Frederic Whitehurst

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Person.png Dr Frederic Whitehurst   History Commons Sourcewatch WikileaksRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(forensic scientist, whistleblower)
Frederic Whitehurst.jpg
Received $1.16 million from the FBI after blowing the whistle on misconduct
ExposedFBI/Crime Lab

Dr Frederic Whitehurst is a former Federal Bureau of Investigation field officer and Supervisory Special Agent in the FBI/Crime Lab from 1982 to 1998, where he went public as a whistleblower to bring attention to procedural errors and misconduct.[1]

Vietnam and Academic study

Prior to joining the FBI, Frederic Whitehurst volunteered for three active combat tours with the US Army during the Vietnam War. He received a number of military honours while serving in Vietnam, including four Bronze Stars and the Army commendation medal. Whitehurst obtained a BSc degree in Chemistry in 1974 from East Carolina University, and in 1980 received a PhD in Chemistry from Duke University Graduate School. He then conducted post-doctoral research at Texas A&M University and gained a Juris Doctor qualification from Georgetown University.

FBI career

Dr Whitehurst joined the FBI in February 1982 and was promoted on 6 June 1989 to a position within the FBI Crime Lab in Washington, D.C. as a Supervisory Special Agent. For the next nine years, Dr Whitehurst worked as a chemist and an explosives bomb residue analyst in the FBI Materials Analysis Unit, where his scientific skills in the forensic analyses of explosives and in the area of explosives residues were recognised to be "unequalled in any other laboratory." Early after his appointment to the Crime Lab, he began raising concerns about scientific misconduct within the FBI and continued reporting those concerns to his superiors. By 1996, despite having provided public testimony critical of the FBI's conduct in the World Trade Center case, having been publicly identified as a "whistleblower" as a result of publicity surrounding the O.J. Simpson case and having been involuntarily transferred from all duties within the Crime Lab, Dr Whitehurst received his last performance review and was still rated "exceptional" or "superior" in every performance category.

FBI Crime Lab

Full article: FBI/Crime Lab

His efforts finally led in April 1997 to a scathing 500-page study of the Crime Lab by the Justice Department's Inspector General, Michael Bromwich, whose report sharply criticised the laboratory for flawed scientific work and inaccurate, pro-prosecution testimony in major cases, including the Oklahoma City and World Trade Center bombings. Mr Bromwich recommended major changes and discipline for five agents, including Tom Thurman, as well as the transfer of Dr Whitehurst to other duties.[2]

In January 1997, Dr Whitehurst was suspended with pay and was facing disciplinary proceedings for refusing to cooperate with an investigation into the publication of some of his allegations in a magazine. While under suspension, Whitehurst was forced to defend himself from retaliation by the FBI by hiring Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, a Washington, D.C. law firm specialising in defending whistleblowers.[3]


On 26 February 1998, the FBI agreed to pay a settlement of more than $1.16 million to Frederic Whitehurst, the agent who brought about an overhaul of its Crime Lab. He returned to work from a year-long suspension and then voluntarily resigned as required by the deal to settle part of his lawsuit against the FBI. "The FBI did the right thing," said Dr Whitehurst's lawyer, Stephen Kohn. "It's a positive message to all employees."

In the 16-page settlement, a copy of which was obtained by Associated Press, the Federal Bureau of Investigation agreed to pay $1.166 million now to buy annuities that would pay the 50-year-old agent annual amounts equal to the salary and pension he would have earned had he kept working until the normal FBI retirement age of 57.

Under terms of the settlement, the FBI also agreed to pay $258,580 in legal fees to Dr Whitehurst's lawyers, and the Justice Department dropped all consideration of disciplinary action against him.[4]

Lockerbie Bombing

Full article: Lockerbie Bombing

In the 2009 film Lockerbie Revisited, Frederic Whitehurst was interviewed and described the FBI laboratory as a "crime scene", where his unqualified colleague Thomas Thurman would routinely alter Whitehurst's scientific reports over a five-year period. Ian Ferguson reported that the timer fragment - allegedly found in the Pan Am Flight 103 debris and which allegedly was part of the MEBO timer that triggered the Lockerbie bomb - had not been tested for explosives residue because of 'budgetary reasons'. Whitehurst did not accept that cost could be the reason since it would have taken him just a morning's work to have tested the timer fragment.[5]

In the film, Thurman confirmed that the fragment - the only real piece of evidence against Libya - had been brought over from the UK to the FBI Crime Lab, where he had personally identified it as coming from the circuit board of a MEBO MST-13 timer, only 20 of which had been made and all were supplied to Libya. Richard Marquise agreed that "without the timer fragment we would have been unable to develop additional evidence against Libya." He said that of all the evidence retrieved from the crash scene, only one piece - the timer fragment - was brought to America.[6]

National Whistleblowers Center

FBI admits to flawed forensics analyses

Dr Whitehurst currently serves as the Executive Director of the Forensic Justice Project (FJP), which was formed in 1998 as a project of the National Whistleblowers Center, a non-profit organisation chaired by Stephen Kohn.[7] The goal of the FJP is to lead a national effort to accomplish the following:

  • Review cases to make sure that innocent people have not been wrongfully convicted through the misuse of forensic science;
  • Provide expert testimony in cases in order to assure that forensic science is not misused in civil and criminal prosecutions impacting on the public interest or the rights of individuals;
  • Offer objective scientific evaluations of forensic evidence;
  • Publish and distribute information necessary for an objective analysis of the quality and objectivity of forensic science and crime laboratories nationwide.

In an interview published in April 2015, Dr Whitehurst was asked about a recent announcement that 26 out of 28 FBI Crime Lab analysts had overstated conclusions of hair analysis evidence in hundreds of cases before 2000. Whitehurst said it only made sense that the FBI analysts gave erroneous testimony about scientific results; many of the analysts he knew during his tenure had no scientific experience or education:

“When I was at the FBI, we had people with English degrees, history degrees, doing complex chemical analysis. Our chief chemist didn’t have an undergraduate degree in chemistry. They were not scientists. They weren’t out to hurt anyone. They believed in their work. They believed what they were saying when they said it. Those people gave misleading testimony in courts of law but they believed it, and they taught it to thousands of state hair examiners all over the U.S.” When asked why more FBI scientists don’t speak out about questionable practices, Whitehurst said that FBI employees face many obstacles in speaking out. According to Whitehurst, whistleblowers risk losing their jobs and compromising their careers, and rarely receive support from their colleagues. “You have to be insane to tell the truth at the FBI, absolutely insane,” said Whitehurst.[8]


Further reading

  • Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab, by John F. Kelly and Phillip K. Wearne
  • Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab Prologue, New York Times Web

External links

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