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Report finds flaws at FBI crime lab, but no perjury


Whistleblower 'amazed' he's faulted

April 15, 1997
Web posted at: 2:04 p.m. EDT (1804 GMT)

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- FBI crime lab agents produced inaccurate and scientifically flawed testimony in major cases but did not commit perjury or fabricate evidence, the Justice Department inspector general said Tuesday.

In a lengthy report, Inspector General Michael Bromwich recommended censure, transfer or other discipline for five agents, as well as chief whistleblower Dr. Frederic Whitehurst. The whistleblower's most serious allegations "were not substantiated," Bromwich said.

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Bromwich said Whitehurst should be transferred from the lab because his "inflammatory" allegations had poisoned his relations with others.

The inspector general also criticized the management of the lab and the scientific qualifications of agents in its explosives unit.

He recommended that only scientists be employed in the explosives unit and endorsed the current effort to get outside professional accreditation of the lab for the first time.

Whitehurst told CNN immediately after the release of the report that he was "amazed" by the report's criticism of him.

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"I'm reading down a list of the executive summary of all these things that took place and finding myself accused of using poor judgment. I sat here sort of amazed," he said.

Attorney: Allegations 'validated'

"Every single major allegation Dr. Whitehurst raised has been validated," the whistleblower's attorney, Stephen Kohn, told CNN. Kohn also said he was skeptical of the report's finding that perjury did not occur. "They found it," Kohn said, citing a portion of the report that accused an FBI agent of "testifying falsely."

Moments earlier, before the report was made public, Whitehurst said, "I'm sure that the FBI, recognizing the error of their way, is going to call me back to work as a forensic scientist. By and large you can trust that laboratory."

The Justice Department investigation, aided by outside scientists, criticized work on such high-profile cases as the Oklahoma City bombing that is now heading to trial, the World Trade Center bombing in New York, and the mail-bomb killing of federal appellate judge Robert Vance.

Bromwich declined to say how the lab's mistakes may specifically affect these or other cases but said the FBI and U.S. attorneys told him they would not alter the basic outcomes.

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Attorney General Janet Reno said prosecutors in 55 cases have been informed of findings from the investigation that might need to be turned over to defense attorneys because the data might help clear their clients.

'Serious deficiencies'

Bromwich said the probe found "serious deficiencies" first brought to light by Whitehurst but said they were "a far cry" from his most serious charges of perjury and fabricated evidence.

His report cited at least two instances where inaccuracies in testimony by lab agents "tilted in such a way as to incriminate the defendants."

And he said that since 1989 FBI managers had repeatedly bungled efforts to root out the problems in the lab identified by Whitehurst and others. He criticized four retired FBI lab executives for this.

FBI agrees with findings

In its response, the FBI agreed with almost all Bromwich's recommendations and said the problems should never have been permitted to develop.

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"There was a clear and serious failing in not adequately detecting these problems and, in many instances, not moving swiftly enough to resolve them," said FBI Deputy Director Bill Esposito.

He said the FBI knew there were serious problems that needed to be identified and fixed.

"We disagree on the details concerning the characterization of some issues," Esposito said.

"We are in total agreement on the most significant points -- that the problems identified are very serious and that the improvements ... must and are being made."

Esposito said FBI Director Louis Freeh is looking for an expert outside the FBI to head the laboratory and that the bureau will look for more accredited scientists to work in the lab.

The Justice Department will decide what actions will be taken concerning Whitehurst, weighing his "substantial contribution ... against the considerable harm he has caused to the reputations of innocent persons," the report said.

Report's recommendations

In the Oklahoma City bombing case, the investigators decided that explosives unit examiner David Williams "repeatedly reached conclusions that incriminated the defendants without a scientific basis and that were not explained."

The report recommends he be reassigned.

The report also criticized the chief of the explosives unit, J. Thomas Thurman, for not properly reviewing Williams work.

The report says Williams and Thurman "merit special censure" for their work on this case. It recommends that Thurman, who has a degree in political science, be reassigned outside the lab and that only scientists work in its explosives section.

Thurman has been transferred on an interim basis.

Bromwich also proposed demotion and possible transfer for Roger Martz, head of the chemistry-toxicology unit, who he said "lacks the judgment and credibility to perform in a supervisory role."

Martz was criticized for testifying to an "opinion stronger than his analytical results would support" in a Florida trial that resulted in a death sentence for George Trepal for putting poison in Coca-Cola bottles.

The report also said Martz did a "seriously deficient" review of allegations of errors by lab examiner Terry Rudolph.

Bromwich proposed unspecified discipline for agent Michael Malone, who has since transferred out of the lab, for testifying falsely in proceedings that led to the impeachment and removal of U.S. District Judge Alcee Hastings.

The report noted though that the testimony was not crucial to the outcome of that case.

Bromwich also recommended that examiner Wallace Higgins be transferred out of the lab for altering Whitehurst's reports without his permission.

Correspondents Eileen O'Connor, Susan Candiotti and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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