Despite the seemingly simple conclusion behind the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, the investigation was exceedingly complicated. To this day, it is still the FBI’s most massive investigation, comprised of millions of pages of evidence. Careful analysis of this paper trail shows that the official narrative of the FBI and ATF is in fact a half-truth that ignores findings supported by the records. The FBI and ATF’s positions are frequently backed up with misleading statements, and in some instances, total fabrications.
In an honest investigation, there would be no reason to concoct and disseminate lies. If we believe that the FBI and ATF investigations were fair and legitimate, then we would expect to not find so many blatant examples of dishonesty. Yet, they exist: one after another, often repeated, and affirmed as truth. Some lies are small, others large. But what they have in common is a systemic problem that speaks to the very integrity of the agencies tasked with investigating this crime. The FBI is not a person suffering from a disorder that causes delusions. If an FBI or ATF official is formulating a lie, or propagating an extant lie, there is an objective.
All too often, it appears at the aim of these agencies is to conceal an inconvenient truth, to hide something that may otherwise invalidate the official narrative or camouflage something to heinous for the public to accept. Federal agencies’ overall deceptive pattern points to shared complicity or guilt, which should be of great concern.
In this essay we’ll examine some of the lies and wrongdoing that officials at the FBI and ATF have engaged in regarding their investigation(s) of the Oklahoma City bombing. I have uncovered half a dozen examples throughout investigating this case. Initially, I did not go out of my way looking for deception. It was something I continually discovered naturally. In some cases, the lies may be related to one another and will provide insight and clarity about what happened on the morning of April 19, 1995.
There Were No Eyewitnesses
I came upon the first example while reading On Scene Commander by Weldon Kennedy. Kennedy was the FBI’s first on-scene commander of the Oklahoma City bombing investigation and could be found hosting press conferences to discuss developments in the early days after the attack. In his memoir, Kennedy wrote that “this was going to be a case largely built from forensic evidence since there were no eyewitnesses.”1Kennedy, Weldon L. On-Scene Commander: From Street Agent to Deputy Director of the FBI. Potomac Books, 2007, pp. 224. (Kindle Edition)
Full stop: no eyewitnesses? This assertion is a blatant lie and should be a clue to the discerning reader that whatever the eyewitnesses saw must be important. It is surprising that Kennedy would write this, given the vast number of mainstream media reports that included eyewitness accounts2Thomas, Jo. “Sightings of John Doe No. 2: In Blast Case, Mystery No. 1.” The New York Times, 3 Dec. 1995., along with the FBI’s 302 reports that detailed eyewitness interviews. Even Kennedy himself, during his April 20, 1995 press conference, described a second suspect who was spotted alongside Timothy McVeigh: “The second man is also of medium build. He is further described as 5 feet 9 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing approximately 175 to 180 pounds, with brown hair and a tattoo visible on his left arm, below his t-shirt sleeve. He is possibly a smoker.”3Statement by FBI Special Agent in Charge Weldon L. Kennedy. Press Release: U.S. Department of Justice, FBI. 20 Apr. 1995. Three eyewitnesses from Elliott’s Body Shop provided this description of a man who, alongside McVeigh, picked up the bomb-truck on April 17. This same suspect would be spotted with McVeigh at the crime scene on April 19.
The FBI uncovered about two dozen key eyewitnesses over the course of their investigation. These individuals observed Timothy McVeigh and the Ryder truck as it approached the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on the morning of the bombing, most of them between 8:30 AM and 9:02 AM when the bomb went off. Following the explosion, FBI agent Danny Coulson was in charge of the crime scene, occupying a position of authority similar to Weldon Kennedy as an on-scene commander. In 2007, Coulson spoke candidly to the BBC about the voluminous eyewitnesses that came forward: “We know there were 24 people that were interviewed by the FBI that said they saw Mr. McVeigh on April 19 with someone else.”4“Call to Reopen Oklahoma Bomb Case.” BBC Two, 2 Mar. 2007 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/6275147.stm>; The Conspiracy Files: Oklahoma City, BBC. 4 Mar. 2007. Coulson’s statement is corroborated by the FBI’s 302 reports which contain the descriptions these witnesses provided agents.
For example, catering truck driver Rodney Johnson spoke to the FBI on the night of the bombing and for several days after. Johnson described how he had to slam on his truck’s brakes to avoid hitting two men running across the street as they exited the Ryder truck.5FBI 302 report. SA John Hippard. Interview w/ Rodney Johnson. 21 Apr 1995, File #174A-OC-56120 D-3253 He got a good look at both John Doe #1 and John Doe #2, and his description of the suspects matches the one given by Weldon Kennedy during his April 20 press conference. Rodney Johnson’s catering truck co-worker, Billie Hood, also saw the fleeing pair and was interviewed by the FBI.6FBI 302 report. SA John Hippard. Interview w/ Billie J. Hood. 27 Apr. 1995. FILE #174A-OC-56120 D-3428 Following McVeigh’s arrest, Johnson was re-interviewed and confirmed McVeigh was one of the two men he saw.
According to Weldon Kennedy, both Rodney Johnson and Billie Hood are the product of fever dreams “since there were no eyewitnesses.”
Another witness, Mike Moroz was interviewed by the FBI numerous times in the week after the bombing. Moroz was a mechanic working at Johnny’s Tire, an automotive repair shop located a few blocks from the Murrah Building. On the morning of the bombing, Timothy McVeigh pulled the bomb-truck into Johnny’s Tire at about 8:30am to ask for directions.7Oklahoma County Grand Jury #CJ-95-7278, testimony of Mike Moroz, September 15th, 1997; FBI 302 report. SA John Elvig. Interview w/ Mike Moroz. 21 April 1995, file #174A-OC-56120 D-68; “Man Who Says McVeigh Wasn’t Alone Testifies Before Grand Jury.” Rocky Mountain News, 16 Sept. 1997; Clay, Nolan. “Nichols’ jurors hear of McVeigh sightings.” The Daily Oklahoman, 14 May, 2004. He was looking for a one-way street downtown, a route leading to the Murrah Building. Moroz recounted the interaction to the FBI, explaining that he had spoken to McVeigh face-to-face. His co-workers, Allen Gorrell and Byron Marshall, were also interviewed and confirmed that McVeigh had stopped for directions.8FBI 302 report. SA John Elvig. Interview w/ Allen Gorrell, 24 April 1995, File #174A-OC-56120 SubD-70 and FBI 302 report. SA John Elvig and OSBI SA Terry Wade. Interview w/ Byron Marshall, 24 April 1995, File #174A-OC-56120 SubD-760
Moroz also said that McVeigh had a passenger in the Ryder truck with him. Moroz’s account was so significant that the FBI brought him downtown to their command center, where he selected Timothy McVeigh out of a live line-up the weekend following the arrest.9Trammell, Robby and Nolan Clay. “FBI Downplays Man’s Account Of Truck Driver.” The Oklahoman, 16 Aug. 1995. Print. See also: Oklahoma County Grand Jury #CJ-95-7278, testimony of Mike Moroz, September 15th, 1997. Mike Moroz would have been a damning trial witness for the prosecution, able to put Timothy McVeigh in downtown Oklahoma City and finger his destination as the Murrah Building. Rodney Johnson, too, would have been an incredible asset. He could have placed McVeigh with the Ryder truck at the Murrah Building prior to the explosion. Unfortunately, their testimonies were forsaken in favor of forensic evidence because authorities preferred to pretend they didn’t exist.
Contrary to Weldon Kennedy’s assertion, the FBI attested to these witnesses in a preliminary hearing on April 27, 1995. During his testimony, FBI agent Jon Hersley referred to the observations of both Johnson and Moroz as central to the ongoing investigation.10U.S. vs. Timothy McVeigh, № M-95–98-H (Western District of Oklahoma.) Preliminary Hearing, 27 Apr. 1995. Testimony of Jon Hersley. p 76 and p 93 However, by the time of the McVeigh and Nichols trials—and Weldon Kennedy’s book—these witnesses would disappear from the narrative, rendered nonexistent. Why? Was it because all of these eyewitnesses saw another man in the Ryder truck with McVeigh?
Rodney Johnson, Billie Hood, Mike Moroz, Alan Gorrell, and Byron Marshall are only five of the more than two dozen eyewitnesses who saw Timothy McVeigh in downtown Oklahoma City on the morning of April 19. All of these individuals—described by Danny Coulson and denied by Weldon Kennedy—have something in common: each one confirmed that they saw McVeigh with a second person. This common denominator suggests that the impetus for Kennedy’s lie about “no eyewitnesses” was a concentrated effort to avoid explaining who the man spotted with McVeigh was.
Why did the FBI want to obscure this other suspect, going so far as to lie about witnesses? What does this tell us about who this person might be? One informed and reasonable speculation is that this other suspect was an informant connected either to the FBI or other federal authorities. If this were true, the FBI would have a reason to conceal his existence.
FBI documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) give credence to this theory. Generated during the FBI’s interviews with Terry Nichols in 2005, these documents say that Nichols was scheduled to be interviewed by then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who was chairing a subcommittee tasked with writing a report on terrorism.
In a memo dated June 24, 2005, the FBI writes that, “DTOU [Domestic Terrorism Operations Unit] expressed concern regarding John Doe #2’s name surfacing during the congressman’s interview.”11Memo from FBI Denver Squad 12 to Director FBI, re Terry Lynn Nichols. June 24th, 2005. pp 11 The DTOU is the FBI unit responsible for running informants and sting operations in terrorism cases. If John Doe #2 doesn’t exist, why would the FBI’s DTOU be worried? In a separate email, the FBI’s counterterrorism (CTD) division writes that they “share DTOU’s concern about the John Doe #2 information.”12FBI email from [REDACTED] FBI Denver to [REDACTED] FBI CTD re: Congressman Rohrabacher’s interview of Terry Nichols, 27 May 2005 Why so much caution over a person that the FBI insists isn’t real?
The only scenario that makes sense is that the second suspect pegged by eyewitnesses, John Doe #2, was a federal informant. You can imagine the concern that would follow after FBI investigators discovered that the second person they were seeking was, in fact, part of their ongoing operations. This constitutes a strong motive to cover-up and obscure John Doe #2 at all costs to avoid embarrassment. Ask any retired agent, and they’ll tell you candidly that the biggest sin one can be guilty of at the FBI is embarrassing the bureau. It is only within the context of this unwritten rule that the behavior and statements of the FBI begin to make sense.
Bob Ricks Says: Nothing To See Here
Weldon Kennedy isn’t the only FBI official who has misled the public. Bob Ricks, former Special Agent in charge of the Oklahoma City FBI field office, made some curious statements to the Daily Oklahoman newspaper in October 1995. Ricks had just retired from the FBI, and the same week he left the bureau he granted an interview where he made claims we now know to be entirely false. The piece was headlined “Ricks Blames Curbs for Intelligence Gaps,”13Randy Ellis, and Diana Baldwin. “Ricks Blames Curbs for Intelligence Gaps.” The Oklahoman, 1 Oct. 1995. and has the former agent informing us that the FBI had no active counterintelligence investigations at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing. Why would Bob Ricks lie about that?
Ricks claimed that meddlesome oversight by Congress had hamstrung the FBI and rendered them incapable of gathering intelligence due to excessive red tape. He cited the FBI’s investigation of communist front groups in the 1970s, saying that “following the congressional hearings there, that pretty much took us out of the intelligence business (in the mid-1980s).” In response to criticism, Ricks claims that “we buried our head in the sand.”
His interview’s overall theme was to suggest that the FBI was unprepared for the Oklahoma City bombing because they could not—or would not—carry out intelligence-gathering operations targeting radicals. This is not true. The FBI possessed a vast network of intelligence-gathering tools at their disposal in 1995. They had confidential informants (Cis) and undercover agents (UCAs) infiltrating radical groups.14R.M. Schneiderman. “I Was an Undercover White Supremacist.” Newsweek, Nov. 2011, p. 38. They had pen-register and trap-and-trace mechanisms on the phones of specific targets that recorded inbound and outbound phone numbers.15The State of Oklahoma vs. Terry Nichols, № F-2004-68 (District Court of Pittsburg County), Terry Nichols Motion to Dismiss Based on State’s Failure to Comply w. Brady vs. Maryland, April 12 2004. They had cooperating witnesses in ongoing investigations. All of these tools allowed the FBI to infiltrate and monitor the rightwing, while available evidence indicates they actively used these methods.
In the years leading up to the Oklahoma City bombing, the FBI instituted a “Major Case Domestic Security/Terrorism Group 1 Undercover Operation” called PATCON that targeted militias and other right-wing radicals.16Schneiderman 38-48. A “Group 1 Major Case Undercover Operation” is a big deal at the bureau. It requires continual funding authorizations (based on operational performance), in-place undercover operatives, and is signed-off on by an undercover review committee. The operation’s name, PATCON, was FBI shorthand for “Patriot Conspiracy.”
At the time of Ricks’ comments to the Oklahoman, PATCON was a tightly held secret at the FBI. It would be over a decade before the operation was exposed, and its full scope is still shrouded in mystery. What can be said, based on documents released via FOIA, is that the FBI operation had infiltrated three right-wing groups located across the country with several undercover informants. They had even established their own phony “front groups” whose purpose was to network with targets. One front, a group dubbed the “Veterans Aryan Movement” (or VAM), had an agent posing as an armored car robber with connections to racist groups.17Ibid.
The FBI’s undercover agents and informants, connect to the various PATCON front groups, reported detailed intelligence on their targets, which included people and radical organizations with ideologies similar to Timothy McVeigh’s. One example is an investigation into the black-market sale of Stinger missiles and stolen military-grade night-vision goggles, items that were available for sale to mercenary groups throughout the country in the early 1990s.18Berger, J.M. “PATCON Revealed: An Exclusive Look Inside The FBI’s Secret War With the Militia Movement” Intelwire. Oct. 8, 2007; Berger, J.M. “Patriot Games: How the FBI spent a decade hunting white supremacists and missed Timothy McVeigh” Foreign Policy. April 18, 2012 Another example includes undercover PATCON agents targeting the Texas Reserve Militia/Texas Light Infantry Brigade, a group based in Texas with links to white supremacist figures like Louis Beam. During the same period, undercover PATCON agents targeted the American Pistol and Rifle Association, run by John L. Grady. Another figure targeted by PATCON was Tom Posey, who ran an outfit called Civilian Material Assistance (CMA), an American paramilitary group that in the 1980s had connections to shadowy Iran-Contra figures. All of these examples show that through the branches of the PATCON operation, the FBI had a vast intelligence-gathering apparatus–the exact opposite of what Ricks said in October 1995.19Ibid.
Of course, at the time of Ricks’ comments, the operation was a guarded secret. It’s clear in retrospect that he was lying; the FBI not only had active intelligence-gathering operations, but one that was tailor-made for inciting and entrapping people like Timothy McVeigh. What was Bob Ricks’ intention when he went to the newspaper and covered up the existence of PATCON? His last act of service to the bureau, rendered unto them the same week Ricks retired, was to tell the press preemptively that something like PATCON didn’t exist.
In effect, Ricks was claiming ‘Nothing to see here, we’re not doing anything that could conceivably be connected to McVeigh.’ Now knowing that this was a lie, we must ask what Ricks was protecting when he volunteered to falsely answer a question he hadn’t yet been asked. If this deliberate deception is any indicator—remember, no matter how clumsy, every obfuscation serves a purpose—there is reason to suspect a connection between PATCON and the Oklahoma City bombing. That theory is corroborated by one of the operation’s undercover assets.
The week of the bombing, John Matthews was sitting at home with his father watching television coverage. Matthews had worked for the FBI as an undercover PATCON agent and had his story told in Newsweek, headlined “I Was an Undercover White Supremacist.” The original article contained a passage about Timothy McVeigh. Newsweek editors cut this, and many other sensitive details, from the published piece for reasons that are still unclear. The original, unedited article states that when Matthews saw McVeigh’s face on television, he recognized him.20R.M. Schneiderman. “I Was an Undercover White Supremacist.” Newsweek, Nov. 2011, Unedited Original Draft, obtained from the writer via researcher Roger Charles.
Years before the bombing, when John Matthews had infiltrated the Texas Reserve Militia, he had attended one of their many weekend paramilitary training exercises. Matthews says that it was there, at a ranch in San Saba, Texas, that he met a tall, skinny ex-soldier with a buzzcut named Tim.21Ibid. The veteran was accompanied by a buck-toothed man with a German accent named “Andy.”22Ibid. Note: the black-haired man with a German accent named “Andy” is widely believed to have been German national Andreas Strassmeir. Strassmeir was indeed socializing with the Texas Reserve Militia/Texas Light Infantry around the time Matthews says he saw him at the San Saba ranch with McVeigh and he was later kicked out of the group after some members strongly felt that he was an undercover informant or provocateur. Strassmeir’s story is a long one, for details concerning his time with the TLI/TRM see also the following sources: J.D. Cash. “FBI Says Strassmeir Was Government Operative.” McCurtain Gazette, 14 Jul. 1996; J.D. Cash and Roger Charles. “FBI Document Links Former Green Beret To McVeigh, Bombing.” McCurtain Gazette, 31 Aug. 2005.
Regarding McVeigh, Matthews said “he [Tim] was a nobody. Just another ex-soldier, but I remember his face. He was at one of the meetings, where a bunch of [stolen] ammunition was brought in from Fort Hood.”23Ibid. Matthews informed his FBI handler, Don Jarrett, that he had seen McVeigh at the ranch training with the Texas Reserve Militia. Jarrett told him, “Don’t worry, we got it covered.”24Ibid. Yet McVeigh’s crossed path with PATCON was never released and was even scrubbed from the Newsweek report. Was this indeed “covered,” as Jarrett had promised, or was it covered-up?
Was Ricks’ lie about intelligence operations related to Weldon Kennedy’s lie about having no eyewitnesses? Recall that all of the witnesses saw a still-unidentified man with McVeigh. Was John Doe #2 an FBI informant or asset? Is this what the FBI is hiding when it denies they were carrying out intelligence-gathering operations? How closely related are lies from the two agents charged with supervising the investigation of the bombing?
Weldon Kennedy’s assertion that the FBI would have to build its prosecution on forensic evidence due to the non-existence of witnesses amounted, in effect, to two different misdeeds. The first, of course, was saying there were no witnesses. The second is what Kennedy left out of his statement; not only would the FBI rely on forensic evidence, but it would also use fabricated evidence to bolster its case.
FBI forensic scientist Dr. Frederic Whitehurst first raised concerns about unscientific practices occurring at the FBI crime lab, after which an extensive investigation discovered fabricated evidence used in the Oklahoma City bombing case.25Kelly, John and Phillip Wearne. Tainting Evidence: Behind the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab. Free Press, 1998. Notes: The Wearne book documents the Whitehurst story in great detail. From 1986 to 1998, Whitehurst served as one of the crime lab’s supervisory special agents, where he was widely considered the leading authority on explosives and explosive residue. Possessing a Ph. D. in chemistry from Duke University and a J. D. from Georgetown University, Dr. Whitehurst was the highest qualified analyst in the crime lab at the time, with qualifications often surpassing his superiors. For example, the Chemistry & Toxicology Unit’s chief, Roger Martz, did not have a degree.26Peter Israel, Stephen Jones. Others Unknown: Timothy Mcveigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy. PublicAffairs, 1998, 2001. Kindle Edition. pp 278-280. Notes: The Jones book summarizes the Whitehurst/FBI crime lab scandal very well. Details concerning Whitehurst’s peers lack of degrees and qualifications were noted in this book. Likewise, the head of the crime lab’s Explosives Unit, David Williams, had a degree in zoology and made his bones not in academia, but through serving time in the bomb squad.27Ibid. Whereas Dr. Whitehurst was a scientist first and foremost. The crux of the doctor’s complaints was that his crime lab peers and supervisors were dedicated less to science than they were securing successful prosecutions—even if that meant violating the standards of any respectable scientist.
Dr. Whitehurst began observing and documenting practices at the crime lab that constituted notable examples of misconduct. As a whistleblower, he was treated severely. He was first fired by the FBI, who ultimately settled in court, paying him $1.2 million and an undisclosed sum for damages. In addition, the Justice Department’s Inspector General investigated the crime lab and produced a damning report. The IG examined several high-profile FBI cases—including the Oklahoma City bombing—and concluded that the crime lab’s investigation contained “serious flaws,” used “unscientific” practices, and had made “unjustified” conclusions which “lacked scientific foundation.”28Ibid, 281. Notes: The Inspector General’s report on FBI crime lab is quoted verbatim in the Jones book. See the full report here: USDOJ/OIG Special Report: The FBI Laboratory: An Investigation into Laboratory Practices and Alleged Misconduct in Explosives-Related and Other Cases (April 1997) <https://oig.justice.gov/sites/default/files/legacy/special/9704a/index.htm>
The FBI had assigned to the Oklahoma City bombing case the same crime lab investigators who had worked on the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing. Explosives Unit chief David Williams headed up the lab’s investigation, and he chose Steven Burmeister as his lead forensic examiner. The IG stated that Burmeister had fraudulently altered his reports at the direction of his supervisor, Williams. In one report, concerning Timothy McVeigh’s pocketknife, Burmeister initially wrote that “the presence of PETN [explosives] could not be confirmed.” He later altered the report to say “traces of PETN were located on specimen.”29Ibid, 330. A qualified uncertainty was turned into a forensic certainty, resulting in a report containing false information that was used as evidence at the trial. Just as Dr. Whitehurst had documented, the FBI fabricated evidence for prosecutors—not an anomaly in their behavior, but a pattern. The IG report confirmed that among the cases it examined, the errors “were all tilted in such a way as to incriminate the defendants.”30Ibid, 281-282.
The IG concluded that David Williams ought to be reassigned to another unit because he “lacks objectivity, judgment, and scientific knowledge.” This was one of several reassignments and changes recommended in the IG report, all necessary to reform the crime lab’s practices. As a result of Dr. Whitehurst’s whistleblowing and the subsequent investigation, the FBI was forced to adopt forty different reforms to ensure forensic reliability. The IG report impeached not only the credibility of the FBI crime lab, but the entire bureau. Even with the imposition of reforms, with that credibility gone, how are we expected to trust the FBI’s work in other areas of the investigation? How far did the corruption extend?
It is appalling that such a thing could happen in the highest-level investigation ever carried out by the United States’ premier law enforcement agency. Questions of integrity aside, fabricating evidence also displays an immense arrogance. The FBI was willing to risk a successful prosecution of Timothy McVeigh, when fabricating evidence wasn’t necessary to win a conviction; the extent of the available evidence, even without eyewitnesses, would have been enough to easily secure a conviction. So why do it?
The answer appears to be either ‘because we can,’ or worse, ‘because that’s how we do things.’ The evidence supporting the latter conclusion is plentiful, since criminal activity by the feds goes beyond Oklahoma City. One needs only to look at other high-profile FBI cases. For example, in the espionage case against defense contractor Christopher Boyce and his childhood friend Daulton Lee, the FBI claimed it had recovered Lee’s fingerprints from the secure “black vault” at TRW Inc.31Boyce, Christopher. American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman (40th Anniversary Edition). Glass Spider Publishing, 2018. Kindle Edition. pp 98-99. The black vault was where Boyce made copies of sensitive documents that Lee then hand-delivered to the KGB in Mexico City. One problem: Daulton Lee had never in his life been on TRW Inc. property, much less made his way to the highly secure black vault.32Ibid, 100. This inconvenient fact did not stop the FBI as they apparently fabricated Daulton Lee’s fingerprints to use as a “trump card” in case the evidence against him wasn’t enough to convict. Like McVeigh, there was enough legitimate evidence against both Boyce and Lee to make any fabrication unnecessary, to say nothing of egregious. But ‘that’s how we do things.’
Acting on a tip, in 2005 the FBI raided the former Kansas residence of convicted bomber Terry Nichols, where they seized a cache of explosives. Nichols told the FBI in interviews that among the carefully wrapped and preserved explosives they would find the fingerprints of an unindicted co-conspirator in the bombing. Unfortunately, we’ll never know whether this was true. The FBI—grudgingly acting on Nichols’ tip—destroyed most of the evidence.
Only after enduring pressure from congressional staffers and at least one congressman did the FBI act, taking over two years to produce a report on the results of the raid. The report, dated February 21, 2008, noted that a fingerprint—named redacted—was lifted from a book found among the explosive cache. The inventory—seventy kinestik binary explosives, detonators, fuses, and flares—was destroyed, along with any fingerprint evidence.33FBI Lab Took Nearly Three Years to Analyze Terry Nichols Bomb Cache. Intelwire. 3 Feb. 2011 <http://news.intelwire.com/2011/02/fbi-lab-took-nearly-three-years-to.html>
In his 2005 interviews with the bureau, Terry Nichols said that the fingerprints of Roger Moore and other bombing conspirators would be found among items in the explosives cache. Despite this indication, the FBI crime lab made no identification in their reports. However, in a December 2012 interview on The Scott Horton Show, investigator Roger Charles suggested that the FBI did recover prints from the stashed explosives. Charles explained that a highly placed FBI official told Deputy Bureau Chief of the Associated Press John Solomon that four sets of fingerprints were discovered: Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, Roger Moore, and Richard Lee Guthrie.34Interview with Roger G. Charles. The Scott Horton Show, 4 Dec. 2012.Guthrie, who died in prison in 1996, was a leading figure in the Aryan Republican Army (ARA), a neo-Nazi bank robbery gang, and has long been suspected of possible involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing plot. Likewise, in reports produced by McCurtain Gazette reporter J. D. Cash and Indiana criminology professor Mark Hamm, they suggest that McVeigh might have been involved in one or more of the ARA bank robberies. One of the stick ups was carried out on September 21, 1994 in Overland Park, Kansas. According to Cash, “witnesses provided a sketch of him [one of the robbers], you look at it, and there’s no question it’s McVeigh.”35Interview with J.D. Cash. The Scott Horton Show, 22 Jul. 2005. Mark Hamm agrees, telling Cash, “I believe that sketch of the other subject is Timothy McVeigh and not [Peter] Langan. It’s almost a perfect likeness of McVeigh.”36J.D. Cash and Roger Chales. “Sketch could link McVeigh with Aryan Nations’ plot.” McCurtain Daily Gazette, 6 Dec. 2003
Another ARA bank robbery that Timothy McVeigh may have participated in occurred at the Third Federal Savings and Loan in Middleburg Heights, Ohio on December 9th, 1994. On December 5th, members of the ARA checked into a motel near Kent, Ohio. FBI investigators, suspecting that McVeigh was linked to the robbery, analyzed video footage from the crime in an attempt at identification. Reportedly, the FBI crime lab’s comparison of McVeigh and he bank surveillance video was inconclusive. Unfortunately, we can no longer examine the video because it was destroyed by the FBI in 1999, despite evidentiary rules to the contrary.
The FBI also destroyed blasting caps wrapped in Christmas paper recovered from the gang’s safehouse in Ohio. According to the ARA’s co-founder, Peter Langan, those blasting caps were obtained from Timothy McVeigh.37J.D. Cash. “National Media Barred from Interviewing Inmates About OKC Bombing.” McCurtain Gazette, 1 May 2003; Affidavit Peter Langan, 9 Apr. 2007. Can we trust the FBI’s word that Langan is lying, and that neither the caps nor the surveillance video was connected to McVeigh? The FBI’s bureaucratic culture is to collect and preserve every last scrap of paper or conceivable bit of evidence. If something is destroyed, it is to serve a purpose.
The FBI also managed to destroy crucial audio dispatch tape recordings and transcripts that had been obtained during the investigation. In a November 1995 interview, Assistant Chief of the Oklahoma City Fire Department Jon Hansen said that the fire department had received a call from the FBI on the Friday before the bombing. The FBI warned them that there might be an imminent terrorist attack, and to maintain heightened security levels. When asked if the fire department had kept a recording the call, Hansen said that “all the transmission tapes have been erased. We made a boo-boo.”38J.D. Cash and Jeff Holladay. “Bombing Trial Judges Absence on Day of Blast ‘an Amazing Coincidence.” McCurtain Gazette, 1 Dec. 1995. A boo-boo? Really?
During his trial, McVeigh’s defense team requested that the FBI provide all transcripts and transmissions related to Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, and two weeks prior. The FBI glibly responded to this request by informing them that these tapes and transcripts were “accidentally destroyed.”39Painting, Wendy S. Aberration in the Heartland of the Real: The Secret Lives of Timothy McVeigh (Kindle Location 1150). Trine Day. Kindle Edition. Was this another “boo-boo?” Or was this destruction of key evidence intentional? The reader can make an informed decision.
McVeigh’s defense team also made a request for transcripts of the Oklahoma City Police Department dispatch tapes, which would have included the APB that police issued on April 19 for a brown truck connected to the bombing. The FBI responded that these too had been “accidentally destroyed.”40Ibid. Once again, we find a convenient “accident” that invariably strengthens the FBI’s narrative of the bombing.
Any lawyer will tell you that your case is only as good as the evidence it’s based on. The evidence in a criminal case must be carefully preserved with a documented chain of custody; nothing should be destroyed or otherwise mishandled. It appears, however, to have been commonplace in the Oklahoma City investigation. The handful of examples highlighted above show a pattern of behavior that, when combined with the conclusions of the IG report on the FBI crime lab, indicates that the destruction and fabrication of evidence was part of an overall effort to conceal specific facts in order to slant the case in favor of the prosecution. We must ask: what is being concealed by this pattern, and what common denominators exist in each instance where evidence was mishandled, destroyed, or fabricated?
ATF: ‘We Weren’t There’
On the morning of April 19, 1995, several ordinary Oklahomans had disturbing encounters with ATF agents the Murrah Building blast site during the subsequent rescue operations. These individuals include rescue volunteers and emergency first responders who were triaging the wounded while working with ambulance and rescue personnel. Several of these people testified before a grand jury impaneled to investigating the bombing what ATF agents had told them that morning.
Prior to testifying, these witness accounts were published in the McCurtain Gazette newspaper by award-winning journalist J. D. Cash. Three of their statements were broadcast on Oklahoma City television station KFOR-TV on September 12, 1995. The first two witnesses interviewed by KFOR’s Brad Edwards were Bruce Shaw and his supervisor, Tony Brasier. Shaw’s wife had worked at the Murrah Building, and upon hearing about the bombing, Shaw and Brasier immediately left work to assist in rescue efforts. Arriving at the blast site, Shaw spotted an ATF agent among those gathered, and he approached to inquire about rescue efforts. Shaw explained that his wife worked in the federal credit union located in the building. The couple knew many of the ATF personnel who worked at the Murrah Buidling, and Shaw informed the unfamiliar agent, “I’ve got to find some of the local ATF agents to help me find her…They know me.”
Bruce Shaw recounted that the ATF agent he spoke to attempted to reach someone on a two-way radio but couldn’t get a response. “He said they were in debriefing, that none of the agents had been in there. They’d been tipped by their pagers not to come in to work that day. Plain as day out of his mouth. Those were the words he said.”41J.D. Cash and Jeff Holladay. “Did ATF Expect Bomb Blast Earlier, Let Down Its Guard?” McCurtain Daily Gazette. 16 May 1996; Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee. The Final Report on the Bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee, 2001. pp 270-272 Shaw’s supervisor, Tony Brasier, had been standing next to his subordinate and the agent when this discussion occurred. Brasier affirmed on-camera to KFOR that the agent had indeed said that the ATF had been “tipped off by the pagers not to come in to work that day.”
A third witness, Katherine Mallette, was interviewed by the television station on the September 12 broadcast. Mallette was an emergency medical technician with the Emergency Medical Service Authority (EMSA) and participated in rescue efforts the morning of April 19. She stated that as she was prepping an ambulance to transport victims to area hospitals, two ATF agents walked by, and she overheard their discussion. One agent said to the other, “Is this why we got the page not to come in today?” Mallette attested to this disturbing exchange on-camera for KFOR, and later provided the Oklahoma Bombing Investigative Committee a signed affidavit attesting to what she had seen. 42The Final Report on the Bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee, 2001. pp 270-272
A second rescue worker, Tiffany Bible, was a paramedic with the EMSA who participated in rescue efforts that morning. Bible’s first impression was that there was some sort of natural gas explosion, and when she approached an ATF agent on-site, she asked how a gas explosion could have caused so much damage.
The agent told her that it was not a gas explosion, but a truck-bomb. This exchange occurred only five minutes after the blast. Knowing that the ATF was housed in the Murrah Building, Bible expressed her concern for the agent’s co-workers. He responded that, “No, we weren’t in there today.”43Ibid, p 342. Like the other witnesses, Bible testified to this encounter in an affidavit submitted to the grand jury impaneled to investigate the bombing.
Why was the ATF not at work on the morning of April 19, 1995? The rescue workers’ accounts—aired on television and reported in newspapers—caused the ATF to panic and issue statements later proven to be lies. The ATF agents’ admissions that they were not in the building, combined with the agency’s later explicit denials, may contribute to understanding a fundamental truth about the bombing. The ATF’s lies and contradictions can, like the FBI’s, be interpreted in a wider context.
To counter what the ATF said were “widespread rumors” that agents had evacuated the Murrah Building before the blast, the agency acted in a typical bureaucratic fashion: they issued a press release.44J.D. Cash and Jeff Holladay. “ATF’s Explanation Disputed.” McCurtain Sunday Gazette, 30 Jul. 1995. In the May 23, 1995 press release, ATF Special Agent-in-Charge of the Dallas regional office Lester Martz claimed that Oklahoma City ATF agent Alex McCauley and DEA agent David Schickendanz were trapped in the building’s elevator when the truck-bomb exploded. According to Martz, McCauley and Schickendanz were both victims and heroes, carrying out a fantastical escape to help others who laid dying around them.45Ibid. Martz asserted that the elevator dropped in a free-fall from the eighth floor to the third, where the two men remained trapped. In this account, McCauley and Schickendanz escaped from the elevator’s smoking rubble only after forcing the doors open. This story is, by all measures, entirely fictional.
In the aftermath of the bombing, General Services Administration (GSA) and Midwestern Elevator Company inspectors investigated the blast site and the building’s elevators. The Midwestern technicians “found that five of the six elevators were stopped between floors with their doors blown inward, which caused the safety mechanisms to freeze them in place.”46Ibid. Duane James, one of the elevator maintenance technicians, was quoted saying, “Once that occurs, the doors cannot be opened—period.” James said that the elevators have safety switches that prevent excessive speed, and that he determined none of the safety switches had been tripped.47The Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee, pp 272.
In their final report, the Oklahoma Bombing Investigative Committee wrote that, “GSA inspectors and Midwestern technicians have stated in interviews and in sworn affidavits and/or testimony that there was no evidence of (1) free-falling elevators, (2) persons in any of the elevators who then forced their way out, or (3) failure of the safety mechanisms built into the system.”48Ibid. In other words, Lester Martz’s heroic account of federal agents was an impossible lie. Technician Duane James put it this way: “If you fell six floors and it was a free fall, it’d be like jumping out a six-story building. I’d ask them how long they were in the hospital and how lucky they were to survive.”49Ibid.
After the May 23 press release featuring this cock-and-bull story, the ATF issued several other stories to account for their agents’ whereabouts. The narrative kept changing; this indicates both incompetence and dishonesty, a hasty and ill-formed plan to conceal the truth. For example, on the day of the bombing the ATF’s public affairs spokesperson in Washington D.C. claimed that the agency had 20 agents on duty. When it became apparent this was false, ATF agent Luke Franey volunteered to bombing victim Glenn Wilburn that the agents were “out on assignment,” while “some didn’t come in because they were out of town.”50J.D. Cash and Jeff Holladay. “More Evidence Suggests Prior Knowledge of OKC Bombing.” McCurtain Sunday Gazette. 12 May 1996. In December 1995, ATF Dallas chief Lester Martz said that the missing agents were involved in an all-night “surveillance operation.”51Ibid. With all of these varying and stories to account for the lack of ATF agents in the Murrah Building that day, it is difficult to know where the lies end and the truth begins.
The ATF also issued contradictory statements about their level of situational awareness on April 19, 1995. When asked whether the agency was aware of the date’s significance—it was the two-year anniversary of the Waco massacre—agent Luke Franey flatly denied that the ATF was the least bit concerned. He told Glenn Wilburn that “No, there was no alert or any concern on our part about the significance of that day.”52Ibid. Meanwhile, ATF Director John Magaw told CNN he had been “very concerned about that day and issued memos to all of our field offices,” telling them that “they were put on alert.”53Ibid. These conflicting explanations demonstrate that ATF officials had not coordinated their responses.
The ATF’s many denials and lies about their whereabouts on April 19 share a common theme: to hide the fact that they knew something and were not at work that day. The contradictions indicate that something about their absence is important enough to conceal no matter how outrageous the cover story. What was it? Is it related to the FBI’s deceptions?
The Road to Oklahoma City
The ATF is not the only federal agency whose high-level officials concocted fictional stories about the event of April 19, 1995. There is a similar case that could possibly be related to the ATF agents’ whereabouts during the bombing.
The Special Agent-in-Charge of the Dallas FBI office, and later in charge of the crime scene in Oklahoma, was Danny Coulson. Coulson was a veteran of the FBI with a long history in dealing with terrorism. Over a decade before the bombing, he was attached to the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (which he founded) when they took down Robert J. Matthews of The Order. Coulson managed and successfully negotiated the siege on the Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord radical group on April 19, 1985. His whole career, Coulson had presided over events whose history was inextricably linked to the ideology of Timothy McVeigh—he was, in fact, the perfect person to lead the Oklahoma City bombing investigation. However, for reasons not yet clear, he was not selected for that job.
In Coulson’s memoir, No Heroes, he recounted the morning of April 19, 1995. He was at home in Texas when he received a page from John O’Neil at the FBI headquarters’ anti-terrorism center.54Coulson, Danny. No Heroes: Inside the FBI’s Secret Counter-Terror Force. Simon and Schuster, 1999. O’Neil broke the news to him: the Alfred P. Murrah Building had been bombed. Coulson writes that O’Neil asked him to catch the next flight to Oklahoma City. What played out next is worthy of a Hollywood film. Coulson claims that there were no flights out of Texas due to inclement weather, so he fetched his badge and gun and hit the road. Coulson sped off to Oklahoma City, driving through a furious rainstorm, his wiper-blades swiveling on the windshield as lightning strikes peppered Texas’ pastures and fields in his rear-view mirror. The FBI’s top anti-terrorism agent was on his way.
Coulson’s biographical account cannot be verified, since John O’Neil died in the 9/11 attacks. However, cracks have emerged over the years that raise serious questions about Coulson’s recollection of events. Firstly, in an interview with C-SPAN’s BookTV in 1999 to promote his memoir, Coulson said that he was home eating breakfast when he “heard on the television” about the bombing in Oklahoma City.55C-Span BookTV appearance, Danny Coulson, Inside the FBI’s Secret Counter-Terror Force (1999). < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuRyfZLy8ew> Since his presentation was about his book, you would have expected Coulson to describe events the same, yet the story differed ever so slightly. Then, years later, journalist J. D. Cash obtained Danny Coulson’s hotel receipt for April 19, 1995. The receipt shows that Coulson checked into an Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City twenty minutes after midnight on the 19th.56J.D. Cash. “Receipt Shows Head of FBI Anti-Terrorism Task Force in OKC Hours Before Blast.” McCurtain Daily Gazette, 21 Jan. 2002; “FBI Document Raises Questions About Prior Knowledge in OKC bombing.” News Radio 1000 AM KTOK in OKC, 17 Jan 2002; He was in Oklahoma City nine hours before the Murrah Building was bombed.
During J. D. Cash’s research into Coulson’s movements that week, he attempted to obtain both Coulson’s and FBI official Larry Potts’ travel records from the FBI. The effort was fruitless; the bureau claims some of those travel records are “missing”—in the same manner that inconvenient evidence seems to disappear. However, Cash wrote that Coulson’s trip to Oklahoma City fits within a framework of “evidence revealing weeks of planning by an elite corps of drug and counterterrorism experts who were closely monitoring members of various far-right groups.”57Ibid. What were these “weeks of planning” related to?
Cash concluded that Coulson was working on a project that included other counterterrorism agents “monitoring” right-wing groups. What we can infer is that whatever Coulson was involved with, it was sensitive enough that he decided to create an alternative explanation about how he arrived at Oklahoma City. Coulson could have written in his book that he happened to arrive in the city the night before and left it at that. Why did he choose to lie? The likeliest reason for a cover-up would be because his reason for being in Oklahoma City was directly linked to the bombing. If that were accurate, Coulson’s motivation begins to make sense.
To make the situation even more confounding, Coulson billed his April 19 travel costs to the FBI’s MC-111 on May 16, 1995. MC-111, short for Major Case 111, is also known as VAAPCON.58Ibid. Like PATCON, VAAPCON was an FBI clandestine operation. While PATCON targeted militias and radical right-wing terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, VAAPCON targeted individuals and groups that advocated violence against abortion clinics. A report published by The Washington Post in 1996 described VAAPCON as consisting of nothing more than a thin folder of papers, with few leads, no arrests, and nothing that would conceivably put an agent of Coulson’s standing far away from his field office. At best VAAPCON might garner a few conference calls, but certainly not a flight to Oklahoma City of all places. Headlined “Abortion Clinic Violence Probe Was Over Before It Started,” the Post essentially declares VAAPCON dead in the water.59Charles W. Hall and Robert O’Harrow Jr. “Abortion Clinic Violence Probe Was Over At The Start.” Washington Post, 26 Jan. 1996.
It was this same Washington Post article that revealed the existence of VAAPCON to the public. Meaning, Coulson would have no reason to conceal such an operation in his memoir, published three years after the article. If Coulson was in Oklahoma City due to his participation in VAAPCON, he could have written that without garnering a second glance. But he didn’t do that. While Coulson might have billed his time to VAAPCON—a dead operation—on May 16, we can interpret this as an effort to conceal his actual activities at the time.
What if the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was a failure of intelligence, a sting operation gone terribly wrong that literally blew up in the FBI’s face? If this scenario is correct, it can be assumed that such a thing could never be acknowledged through travel records, much less after-action reports. The sting operation would have to remain a secret. It’s with that mind that we think back to Bob Ricks’ denial to the press in October 1995 about the existence of any intelligence operations being performed by the bureau. This theory would also explain the missing travel records of Coulson and Potts, along with Coulson erroneously billing his time to the then-defunct VAAPCON. It would give reason for Coulson to be Oklahoma City nine hours prior to the bomb’s detonation, and to lie about it in his memoir. In this scenario, if the FBI had an informant or asset within the operation—John Doe #2—that would explain the agency’s continual, adamant denial about the existence of a second suspect. It would also corroborate the FBI Domestic Terrorism Operations Unit’s “worry” and “concern” about John Doe #2’s identity being divulged to congressional investigators in 2005.
While this theory exists in the realm of speculation and conjecture, what can be said with certainty is that this scenario is the only one that makes sense given the totality of evidence. What’s more, if this were the case, it would not be the first time an FBI intelligence-gathering operation was tied into plot through informants.
Real Explosives, Real Victims
Roger Charles was a co-author of the 2012 book Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed and Why It Still Matters. In the book and a 2007 BBC production, Charles lays out the evidence indicating that authorities had informants close the criminal conspiracy behind the bombing.60Andrew Gumbel and Roger Charles. Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed and Why It Still Matters. HarperCollins, 2012; The Conspiracy Files: Oklahoma City, BBC. 4 Mar. 2007. If he is correct, it wouldn’t be the first time. Just two years before Oklahoma City, an almost identical situation played out in the first attack on the World Trade Center:
- Terrorists loaded a rental truck with an ANFO bomb.
- A building full of civilians was the target.
- The FBI had an informant inside the operation.
- The FBI failed to stop the bombing, with their focus being in favor of continued intelligence gathering.
The FBI has denied it had any advance warning of the bombing, or that it was involved in a sting operation in Oklahoma City. Bureau flunky Jon Hersley unconvincingly proclaimed that, “We don’t play games with people’s lives like that.”61The Conspiracy Files: Oklahoma City, BBC. 4 Mar. 2007. The denials, however, don’t line up with the facts.
The FBI informant involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Emad Salem, recorded his conversations with his agency handlers. The recordings show that the FBI was more interested in intelligence-gathering—of the sort Bob Ricks claims the FBI wasn’t doing—than stopping the plot in its tracks.62Ralph Blumenthal. “Tapes Depict Proposal to Thwart Bomb Used in Trade Center Blast.” New York Times, 28 Oct. 1993. Salem suggested replacing the lives explosives that were eventually used in the bomb with harmless materials. Instead of taking his route, Salem’s handlers wanted him to wear a microphone and continue to gather vital intelligence. Salem balked at wearing a wire—while also asking the FBI to pay him more money. The feds lost Salem as an informant, while the World Trade Center bomb plot continued and matured after Ramzi Yousef came on-board with his bomb-making expertise. The end result was six people dead and 1,000 injured when the bombers attacked the towers.
The FBI’s failure to know when and where the World Trade Center attack would take place was a direct result of their inability to handle Emad Salem properly. In this example, we have the FBI close enough to a bomb plot that they had a chance to capture the conspirators early on but bungling it by not handling their informant with more finesse.
In his denial that any similar operation occurred in Oklahoma City, Agent Hersley said, “If we had any information beforehand from any informants about a potential bombing of a federal building, I can assure you that we would have taken immediate action.” That wasn’t the case, however, in 1993. The opposite is true, in fact. Given the past record of the FBI, can we trust Hersley? Was he lying–alongside Weldon Kennedy, Bob Ricks, and Danny Coulson–to protect secrets?
Throughout the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, federal agents targeted former neo-Nazi Johnny Bangerter, who was the center of the same sort of groups targeted by the FBI’s PATCON operation. Bangerter was present at the siege of Ruby Ridge and knew Randy Weaver personally. He said that in retrospect, the most striking thing about being approached by informants and undercover agents was that they always used “real explosives. Real machine guns. It was always real stuff. Very dangerous.”63Interview with author via phone, Johnny Bangerter. August 2020 Bangerter made clear that not only did these federal agents play with people’s lives, but they did so using a kind of playbook: always with a truck-bomb, always with real explosives, and always with provocateurs advocating for violence in the most overt manner. With some sadness in his voice, Bangerter added that “there were real victims, too.”
When the FBI says that “we don’t play games with people’s lives like that,” or insists that the bombing could not possibly have been “a sting gone wrong,” we’re meant to take their word for it. But the question is, can we? When the facts are examined, we find ourselves in a situation where the FBI has no credibility. They lie, they fabricate and destroy evidence. They are akin to the boy who cried wolf: it is reasonable to be skeptical of their denials based on their past behavior. Having witnessed the same sort of conduct, and being fed the same kind of lies, we can reach conclusions on what the truth might be.
It is a truth that resembles a failed sting operation, an informant the FBI says doesn’t exist, but that twenty-four people saw, and a mountain of other evidence. Whereas Jon Hersley’s “truth” that the FBI wouldn’t do this is equivalent to the “truth” that there are no eyewitnesses. Or the “truth” that the FBI had no intelligence-gathering operations. Or the “truth” that the ATF showed up for work on April 19, 1995. Or the “truth” that ATF agents karate-chopped their way out of wrecked elevators to save lives. Or the “truth” that Danny Coulson drove through a rainstorm to reach Oklahoma City after the bomb blast.
It’s all the truth because the FBI says so. And we can trust the FBI, can’t we?
Richard Booth is an independent citizen journalist and member of the Constitution First Amendment Press Association (CFAPA). A student of the OKC bombing case since 1995, Richard began researching the Oklahoma City bombing in earnest in 2012 and is currently writing a book about the case. Richard has appeared on podcasts to discuss his interest, highlighting areas that warrant additional research, and expressing the need for more students to actively research this case. In April 2020, Richard donated his archive of research materials—thousands of news reports, articles, magazine pieces, FBI documents, ATF documents, court records and trial transcripts to The Libertarian Institute. You can find this archive here.