randall Weaver. Mr. Degan and his colleagues were acting under explicit
orders not to engage the Weavers during the surveillance. Contrary to Mr. Bovard's assertion, the
deputy marshals did not try to provoke a confrontation; their intent was to retreat from the area
without violence and they attempted to do so. Mr. Bovard's unfair omission of facts misleads the
reader and seeks to diminish the enormity of a tragedy that did not have to happen.
The circumstances of Vicki Weaver's death are also grossly mischaracterized.
Her death was
accidental. The FBI sniper was firing at a person he reasonably believed had, only seconds before,
threatened to shoot at a helicopter carrying fellow law enforcement officers. The shot was fired to
prevent the armed subject from gaining the protective cover of the cabin from which it was
believed that he and others could fire upon the law enforcement officers on the scene. Vicki
Weaver was standing unseen on the cabin porch behind the outwardly opened door. Mr. Bovard
fails to note that the bullet that wounded its intended target and that also accidentally struck and
killed Vicki Weaver was fired along a path parallel to the front of the Weaver cabin and not at or
into the cabin. Mr. Bovard's inference that her death was intentional is clearly refuted by the
conclusion of two offices within the Justice Department that Vicki Weaver's death was accidental
and not criminal conduct.
I support the public's right to know about the workings of its government and
the integral role the
press plays in ensuring an informed public. The FBI should be held accountable for its actions. I
do not believe, however, that articles such as Mr. Bovard's, which ignore or twist the truth,
further the important objective of public accountability.
Louis J. Freeh