Is Jewell a hero again? Suspect no more: FBI loses more credibility with botched Olympics bombing investigation.

November 01, 1996

WITHIN DAYS of leaking to the press its suspicion that Richard Jewell planted the bomb he found at the Olympics, the FBI must have known its suspect better fit a profile of Barney Fife than Theodore Kaczynski. But instead of admitting it had made a mistake, the FBI in its zeal to dispel fear at the Games apparently resorted to deception to make a hunch the truth.

Now the bureau is investigating itself, looking into allegations that three days after the July 27 bombing that left one person dead and 111 injured, FBI agents tried to trick Mr. Jewell into making incriminating statements. Mr. Jewell's attorneys contend agents asked him to participate in a "pretend" interrogation by first signing a real waiver of his civil rights to remain silent or to request a lawyer.

Such a charge raises legitimate fears. Those fears grow when one considers the guilty plea Wednesday of a senior FBI official ++ who now admits he destroyed a critical internal report concerning the 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in which the wife of white separatist Randy Weaver was killed by an FBI sniper.

A disregard for legal process may have been what led to the leak of the FBI's suspicion of Mr. Jewell. The news media -- Atlanta and nationally -- ran the story, rushing to print and broadcast information that wasn't quite true, including an erroneous report that Mr. Jewell had received bomb training as a Georgia deputy sheriff. "Medical experts" got into the act with pop psychology profiles of losers who seek celebrity by committing heinous crimes.

Mr. Jewell said that wasn't him. The FBI said nothing. Three months passed. Now the Justice Department has taken the unusual step of sending Mr. Jewell a letter that says unless new evidence is found he is no longer a suspect.

His "88 days of hell" may be over, but his life will never be the same. Though Mr. Jewell might not get his desired career in law enforcement, surely a lucrative a book and movie deal will come. And maybe a libel judgment or settlement. In the meantime, the FBI appears to be no closer to solving the Olympics bombing than it was when the crime first occurred.

Pub Date: 11/01/96

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