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FBI Responds to the Office of Inspector General's Reporton the Fingerprint Misidentification of Brandon Mayfield

Washington, D.C. January 06, 2006

Washington, D.C. - We appreciate the work of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in providing additional insights and perspective into how the FBI can strengthen the process of fingerprint identification. Of particular importance, the OIG report confirmed there was no misconduct by the FBI or misuse of the USA Patriot Act. We are confident that the OIG’s findings and recommendations, combined with corrective measures already implemented, will significantly enhance our ability to perform our duties to the public.

The May, 2004 arrest of Brandon Mayfield was based on an extremely unusual confluence of events, including principally, an unusual similarity between Mr. Mayfield’s known fingerprint and a copy of a latent fingerprint recovered from the scene of the lethal terrorist bombings in Madrid. The fingerprint identification was made by both the FBI and by Mr. Mayfield’s own fingerprint expert.

As was learned later in May of 2004, the fingerprint identification made by the FBI and defense experts was an error. Upon learning of the mistake, and at the request of the U.S. government, Mr. Mayfield was released from prison and the charges dismissed. Subsequently, the FBI convened a panel of international experts to examine what went wrong and to propose reforms to minimize the risk o f recurrence. Those reforms have since been undertaken by the FBI.

The FBI fully cooperated with the OIG’s investigation while simultaneously conducting its own internal review of the fingerprint misidentification. The OIG identified the “unusual similarity” between the two prints (the known fingerprint of Mr. Mayfield and the latent fingerprint recovered from the Spanish crime scene), as a major factor for the mistake made by both the FBI and Mr. Mayfield’s own experts. Such a degree of similarity of fingerprints is “extremely rare,” the OIG report notes.

The OIG report recommends several ways in which the FBI’s methodology can be enhanced to minimize the risk of recurrence of the mistake . Several of these recommendations were made previously and independently by the international expert panel. Following that review, we implemented a series of procedural reforms designed to prevent future errors. The OIG has now finished its evaluation of these measures and concludes in its report that these were “significant steps” undertaken by the FBI. The OIG report also recommended additional measures the FBI can implement to further strengthen our assessment of fingerprints. These recommendations will all be considered and discussed with leading experts to make sure we are employing the most effective means to ensure the integrity of our expert examinations.

The OIG report also includes other important findings about the FBI’s initiation of and conduct during this investigation. First, the OIG report concludes that there was no evidence of misuse of the Patriot Act. The report finds, “contrary to public speculation,” the FBI did not use certain provisions of the Patriot Act and that the Act did not affect the scope of the FBI’s use of FISA surveillance or searches. Instead, the OIG report found that the effect of the Patriot Act on this investigation was to enable the FBI to share lawful information with other members of the law enforcement and intelligence communities. Second, the OIG report concluded that religion played no improper role in the identification or investigation of Mr. Mayfield. Third, the OIG report found no evidence of misconduct on the part of any FBI employees involved in this investigation.