In the case of Brandon Mayfield, the Oregon attorney arrested in 2004 when FBI examiners mistakenly determined that his fingerprint matched that found on a bag of detonators linked to the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the office of the inspector general conducted a review (PDF) of the handling of the case, and found no intentional misconduct by any FBI employee.
Instead, they’re chalking it up to incompetence. The fingerprint match was made by mistake by four different people because “the examiners committed errors in the examination procedure, and that the misidentification could have been prevented through a more rigorous application of several principles of latent fingerprint identification.”
The OIG cited the use of a computer program used to help match fingerprints, noting that the program shows “unusually close non-matches” if an exact match isn’t found. Agents should take “particular care” when using the program, according to the report.
In addition, the OIG faulted laboratory technicians for not reexamining the prints after receiving a report from Spanish authorities that the prints didn’t match, and after they learned that Mayfield was an attorney who had previously represented terrorist suspects. “One of the examiners candidly admitted that if the person identified had been someone without these characteristics, like the ‘Maytag Repairman,’ the Laboratory might have revisited the identification with more skepticism and caught the error,” according to the report.
“Following that review, we implemented a series of procedural reforms designed to prevent future errors,” according to an FBI statement released Friday.
In particular, the FBI notes that there was no abuse of the Patriot Act in this case. However, the Patriot Act did allow the FBI to share information about the ongoing investigation with other agencies, which compounded the problem of Mayfield’s mistaken identification.
So you can all rest easy now. The FBI isn’t abusing the Patriot Act. It’s just incompetent.