Tarnished Badge

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: A Justice Department investigation into alleged misconduct by the FBI crime lab exonerated agents from accusations of perjury and fabricated evidence. But the 700-page report also said lab agents gave inaccurate and scientifically flawed testimony, often leaning in favor of federal prosecutors, in some of the largest FBI cases in history. It's unclear whether the report will affect the outcomes of old and current federal cases in which serious blunders were found, including the World Trade Center case, which yielded convictions, the Oklahoma City bombing case, in which Timothy McVeigh’s trial is just getting underway, and the Unabomber case. Inspector General Michael Bromwich recommended that five agents be censured or transferred out of the lab and that only scientists be employed in the explosives unit. Even Frederic Whitehurst, the FBI whistleblower whose allegations prompted the 18-month probe, came in for criticism. "We did not substantiate the vast majority of the hundreds of allegations made by Whitehurst," wrote Bromwich, who concluded Whitehurst should be transferred out of the lab and questioned what role, if any, he can usefully serve in other areas within the agency. The report raised serious questions about the stewardship of FBI Director Louis Freeh, who has been dogged by embarrassing FBI blunders almost from the start of his management in 1993. TIME's Elaine Shannon notes, "The problems in the lab existed long before Freeh got there, and he should be credited for helping to bring on this investigation." Still, she says, Freeh has lost credibility on Capitol Hill and in the White House, damaging the agency. Morale is at an all-time low. FBI agents routinely complain about Freeh's micromanaging and pray that he'll step down. And it's about to get worse. At least two more damaging reports will be issued in the coming months, on the FBI's handling of the Ruby Ridge incident and of Richard Jewel in the Olympic bombing.