FALN members pose threat, FBI official says
September 22, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Little more than a week after the release from prison of 11 Puerto Rican nationalists following a grant of clemency by President Clinton, a top FBI official has told Congress that the convicted FALN members are terrorists who still pose a threat.
"I think they're criminals and terrorists and represent a threat to the United States," Assistant FBI Director Neal Gallagher told Congress Tuesday, in the FBI's first public statement on the president's decision to grant clemency to 16 Puerto Rican nationalists.
Although the White House decision to invoke executive privilege prevented the FBI from explicitly describing the Bureau's recommendation on granting clemency, Gallagher left no doubt where the FBI stood on the issue.
Gallagher made his comment after House Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana), asked whether he believed the prisoners should have been released.
Eleven of the 16 jailed FALN members were released from prison 1 1/2 weeks ago.
The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies have privately made clear their strong opposition to the clemency decision, but Tuesday's testimony marked the first time a top FBI official made a public comment directly opposing the presidential decision.
Gallagher, as Assistant Director of the FBI's Criminal Division, is the FBI's third-ranking official. He formerly headed the FBI's counter-terrorism unit.
Clinton: No politics in decision
Hours before the Congressional hearings began, Clinton issued his most detailed explanation to date why he offered clemency.
In a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California), the president said that for six years he had been lobbied by members of Congress, religous and community leaders and others for the release of the FALN members.
"My decision[s] were based on our view of the merits of the requests -- political considerations played no role in the process," he wrote. "In making my decision, I did not minimize the serious criminal conduct in which these men and women engaged."
Sentences from 35 to 90 years
The FALN, translated as The Armed Forces of National Liberation, claimed responsibility for or were blamed for 130 bombings, most of them in New York and Chicago, in the 1970s and early 1980s.
None of the 16 who were offered clemency was convicted in any of the bombings. They were convicted on a variety of charges, ranging from bomb-making and conspiracy to armed robbery, and given sentences ranging from 35 to 90 years; the activists had served 14 to 19 years in prison.
Two of the 16 offered clemency rejected the deal. As part of the clemency offer, the prisoners renounced violence to achieve political goals and agreed to sever ties with FALN.
White House in showdown with Congress in clemency case
Puerto Rican Prisoners of War
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