Crime in the Crime Lab: Convictions at any price
By Robert S. Ortloff, a Victim of FBI Crime Lab Misconduct
The natural reverence Congress has for authority blinds it to the paradox of situations of misconduct like those committed by the FBI Crime Laboratory. Congress wants to idealize the skill and character of those individuals within the FBI and cannot understand how easily a citizen can become ensnared in a web fraught with wrongdoing, hidden agendas and weaknesses of a self-protective, all-powerful bureaucracy.
In contrast to the themes both U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh set forth in their political speeches before Congress and the media, certain realities show that fair-play and the due process of law do not mean much these days to the FBI. Agents go through the motions of justice, reading a script and reciting the words, but they understand so very little. The truth is, despite ever evolving proof that agents within the FBI Crime Laboratory conducted shoddy, prosecution-tilting forensic workalong with numerous other acts of egregious misconduct-they are men entrusted to Director Freeh's leadership and it appears that he is going to take care of his agents before taking care of the individual citizen he swore to protect. All the damage control rhetoric and platitude filled speeches are nothing more than spin-political misdirection worthy of The Great Houdini.
There are some things: honor, integrity, character, and yes, the individual citizen, that are more important than the image of the FBI Crime Laboratory. Yet when confronted with the truth, the FBI resorts to using plausible denial and name-calling, all ensconced behind a bulwark of self-righteous indignation in the typical underhanded attempt to discredit and demonize the individual citizen who alleges FBI misconduct.
What the FBI has done to its whistle blower-agent Dr. Whitehurst is not only unconscionable, but bares witness to such tactics. If the FBI can so easily attack and destroy one of its finest, then one can only imagine what the FBI can do to the average citizen. Although the FBI and Justice Department acknowledge that the problems at the laboratory, and indeed, within the whole of the FBI are too important to be treated behind closed doors, neither agency allows the real extent of these problems, nor the underlying truths therein, to be known to the Congress and thus the American people.
Both agencies merely obfuscate the truth as they go on to imply that every agent is and has been a virtuous and infallible warrior of the justice system. If it is the goal of the FBI to create agents who simply tow the prevailing political line or push their own personal agendas, agents who interpret the ideal of due process as they wish it to be, agents who are not necessarily morally or ethically competent for their job, then the FBI loses its very reason for existence.
If agents from the FBI Crime Laboratory were wrong, or even appear to have been wrong, then it is the Director's responsibility-as an agent and as an employee of the people-to ensure that all cases tainted by the recent laboratory scandal receive a complete and fair investigation by an independent fact-finder. It is possible and often necessary to face forcefully against the winds and do what is right and just. Our democracy demands an FBI Director with this degree of intellectual maturity, strength of character and sense of constitutional duty What is not productive or healthy for our democracy is all the unrelenting blather which makes so obvious what the cadre of ideological brethren within the justice system have so long managed to ignore: That honor and integrity and the ideals of justice are all rooted in an understanding that the individual citizen, as circumscribed by the Constitution, is prime.
Moreover, an important aspect of this misconduct is also a philosophical one. If the purpose of the FBI warrior-agent is to protect his nation from forces seeking to harm it, then honoring the individual citizen as an absolute equal is part and parcel of being an agent. Likewise, an agent who sees himself as superior to the average citizen and thus feels justified is abusing the law and ignoring the truth becomes himself a threat to his nation. He has betrayed the very meaning of what it is to be an FBI agent.
Therefore, if contempt for-and abuse of-the rights of the citizen, whether widespread or not, exists in the FBI, it must be stamped out because it is itself a threat. Agents who feel justified in breaking the law and manipulating the forensic evidence, and thus violate the fundamental right to due process by orchestrating a conviction, agents who take a case from a preconceived notion toward a preordained conclusion, are a knife at the throat of American society. And these agents will breed public distrust, not respect, because they are at odds with the lofty ideals of the very people they swore to protect. That is why the problems surrounding the FBI Crime Laboratory are not fringe problems. Instead, they are at the very heart of what the FBI is and why it exists.
Agents who obey the letter and the spirit of the law and who follow the rules is what is at issue. Yet the FBI seems to resent being in a country where the people can hold the government's police force accountable to the law, the rules, and to the truth. If Director Freeh and Attorney General Reno believe in obedience to the law and most important of all, to the Constitution, where have they been all these years when problems with the FBI Crime Laboratory were emerging? Why were the problems white-washed or covered up?
History shows that individual citizens have been screaming and shouting about laboratory misconduct for over a decade, but the cadre of government careerists continued to smother these cries in a blanket of general denials. So much for swearing to defend the Constitution, and thus, the fundamental rights of the individual citizen.
Today's system, with its zero tolerance for individual rights to a patently ridiculous expedient, has introduced a Stalinist element into the FBI. And in the style of absolutists everywhere within the system, individual citizens are brutally attacked while the various agents from the FBI Crime Laboratory are described as warriors who merely made some mistakesforgive the illegal acts of the brethren, stone the citizens, thereby appealing to the politics of justice that serve as a model of how to violate one's oath to support and defend the Constitution without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.
The current climate of having to appear to be tough on crime and the wind of political agendas, however, have made any fair and impartial evaluation of FBI misconduct difficult, if not impossible. But it is more than that the problems surrounding the laboratory are a scandal and reflects the moral compromises of numerous FBI agents, it has to do with finding the truth, correcting the mistakes, and finally obtaining some justice for those wrongfully convicted.
This article has been brief and inadequate for this serious subject. Yet it is not meant as a protest against the brand of justice that stifles the rights of the citizenry, but as an argument urging for Director Freeh to clean up the ugly mess and instill some true leadership within the agency. The FBI Crime Laboratory misconduct is the quintessential embodiment of the system's hysteria to obtain convictions at any price. It represents the denial of justice to all citizens. The FBI and its laboratory must be held fully accountable. Only then will there be justice. Only then will our collective liberty continue to survive.