WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department harshly criticized the FBI's failure to turn over thousands of pages of documents to Timothy McVeigh's lawyers until days before his scheduled execution, but found no evidence that FBI agents meant to hide information.
The 192-page report by the Justice Department inspector general's office, an independent investigative arm of the agency, said the vast majority of the mislaid or destroyed paperwork contained no significant or new information for McVeigh's defense team. However, it acknowledged that even the IG's lengthy investigation had difficulty determining whether all destroyed documents had been disclosed.
The report blamed human error, not inadequate computer systems at the FBI.
"This shines a light on a problem that needs to be addressed," said the inspector general, Glenn A. Fine. "The glamorous part of the job is to investigate and find the perpetrators. An equally important part of the job is to handle the evidence."
Delayed five months
Fine recommended disciplinary action for four FBI supervisors for what he called a "significant neglect of their duties."
Three of them discovered problems with FBI documents as early as January 2001, but no one notified FBI headquarters, Justice officials or the chief prosecutor in the McVeigh trial until five months later, the report said.
That time lag "created a firestorm of criticism (and) made it appear that the FBI was hiding documents until the last moment," the report said.
FBI officials told investigators they did not report the situation sooner because they were unsure about the scope of the problem and did not want journalists to find out.
"That's not a good enough reason not to tell your supervisors at headquarters or the prosecutor about this potential problem," Fine said.
"Just to keep it to themselves, that's a significant neglect."
Convicted in the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more, McVeigh had been scheduled to be executed on May 16 of last year. But the delayed turnover of documents resulted in an extraordinary delay in his execution until June 11. Most of the documents in question were created by the FBI in April and May 1995.
"The American people have a right to have confidence in our justice system," Attorney General John Ashcroft said. "The FBI has already begun to update technology systems, improve information management and provide more effective and timely accountability."
Making major changes
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said Tuesday the bureau has been making major changes to retrain employees on document handling and make records management a priority.
"There can be no doubt about the accuracy, completeness and proper disclosure of the records we compile during our investigations and used by prosecutors in support of prosecutions," Mueller said.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the FBI's toughest critics in Congress, said the report showed that "documents were mishandled, procedures were ignored and when mistakes were discovered, supervisors in the field covered them up and managers in headquarters promoted those responsible."
The FBI supervisors identified by the inspector general as most at fault include Danny Defenbaugh, the inspector in charge of the bombing investigation and currently the special agent in charge of the FBI's Dallas office; and Mark White, a supervisory special agent also in Dallas.
The inspector general also recommended discipline, to a lesser degree, for William Teater, a squad supervisor for the FBI unit responsible for parts of the investigation, and for Richard Marquise, who became head of the Oklahoma City office in 1999.
Teater "should have done more to ensure that someone was making the necessary decisions" and that Marquise should have investigated more thoroughly after receiving e-mails from Teater indicating problems with documents, the report said.
It does not specify what disciplinary action was recommended for any of those identified.
The report also praised two Oklahoma City FBI employees, Linda Vernon and Peggy Richmond, for recognizing in January 2001 that a problem existed and notifying their supervisors.