But Revell, 61, has gained a less savory reputation among another group of people: conspiracy buffs who peg the former lawman to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which he helped investigate, as well as Waco, Iran-Contra, and Oklahoma City misdeeds. They allege that Revell, then the FBI's counter-terrorism chief, failed to share a prior warning of the bombing with the American public, but heeded it personally to get his son off the doomed flight, a charge Revell angrily denies.
Two Libyans indicted nine years ago are on trial for the bombing, which killed 270 people (259 in the downed jet; 11 on the ground). The trial, which began on May 3, was delayed for years because Libyan ruler Mu'ammar Gadhafi refused to extradite them to Scotland, but eventually agreed to release them for trial in the Netherlands, an ostensibly neutral nation.
One outspoken critic of Revell is Hart G. W. Lidov, a medical researcher on the faculty of the Harvard School of Medicine whose girlfriend was killed in the crash. He doesn't buy U.S. assertions that Libyan operatives, retaliating for the 1986 bombings of Tripoli ordered by President Reagan, were to blame. Instead, he fits Revell into a constellation of intrigue connected to the Iran-Contra scandal, accusing him of a treacherous betrayal of American citizens whom he took an oath to protect.
Revell, the theory goes, colluded with then-Vice President George Bush to squelch warning of the bombing, thus allowing Iran to obtain a "blood revenge" for the (reportedly accidental) downing of an Iranian civilian jet six months earlier by a U.S. warship in the Persian Gulf. Why? So American officials could "continue making deals with Iran," Lidov charges.
"I am suggesting that the highest priority for Reagan, Bush, and their obliging servant Revell was to smooth out relations with Iran," he argued in an essay posted on the Web site of the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), a magazine published by the prestigious Columbia University School of Journalism.
During his time at the FBI, Revell repeatedly came across such writings, where he was cast as a villain involved in subterfuge against American citizens. Disturbed by what he felt was slander, he asked his Justice Department superiors for permission to sue the authors, but they turned him down, saying that lawsuits would only bring attention to fringe critics of the government.
Now a private citizen, Revell is finally striking back against the charges, which he says emanate from a "nutty fringe" and lack "one scintilla of truth." In a $10 million defamation lawsuit filed last month in Dallas' federal district court against Lidov, the Columbia University board of trustees, and the Columbia School of Journalism, he vehemently repudiates Lidov's assertions and excoriates CJR for publishing it.
"To suggest that Mr. Revell, a man who devoted his whole life to honorable service of his country...stooped to involvement in murders, cover-ups, and criminally misdirected the FBI investigation into the Pan Am bombing to frame Libyan nationals instead of identifying the real culprits is nothing less than substituting fiction for journalism," the lawsuit says.
Revell says he is suing to protect his reputation and get Lidov and the magazine to withdraw the charges. He points out that the FBI agents investigated Iran for two years in connection with the bombing, later learning that German operatives foiled Iranian retaliation attempts.
"I'm very upset by it," says the ex-agent, a former Marine who participated in major FBI investigations ranging from the Kennedy assassination to Watergate and the Oklahoma City bombing. "It's beyond the pale as far as legitimate criticism of public officials. When they start calling you a criminal and mass murderer, that is beyond any acceptable range."
Revell takes CJR to task for supposedly printing Lidov's article. "Such conduct shatters whatever image Columbia University School of Journalism may have created in a public mind as a paragon of alleged journalistic competence and integrity," his lawsuit says. "One might expect such pseudo-journalistic diatribe as this article in some extreme fringe publication, but hardly in a journalism review of a supposedly leading university."
But whether the sober and well-regarded CJR ever "published" Lidov's tract is up for debate. CJR senior editor Mike Hoyt, who offers no comment on Revell's lawsuit, says CJR never accepted an article for official publication. Rather, he says Lidov posted it to an online discussion board, where it remained for several months, but has since been withdrawn.
Regardless, Revell doesn't care who posted it or whether it was an official CJR article. "Do they exercise editorial control, and if not, why don't they?" he asks. Moreover, he's upset that the article featured the CJR logo, thus lending "plausible credibility" to the allegations. "You can't stuff a bullet back in the barrel," he says. "It's still out in the ether, circulating among other Web sites."
The lawsuit isn't Revell's only legal salvo against his critics. In December, he settled a lawsuit against the tiny California publisher Feral House Inc., which agreed to destroy thousands of copies of The Oklahoma City Bombing and The Politics of Terror. The tome by David Hoffman rehashed the Lockerbie accusations and also alleged "by innuendo" that Revell conspired in the Oklahoma City bombing.
To implicate Revell in the Lockerbie disaster, the conspiracy buffs take liberties with actual events. They charge the top FBI agent ignored the famous "Helsinki" warning, when two weeks before the Lockerbie bombing, an anonymous caller warned U.S. Embassy officials in Finland that a U.S.-bound flight originating from Germany would be bombed.
State Department officials eventually deemed that warning a hoax and never notified the FBI, according to Revell's lawsuit. But the article accuses Revell of heeding the Helsinki warning to save his son Christopher, a military officer stationed in Germany who was booked on the fatal flight to come home for Christmas. Revell bitterly denies the charge, which the lawsuit deems a "well-refuted canard."
He says his son's wife changed the flight before Thanksgiving, three weeks prior to the warning. His daughter-in-law has also spoken out. On an Amazon.com reader comments page for Revell's book, Rae Revell left a statement late last year to "set the record straight about...speculation that his father 'saved [Christopher's] life' and not others.'"
"Chris had more leave-time than he had first thought and asked me to get him a direct flight from Frankfort to Washington, D.C., so he could spend more time at home," she said. "I can assure you it wasn't anticipated terrorism that was motivating him to return early."
Meanwhile, Revell admits he's used to accusations of nefarious misdeeds. Perennial presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche once called him "the most dangerous man in America," says Revell, an Oklahoma native who heads the Greater Dallas Crime Commission and is president of Law Enforcement Television Network, which offers training videos to police agencies.
What does he think of such critics? Having made it to the FBI's top professional slot (only the position of director, a political post, is higher), he insists there are few secret plots afoot in government. "There's very few conspiracies," he says, "and none of them are successful. One of them was Watergate, and I took part in investigating that."
He sees an "Oliver Stoning of America" made even more pervasive by the global reach of the Internet. Yet Lidov's allegations cause him to fear for his safety and that of his family. "I've had anti-government groups trying to find my location, using my name and false ID to rob banks in the Northwest and Midwest," he says. "The more false propaganda that's out there, the more it gives individuals of the Timothy McVeigh ilk a reason."