`Serious Deficiencies' Plague FBI Crime Labs: Errors Affect Bombings, Other Cases

By Larson, Ruth | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 16, 1997 | Go to article overview

`Serious Deficiencies' Plague FBI Crime Labs: Errors Affect Bombings, Other Cases


Larson, Ruth, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The FBI's crime laboratories made serious errors in analyzing evidence in a series of major criminal cases, including the Oklahoma City and World Trade Center bombings, the Justice Department's inspector general concluded yesterday.

Inspector General Michael Bromwich found "serious deficiencies" involving errors in court testimony by lab examiners, substandard analytical work and flawed management policies at three of the FBI's 23 specialized crime labs.

In at least two cases, inaccuracies in lab examiners' testimony were "tilted in such a way as to incriminate the defendants."

The report documents the FBI labs' sloppy evidence handling in such highly publicized cases as the attempted assassination of former President George Bush in Kuwait, the mail-bomb assassination of U.S. Circuit Judge Robert Vance, and the bombings of New York's World Trade Center and Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

The report urged that four top officials be removed from the explosives, chemistry-toxicology and materials labs and that the labs revamp operations and seek professional accreditation.

Still, the problems uncovered in the 18-month probe did not include the more serious charges of perjury and fabrication of evidence that had been advanced by FBI agent Frederic Whitehurst.

"The problems and deficiencies that Whitehurst brought to our attention are extremely serious. But they are a far cry from the types of rampant and intentional wrongdoing alleged by Dr. Whitehurst," Mr. Bromwich said at a news conference yesterday.

"We did not substantiate the majority of his allegations, including his most inflammatory charges of perjury and fabrication of evidence."

The report is highly critical of Mr. Whitehurst, saying he "appears to lack the judgment and common sense necessary for a forensic examiner" and "often accused others of wrongdoing when he did not know the pertinent facts."

It recommends that he be transferred from the lab because his "overstated and incendiary" allegations had poisoned relations with colleagues.

Mr. Whitehurst said he felt vindicated by the report's findings but was amazed at the conclusions critical of him.

"They had a felony finding of testimony beyond the examiner's expertise, improper preparation of laboratory reports, insufficient documentation of test results, scientifically flawed reports, inadequate record management," he told CNN. "And yet at the end of this report I find that I have been accused of using poor judgment. That's amazing. That's amazing."

Attorney General Janet Reno said, "Today's report does identify significant instances of testimonial errors, substandard analytical work and deficient practices."

She added, "The FBI laboratory is capable of performing its mission: to provide . . . high-quality, unbiased analyses that will help solve crimes, punish the guilty and exonerate the innocent."

FBI officials vowed to implement the 40 recommendations in the two-volume, 500-page report.

"The FBI laboratory has done some sensational work for this country over the last 65 years," FBI Deputy Director William Esposito said.

He said FBI Director Louis J. Freeh is searching for an expert outside the bureau to head the laboratory, which has a staff of about 600 and performs more than 600,000 examinations each year in criminal cases. The bureau also will look for more accredited scientists to work in the labs. …

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