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Report: Sloppy FBI work led to wrong man

Fingerprint mismatch tied Oregon lawyer to Madrid train bombing

From Terry Frieden and Henry Schuster


Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Justice Department
Madrid (Spain)

A Justice Department report faulted the FBI for sloppy work but cleared the agency of more serious allegations in the botched fingerprint investigation of Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield.

The report concluded that errors in fingerprint analysis did not result from misconduct, Mayfield's Muslim religion, or abuse of the Patriot Act.

Mayfield was mistakenly tied by a fingerprint to the 2004 Madrid train bombing that killed 191 people and injured more than 1,500.

The print was found in Madrid on a backpack containing detonators.

Mayfield was arrested as a material witness and spent more than two weeks in jail. He was released when Spanish authorities said the fingerprint belonged to another man.

Mayfield and his family later filed suit against the FBI and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Days after the bombing, Interpol asked the FBI to assist in the fingerprint analysis.

An executive summary of the classified report by Inspector General Glenn Fine found the FBI, despite its failings in the case, did not exhibit bias or violate provisions of the anti-terrorism law. (Read the full reportexternal link)

The report, released Friday, said the primary reason the FBI connected Mayfield's fingerprint to the one on the backpack was its "unusual similarity" to that of Algerian national Ouhnane Daoud. The fingerprint was ultimately determined to be Daoud's.

Mayfield and his supporters accused the FBI of religious bias against Mayfield, a former Army officer who had converted to the Muslim faith.

The report partially rejected the assertion.

"We determined that the FBI examiners were not aware of Mayfield's religion at the time they concluded Mayfield was the source (of the print)," the inspector general said.

He said the FBI laboratory did not learn of Mayfield's religion until after the flawed identification was made.

"However, whether Mayfield's religion was a factor in the laboratory's failure to revisit its identification and discover the error in the weeks following the initial identification is a more difficult question," the report said.

"The report just confirms what I thought all along: that I was profiled on the basis of my religion," Mayfield told CNN.

He said he was happy with some of the conclusions in the inspector general's report.

Mayfield's attorney, Gerry Spence, was not immediately available for comment.

While Mayfield has charged in his lawsuit that the Patriot Act was abused in his case, the Justice Department report said the Patriot Act was not used to obtain warrants and surveillance in the case.

"Contrary to public speculation after Mayfield's arrest, the FBI did not use certain provisions of the Patriot Act in the Mayfield case," the report said.

The report did conclude that "a more rigorous application" could have prevented the misidentification.

The FBI laboratory's "overconfidence in the skill and superiority of its examiners" prevented the bureau from taking a report from Spain's National Police that the fingerprint identification was wrong as seriously as it should have, the report said.

"While we did not find find any intentional misconduct by FBI employees, either in the laboratory or by those conducting the FBI field investigation, we did find performance issues by various FBI employees," the report concluded.

The inspector general said he had issued a series of recommendations to correct "systemic issues," and the FBI already has taken "significant steps" to address the problems.

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