Much Unabomber evidence is blown Internal FBI audit can't track down data

April 07, 1996|By Jeff Stein

Much of the FBI's Unabomer evidence is in bad shape, according to an agency internal audit. The FBI's own 1994 review of data collected in 13 Unabomer attacks found that most it was "either not in the files or poor," according to a crime lab memorandum.

The May 31, 1994, review was conducted by an FBI explosives expert, sources said.

A government source said, "The FBI is really worried about the lab data in the UNABOM case."

Since 1978, three people have been killed and 24 injured by the Unabomber. The FBI claims that fingerprints, DNA analysis, and bomb parts will tie Theodore Kacyzynski, 53, to the attacks.

The FBI's internal review of data analyzed by the Crime Lab's Explosives Unit, however, may spell trouble for the prosecution.

A typical entry, related to a Unabom attack on an American Airlines flight on Nov. 15, 1979, reads, "No data in file to review. No information on how evidence was processed." Similarly, a review of evidence collected after a 1982 bombing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville reads, "No data in file to review. No information on how evidence was processed."

"No standards were run" on evidence collected after a professor was injured at the University of California, Berkeley, the review stated.

In June 1985, a mustached man in a hood and dark glasses carried out a bombing at a Sacramento, Calif., computer store that resulted in a widely circulated drawing of a Unabom suspect. But the FBI bomb lab's analysis of evidence collected at the scene was judged "unclear" and "hard to review," the 1994 report stated.

Many of the report's barbs were directed at the work of a former lab examiner. He has been singled out for severe criticism by another FBI explosives expert, Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, whose allegations of shoddy work and cover-ups inside the crime lab have prompted the Justice Department to order all 93 U.S. attorneys to review cases handled by lab examiner and a few others.

An outside panel of forensic experts and prosecutors is also reviewing Dr. Whitehurst's allegations. The former lab examiner could not be reached for comment on the Unabomber review, but he has refused previous inquiries about his work.

James E. Starrs, a leading forensic expert at Georgetown University Law School, said the negative assessments of

evidence in the FBI's possession could be "a problem" for the Unabomber prosecution "in light of" Dr. Whitehurst's charges.

Jeff Stein is a free-lance writer who specializes in national security issues.

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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