WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Louis Freeh, named on Monday to head an investigation into the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University, served for eight years as director of the FBI where he faced widespread criticism for a series of high-profile blunders.
Freeh was named by trustees of Penn State to examine why an assistant football coach was allegedly allowed to repeatedly sexually abuse boys over a period of nearly 15 years.
The strongest criticism of Freeh’s controversial tenure as FBI head from 1993 to June 2011 came from the commission that investigated the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Under Freeh, the FBI was hampered by a resistance to change, inadequate resources and legal barriers, a September 11 commission report said. Freeh also was criticized for failing to usher the FBI into the modern, computerized age.
Testifying before the commission in 2004 about FBI counterterrorism efforts, Freeh said: “The political means and will to declare and fight this war didn’t exist before September 11.”
Counterterrorism “was not a national priority,” he said, adding that operations were severely underfunded and understaffed, partly due to a 22-month hiring freeze imposed by Congress.
During his tenure, the FBI was plagued by several blunders that drew criticism from members of Congress.
One incident involved discovery of a spy in the FBI’s own ranks. Robert Hanssen, who had been a FBI agent, pleaded guilty in 2001 to spying for Moscow for more than 15 years.
Another blunder involved misplaced FBI files from its investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
The discovery of thousands of pages of documents that were not turned over to defense lawyers led to a one-month delay in the 2001 execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Another incident involved its investigation of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was suspected of espionage at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory. He pleaded guilty in 2000 to a less severe charge when the case against him collapsed.
Freeh was FBI chief when FBI agents focused on security guard Richard Jewell as a suspect in the 1996 bombing at the Olympics in Atlanta. It later turned out that Jewell had nothing to do with the bombing.
A graduate of Rutgers Law School in New Jersey, Freeh joined the FBI and served as a special agent from 1975 to 1981 in the New York City field office and at FBI headquarters.
As an FBI agent, he helped run the waterfront racketeering investigation that convicted more than 125 labor leaders, shipping executives and underworld figures.
He became a federal prosecutor in New York, where he headed a team that broke up a major Sicilian Mafia heroin ring.
In 1991, Freeh was appointed a federal judge in New York. In 1993, President Bill Clinton named him FBI director.
Leaving the FBI two years shy of his 10-year term, Freeh, now 61, became a senior vice chairman at MBNA Corp.
In 2007 he founded Freeh Group International Solutions, based in Wilmington, Delaware. The global risk management firm’s services include business compliance studies, corporate fraud and corruption investigations and security studies.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune