The FBI Laboratory: An Investigation into Laboratory Practices and
Alleged Misconduct in Explosives-Related and Other Cases
Office of the Inspector General, Department of Justice

U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation

Washington DC
April 15, 1997
Statement of FBI Deputy Director Bill Esposito

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FBI Laboratory History

The final report on the FBI Laboratory issued today by the Inspector General represents the most comprehensive review of the Lab ever conducted. The report identifies a number of problems and has assisted the FBI in its ongoing efforts to improve the Laboratory. To further that goal, the FBI has invited the Inspector General to reinspect the Lab every six months until both he and the FBI are satisfied that all issues have been resolved.

The problems identified by the Inspector General should never have been permitted to develop. There was a clear and serious failing in not adequately detecting these problems and, in many instances, not moving swiftly enough to resolve them. While the issues raised by the Inspector General concern only a small part of the total volume of work done annually in the Lab, we recognize that even one problem is too many.

The FBI Laboratory is the largest, most comprehensive crime lab in the world. The 626 men and women in the Lab do extraordinary work -- conducting over 600,000 forensic examinations of evidence and over two millions latent fingerprint comparisons a year. While the report issued today is very critical of some aspects of our Lab, we should not lose sight of the Lab's overall, enormous contributions to public safety and national security. Nearly every police department and prosecutor's office in America has successfully depended on FBI Lab examiners in important prosecutions of dangerous criminals.

The FBI cooperated fully in this investigation. It was the right thing to do. We knew there were serious problems that needed to be identified and fixed. Director Freeh acknowledged that in 1994, when he first learned of problems in the Lab. He directed that the Lab set a time table for accreditation.

I commend the Inspector General for the thoroughness of the investigation, for his willingness to allow the FBI to work closely with him during this investigation, and for his use of outside scientists to assist in this review. While we disagree on the details concerning the characterization of some issues, we are in total agreement on the most significant points -- that the problems identified are very serious and that the improvements both the Inspector General and the FBI have identified must and are being made.

Before I discuss a number of issues there are three announcements I would like to make.

First, Director Freeh is seeking the best qualified scientist from outside the FBI to head the Laboratory. The Inspector General found that the Lab needs better credentialed scientists. The FBI agrees and intends to begin with the person who will have overall responsibility for the Lab. I also assure you that additional qualified scientists will also be hired.

Second, most of the allegations at issue were made by Special Agent Frederic Whitehurst. The Inspector General found, and the FBI agrees, that some of Mr. Whitehurst's allegations have merit. But as you heard earlier today, the Inspector General also found that the vast majority of the hundreds of allegations made by Whitehurst could not be substantiated.

As to any action taken with respect to Mr. Whitehurst, Deputy Director Kennedy, my predecessor, made the decision to temporarily place him on administrative leave with pay for two reasons. First, the Inspector General's draft report raised a number of serious issues regarding Whitehurst's performance and conduct, and questioned whether Whitehurst could usefully serve any role in the FBI. Second, Whitehurst refused to cooperate with a Justice Department investigation into unauthorized disclosures of investigative information.

To prevent any appearance of retaliation, in January of this year, the FBI requested the Justice Management Division of the Justice Department to review the final report and decide what action, if any, is appropriate with respect to Mr. Whitehurst. To avoid any appearance of impropriety, the FBI has also requested the Justice Department to determine what personnel action, if any, should be taken with respect to the other FBI employees addressed in the Inspector General's report.

Third, the FBI together with the Criminal Division of the Justice Department has taken action to ensure that all of the serious concerns raised about the Laboratory are addressed immediately. We believe that in pending and future cases, any issue regarding the conduct of the Lab can be successfully resolved, and that those cases should not be compromised. With respect to past cases, we are continuing our review with the Department of Justice Criminal Division in order to ensure that no one's right to a fair trial has been jeopardized.

In conjunction with the Justice Department, we have been extremely cautious and alerted prosecutors to any potential Laboratory-related issues. The Justice Department already has provided material to prosecutors in approximately 55 criminal cases; in 25 of those cases, prosecutors have disclosed the information to defense counsel. To date, thirteen of those cases have been resolved, with the Laboratory issues fully disclosed to the defendants. Each of the thirteen has resulted in a ruling or verdict in favor of the prosecution.

To place this report in context, it should be noted that Director Freeh began to focus on the FBI Laboratory problems in 1994. Soon after becoming Director, an internal FBI report, like the Inspector General's report, found no evidence tampering but did find shortcomings, including some alteration of subordinates' dictation of examination reports by supervisory examiners. As a result of that review, Director Freeh directed the Lab to make it clear that changing the dictation of subordinates' examination reports was unacceptable.

It was also at this time he learned that the Lab was not accredited. We took a number of steps then to improve quality control and to tighten lax procedures. By January 1995, Director Freeh instructed that the Lab do whatever was necessary for full accreditation by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board.

Attached to my statement is a list of some of the improvements we have completed or which are underway in the FBI Laboratory. Many were begun by the FBI before the Inspector General's inquiry. A few of the improvements made include:

A few of the improvements made include:

As most of you know, Director Freeh has been recused from active participation in the Inspector General's investigation since September 1995, when he first learned that Mr. Whitehurst had made allegations against him in connection with the 1991 prosecution of Walter Leroy Moody for the murder of United States Circuit Judge Robert Vance and civil rights attorney Robert Robinson. He was one of the prosecutors in that case. The Inspector General ultimately found that Whitehurst's accusations of wrongful conduct against the Director had no merit.

Due to this conflict, the Director asked me to be in charge of the implementation of the recommendations of the Inspector General. The Director supports the recommendations, and will play a vital role in improving the procedures and the construction of the new lab at Quantico.

We are confident that these procedures -- along with the improvements already made and the retesting of evidence, if necessary and possible -- will preserve the integrity of future cases involving FBI Lab work.

We will continue to fulfill our legal obligation to make material related to the allegations about the Laboratory available to prosecutors so that they may determine whether the information must legally be furnished to the defense. Such disclosure does not imply that a case has been threatened or that any defendant's rights have been violated.

In the final analysis, we believe the FBI's major failure was in not seeking accreditation sooner and the FBI's prior reviews of the Lab not going far enough. The Lab has made many significant contributions over its history, but accreditation will ensure a regular external inspection certifying that the generally accepted standards of the forensic community are met. That is a goal which the Attorney General, the Inspector General and the FBI all share.

The FBI remains very proud of its Laboratory and the dedicated examiners, technicians and support staff who serve in it. They provide an invaluable service to law enforcement agencies all over the country. Their skills are challenged daily in courts of law. They are dedicated to training and learning from their state and local counterparts. Nothing in this report questions their dedication to public service and the criminal justice system they serve.

We are continuing to work very diligently to solve the problems in the Lab. There are many important efforts underway, not the least of which is construction of a new state-of-the-art laboratory. We are confident these efforts will be successful and all of the problems will be fixed. We will dedicate ourselves to working even harder to ensure the FBI Laboratory remains a leader in the forensic community.