A retired FBI agent says it would be nearly impossible for federal agents to lose a videotape showing Timothy McVeigh and any possible accomplices on the scene of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building the day a bomb went off in 1995 in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.
As WND reported, researchers for the FBI testified during a Freedom of Information trial this week in Salt Lake City, Utah, that they searched for hours but couldn’t find any videotapes other than the 30 tapes they have already handed over to Jesse Trentadue. The Salt Lake City lawyer alleges in his lawsuit that the FBI is holding back video footage of the crime scene that would prove McVeigh was not alone in setting off the blast.
Former longtime FBI agent Dan Vogel, who spent 25 years with the bureau including the last 14 at the field office in Oklahoma City, explained in a WND interview that the FBI has very strict guidelines for ensuring the integrity of evidence.
Vogel also said the Murrah building would have been only one source for the video footage, and he rejects the government’s earlier claims that it couldn’t find videotapes requested by Trentadue.
“All those federal buildings, they have security cameras all over the place, and then all those commercial buildings have security cameras as well, so you’re going to have tons and tons of video to look at,” Vogel told WND. “And then you have the bureau saying ‘well we can’t find it?’ That doesn’t speak to well of the bureau.”
Vogel, who retired in 2000, now works as a legal consultant in federal cases and is intimately familiar with the FBI’s policies and procedures.
“There are a couple of issues here that I think are pretty critical, and one is possible violation of FBI policies and procedures,” he said.
Nearly two dozen eyewitnesses have claimed they saw a second man in the truck with McVeigh or with him leading up to the bombing. Some say the man appeared to be Middle Eastern. The government insists McVeigh was by himself when he detonated the bomb and that his only assistance came from Terry Nichols, who is serving a life sentence.
None of the 30 videos provided to Trentadue show McVeigh or his infamous Ryder truck at the scene, and on Thursday FBI witnesses claimed that no such video exists. The trial was set to conclude Thursday, and U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups will rule at a later date.
‘Numerous other videotapes’
Richard Williams, the assistant building manager for the Murrah building in 1995, testified Thursday that outside surveillance cameras pointing at where the bomb was detonated had not been operational for at least two years before the bombing, the Associated Press reported.
What the AP fails to report, however, is the fact that in a Freedom of Information lawsuit in 2001, Judge Wayne Alley forced the FBI to document an inventory of materials from the bombing. The inventory list “includes numerous other videotapes, from April 19, 1995, from several sources,” Alley wrote in court documents obtained by WND.
The word “several” is key, because it confirms the belief of Trentadue and others who have investigated the bombing that cameras with the potential to capture damning evidence were mounted not just on the Murrah building but on several surrounding commercial buildings. So whether or not the cameras on the Murrah building were functioning does not address the issue of what the FBI did with the videotapes it took into custody from “several sources.”
One commercial property that had a surveillance camera was the Journal Record Building. The camera on the building would have been positioned to catch McVeigh’s exit from the bombing site in his getaway car, says Jayna Davis, one of the first reporters on the scene of the bombing 19 years ago and author of the New York Times-Bestseller “The Third Terrorist,” published by WND Books.
The head of security for the Journal Record building handed over a VCR loaded with a videotape to the FBI, and Davis still has a copy of the FBI’s Form 302 interview summary in which the security guard confirmed that he handed the VCR over to an agent. He did not watch the tape before giving it to the FBI, because the electricity to the Journal Record building went out as a result of the explosion.
“The defense team for Terry Nichols went through all the surveillance tape and they never got that tape,” Davis told WND. “So what I’m saying is, where’s that tape?”
“We worked very hard with our law enforcement sources to know that there were five tapes, and they all had critical information,” she said.
Davis said the downtown area of the city was crawling with FBI agents in the aftermath of the bombing.
“They were one step ahead of the local police, confiscating these videotapes from private businesses wherever they could find them,” she said.
Trentadue says he began investigating the bombing to seek justice for his brother, Kenneth Trentadue, 44, who was found hanged in his cell at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City. He believes his brother, a convicted bank robber who was picked up for parole violations, was mistaken for a suspected co-conspirator in the bombing and died in an FBI interrogation that went awry and was covered up by prison officials.
Vogel explained to WND that the FBI has two large operating manuals that investigators must follow. They’ve been added to over the years and contain thousands of pages – the Manual of Administrative Operations and Procedures and the Manual of Investigative Operations and Guidelines.
“That covers all investigative activities. If you have a certain type of case, you go into the MIOG and find out how to work it,” he said. “When someone says, ‘Oh we lost this evidence,’ I don’t see how that’s possible, because evidence is handled in a very special way. It’s handled like nothing else at the FBI. First off, when you seize evidence you have to get it into the system as soon as possible, it must be stored a certain way, tracked a certain way, 24/7.”
He said any original documents would be copied before entered into storage.
“If I had original documents, for example, I would take them and I would copy them before I took them to the evidence room. Same with videotapes,” he said. “They would make copies of all videotapes, and they would take the originals and put them in evidence control, and they would be easily tracked, assigned a number in the file, so you can go in the file and say, ‘OK, where’s my videotape from such and such building.'”
In the evidence room, he said, “an attendant would get it for you or tell you if it’s been checked out by someone and who has it.
“It will show on the form where it is and who has it. At that point, anyone going in there is going to know agent so and so has those documents and he’s using them for trial. It’s called a chain of custody, and if you can’t show that then a good defense attorney is going to get that evidence thrown out of court.”
To lose a videotape, it would mean that the original and the copies would all have to fall through the cracks of the FBI’s elaborate system for tracking evidence.
“If you’re the case agent, you’re going to have copies, because you can’t run down to the evidence room every time you want to view the tapes; that wouldn’t make any sense,” Vogel said. “You don’t need the originals until the trial.”
Breaking the rules
By presenting a defense in this week’s trial that it can’t find videos that have been established to exist, according to the written ruling of Alley on July 10, 2001, the FBI is essentially admitting to breaking its own rules, found in its voluminous operating manuals, contends Vogel.
“No it wasn’t followed, it was broken because they should be able to tell you immediately where these (videotapes) were and should all be assigned numbers,” Vogel said. “When they tell the judge ‘we can’t find the videotapes’ what they’re telling him is, number one, we’re incompetent, or, number two, we’re not following our own policies and procedures. And that’s a huge deal for what has been called the world’s greatest law enforcement agency.”
Vogel concludes the FBI either committed the cardinal sin of violating the “chain of custody” on its evidence or something more sinister was at work.
“It’s either incompetence or … there’s something else going on that’s even worse,” Vogel said. “You can speculate on what that might be.”
The 1995 bombing of the federal building was the biggest case of domestic terrorism in U.S. history to that point, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more. The trial has been called the largest criminal trial of the 20th century.
With those kinds of stakes, it’s even more unlikely the FBI would have botched the handling of evidence so bad that 19 years later it still can’t produce all of the videotapes.
“Unless it was intentional. That’s the only thing I can think. Unless there’s some other motive we don’t know about. I’m just speculating at this point, but I can’t think of any other reason they would lose evidence of this importance,” Vogel said. “They could claim there was a fire or flood, but that’s pretty far fetched.”
Vogel said the FBI’s strategy may be to outlive Trentadue.
“The problem is they don’t want to turn over the tapes, and what I think they are trying to do is keep this going so long that Mr. Trentadue will finally just give up,” Vogel said. “That is a legal strategy in some cases, to make it so expensive for you that eventually you will just give up, basically hope Mr. Trentadue gives up or dies. Because they have unlimited resources and he has limited resources.”
Davis also gives kudos to Trentadue for his persistence and hopes he continues the fight, regardless of the outcome of this week’s trial.
“Judge Alley clearly implied in the court record that the FBI possesses numerous tapes which were recorded on the day of the bombing – tapes the public has never seen,” she said. “The judge stopped short of stating what those tapes show and the location of the cameras which recorded the images of April 19, 2005.”
Vogel said he believes Trentadue will continue the fight until he either dies or runs our of money.
“It’s only because he is an attorney and doesn’t have to hire one that he’s been able to pursue it this long. They know what they’re doing. You drag this thing out, drag your feet as long as you can and he’ll give up. The problem is they don’t know Mr. Trentadue very well; he’s not going to quit,” Vogel said. “He’s going to stay with it till he dies. He’s made this his life’s mission — that’s the thing they didn’t plan on. And the more difficult they make it for him the more he’s going to pursue this … for truth.”