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Hopeful Change for FBI

PRESIDENT Clinton's selection of United States District Judge Louis Freeh as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation looks promising for the legendary but lately troubled law-enforcement agency.

All indications are that the Freeh appointment will be quickly ratified by the Senate, although the appointee should not be spared probing questions about his record and his ideas for leading the FBI out of the distracting situation that developed in the just-ended tenure of William Sessions as the agency's director.

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Judge Freeh's experience as FBI agent, federal prosecutor, and judge should qualify him for taking on the task of not just cleaning up the residue of the Sessions debacle. It should also bolster morale within the bureau and improve its ability to meet complex law-enforcement problems without trampling on the personal liberty of Americans. Despite the apparently self-made problems that led to the resignation of Mr. Sessions, he has been praised for his successful efforts to hire women and members of minor ities. Freeh says he would continue that effort if appointed.

After 48 years under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, who organized the bureau and made it a formidable anticrime agency (achievements tarnished by later excesses), the FBI no longer commands the respect it once had. This is partially due to the shortness of tenure of most of the directors who succeeded Hoover.

William Webster was the most successful, serving with distinction as director for the maximum 10 years and then becoming director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Sessions wanted very much to serve a full, 10-year term also. Unfortunately, what many are calling minor indiscretions became major pitfalls. Under the circumstances, his departure was inevitable and justified.

If confirmed by the Senate, Freeh will rejoin the agency as a leader who has been well-tested. While serving as a federal prosecutor in the 1980s, he headed a prosecution team that broke up a heroin ring of the Sicilian Mafia, dubbed the "Pizza Connection" - referring to the use by criminals of pizza parlors to cover-up their drug-peddling. And in 1990 he led a team which investigated the mail-bomb murders of a US circuit court judge in Alabama and and a civil rights lawyer in Georgia. The availability o f such an apparently well-suited replacement at the bureau is welcome indeed.

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