Friday, November 19, 2004

Still Chasing the Wrong Terrorists:

After the Madrid train bombing, you might remember that the FBI immediately identified the suspect, a local Portland, OR lawyer, who supposedly had his fingerprint recovered from the crime scene. But most of you don't know what happened afterwards.

You should, because in W's jackboot environment of Patriot Act II, you might be next:

FBI blamed in print error

Fingerprint analysts who mistakenly linked a print from the Madrid bombing to a local lawyer were influenced by one another's work and the pressure of being assigned to a high-profile terrorism case, an international team of forensic scientists concluded.

The team found that human error, not technology or methodology, led FBI fingerprint analysts to conclude earlier this year that the print belonged to Brandon Mayfield, a 38-year-old Muslim convert.

The problem began with a mistaken identification by a supervisor from the fingerprint unit and was reinforced by other examiners who were reluctant to question an experienced colleague, the panel found.

The unit chief contacted Interpol before a thorough review had been done, the report said. When Spanish authorities investigating the deadly March 11 train bombings challenged the match, the FBI took a "defensive posture" and the unit chief went to Spain to argue for the bureau's findings, the report said.

"Once the mind-set occurred with the initial examiner, the subsequent examinations were tainted," wrote Robert Stacey, chief of the FBI's Quality Assurance and Training Unit and author of the report.

The report contradicts the FBI's original assertion that it was the poor quality of the print that led examiners to link it to Mayfield. The report says the quality of the print "was not a factor" in the FBI's mistaken match with Mayfield's fingerprint. In fact, the report says the initial print identification "is filled with dissimilarities that were easily observed" in a more detailed analysis.

...As a result of the bungled match, Mayfield, a Portland-area lawyer, was detained for two weeks in May as a material witness in the Madrid train bombings that left scores dead and more than 2,000 wounded. The print was linked later to an Algerian man, prompting the FBI to issue an extraordinary apology to Mayfield.

...The panelists said that people charged with reviewing and verifying a match should feel free to challenge the work of the original examiner. When errors are discovered, they must be reported quickly, the report concludes.

In the Mayfield case, the panelists found that subsequent examinations of the print were "incomplete and inaccurate."

"To disagree was not an expected response," Stacey wrote.

A wrong match on a fingerprint is "considered the most serious error a latent print examiner can make in casework and cannot be tolerated or minimized by an agency or the forensic community," Stacey wrote.

...Mayfield was fortunate that the print "was found on another country's soil and that country maintained an interest in the print and held to its guns and took on the FBI," said Simon Cole, an assistant professor at the University of California at Irvine, who has written extensively on fingerprinting and criminal identification.

...Although the report offers a candid look at what went wrong in the Mayfield case, it does not address a central issue raised by Mayfield: That the FBI targeted him because of his Muslim faith. The report does not say whether fingerprint examiners knew about Mayfield's faith.
Mayfield is now suing the federal government.

Posted by a Vet -- -- permanent link