Weldon L. Kennedy, the veteran FBI official who is directing the Oklahoma City bombing investigation, was named Tuesday to the bureau's No. 2 position.
He succeeds Larry A. Potts, who was removed by FBI Director Louis J. Freeh because of a controversy over his role in overseeing a 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge, Ida., where a white separatist's wife was killed by an FBI sharpshooter.
Citing Kennedy's more than 30 years of FBI experience, Freeh called him "superbly qualified" and said that he will continue to head up the Oklahoma City inquiry while serving as deputy FBI director.
Without mentioning allegations that Potts had approved loosening restrictions on when FBI agents were permitted to fire their weapons at Ruby Ridge, Freeh hailed Kennedy's performance in crisis situations.
During one such event--the seizing of 125 hostages by Cuban detainees at the Atlanta federal prison in 1987--Kennedy directed an FBI SWAT team that rescued hostages and then negotiated the release of the remaining ones without loss of life, Freeh noted.
Kennedy's appointment to the powerful deputy director post appears popular with FBI executives and street agents, partly because he is regarded as an official who rose from the ranks through merit.
Freeh, in censuring Potts over Ruby Ridge and then promoting him to the deputy's post, relied heavily on the FBI investigation of that incident. The Justice Department is now conducting an inquiry into whether documents were destroyed and other irregularities occurred in the internal inquiry.
If the Ruby Ridge investigation proves to have been tainted, this could call into question Freeh's success in taking command of the organization as well as advice upon which he relied.
Without agreeing that the FBI is in an unsettled state, Kennedy in an interview cited his extensive experience in the bureau and said: "I bring all that experience and credibility within the organization and hope to be that stabilizing influence, if that is what's needed." Kennedy, 56, joined the FBI as a special agent in 1963 after serving as a naval intelligence officer for three years.