FBI hires nuclear physicist to head crime lab
October 18, 1997
Web posted at: 2:27 p.m. EDT (1827 GMT)
From Correspondent Terry Frieden
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI hired the former head of a
government nuclear weapons laboratory to direct its troubled
crime lab, even though he has no background in forensic
The FBI had promised to seek an experienced crime lab
scientist from outside the government following a stinging
Justice Department report on the lab last spring.
But the man chosen for the post is Donald M. Kerr Jr., 58, a
physicist-engineer who from 1979 to 1985 headed the
government's Los Alamos National Laboratory, where nuclear
weapons are designed.
The FBI acknowledged that Kerr's selection after the National
Whistleblowers Center disclosed his name at a news conference
"It just seems dumbfounding and implausible that they would
not hire a world-class forensic scientist to take over the
crime lab," center Director Stephen Kohn said.
The selection also was criticized by the National Association
of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
"Once again, the FBI has dealt with Congress and the public
with incredible arrogance," said the group's vice president,
Federal Bureau of Investigation officials defended the hiring
of Kerr, saying he is the renowned scientist the agency was
looking for to beef up its crime lab.
"He has vast experience in managing large lab operations and
a long track-record of successfully revitalizing labs," an
FBI source told CNN.
A formal announcement of Kerr's hiring is expected Tuesday.
'This is not somebody from the outside'
Kris Kolesnik, senior counselor to Sen. Charles Grassley,
R-Iowa, one of the harshest critics of the FBI, said Kerr's
work at Los Alamos and more recently for a major defense
contractor make him a "real government insider."
"This is not somebody from the outside who's going to bring a
fresh breath of air," Kolesnik said.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich blasted
the world-renowned crime lab in April for flawed scientific
work and inaccurate testimony in major cases, including the
Oklahoma City bombing. Bromwich called for a new lab director
with a scientific background "preferably in forensic
Meanwhile, another flap over the crime lab erupted Friday
when chief lab whistleblower Frederic Whitehurst said that in
examining FBI lab reports recently released under the Freedom
of Information Act, he found that five more FBI examiners had
altered lab reports.
"In the last week, I have found five more people that have
been altering cases -- five more that the inspector general
didn't find," Whitehurst said.