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It's an unusually cool June day in Washington, but Dr. Frederic
Whitehurst is hot under the collar. "Have you seen this?," he asks, waving a
copy of the Inspector General's (IG) follow-up report on its earlier investigation and
report on the FBI's laboratory. "Tom Jourdan is an idiot. He's a criminal,"
exclaims Whitehurst referring to the head of the explosives unit which was severely
criticized by the original IG report.
Whitehurst is the recently vindicated and resigned FBI lab agent and inspiration for this
book who singlehandedly forced the IG's investigation of the lab after complaining
internally for ten years with no response from the FBI or Justice Department. He's upset
on this June day because the FBI has notmet a single major demand made by the IG over a
year ago. At that time, the IG found serious deficiencies in the explosives unit -- now
known as the Explosives Operations Group (EOG) -- and a strong bias toward conviction. By
any definition, the EOG did not qualify as a scientific unit.
So the IG made essential recommendations which the FBI could have met in weeks, if not
sooner. The FBI fully agreed with the recommendations, and FBI director Louis Freeh
promised to implement them quickly. First and foremost, the IG said the EOG should hire
qualified scientists. At the time, the EOG had vacancies and employing professional
scientists costs the FBI much less than special agents. A second recommendation was to
bring contamination under control since it was widespread in the unit. Contamination
testing and monitoring as well as a quality control program could have begun immediately.
A third recommendation called for written orders that lab reports be objective and that
their conclusions logically follow from the underlying data. One would have thought there
would be no need for such orders in a scientific unit, but the IG found reports based on
speculation and personal information about a defendant rather than hard forensic evidence.
The reports also had a prosecutorial bias and overstated the significance of the evidence
against the defendant.
Related to this recommendation was that lab reports be peer-reviewed by another qualified
scientist before being used by the prosecution. Yet another recommendation was that a
sampling of court testimonies be reviewed annually
for objectivity, accuracy, and scientific integrity. In short, truthfulness. This
recommendation also seemed unnecessary but was necessitated by the IG's finding that FBI
examiners gave false testimony and lied on the witness stand.
The need for these recommendations are evident to a high school general science student,
but not a single one had been implemented a year after the IG report. Quite the contrary.
Tom Jourdan had filled every position in the EOG with special agents because he wanted his
examiners to have the authority to manage crime scenes, execute search warrants, and
personally break into buildings to conduct searches. He wanted cops, not scientists, and
this is what he was allowed to hire. These, of course, were the types of examiners, like
Tom Thurman, David Williams, and Wallace Higgins who saw themselves as an arm of the
prosecution. This is what got the EOG in trouble in the first
place, and yet it has been re-created in its original form.
Jourdan and the chief of the entire Scientific Analysis Section (SAS), Dwight Adams, told
the IG that he was required to hire special agents. Not so, said Richard Kerr, the new,
much-ballyhooed head of the lab whose first promise was to hire more qualified scientists.
Well, did he know this was going on for a year right under his nose? The IG follow-up
report doesn't say. But now that it's happened, Kerr is leaving things as they are while
assuring the IG that if vacancies open up in the "years ahead," he will try, no
promises, but he will try to fill them with scientists.
During this year, there was also no contamination monitoring or testing. Jourdan told the
IG that he thought the Chemistry Unit (CU) had been testing
for contamination, but he had never bothered to read any of the reports. So even if they
found contamination, he would not have corrected it. The chief of the CU, Steve Burmeister
said he didn't know what Jourdan was talking about because the CU had conducted no
contamination testing. And where was Richard Kerr during all this? The IG doesn't say.
Clearly, he wasn't on the case during the year in which his main mission was to clean up
No explanation was given as to why the FBI had not created written instructions about the
nature of lab reports, and the FBI claimed it had not reviewed court testimonies because
of the difficulties in obtaining court transcripts which are available to anyone off the
street. The FBI also had not instituted any measures to prevent non-scientist agents from
reports so that they would favor prosecution and conviction. This had been a relatively
common occurrence in the EOG, and a year later the IG found indications that it was still
occurring but let it slide.
The IG follow-up report dealt only with the explosives unit. But since the publication of
our book in the United States, we have investigated the operations of the DNA unit which
the IG claimed was a model of scientific integrity. We found that the original IG
investigation discovered quite the contrary. That the DNA unit was seriously negligent,
but the IG covered up this finding. We discovered that Drs. Greg Parsons and Martin Alevy
of the DNA unit had refused to testify on behalf of the FBI because they felt the DNA
testing could be faulty, unreliable, and inaccurate. They felt so strongly about this that
they left the lab to resume being street agents with a cut in pay and rank.
The head of the DNA unit, Dr. Jenifer Lindsey Smith, and her subordinates totally botched
the DNA testing in the Unabomber case such that the prosecution would not have been able
to use the results if Unabomber suspect Ted Kaczynski had gone to trial. Smith did not
even bother to obtain a sample of Kaczynski's actual DNA, and an FBI affidavit lied that
there was a match found between the Unabomber's DNA and Kaczynski's DNA.
In November 1997, the FBI announced their new DNA identification policy wherein under
certain arbitrary conditions, they would declare in court that a defendant is the only
possible source of DNA evidence found at a crime scene. They will no longer say there is
such and such a probability. They will identify the defendant with 100 percent certainty.
This policy has been met with shock by the forensic scientific community which points out
that science does not deal in absolutes and that the FBI did not scientifically validate
its identification policy before implementing it. At the press conference, the FBI stated
that Dr. Bruce Budowle, who had made the new identification policy possible, would be
publishing a validation study after the fact in the International Journal of Legal
Medicine. In May 1998, the authors received a letter from the editor of the journal saying
that he had received no such submission for publication from Budowle.
The DNA unit has also recently begun using mitochondrial DNA test results in court. DNA as
it's commonly referred to is nuclear DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is DNA found outside of the
cell's nucleus. A survey of DNA specialists found that they do not feel mitochondrial DNA
testing can be legitimately used to
incriminate suspects. Secondly, as was the case with the identification policy, the FBI
performed no adequate scientific validation studies before applying this technique which
has been used in a least seven convictions.
Overriding these serious problems is the fact that the DNA unit refuses to do double blind
external proficiency testing of its examiners. This is the only universally accepted
method for determining an examiner's competency, reliability, and accuracy. In effect,
there is no reason to believe DNA test
results from the FBI because there is no measure of their truthfulness. This is especially
true because the FBI did a secret study and found that their examiners made a lot of
errors trying to match DNA profiles between the same person.
In its original investigation, the IG found that Wallace Higgins, an examiner in the
exposives unit, had secretly altered scores of Whitehurst's lab reports for years. In his
rewrites of Whitehurst's reports, Higgins omitted important qualifying language, sometimes
eliminated Whitehurst's forensic opinion altogether, changed findings, and even managed to
presence or absence of chemical compounds not identified by Whitehurst. In one instance,
Whitehurst wrote: "No indication of the presence of lead organic primary explosive
was found." Higgins left out this sentence altogethe, inserting his own: "An
electrical match inside the detonator initiates lead styphnate and lead azide which in
turn initiates the PETN." This was pure alchemy. Higgins had turned the absence of
lead into a presence and detailed how he supposed it all worked.
Higgins had faked it which is what he did recently for Japanese forensic scientists in
examining and explaining evidence in a bombing case in Japan. Higgins told an FBI
colleague that he didn't know what he was talking about, but the Japanese were too polite
to correct him. There are many on-going collaborations between FBI lab personnel and
Japanese officials. This is a
very dangerous situation particularly since the Japanese are unaware of the systemic
corruption and inadequacy of the FBI lab. We recently discovered that a top Japanese
forensic scientist who works for the police and with the FBI did not know about the IG
investigation or report about the FBI lab.
Hopefully, our book will lead to a examination and alteration of this relationship.