- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

An investigation into the FBI's failure to turn over records in the Oklahoma City bombing case yesterday recommended displinary action against four FBI officials for "significant neglect of their duties."
A 192-page report by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, which investigated the bureau's failure to hand over thousands of records in the Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols trials, described the actions of the officials as "most troubling."
"We believe these delays by the FBI supervisors were a significant neglect of their duties," Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said. "They could have, and should have, notified FBI Headquarters and the prosecutors much earlier about the potential problem, not wait until one week before the scheduled execution date."
While the IG's report said no FBI officials deliberately withheld any documents, it concluded that widespread mistakes within the bureau led to the belated disclosure of more than 1,000 documents concerning McVeigh and Nichols.
The FBI's failure to turn over the records as ordered by a federal judge caused Attorney General John Ashcroft to delay McVeigh's execution for a month.
The report attributed the failure to turn over the records to a cumbersome and complex document-handling system, the failure of agents to follow policies and directives, inconsistent interpretations of those policies, and a lack of understanding by agents of the unusual discovery order in this case.
Mr. Fine also concluded that the FBI's computer systems although antiquated, inefficient and badly in need of improvement were not the chief cause of the failures.
"The OIG's investigation found that the failures to disclose documents were widespread and not confined to a single FBI field office or a few individuals," Mr. Fine said. "Both FBI field offices and the Oklahoma City bombing task force bear responsibility for the failure to properly disclose the materials."
The report criticized senior FBI managers on how they responded once they became aware of the problem discovered in January 2001 by two employees in the FBI's Oklahoma City field office. It said senior FBI officials failed to adequately manage the document-review process or to set deadlines for completing the project.
The report recommended disciplinary action for Danny Defenbaugh, inspector in charge of the bombing investigation and now head of the FBI's Dallas office; Mark White, who coordinated the information exchanged between the FBI's offices in Dallas and Oklahoma City; William Teater, squad supervisor for the FBI unit responsible for parts of the investigation; and Richard Marquise, head of the Oklahoma City field office.
The report said the FBI failed to effectively address the document problems even after they were discovered, adding that instructions issued by FBI headquarters to the field were confusing, contradictory and incomplete. It also said nine FBI field offices destroyed records covered under the discovery agreement.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted that the "worst mistakes" were made not by computers but by high-level FBI officials in Washington and in the field.
"The FBI's excuse that 'the computer ate my homework' simply doesn't add up. Instead, the McVeigh case reveals a management meltdown," he said, urging FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to take "swift and sure action" to hold accountable those responsible.
Mr. Ashcroft, who ordered the IG probe, said the report found human error, compounded by antiquated and cumbersome information-technology systems and procedures. He said the FBI had already begun to update its technology systems.
"The American people have a right to have confidence in our justice system," he said. "The Department of Justice is committed to implementing necessary reforms at the FBI."
FBI Assistant Director John Collingwood said the bureau has brought in records-management experts, consolidated its records functions and retrained employees to "enhance operations and increase accountability."
Convicted in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 persons, McVeigh was executed June 11, 2001.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide