Obama to name former Bush administration official to head FBI

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama is preparing to nominate former Bush administration official James Comey to head the FBI, people familiar with the decision said.

Three people with knowledge of the selection said Mr Obama planned to nominate Mr Comey, who was the No. 2 in President George W. Bush's Justice Department.

The three people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the selection ahead of Mr Obama's announcement, which was not expected immediately.

Mr Comey became a hero to Democratic opponents of Mr Bush's warrantless wiretapping program when Mr Comey refused for a time to reauthorise it. Mr Bush revised the surveillance program when confronted with the threat of resignation by Mr Comey and current FBI Director Robert Mueller, who is stepping down in September.

Mr Comey's selection was first reported by NPR and was not expected to be announced for several days at least.

Mr Comey was deputy attorney general in 2005 when he unsuccessfully tried to limit tough interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists. He told then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that some of the practices were wrong and would damage the department's reputation.

Some Democrats denounced those methods as torture, particularly the use of waterboarding, which produces the same sensation as drowning.

Earlier in his career, Mr Comey served as US attorney for the Southern District of New York, one of the nation's most prominent prosecutorial offices and one at the front lines of terrorism, corporate malfeasance, organised crime and the war on drugs.

As an assistant US attorney in Virginia, Mr Comey handled the investigation of the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers housing complex near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 US military personnel.

Mr Comey led the Justice Department's corporate fraud task force and spurred the creation of violent crime impact teams in 20 cities, focusing on crimes committed with guns.

Mr Comey was at the centre of one of the Bush administration's great controversies - an episode that focused attention on the administration's controversial tactics in the war on terror.

In stunning testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007, Mr Comey said he thought Mr Bush's no-warrant wiretapping program was so questionable that Mr Comey refused for a time to reauthorize it, leading to a standoff with White House officials at the bedside of ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Mr Comey said he refused to recertify the program because Ashcroft had reservations about its legality.

Senior government officials had expressed concerns about whether the National Security Agency, which administered the warrantless eavesdropping program, had the proper oversight in place. Other concerns included whether any president possessed the legal and constitutional authority to authorise the program as it was carried out at the time.

The White House, Mr Comey said, recertified the program without the Justice Department's signoff, allowing it to operate for about three weeks without concurrence on whether it was legal. Mr Comey, Mr Ashcroft, Mr Mueller and other Justice Department officials at one point considered resigning, Mr Comey said.

"I couldn't stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis," Mr Comey told the Senate panel.

A day after the March 10, 2004, incident at Mr Ashcroft's hospital bedside, Mr Bush ordered changes to the program to accommodate the department's concerns. Mr Ashcroft signed the presidential order to recertify the program about three weeks later.

The dramatic hospital confrontation involved Mr Comey, who was the acting attorney general during Mr Ashcroft's absence, and a White House team that included Mr Bush's then-counsel, Alberto Gonzales, and White House chief of staff Andy Card, Mr Comey said.

Mr Gonzales later succeeded Mr Ashcroft as attorney general.