Dr. Frederic Whitehurst and the Failed FBI Crime Lab

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.

Dr. Whitehurst uncovered systemic problems in the FBI Crime Lab in the early 1990s. What he discovered is remarkable—and unsettling. In case after case, the lab’s analysis was not providing accurate results, and these results were used to tip the scales of justice. Nobody, except perhaps the Justice Department, knows how many people were sent to prison based on these mistakes. And the Justice Department has kept its lips sealed.

In theory, the Justice Department knows exactly who has been affected by the Crime Lab errors. In 1996 it formed a Task Force to investigate thousands of potentially-tainted cases, but it never revealed the results. Dr. Whitehurst continued to press the Justice Department to release the results of the Task Force review for years, and he finally succeeded in prying open their tight grasp only after filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

If the Primetime Live piece whetted your appetite for information about this scandal, there are many more articles and videos out there for you. To get started, check out the NWC’s page with more news about Dr. Whitehurst and the New York Times archive of articles about him.

One New York Times piece from 1997 is worth a look. It is aptly titled, “F.B.I. Whistle-Blower Pledges To Correct Mistakes of Justice.” Here we are fifteen years later.

I’ll leave you with this powerful clip from Primetime Live, recorded in 1995. This is fourteen minutes well spent:


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