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For Immediate Release
Inspector General Releases Report on Belated Production
of Documents in the Oklahoma City Bombing Case
March 19, 2002 (Washington, D.C.) - Glenn A. Fine, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice, today released a 192-page report examining the belated production of documents in the Oklahoma City bombing case. The investigation found that widespread failures by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) led to the belated disclosure of more than 1,000 documents related to the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. The revelation of the belatedly produced documents led the Attorney General to postpone McVeigh's execution and request this investigation by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
The OIG traced the failures to a variety of causes, including individual mistakes made by FBI employees, the FBI's cumbersome and complex document-handling procedures, agents' failures to follow FBI policies and directives, inconsistent interpretations of FBI policies and procedures, agents' lack of understanding of the unusual discovery agreement in this case, and the tremendous volume of material being processed within a short period of time. The OIG concluded that the FBI's computer systems - although antiquated, inefficient, and badly in need of improvement - were not the chief cause of the failures.
The OIG did not find that FBI employees intentionally withheld from the defense documents they knew to be discoverable.
"The OIG's investigation found that the failures to disclose documents were widespread and not confined to a single FBI field office or a few individuals," Fine said. "Both FBI field offices and the Oklahoma City bombing Task Force bear responsibility for the failure to properly disclose the materials."
The OIG report criticizes several senior FBI managers for how they responded when they became aware of the belated documents problem. The issue was first discovered in January 2001 by two conscientious employees in the FBI's Oklahoma City field office as part of a routine archiving process. In materials sent to Oklahoma City by FBI field offices, these employees found documents that had not been turned over to defense attorneys. Yet, the OIG found that the senior managers to whom they reported the problem failed to adequately manage the document review process and failed to set any deadlines for completing the project. Most troubling, the managers failed to 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 by the FBI supervisors were a significant neglect of their duties," Fine said. "They could have, and should have, notified FBI Headquarters and the prosecutors much earlier about the potential problem, not wait until one week before the scheduled execution date." The OIG recommended that the FBI consider disciplinary action for these managers' failure to resolve and disclose the problem in a timely way.
In addition, the OIG found that the FBI failed to effectively address the document problems even after they were discovered. The OIG found that the instructions issued by FBI Headquarters to the field were confusing, contradictory, and incomplete. The OIG also found that many field offices failed to provide information and documents in a timely or accurate manner in response to several requests in 2001.
The OIG also found that some Oklahoma City documents were destroyed before the problem of the belated production of documents was discovered. As part of a process to preserve significant case documents, the FBI archivist in December 2000 authorized FBI field offices to destroy copies of Oklahoma City bombing documents that remained in their files if the field office followed specific guidelines. Nine field offices destroyed documents covered under the discovery agreement with defense attorneys, although employees in the field offices insisted that they had destroyed only copies of materials that had been sent to the Task Force. While probably true with regard to most of the destroyed documents, there is no way of knowing with certainty whether all the destroyed documents were copies that had, in fact, been sent to the Task Force previously and subsequently disclosed to the defense.
The OIG concluded that the FBI's antiquated information management systems could have a continuing negative impact on the FBI's ability to handle or retrieve documents in an efficient, useful, or comprehensive way. The OIG report offers a series of recommendations to help address the FBI's systemic weaknesses, including improved planning for complex, document intensive cases; computer system enhancements; increased automation training; and improvement and simplification of FBI record-keeping systems.
"The FBI's computer systems and procedures for handling documents were - and still are - inordinately cumbersome and badly in need of reform," Fine said. "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. FBI employees need, and deserve, better systems and support," Fine said.
The full report is available on the OIG's website at http://www.usdoj.gov/oig under the heading "Special Reports"