An Investigation of the Belated Production of Documents
in the Oklahoma City Bombing Case
March 19, 2002
Office of the Inspector General
The disclosure of hundreds of OKBOMB documents one week before the scheduled execution of McVeigh raised questions as to whether the FBI had intentionally failed to disclose the documents and how the belated disclosures could have occurred. Because of the importance of these issues, the OIG expended significant resources to investigate the circumstances surrounding the belated production of documents. These issues have critical implications not only for the Oklahoma City bombing case, but also for how the FBI handles documents in its other investigations.
Based on our investigation, we concluded that the FBI had not intentionally withheld discoverable documents. Rather, the evidence showed that the FBI's failure to disclose these documents resulted primarily from individual errors in document handling, failures to follow FBI policies, failures to fully comply with directives from the OKBOMB Task Force, and cumbersome and complex document handling procedures. The failures were widespread and not confined to one office or a few individuals. Nor was the fault confined to either the FBI field offices or the Task Force; both share responsibility for the problems.
We are most critical of the way certain senior FBI managers responded when they became aware of the belated documents problem. In January 2001, the belated documents were initially identified as a potential problem by two conscientious employees in the FBI's Oklahoma City field office. Yet, the managers to whom they reported the problem failed to address the issue in a timely way, or notify FBI Headquarters or the prosecutors in the case until the beginning of May, one week before McVeigh's scheduled execution. We believe these delays were a significant neglect of their duties. We therefore recommend that the FBI consider disciplinary action for these managers' failure to resolve and disclose the problem in a timely way.
Because of the passage of time, the number of documents involved, and the inability of individuals to recollect exactly how they handled one document out of the many they created or gathered, it was impossible for us to ascertain with clarity the path of each belated document or why each such document failed to be turned over to the defense. What is clear, however, is that the FBI's system and procedures for handling documents was - and still is - inordinately cumbersome and badly in need of change. The OIG, and others, have pointed out some of these problems in the past, but until recently the FBI has made insufficient efforts to correct the deficiencies.
This case highlights the significant weaknesses in the FBI's computer systems. They are antiquated, inefficient, and badly in need of improvement. Although we do not believe that the failures in this case were caused by its computer system, the FBI's computer system cannot handle or retrieve documents in an efficient, useful, or comprehensive way. FBI employees need, and deserve, better computer systems and support.
In this report, we offer systemic recommendations to help address the problems we found in this case. They include recommendations for computer system enhancements, improved planning in document-intensive cases, additional and repeated training for FBI employees on its automated systems, and improvements and simplification of record keeping systems. The FBI's handling of documents, including disclosing them when required, is an essential part of the FBI's mission. The FBI must ensure that this issue receives concerted and long-term attention, particularly after the focus on this case recedes. Improved handling of documents and information will require resources and significant effort, but we believe that the FBI must make this critical commitment to avoid the serious problems that occurred in this case.
|Glenn A. Fine|