In their hurry to help find suspects in the March terrorist bombings in Madrid, FBI fingerprint examiners succumbed to top-down institutional intimidation and failed to correct an obvious blunder that led to the detention of an innocent Oregon lawyer, according to a panel of forensic experts. “To disagree was not an expected response” within the FBI’s bureaucratic culture, according to a report on the panel’s findings. It said that once a supervisor in the agency’s fingerprint unit had wrongly identified a print from the bombing investigation in Spain, “it became increasingly difficult for others in the agency” to tell him he had made a mistake.
The seven-member panel of international experts was assembled in June by the FBI to explore the reasons for the arrest of Brandon Mayfield, a Portland area lawyer and convert to Islam, which proved a major embarrassment in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism. The report was published in the November-December issue of the Journal of Forensic Identification, says the Washington Post. The Justice Department is also investigating the case. FBI agents detained Mayfield, 38, in connection with train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 and injured 2,000. Spanish investigators ultimately linked the bombing to al Qaeda and the mistaken fingerprint to an Algerian man, prompting the FBI to release Mayfield, who had been held for two weeks on a material-witness warrant. The FBI apologized for “the hardships this matter has caused.”