Former FBI chief on latest Waco news

Your Sept. 13 editorial "Grasping Waco's lessons" contains some thoughtful suggestions on how the new probes should be conducted and the facts developed free of partisanship or hidden agenda.

I was dismayed, however, to read your characterization of "the FBI's bumbling coverup after Waco."

In William Safire's "New Political Dictionary," coverup is defined as "any plan to avoid detection of wrongdoing; or, an act to conceal a mistake; specifically the conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Watergate case.... Because of its Watergate connotation, the word is now frequently used to attach sinister implications to any attempt to withhold information.... To cover up, or to engage in a coverup, imputes improper concealment or unlawful obstruction."

That is an unduly harsh indictment of the FBI. Institutions do not cover up, people do.

I wonder what facts you have that I, as a reasonably informed and interested reader, do not have. I know, for example, that approximately two military canisters were used in an effort to deliver tear gas to a bunker some four hours before the actual fire in the main complex.

The two canisters bounced off a concrete roof and landed in a pond. No serious accusations have been made that they contributed to the fires in the main building. The spent canisters were collected and inventoried for evidence. They were not concealed or withheld.

Documents disclosed on the same day as your editorial reveal that information about these canisters has been in Justice Department files for years and was even sent to Congress no later than 1995.

The use of canisters was not illegal. It may have exceeded the attorney general's general authorization and if so it should have been reported to her, preferably in advance, but "FBI coverup"?

The motto of the FBI is "Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity." The thousands of men and women who serve selflessly in the FBI know the importance of integrity in their work. Truth builds trust and public trust is indispensable. You should have followed your own editorial advice and not rushed to judgment on the FBI's conduct. The Monitor should have paid more attention to its own motto emblazoned on its masthead

William H. Webster Washington Former director Federal Bureau of Investigation

Small-farm values

Your editorial "Beyond Farm Aid" exemplifies one of capitalism's major flaws (Sept. 15). By advocating the free market process, which would, as you state, lead to the demise of small, relatively inefficient family farms, you assume that the highest value is efficiency.

We in small, rural communities honor quality, freshness, smallness, family enterprise, and the sheer beauty of our small-farm landscape over efficiency.

Government protects, in various ways, many things that society deems worthwhile, even essential - the arts, public transportation, and land conservation, for example - because those things could not otherwise survive in a free-market economy. Most people recognize that pure capitalism needs to be tempered somewhat by nonmonetary values.

Those of us who are thinking and working hard to preserve the small-farm culture and the quality of life it represents can be, as I was, disheartened by voices like the Monitor's advising us to give in to the inexorable laws of economics, even when those laws destroy something good.

Lynne Lawson Peacham, Vt.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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