Sunday, October 5, 2008

DOJ faults FBI for fingerprinting error


DOJ faults FBI for fingerprinting error

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An FBI mistake linking an Oregon lawyer, a Muslim convert, to the 2004 Madrid train bombings was a "watershed event" that led to improved fingerprint identification but more needs to be done, according to a federal report.


The 330-page Department of Justice report released Friday, the day before the second anniversary of the bombings, expanded on its January report that faulted the FBI for sloppy work but concluded the government did not misuse the anti-terror Patriot Act against Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield.

FBI experts mistakenly matched fingerprints found on a bag of detonators in Madrid to Mayfield's after the March 11, 2004 train bombings that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,500.

Mayfield, who was jailed for two weeks in 2004 on a material witness warrant, was released after the FBI acknowledged the fingerprint was not his.

"Among other things, the examiners applied circular reasoning, allowing details visible in Mayfield's known prints to suggest features in the murky or ambiguous details ... that were not really there," the report by the department's internal watchdog said.

Mayfield is suing the federal government.

Some of the report was blacked out — especially details of the FBI's search of Mayfield's home and office, which are the subject of Mayfield's lawsuit.

The Justice Department's Inspector General, Glenn Fine, conducted an investigation into Mayfield's arrest.

The full report states that the misidentification of the fingerprint was a "watershed event for the FBI Laboratory, which has described latent fingerprint identification as the 'gold standard for forensic science.'"

But Fine adds that "we found that some of the changes adopted by the (FBI) Laboratory were not fully responsive to the issues raised by the Mayfield misidentification."

The report outlined at least six recommendations, including alternate procedures for verifications; reviewing previous cases based on a single fingerprint identified through the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System; and requiring documentation of observed features before comparisons are made to confirm the identification.

FBI Special Agent Ann Todd, a spokeswoman for the lab, said the two FBI experts who first examined the print are not doing case work, "although both have been cleared to do so."

An FBI contractor who verified the identification has "not performed any work for the FBI laboratory subsequent to the Mayfield error," Todd said.

She said that in the 73-year history of the latent prints operation, the lab has made an erroneous identification once every 11 years, on average.