LONG delay before FBI agent told superiors about bombing documents

Friday, May 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(WASHINGTON) - The FBI agent who first knew of a foul-up with Oklahoma City bombing documents did not inform his superiors about it for months because he was trying to determine how bad the problem was, a memo on his meeting with senators shows.

Danny Defenbaugh, the lead investigator of the Oklahoma City bombing case who was in charge of collecting investigative documents, said the FBI had an inkling that something was amiss as early as January, according to a summary of a briefing Defenbaugh gave to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The summary was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press. To see a transcript, click here.

Defenbaugh briefed lawmakers on Tuesday. The next day, former FBI Director Louis Freeh gave a similar account before Congress of the gap in time between Defenbaugh's discovering the documents and alerting his superiors.

Why, just a week before Timothy McVeigh's execution, the FBI disclosed that it had failed to turn over more than 3,000 investigative records is one of the most perplexing questions in the documents controversy.

FBI field offices were asked in late December to send all investigative materials to Oklahoma City to be archived. Defenbaugh told lawmakers that archivists discovered a single document that had not been turned over to McVeigh's lawyers as required, according to the three-page summary.

By early February, more items began to arrive that had not been turned over. Over the next several weeks, many other items were discovered.

McVeigh's execution, originally set for May 16, was delayed by Attorney General John Ashcroft until June 11 after the FBI revealed that investigative records had not been made available to McVeigh's lawyers.

McVeigh's lawyers are examining the documents to determine whether they provide an opportunity to challenge their client's conviction and death sentence for the April 1995 blast that killed 168 people and injured hundreds of others.

Asked why he waited until May to notify FBI higher-ups, Defenbaugh said he wanted to be completely sure what the problem was and how bad it was, the summary shows.

Citing the unreliability of the FBI's bureau-wide computer system, Defenbaugh said he opted in 1995 to enter all the bombing documents into a separate database in Oklahoma. As it turns out, 254 of the items never turned over to McVeigh's attorneys actually had been entered in the bureau-wide system.

According to the memo, Defenbaugh told lawmakers that in hindsight he should have checked the FBI computer system for any documents.