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FBI Lab in Serious Trouble
A sweeping critique of many forensic methods that the police and prosecutors rely on
Ludwig De Braeckeleer (ludwig)     Print Article 
Published 2009-02-17 10:41 (KST)   
"My hope is that this report will provide an objective and unbiased perspective of the critical needs of our crime labs." -- Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama
In a few days, the National Academy of Sciences will release a report regarding forensic science in the US in general. The report takes a special look at the FBI forensic laboratories.

Scientists who worked on the report allege that the National Institute of Justice, a research arm of the Justice Department, tried repeatedly to block its release. Senator Shelby accuses the National Institute of Justice of having attempted to influence the panel.

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According to people who have seen the current draft, the document is "a sweeping critique of many forensic methods that the police and prosecutors rely on, including fingerprinting, firearms identification and analysis of bite marks, blood spatter, hair and handwriting."

The report suggests that that Congress should create a federal agency to guarantee the independence of the forensic analyses.

It states that the Bureau forensic lab relies on untested theories conducted by poorly trained technicians who have no training in sciences and statistics.

A 2004 National Academy of Sciences report, sharply critical of the FBI's bullet-lead technique, had forced the agency to abandon this method. [1]

Nationwide, it has been estimated that the technique has been used in more than 2,000 cases over the last four decades.

Several former FBI employees believe that a review of all cases where the lead identification method was used in testimony should be urgently conducted.

So far, the FBI has rejected such reviews on the basis that it would be very expensive. A sum of US$70,000 was mentioned. For comparison, a recent survey conducted by Boston attorney Juliane Barillo indicates that the compensation for a year of wrongful imprisonment averages about $1 million.

The new report also establishes that the FBI lab fingerprint identification methods are faulty, as spectacularly revealed in the case of Brandon Mayfield.

Since 2005, the nonpartisan Forensic Justice Project, run by former FBI lab whistle-blower Frederic Whitehurst, has tried to force the bureau to release a list of bullet-lead cases under the Freedom of Information Act. I asked Whitehurst if he thought the FBI labs would survive the criticism.

"The labs will survive of course. We need the labs out there. But they will not be the freewheeling pirates of pseudo science that they have been in the past. In reality the government does not need to form a whole new agency to protect its people. If a new agency is formed the FBI will compromise it by threats, blackmail and under-the-table dealings," Whitehurst told the author.

"What needs to happen is for the US government to require that any crime lab in the US be licensed to operate and that any protocols, audits, scientific papers, quality assurance, etc. that form the basis for the forensic opinions be made clear and open information available to the American people who pay the wages of the crime lab workers... Crime labs cannot operate in secret. Science in secret ceases to be science."

In academic circles, some experts have not hidden their anger toward certain programs and what seems to be an attempt to cover-up decades of fraudulent forensic sciences.

Clifford Spiegelman is a statistician at Texas A&M University. He reviewed the FBI's statistical methods for the science academy.

"They said the FBI agents who went after Al Capone were the untouchables," he said, "and I say the FBI experts who gave this bullet-lead testimony are the unbelievables."

"I'm sure that every defense attorney in the country is waiting for this report to come out," a person who read it says. "There are going to be challenges to fingerprints and firearms evidence and the general lack of empirical grounding. It's going to be big."

The author can now announce that the technical report regarding the bomb that exploded on board of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie is seriously flawed. Once corrections are made, a spectacular conclusion follows. The Lockerbie verdict is scientifically impossible. A summary of this new report, which was reviewed by top experts in the field, will be soon made available to our readers.

1. FBI's Forensic Test Full of Holes, Washington Post, Nov. 17, 2007

Ludwig De Braeckeleer has a Ph.D. in nuclear sciences. Ludwig teaches physics and international humanitarian law. He blogs on "The GaiaPost." Ludwig can be reached at: dr.ludwig@hotmail.com
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ludwig De Braeckeleer

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