A few threads back we were discussing the Tsarnaev defense’s Motion for Continuance. In Exhibit G attached to this motion, explosives expert Frederic Whitehurst stated that the thousands of photos and video he had been given “did not appear to depict all of the evidence from the crime scene.” (Certainly an interesting and suggestive statement.)
Jane commented that Dr. Whitehurst is an FBI whistleblower, a fact I believe deserves a bit more attention.
According to Wikipedia, Frederic Whitehurst has a PhD in chemistry in addition to a JD. He joined the FBI in 1982 and worked as a Supervisory Special Agent in the FBI Lab from 1986 to 1998. During his employment, the Bureau touted him as the world’s top explosives expert.
FW eventually went public as a whistleblower, citing both procedural errors and misconduct. He was suspended in 1997. In 1998 he officially resigned from the bureau and received a settlement of more than $1.16 million. In exchange, he dropped a lawsuit which alleged that the FBI had retaliated against him for his actions. The bureau issued the following statement: ‘’Dr. Whitehurst played a role in identifying specific areas to be examined, and some of the issues he noted resulted in both internal and external reviews.’’
Dr. Whitehurst is currently Executive Director of the Forensic Justice Project, part of the National Whistleblower Center. This project specializes in making sure that innocent people are not convicted due to the misuse of forensic science.
FW and the Feds. According to this article, FW originally was troubled with what he saw as widespread contamination of evidence in the FBI lab. He ultimately accused several colleagues of manipulating evidence to favor prosecutors. In a 2009 documentary titled Lockerbie Revisited, FW described the FBI lab itself as a “crime scene,” where at least one unqualified colleague would routinely alter scientific reports.
“Incited by Whitehurst’s numerous allegations, the Department of Justice and Office of the Inspector General carried out an investigation into the practices and alleged misconduct of the FBI lab culminating in a report released in April 1997.” This investigation looked into a number of high profile cases including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing.
“The DOJ agreed with some [of FW’s allegations], dismissed others, and provided their suggestions into the future course of the FBI lab.”
Among these suggestions was the following: “Records of all case files must be thorough in their recount of the examiner’s data and analysis and must be easily retrieved upon request.” Has this particular resolution been adhered to?
Consider FW’s complaints in Exhibit G: “Much like the reports themselves, the manuals and protocols are labeled in such a way that I have had to take an inordinate amount of time to go through each file simply to determine what is in it … So far I have not seen any validation documentation for any of the protocols I have reviewed. Attempting to find these documents among the documents I have received is extremely time consuming due to the complexity of the file labeling as well as the sheer number of documents that must be read … Another of my tasks is to determine whether the defense should hire experts in specific fields. However, I am unable to give an accurate recommendation unless and until I have been able to review the analysts’ reports … Without knowing what may be provided in the future, I cannot say with any confidence when my work will be done.”
Tip of the Iceberg? The bureau’s carrying out of its good resolutions is further brought into doubt by a July 2014 Washington Post article about the FBI lab’s hair and fiber unit.
“Nearly every criminal case the FBI and DOJ has reviewed during a major investigation that began in 2012 … has involved flawed forensic testimony. The review … was cut short last August when its findings ‘troubled the bureau.’ … The probe resumed once the DOJ inspector general lambasted the FBI for the delay in this investigation … Reviews were completed and notifications offered for defendants in 23 cases, including 14 death-row cases, that FBI examiners ‘exceeded the limits of science’ when linking hair to crime-scene evidence.”
The article goes on to quote NYU forensic expert Erin Murphy: “I see this as a tip-of-the-iceberg problem. It’s not as though this is one bad apple or even that this is one bad-apple discipline. There is a long list of disciplines that have exhibited problems, where if you opened up cases you’d see the same kinds of overstated claims and unfounded statements.”
We’ll Be Good Now. We Promise. Reading about the Bureau’s good resolutions to clean up their act bring to mind their COINTELPRO program, which ran between 1956 and 1971, and then officially ended. This program targeted various subversives, anti-war protestors and civil rights activists. In the name of national security, bureau operatives employed forgery, false info planted in the media, harassment, wrongful imprisonment and illegal violence.
After the whistle was blown on this program in 1971, the Bureau promised to stop doing that stuff. But, quite obviously, they are still doing it. I am sure they feel that these dirty tricks are more necessary than ever, because of all the dangerous Muslims in the Homeland.
The Tsarnaev defense has a distinguished researcher participating in the guilt-phase portion of the case. Dare we hope he will again challenge the supposedly “inviolable” word of the FBI?