cover image Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab

Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab

John Kelly, Phillip Wearne. Free Press, $25 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-684-84646-0

The media has familiarized the public with the vocabulary of forensic science: DNA identification, fingerprinting, bomb signatures, etc. However, as journalists Kelly and Wearne make clear in this expose of the FBI crime lab, some of these practices are dubious at best, and any of them is only as effective as the scientist behind it. The book was prompted by the complaints lodged against the bureau by FBI crime-lab scientist Fred Whitehurst, and the congressional inquiries that arose from his whistle-blowing. The problem Whitehurst identified is twofold. First, the bureau allegedly puts so much faith in its reputation that it refuses to submit to external certification even as it fails to maintain state-of-the-art labs. Second, the FBI lab is said to operate as a good-ol'-boy network, promoting unqualified agents and often taking direction from field investigators. Kelly and Wearne detail how the FBI crime lab's alleged arrogance and incompetence has, they say, affected the investigation of six high-profile cases, with apparent offenses ranging from laziness and bungling in the Unabomber, O.J. Simpson and Oklahoma City cases to possible perjury in the World Trade Center bombing case and conspiracy to withhold evidence in the investigation of the FBI assault on Ruby Ridge and a series of bomb attacks on federal judges in the late 1980s. Their book is painstakingly researched and highly detailed, but the abundance of information--some of it shocking--doesn't excuse its bone-dry, tedious presentation. In any case, this volume belongs on the reading list of any criminal defense attorney as a road map to the successful cross-examination of forensics experts. (July)