Integrity Challenge Pervades FBI

Systemic Integrity Challenge Pervades FBI

by Larry Pratt

Whistleblowers have seldom been popular in the federal government, and the FBI is no exception. In fact, in violation of the law, whistleblowers frequently find themselves targeted for retaliation.

Dr. Frederick Whitehurst (a Ph.D. in chemistry) was no exception. For several years, Whitehurst was a supervisory special agent in charge of explosives-residue analysis.

Whitehurst saw a disturbing number of cases in which the laboratory tailored its “science” to fit the conclusions of the investigating agents (described as “working backwards”). In other words, the lab would ask “What did the suspect do?” and then proceed to fit their findings to the pre-determined conclusion.

This resulted in innocent people being tried, and in some cases put in jail. Whitehurst later discovered that some non-scientists up the command chain were, unbeknownst to him at the time, changing the results of his laboratory reports.

Whitehurst also found that the FBI laboratory would often break a chain of evidence, thus making it impossible to prove that the “evidence” had not been planted. In some cases, it was planted. One example was that of the crime scene at Ruby Ridge, Idaho where U.S. Marshals and an FBI sharpshooter murdered a mother and her son and wounded two other family members. The physical record of the firefights did not support the depositions of the Marshals and FBI Agents, so one bullet was planted in a key spot to frame a family member and make it seem like he had been involved in the firefight when, in fact, he had not. Unfortunately for the government’s case, the bullet was planted in two different directions in two different photographs.

Whitehurst found that the record keeping at the lab, not to mention its lack of safety and absence of controls over contamination of evidence, mean that even the vaunted identification capabilities of DNA are illusory. One study of fingerprints found a 30% error rate. This means that convicting somebody on the basis of an FBI fingerprint match is not beyond a reasonable doubt. Even more simply put, FBI fingerprint analyses are not proof. An additional problem involves the lack of definition for a fingerprint “match.”

Lack of definition of “match” also plagues the effort to develop a “science” of ballistic fingerprints. How many individual variations can be found before there is not a match?

It is disturbing that in the face of the pro-prosecution bias in the lab, the FBI has steadfastly refused to subscribe to a code of ethics or have the lab subject to outside certification. Whitehurst’s sin was to challenge the ethics of science being prostituted to serve the whims of agents who were in turn seldom subject to accountability for their actions. (None of the perjury committed by FBI agents during the Ruby Ridge trial, let alone the murder committed under color of law, was ever subject to criminal prosecution.)

The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City resulted in the conviction of two perpetrators. Excluded from the stand were any witnesses who could not be dissuaded from reporting that they had seen middle eastern-looking men with Timothy McVeigh. “Working backwards” by one of the FBI’s incompetent bomb experts, Dave Williams, excluded any investigation into why columns of the building collapsed which could not have been toppled by a fertilizer bomb parked on the street.

Dr. Whitehurst was part of a team of experts assembled to evaluate the government’s insistence that David Koresh and the Davidians at Waco committed suicide. The experts examined the considerable evidence that government marksmen had assassinated Davidians as they attempted to flee a building which burst into flames for still debatable reasons. For a detailed account of some of the cases in which the FBI broke the law in the name of the law with the assistance of perjured testimony on the stand by FBI lab representatives, see Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab by John F. Kelly and Phillip K. Wearne.

Since being forced out of the FBI, Whitehurst has studied law and is now in private practice in North Carolina. The taxpayers are paying for the remainder of his salary he would have otherwise earned until retirement from the FBI under the terms of a court ruling against the FBI’s treatment of Whitehurst.

Whitehurst was interviewed on my Live Fire radio show, archived at