An FBI special agent was testifying in the government’s high-profile terrorism trial against Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind sheik” suspected of plotting the first attack on the World Trade Center.
Frederic Whitehurst, a chemist and lawyer who worked in the FBI’s crime lab, testified that he was told by his superiors to ignore findings that did not support the prosecution’s theory of the bombing.
“There was a great deal of pressure put upon me to bias my interpretation,” Whitehurst said in U.S. District Court in New York in 1995.
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WASHINGTON — Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people nationwide, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.
Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.
In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts.
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By Mike Wiser, PBS FRONTLINE, Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers, and Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has called into question a key pillar of the FBI’s case against Bruce Ivins, the Army scientist accused of mailing the anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and terrorized Congress a decade ago.
Shortly after Ivins committed suicide in 2008, federal investigators announced that they had identified him as the mass murderer who sent the letters to members of Congress and the media. The case was circumstantial, with federal officials arguing that the scientist had the means, motive and opportunity to make the deadly powder at a U.S. Army research facility at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Md.
On July 15, however, Justice Department lawyers acknowledged in court papers that the sealed area in Ivins’ lab — the so-called hot suite — did not contain the equipment needed to turn liquid anthrax into the refined powder that floated through congressional buildings and post offices in the fall of 2001.
The government said it continues to believe that Ivins was “more likely than not” the killer. But the filing in a Florida court did not explain where or how Ivins could have made the powder, saying only that the lab “did not have the specialized equipment’’ in Ivins’ secure lab “that would be required to prepare the dried spore preparations that were used in the letters.”
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By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The FBI’s stepped-up effort to fight Internet child pornography has led to an evidence backlog in the bureau’s computer labs, auditors said Friday.
The Justice Department’s inspector general said the number of such cases handled by the FBI rose more than 20-fold between the 1996 and 2007 budget years. As a result, the heavy volume meant it took an average of about two months to examine such evidence in 2007 – and even as long as nine months.
The FBI, which has built a new lab in Maryland to handle the increased demand, agreed with the inspector general’s recommendations to create deadlines to reduce the backlog.
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