Missing evidence from Oklahoma City
November 17, 2001
The FBI doesn't want to talk about it, but the evidence keeps mounting.
Critical evidence that several Middle Eastern men may have been connected to the Oklahoma City bombing appears to have been kept from the public by the FBI.
By law, such information should have been turned over to lawyers representing executed bomber Timothy McVeigh, and it must be given to the legal team for co-conspirator Terry Nichols, whose state case opened in an Oklahoma court two weeks ago.
Officially, the FBI has dismissed the possibility of a John Doe No. 2, an olive-skinned man whose sketch they released immediately after the bombing, or other suspects. But current and former FBI agents in Oklahoma City say they received documents pointing to another person or even a cell of Middle Eastern operatives.
At a minimum, Congress should question one former FBI agent who says he obtained 22 affidavits and more than 30 witness statements describing sightings of Middle Easterners with McVeigh. Although he passed the materials on to a superior, the evidence never surfaced and was not given to McVeigh's or Nichols' defense teams.
The affidavits and witness statements described a close-knit group of Middle Eastern men living in Oklahoma City and surrounding areas who were seen with McVeigh on numerous occasions in the months and weeks leading up to the bombing.
Even worse, the agents believe if that evidence had not been suppressed by the FBI, it could have helped uncover plans leading to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Lawmakers should demand a full accounting of the missing documents given to the FBI.
Six days before McVeigh was scheduled to die at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Attorney General John Ashcroft postponed the execution because of revelations the FBI had failed to turn over more than 3,000 documents to McVeigh's defense team.
Though none of the new evidence was able to persuade the trial judge to save McVeigh, it showed that the FBI had withheld important information in the April 19, 1995, bombing.
The former agent does not want his name used, but, if subpoenaed, is willing to testify about the documents either in court or on Capitol Hill.
In January 1999, the agent got the documents from former Oklahoma City KFOR-TV reporter Jayna Davis. Davis had done a six-year investigation beginning on the day of the bombing, documenting a cell of Middle Eastern individuals operating in Oklahoma City under suspicious circumstances.
"She started in 1997 trying to turn those documents over to the FBI and we refused to take those documents because we knew at the time that those documents would have to be turned over to the defense attorneys . . . ," said the former agent.
Two weeks ago, the Justice Department quashed motions to allow 18 FBI agents, including the agent who received the documents from Davis, to testify in Nichols' state case. At least one of those agents believes that if the FBI had followed up on the affidavits that he turned over to his superiors, the Sept. 11 attacks could have been prevented.
"We don't know what ever happened to those documents," the former agent said. "We know they were never given to the defense attorneys. And that's really what I was going to testify about, the fact that those documents were in FBI custody. And I don't know to this day what happened to the documents. We did have some Oklahoma connections to the events in Washington, D.C., and New York City. We did find out that one of these individuals was trying to take flight training at a Norman (Okla.) flight instruction school."
Other former and current FBI agents in the Oklahoma City field office have also questioned the agency's handling of evidence. During an interview broadcast in May on Sixty Minutes II, they discussed the missing documents that surfaced right before McVeigh's initial execution date. "There's no reason for it unless there is negligence," agent Jim Volz told the news magazine.
These people want the truth. The American people want the truth. Next week's column will ask members of Congress if they do, too.
Patterson is a Star editorial writer. Contact him at 1-317-444-6174 or via e-mail at [email protected]