When Dr. Frederic Whitehurst initially blew the whistle on the systemic forensic fraud in the FBI crime lab, he could never have known it was the start of a lifelong fight for government accountability.
Did you know that you can take two strands of hair from your own head and they may not match? Yet the FBI used forensic hair analyses for decades in the prosecution of criminal cases. Last night Al Jazeera America’s Fault Lines program featured this issue. FBI Whistleblower, Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, appeared in “Under the Microscope: The FBI Hair Cases” and discussed the flaws in the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation crime lab’s hair analyses.
As head of the National Whistleblower Center’s Forensic Justice Project, Dr. Whitehurst compiled data from cases in which the FBI had given flawed testimony on hair analysis and compared that to the information that was released by the FBI and DOJ under FOIA. Dr. Whitehurst first raised these systemic problems at the FBI Lab more than 20 years ago.
In April 2015 the FBI admitted the FBI Lab’s forensic hair analyses used for decades in state and federal criminal cases were flawed and inaccurate more that ninety percent (90%) of the time. The recent reviews reported by the Washington Post in April were the direct result of Dr. Whitehurst’s initial whistleblower disclosures between 1995-1997. Although Dr. Whitehurst was highly criticized and subjected to severe retaliation by the FBI for raising these concerns more 20 years ago, the admission by the FBI demonstrates that he was right.
Also appearing on the program was David K. Colapinto, General Counsel of the National Whistleblower Center who has served as Dr. Whitehurst’s attorney for the past 20+ years.
Click photo to play video preview.
Al-Jazeera will replay this program on Sunday, August 23 at 9pm ET and Monday, August 24 at 1 am and 4:30 am ET.
Click here to read previous blogs on this issue.
A major newspaper has published an editorial highly critical of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in light of the Justice Department Inspector General’s bombshell report on the FBI Lab scandal. Last week, the DOJ IG documented serious flaws in the Justice Department’s review of thousands of criminal cases that were impacted by tainted forensic evidence from the FBI Lab. As a result of the Justice Department’s serious lapses and delays in reviewing thousands of cases affected by the FBI Lab scandal, 16 people were executed and 8 prisoners died before there was a complete review of the scientific flaws in the evidence used to obtain those convictions.
As pointed out by the Charlotte Observer, the “malfeasance” of the FBI, and the lack of a thorough or professional review by the DOJ, raises serious questions as to how many innocent people remain in jail, and how many people have been executed, as a result of thousands of convictions that relied on flawed forensic evidence from the FBI Lab. Continue Reading Charlotte Observer Editorial Blasts FBI “malfeasance” In FBI Lab Scandal
Additional Reviews of FBI Lab Scandal Still Needed 20 Years Later
On July 21, 2014, more than twenty years after a FBI whistleblower came forward to report serious problems at the FBI Lab that could impact thousands of cases, another FBI Lab scandal victim was found innocent and freed by the D.C. Superior Court.
Kevin Martin, age 50, spent 26 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. He pleaded guilty to rape and murder under an Alford Plea (pleading guilty acknowledging the government has evidence of guilt but maintaining one’s innocence). He did so only after his attorney was shown hair evidence that the FBI Lab had examined and claimed Martin’s hair matched a hair from the crime scene. DNA testing has now proven the FBI’s claim to be false, resulting in Mr. Martin’s release and exoneration.
And Fox5 News: Man officially exonerated in 1982 DC rape and murder
Significantly, Mr. Martin has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years, even after he accepted the Alford plea. But nobody believed Mr. Martin until yesterday. Continue Reading Another FBI Lab Victim Is Found Innocent and Freed
But IG Recommendations Fall Far Short
Twenty. Years. Yesterday, July 16, 2014, the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released its third report of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Lab misconduct first alleged twenty years ago – in 1994 – by Dr. Frederic Whitehurst.
Washington Post Investigative Reporter Spencer S. Hsu, in his coverage of this latest report, summed it up by saying, “Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.”
To review the timeline:
In 1994 Fred Whitehurst first made his whistleblower allegations of shoddy science and manipulated evidence during court proceedings in the first World Trade bombing case and later to the Justice Dept. Inspector General.
In 1996, the Department of Justice (DOJ) set up a Task Force to investigate Dr. Whitehurst’s claims in order to determine if anyone was wrongfully convicted. At the same time, the OIG conducted its own evaluation, and issued the “1997 OIG Report” that found problems with 13 FBI Lab examiners and suggested that all of the forensic work of the criticized examiners be reviewed by the DOJ Task Force. The ensuing DOJ Task Force review was done in secret, they never issued a final report, and the FBI and DOJ later claimed that no convictions were overturned as a result of their intensive reviews.
In 1998, the FBI and DOJ agreed to settle Dr. Whitehurst’s whistleblower retaliation claims and paid him a record-breaking settlement amount of $1.16 million. [CNN, “FBI whistle-blower leaves, gets $1.16 million” (Feb. 27, 1998).] Continue Reading Justice Dept. Inspector General Report Once Again Validates Whistleblower’s Allegations About FBI Lab Scandal
The Washington Post has published year-end articles that highlight three ongoing projects of the National Whistleblower Center.
In an article published on December 26, "Top 10 stories in the federal workforce in 2012", The Washington Post cited the scandal involving FDA electronic spying on its own scientists who blew the whistle on agency misconduct. The Post ranked the FDA electronic spying scandal as the number 9 story that affected the federal workforce this past year. The NWC has been actively supporting the scientists who have sued the FDA for whistleblower retaliation and challenged the constitutionality of the FDA’s secret monitoring of the scientists’ personal and private emails. As revealed by the NWC and the whistleblower scientists, the FDA targeted the whistleblowers for electronic surveillance by installing secret spyware on their computers. The FDA captured confidential emails from the whistleblowers’ personal and private email accounts (such as Yahoo and Gmail accounts) and the FDA stole the whistleblowers’ confidential communications with their attorneys as well as communications with members of Congress, the Inspector General and others discussing the whistleblowers’ allegations of serious wrongdoing by the agency.
Readers of The Washington Post found out this morning that the FBI and DOJ are launching the largest post-conviction case review in American history.
Readers of the Whistleblower Protection Blog know that this review should have begun twenty years ago when Dr. Frederic Whitehurst first exposed problems in the FBI crime lab.
This year, Dr. Whitehurst’s allegations have come back to haunt the DOJ in a big way. In my April blog post, I expanded on The Washington Post’s breaking story of how the DOJ withheld information for years about thousands of cases tainted by bad forensics.
Dr. Whitehurst has pointed out the possibility that innocent people have been wrongfully locked up, put on death row, or even executed. While the DOJ has promised justice for these victims before, it has kept the results of all investigations a secret and only went so far as to notify a tiny fraction of potential victims that their cases may have been affected.
The good news is that the DOJ has essentially admitted that its investigations thus far were botched, and it will now be involving outside groups like the Innocence Project in another investigation of Dr. Whitehurst’s allegations.
What will be uncovered this time around? Watch this space to find out.
Washington Post readers found out this morning that the Justice Department has been withholding information for years about hundreds or even thousands of cases that were tainted by faulty forensic work in the FBI Crime Lab. The front-page feature was based in large part on the work of Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, an NWC Board Member who was one of the FBI’s top scientists during the period of misconduct.
For those of you just now learning about Dr. Whitehurst, I highly recommend the following clip from CBS News, recorded in 1998:
CBS News recorded this piece just after the Justice Department Inspector General validated Dr. Whitehurst’s concerns of Crime Lab misconduct. The Inspector General report could have settled the issue, but the problems that Dr. Whitehurst reported, starting with his first whistleblower disclosures over 20 years ago, unfolded into the deep, drawn-out tragedy described in today’s Washington Post.
Read the rest of this post for more details about Dr. Whitehurst’s story and to discover more media coverage from his decades-long attempt to protect American citizens from their government.
Fred Whitehurst is the whistleblower who revealed that the crime lab at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) failed to live up to its reputation for scientific integrity, and sometimes even resorted to falsifying results. Today Jeff Stein of the Washington Post’s Spy Talk blog calls Whitehurst a "hero" and chats with him about his legacy.
Earlier this month, the Post’s Keith Alexander wrote about a report of the U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia finding over 100 cases that were tainted by FBI crime lab results that must be reviewed. That report is in response to the exoneration of Donald Gates who spent 28 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit.
Stein elicited from Whitehurst how he continues to review FBI records released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to find people who might still be suffering from unreliable crime lab results. Stein does not cover Whitehurst’s recent activism to get the U.S. Senate to improve the federal Whistleblower Protection Act. Whitehurst has called on Senators to fix the poison pills in the Senate’s current version of S. 372, the supposed Whistleblower Proection Enhancement Act (WPEA). One of those "enhancements" is to repeal the special law that protects whistleblowers at the FBI. Whitehurst has written an open letter to Senators calling on them to fix all the poison pills before they pass S. 372. Follow this link to join him in that call.