In a response filed yesterday to a federal judge’s order May 11, an FBI official offered no denials about the existence of video images captured by more than 20 surveillance cameras operating prior to 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, in the vicinity of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. Instead, he explained that officials at the bureau merely cannot find the tapes and raised the possibility that they “might have been misfiled and thus could be located somewhere other than in the OKBOMB file (though it would be impossible to know where).”
The order, issued by Judge Clark Waddoup in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, Central Division, stemmed from the bureau’s failure to comply with a three-year-old Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Salt Lake City lawyer Jesse Trentadue, a man on a quest for answers related to the Oklahoma City Bombing and the death of his brother, Kenneth Trentadue, who died under suspicious circumstances several months later while in custody at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City.
Judge Waddoups’ order was both clear and concise. The items to which the FBI was to respond by June 30, 2011, and how the bureau responded (shown in italics after each item) appear below:
1. Affirm whether the six government officials from the FBI and CIA who had submitted affidavits in this case had misrepresented information or provided incomplete or otherwise misleading information to the Court. In response to this item, the only thing Judge Waddoups received as an affidavit from David M. Hardy, section chief of the FBI’s Record/Information Dissemination Section of the Records Management Divsion in Winchester, Va. The CIA submitted nothing.
2. Advise whether the I-Drive and S-Drive, data storage areas on the FBI computer system, were searched for the videotapes and other documents sought by my FOIA request and, if not, why not. In response, the FBI told the judge the I-Drive no longer exists and that FBI officials have no reason to believe that S-Drive would contain anything.
3. State whether the Evidence Control Centers or other evidence storage facilities located at FBI Headquarters, the FBI Crime Lab and FBI Oklahoma City Field Office were manually searched for the videotapes and other requested materials and, if not, explain why such searches were not done. The FBI responded by saying their headquarters does not have an Evidence Control Center and that the FBI Crime Lab was instructed to send all OKBOMB materials to the Oklahoma City FBI Field Office, where they were placed in a warehouse. According to Hardy, “it is always possible” that these materials/evidence “might have been misfiled and thus could be located somewhere other than in the OKBOMB file (though it would be impossible to know where).”
4. Manually search the OKBOMB physical files at FBI Headquarters, the FBI Crime Lab and the FBI Oklahoma City Field Office for the videotapes and other requested documents or provide evidence as to why such a search would be too burdensome. The FBI responded, explaining to the judge that no manual search was done because to manually search the 450,000 pages of the physical file that might contain the location of this evidence, would require one and one-half years of an FBI agent’s time.
5. Provide the court with an affidavit from Mr. Hardy stating that he does not know of either the existence of or the likely locations of the videotapes and that he is unaware of anyone else that may know of the existence or likely locations of the videotapes. The FBI response via Hardy: “I am unaware of the existence or likely location of additional tapes responsive to the plaintiff’s FOIA request, including tapes from the Murrah Building or any additional Hanger tape other than the tape that plaintiff already received, and do not know of anyone who would know where additional tapes would be located.”
In an email this morning, Jesse Trentadue pointed out several things to me about the FBI’s response as being “noteworthy.”
“There is no affidavit from someone within the FBI stating that the tapes do not exist,” he wrote, adding that FBI officials couldn’t make such a claim, because it would conflict with three sworn affidavits, the contents of which had already been made public in a post published April 7.
In that post, I shared documents Trentadue had shared with me that contain fodder provided by three people — OKC police officer Don Browning, private security specialist Bradford Cooley and FBI Agent Ricardo Ojeda — that sheds light on the FBI’s response to the FOIA request.
Browning noted in a declaration to the court that he and other non-federal rescuers were ordered to leave the Murrah Building soon after the bomb exploded despite the need to move quickly in hopes of locating and, hopefully, saving victims trapped by the blast. In addition, he wrote the following:
That same morning, I observed men wearing jackets with “FBI” printed on the back removing the surveillance video cameras from the exterior of the Murrah Federal Building. I thought this was part of the FBI’s evidence gathering or “chain of custody” procedures since those exterior cameras would have shown and recorded delivery of the bomb in a Ryder truck that morning as well as the person or persons who exited that truck.
I knew from my training and experience as a police officer that an investigation of the bombing and prosecution of those involved would require not only preserving the videotapes of the event but also require preserving the cameras and tape decks by which those videotapes were made. Nevertheless, I did think it odd that the FBI’s removal of those cameras was taking place while many people were still trapped alive in the rubble of the Murrah Federal Building and so many of us were working desperately to find them.
Cooley’s declaration, in which he outlined his knowledge of the surveillance systems at the Murrah Building, included the following hard-to-ignore observations:
From my knowledge of the video surveillance system in place at the Murrah Federal Building, an my presence on scene just after the bomb exploded, I have no doubt that the two external cameras on the Northwest and Northeast corners of the Building would certainly have recorded the entire event. Those cameras would even have recorded the delivery of the bomb to the Murrah Federal Building in a Ryder truck and, most importantly, those cameras would also have recorded everyone who exited that truck prior to the explosion. Because of their distance from the Murrah Federal Building, ADT’s offices were not destroyed or otherwise damaged in the bombing, which means that the videotapes should still exist.
In a sworn affidavit dated May 21, 2001, Ojeda outlined how the FBI handled information they did not want to see brought up in court:
The FBI also kept “zero files,” which were reports containing information that the FBI would not generally want disclosed to the defense and which were kept separate from a specific case file. These files were kept internally within the Bureau and typically were not turned over to the prosecution or the defense. Files would be assigned numbers bases on the type of offense or investigation involved, for example, a bank robbery would be assigned a particular number. A letter A after that number would mean highest importance. A zero after that number would mean that the report should go into the “zero” file.
On the last page of his affidavit, Ojeda added the statement below:
Although there are many very good FBI agents, there are also FBI agents, including some who worked on the Oklahoma City bombing case, who are willing to subvert the truth in order to protect fellow agents.
In addition to the conflicts surfacing between the FBI’s stance and statements made in the affidavits above, it appears FBI officials are playing a shell game with Jesse Trentadue and the judge.
Jesse Trentadue pointed out that, for the first time in three years, the FBI said that all Oklahoma City Bombing-related evidence and documents are in a warehouse somewhere in Oklahoma City. In addition, he noted that bureau officials misrepresented the purpose of the S-Drive before the court.
“This was the time and the place for FBI officials to come forward with evidence of no tapes, but they did not,” said Jesse Trentadue during an interview Friday about the matter. “They are, in plain English, in contempt of the court’s order.”