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Scrutiny intensified after tactical missteps
Question of the Day
In April 1997, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General said in a lengthy report the FBI’s crime lab - renowned throughout the world - had made serious mistakes in dozens of criminal cases, including the bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993 and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Inspector General Michael R. Bromwich said his office concluded following an 18-month inquiry that there were “extremely serious and significant problems” inside the lab - discovered after what he described as an investigation that focused on explosives-related cases, “including some of the most significant cases handled by the department.”
“The allegations implicated fundamental aspects of federal law enforcement: the reliability of the procedures employed by the laboratory to analyze evidence, the integrity of the persons engaging in that analysis and the objectivity of the testimony given in cases by laboratory examiners,” Mr. Bromwich said at the time.
The initial accusations of wrongdoing inside the lab came from Frederic Whitehurst, a scientist employed in the laboratory, but the IG’s office also investigated other claims that arose during its probe.
“Our investigation did not substantiate the vast majority of allegations concerning laboratory examiners, including allegations of perjury and fabricated evidence,” Mr. Bromwich said. “However, we found deficient practices in several cases handled by the laboratory, such as scientifically flawed testimony, testimony beyond examiners’ expertise, improper preparation of laboratory reports, insufficient documentation of test results and an inadequate record-management system in the laboratory.”
Although the investigation exonerated most of the examiners whose actions were reviewed, Mr. Bromwich said his office found “serious deficiencies” by several examiners and recommended transferring specific examiners from the lab and relieving others of supervisory duties.
In a letter, Mr. Bromwich said Mr. Freeh’s testimony implied that the IG’s office had recommended in a draft report that Mr. Whitehurst be put on administrative leave, saying his report “contains no such recommendation, nor can it be fairly construed to imply that such action should be taken while the draft was being reviewed.”
Mr. Freeh testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee that Mr. Whitehurst was suspended with pay “solely and directly on the basis of the recommendation by the inspector general and their findings with respect to Mr. Whitehurst.” He told the subcommittee, headed by Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, that Mr. Bromwich did not object to the suspension.
In May 2000, Miss Reno said she had considered the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate accusations that Mr. Freeh had testified falsely before Congress on the Whitehurst suspension.
Miss Reno ultimately decided that although Mr. Freeh’s testimony was inaccurate, there was no evidence he knew it was false or that he purposely misled the House subcommittee.
Beginning in 1995, Mr. Whitehurst said lab colleagues had slanted testimony and fabricated evidence in high-profile trials. He said some had tailored the “science” to fit the conclusions of prosecutors and investigators.
His concerns later led to the FBI crime lab’s agreeing to 40 major reforms, including undergoing an accreditation process.
About the Author
Jerry Seper is the investigative editor for The Washington Times.
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