Albion Monitor /News

FBI Faked Evidence, Says Justice Dept

by Jeff Elliott

The special report on FBI laboratory practices by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General is available on the Internet, complete with added hyperlinks
In a harsh rebuke to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Justice Department released its long-awaited report on Tuesday, questioning the fundamental competence and honesty of several employees at the FBI crime laboratory. Most prominent among those censured is David R. Williams, whose opinions were pivotal in the prosecution or investigation of many high-profile bombing cases including the World Trade Center, Oklahoma City, and the car bombing of Judi Bari.

The report, written by Justice Department inspector general Michael Bromwich and released April 15, accused Williams of "tilting" evidence to aid prosecutors, and called for his transfer from the lab. The FBI commented that to avoid any conflict, the Justice Department, and not the FBI, will make the decision on whether to punish agents.

Williams' and Thurman's performances in the Oklahoma City case -- a prosecution of enormous national significance -- merit special censure
Hundreds of cases in which results of tests conducted by the FBI lab were used in evidence are now under review. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said defense attorneys in 13 cases have raised the issue of the Justice Department findings.

But it is Williams' involvement with the terrorism cases that raise the most serious questions. Of his work on the World Trade Center case, Bromwich wrote, "We concluded that Williams gave inaccurate and incomplete testimony and testified to invalid opinions that appeared tailored to the most incriminating result."

Bromwich criticized Williams specifically for his 1993 testimony that a 1,200-pound urea nitrate bomb damaged New York City's World Trade Center, even though FBI agents found no explosive residue at the site.

Wrote the inspector general,

...[Williams'] work was flawed and lacked a scientific foundation. The errors he made were all tilted in such a way as to incriminate the defendants. We concluded that Williams failed to present an objective, unbiased, and competent report.

Williams' supervisor, J. Thomas Thurman, did not properly review Williams' report. Thurman left too much discretion to Williams to include certain opinions, and Thurman allowed certain conclusions to stand even though he told us that he now does not agree with them and cannot justify them, and the conclusions are unsupported in the body of the report.

All cases handled by the Laboratory deserve professional, diligent treatment. Williams' and Thurman's performances in the Oklahoma City case -- a prosecution of enormous national significance -- merit special censure.

Lawyers for the four Muslim fundamentalists convicted in the bombing were quick to say that questions of FBI credibility will be raised in a pending trial of two defendants this summer. "This throws the World Trade Center case wide open," a lawyer told the New York Times. A June 16 hearing is scheduled to consider the impact of this report on the case.

Evidence against Timothy McVeigh now suspect because of Williams
Probably the most damaging conclusion in the report concerns the composition of the bomb that wrecked the Murrah federal building on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people and injuring more than 500 others.

Lab supervisor Williams reported that tests showed the damage was caused by a 4,000-pound ammonium nitrate and fuel oil bomb. But Bromwich said Williams reached that decision based on the purchase by Timothy McVeigh's codefendant, Terry Nichols, of ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

Williams "repeatedly reached conclusions that incriminated the defendants without a scientific basis and that were not explained," the Justice Department report said.

The lab also said it found traces of explosives on McVeigh's clothing and on ear plugs he was carrying. But Bromwich criticized FBI scientist Roger Martz for not looking at McVeigh's shirt through a microscope before vacuuming trace evidence and conducting tests on it.

According to the report, Martz tried to claim he had followed proper lab procedures, then changed stories. It added that Martz' explanation "lacks credibility."

There's no question that the government's case against McVeigh suffered a potentially grievous wound from the conclusions reached by the Justice Department. "I'm sure it will have some impact," said Stephen Jones, McVeigh's lead attorney. "But I think it's too early to say what it's going to be." Prosecutors, citing a gag order, refused to comment.

Williams and Martz originally had been on the government's list of witness, but were stricken after the questions about the FBI lab arose. Instead, prosecutors will call Steve Burmeister, who came in for only mild criticism in Bromwich's report.

Also to be called is Linda Jones, a forensics explosives scientist in Great Britain for 23 years. Jones had pointed out her investigation came to the same conclusions about the bomb's composition as those reached by Williams, and said her work could be equally as suspect.

Since the government's case is circumstantial -- prosecutors don't have any witnesses who can put McVeigh in Oklahoma City at the time of the bombing -- scientific evidence will be a large component.

The major task facing the prosecution now is to keep the Justice Department's 500-page report on the FBI lab from being entered into evidence. Jones will fight just as hard to get it admitted.

See the Monitor's last interview with Bari for her comments on revelations about Williams and FBI

The Justice Department report did not cite the Judi Bari case, perhaps because Bari -- and since her death, her estate -- have pursued a civil rights lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland Police for six years. On March 18, about two weeks after her death, attorney Dennis Cunningham filed a motion for Bari and Darryl Cherney, seeking final denial of all immunity claims by the defendant agents and officers, and seeking a trial date.

The brief suggests that Williams knowingly falsified evidence to incriminate Bari and Cherney while discrediting Earth First! as "eco-terrorists." It was Williams, according to the Oakland Police, who had told them that nails attached to the Oakland bomb matched nails found in a search of Bari's house "within a batch of 200 to 1000." This statement, widely reported in the media, persuaded many that Bari was indeed linked to making the bomb.

But under oath Williams denied making any such claim, and that it was impossible to determine that the nails could be identified as part of a small batch:

Q. Is that what you told him?
A. Not that I can remember.
Q. Would you have told him that last part, that the batch was 200 to 1000 nails?
A. That's very unlikely.
Q. Because, as you just told us, there's no way of telling that.
A. That's right.

According to the brief, Williams also falsified reports in order to obtain a second search warrant of Bari's home. The FBI file shows Williams had contact with the nail company two days before the search affidavit was granted, and after he had stated that the batch size couldn't be determined with great accuracy.

The brief also notes that Williams seems to have suppressed or mishandled critical evidence in the Bari case, implying that the FBI knew all along that Bari was innocent:

Another key piece of evidence not sent to the Lab was the rear seat, also as noted. Pictures (except for the FBI's) showed the cushion and seatcover in a location where they would have been ripped up and burnt if the explosion took place next to them, as [FBI Special Agent Frank] Doyle claimed; and they were not burnt, or damaged at all --- except that a seam was split on the seat cover.

This obvious single fact, by itself, disproved any possibility that the bomb had exploded on the Rear Seat Floor Board, beside the seat, as Doyle insinuated and the others pretended to believe. That it was held back was perhaps not Williams' fault ... But Williams, as evidence examiner -- who said he saw the pictures, but pooh-poohed their value -- also didn't ask for the seat, or note its absence from the materials he received, even though it was listed in the inventory of items brought to the Lab ...

...Agent Williams issued a formal report from the Lab, dated June 14, 1990, which showed that --- save for the ambiguity about the so-called batch of nails --- no evidence from the bomb scene could be matched to anything taken in the searches, or otherwise connected to plaintiffs in any way.

But this information was not released; indeed it was suppressed, for the time being, at least. So the original delay in submitting the material to the Lab was greatly compounded, enabling the smear of plaintiffs to continue.

Besides falsifying evidence, Williams has also admitted suppressing critical information that would have tended to exonerate Bari. Williams has verified that the bomb was connected to a timer, which in turn activiated a "motion device" that exploded the bomb when her car began moving -- certainly not something that a bombmaker would transport. Williams later confirmed that the bomb in the car had "functioned as designed."

American Reporter Chief Correspondent Bill Johnson contributed to this report

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Albion Monitor April 19, 1997 (

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