SALON Daily Clicks: Newsreal

Investigative reporter Jeff Stein uncovers FBI's mishandling of evidence which could limit the case against suspected bomber

By Salon Staff

Published April 23, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

Much of the FBI's lab evidence on past Unabomb attacks is missing or in bad shape, according to an internal crime lab audit obtained by SALON.

The FBI's review of data collected in 13 Unabomb attacks between 1978 and mid-1994 found that most of it was "either not in the files or poor," according to the internal crime lab memorandum.

Investigators say that the review, analyzed by the crime lab's explosives unit, may prompt federal prosecutors to narrow their focus to the two Unabomb cases that occurred after June 1994.

So far, Theodore Kaczynski has been charged with illegally possessing bomb-making materials. Although media leaks have suggested that the feds are convinced they have got their man, no charges have yet been brought that directly link him to the series of Unabomb attacks which have claimed three lives and 23 maimings
since 1978.

Investigators have expressed confidence that fingerprints, diaries, DNA analysis, typewriter ribbons, bombs, and bomb parts will tie the
53-year-old former mathematician to the Unabomb attacks. FBI spokesman Bill Carter said he "wouldn't be able to comment on" any aspects of the evidence. But a government source said "the FBI is really worried about the lab data in the Unabomb case."

The May 31, 1994 review, a copy of which was obtained by
SALON, was conducted by an FBI explosives expert for the
FBI counsel's office.

  • A typical entry in the FBI audit, related to a Unabomb attack on an American Airlines flight on Nov. 15, 1979 , reads, "No data in file to review. No information on how evidence was processed."

  • Similarly, a review of evidence collected after a 1982 bombing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville reads, "No data in file to review. No information on how evidence was processed."

  • "No standards were run" on evidence collected after a professor was injured by an explosion at the University of California, Berkeley, the review stated.

  • After a bomb injured two professors at the University of Michigan in November, 1985, the "Postal Service may have done the work (on the evidence). Not sure," the FBI review says. "No data in the file to review. No information on how the evidence was processed."

  • In June, 1985, the bombing of a Sacramento computer store resulted in the widely circulated drawing of a mustachioed man in a hood and dark glasses. But the FBI bomb lab's analysis of evidence collected at the scene was judged "unclear" and "hard to review," the 1994 report stated.

Many of the report's barbs were directed at the work of a former lab examiner who has been singled out for severe criticism by another FBI explosives expert, Dr. Frederick Whitehurst. Whitehurst's allegations of shoddy work and cover-ups inside the crime lab have prompted the Justice Department to order all 93 US. Attorneys to review cases handled by the bomb lab. An outside panel of forensic experts and prosecutors is also reviewing Whitehurst's allegations.

Jeff Stein is the author of "A Murder in Wartime: The Untold Spy Story that Changed the Course of the Vietnam War." He writes frequently for the Washington Post, New York Times and Baltimore Sun.

A Dove Discouraged

Writer-Activist Amos Oz on Israel's Lebanon Quandary


Israeli novelist Amos Oz, a co-founder of Peace Now, has been one of the country's leading and most articulate advocates of "land for peace" and detente with the Palestinians. He was also one of the fiercest critics of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Reporter Julie Winokur spoke to Oz, who lives in Arad, in northern Israel, about his country's escalating battle with Hezbollah guerrillas.

At least 100 people have died in Lebanon and not a single Israeli since the fighting started 13 days ago. Some critics have called Israel's intense bombing of Hezbollah targets "two eyes for an eye," or even "ten eyes for an eye."

What would have been a sufficient level of response for a systematic harassment of Israel's civilian population? Israel was absolutely right and reasonable in hitting strategic targets, material assets, Hezbollah headquarters. It was utterly wrong in pushing so many Lebanese civilians out of their homes.

But if Hezbollah is hiding behind Lebanese civilians, how can you hit strategic targets without displacing civilians?

Back in the 1960s Israel had a very simple and effective policy vis-a-vis Arab attacks. It was to hold the country responsible, not the population nor even the particular groups. It is not Israel's business to find the bad guys in Lebanon. Lebanon itself is responsible, whether it is strong or weak, whether the government is nice or not nice, whether the regime is sufficiently in command or not. Lebanon is responsible, not the Hezbollah.

Why not go after Syria, which essentially controls events in Lebanon?

I have no doubt that the ultimate responsibility is Syrian, but they work through their proxy in a cunning way. It is extremely difficult to prove their direct responsibility. And with Syria, you can't just hit a couple of Syrian targets. It means full-scale war, which I'm not very eager to see.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres has been accused of using Lebanon to prove to the electorate how tough he can be.

If he was using it as a political tool he would have responded a long time ago. He pleaded on his knees for weeks to the Syrians, to the Arab world, to the international community to do something about it. Nothing happened whatsoever. There was no effective American pressure on Syria to stop the Hezbollah. His only other option would have been to tell the Jewish and Arab population in northern Israel that the country cannot defend them and they should move elsewhere.

Hezbollah claims its purpose is to get Israel out of the occupied "security zone" in southern Lebanon.

We should get out of there at the earliest opportunity -- once we get reasonable guarantees from either the Lebanese army, which should take over, or the Lebanese government. But this is not about the security zone. Iran and Hezbollah are not launching a campaign against Israel over the sovereignty of this strip of seven miles which Israel never claimed to itself permanently. Their motivation is to derail the peace process -- and they may succeed.

So you are not so optimistic about the peace process?

I feel very angry, very frustrated, and almost personally insulted. Like many Israeli doves, I didn't expect this increase in Palestinian violence. When the bombs went off in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv I really had to do some soul-searching. The dead were not the victims of a negativist policy of the Likud party. These were not the victims of the niet policy of (former prime minister Yitzhak) Shamir. These were people who died after Israel turned our way. I still think there is no alternative to a partition of the land, although we will have to create a kind of dependency between the level of violence and the pace of Israeli concessions.

Julie Winokur is a San Francisco-based freelance writer.

And now for something completely different...the Extra Virgin Party!

Italy's Olive Tree Movement, a coalition that includes former communists, beat the right-of-center "Pole of Liberty" coalition led by indicted media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, in Sunday's parliamentary elections. We asked historian Alexander Stille, author of "Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic" (Pantheon, 1995), about the origin of these rather odd names.

Where did these unusal political monikers come from?

Basically they were looking for new bottles to put old wine in, because Italians were thoroughly sick of what they called the "partyocracy." So politicians came up with party names that sound more like a movement. Much the same as Ross Perot had a peculiar slogan like "United We Stand" for a party which was also meant to sound like a movement.

What is the appeal of "Olive Tree" -- is it to do with Italians' love of olive oil?

No. It's the symbol of the olive branch -- peace, etc. And the tree is a big part of it -- one trunk with many branches and many roots, and so forth. I'm sure they consulted with advertising people.When the Democratic Party of the Left (now part of the Olive Tree Movement) went through its convulsions, changing from the Italian Communist Party, they did a whole series of tests.

Are Italians feeling any better about politics now that they have different names to choose from?

No. (laughs)

Salon Staff

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