FBI admits fingerprint error, clearing Portland attorney.
By David Heath and Hal Bernton Seattle Times staff reporters. Tuesday May 25th 2004.
A federal judge yesterday cleared Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield of ties to the Madrid train bombings after
the FBI made the stunning admission that it erred when analyzing a copy of fingerprints.
Portland's FBI Special Agent
in Charge, Robert Jordan, said the error, based on a "substandard" copy of the prints, will prompt the agency to review its
guidelines for making identifications and ask an international panel of experts to analyze what went wrong.
He also apologized
to Mayfield, a former Army officer and Muslim convert who was mistakenly arrested earlier this month as a material witness
in the March 11 terrorist attack that killed 191 and wounded some 2,000.
"The FBI regrets the hardships that this has
placed on Mr. Mayfield and his family," Jordan said.
Mayfield, 37, who appeared at a news conference with his family and
his federal public defenders, said he was angry but was trying to "decompress."
"I am just two or three days out of the
detention facility, and I'm just starting not to shake," said Mayfield, who was released Thursday. He was speaking about the
case for the first time because U.S. District Judge Robert Jones lifted a gag order.
"I've been singled out and discriminated
against, I feel, as a Muslim," Mayfield said.
U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut of Portland denied that Mayfield was targeted
because of his religion. "I can assure you that is not true," she said.
The flawed case against Mayfield raises new concerns
about the reliability of FBI procedures used in fingerprint forensic science. In making the link between Mayfield and a blue
plastic bag containing detonators found near a Madrid train station, FBI officials relied on a digital copy of prints that
Jordan said was of "substandard quality."
Only last weekend did two agents fly to Madrid to take a look at the original
print that Spanish officials eventually linked to an Algerian with a criminal record.
"Why was a substandard image
used to make a positive identification?" asked fingerprint expert Pat Wertheim, based in Arizona. "I'm sure the FBI will be
doing a lot of soul-searching. A lot of us in the fingerprint profession will be waiting for the answer so that we can adopt
measures to prevent a repeat of this tragic arrest."
The collapse of the Mayfield case also is providing ammunition
to critics of the Bush administration's homefront handling of the war on terror. Mayfield was never charged with a crime but
was arrested as a material witness with possible information about the Madrid bombing. The use of the material-witness statute
has emerged as a controversial legal tactic in the war on terrorism, and Mayfield added his voice to the critics.
are other material witnesses languishing away," he said. "In my estimation, it's an abuse of the judicial process."
records released yesterday sketch the outlines of the investigative effort that led to Mayfield's May 6 arrest and two-week
detention in the Multnomah County Jail. According to documents, Mayfield's prints were among the best 15 matches found by
the FBI fingerprint computer, which holds the prints of some 45 million persons.
Those matches were then compared
by FBI examiners to the digital image of a partial print sent by Spanish authorities, who concluded the print was a "100 percent
identification" with Mayfield.
Once the FBI made its erroneous match, it then built up a case against Mayfield based,
in part, on his legal work and associations in the Muslim community, records show.
Mayfield handled a child-custody case
for Jeffrey Battle, a Portland-area Muslim who was arrested in October 2002 and eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy to
wage war against the United States on the behalf of the Taliban. In asking for a search warrant of Mayfield, an FBI agent
noted that Battle had described himself as "undercover" and "behind enemy lines" while living in America and once wanted to
case synagogues in preparation for mass murder.
The agent included no evidence that Mayfield shared the views of his client,
or ever contemplated any such action.
The case also was built, in part, on September 2002 telephone communications
that Mayfield, or his wife, had with another Oregon Muslim, Peter Seda, the U.S. director of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation.
Six offices of that global group have been designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the
FBI said in the search warrant.
The government's willingness to pile such information into FBI affidavits angered Mayfield
and his Portland attorney, Steve Wax.
"We think it is very troubling that that kind of innuendo and guilt by association
was used," said Wax. "It is a terrible thing to do."
Mayfield said his case also raises questions about the Patriot Act,
which the Bush administration has hailed as a key tool in terrorism investigations.
Mayfield said he suspected authorities
had him under surveillance and entered his home in the days before his arrest under the "sneak and peek" search warrants allowed
by the Patriot Act. Mayfield said he and his wife noticed that a deadbolt lock they don't use had been locked and found other
signs that someone had been in their home.
Even as the FBI homed in on Mayfield, Spanish authorities were disputing the
FBI's fingerprint analysis on the Madrid bag. The blue plastic bag containing detonators was found in a van parked near a
An independent fingerprint expert cited by the FBI in court records appeared to bolster the agency's analysis.
But Mayfield's lawyer said the expert's report had cautions that were not included in the FBI's affidavit to get the Mayfield
search warrants. The expert's report included such caveats as the quality of the print copy was poor and that the image possibly
included an overlay of another print. The expert, Kenneth Moses, said it was important to see the original image to make a
definitive identification, Wax said.
Immergut, the U.S. attorney, said the error was regrettable but that as soon as the
misidentification came to light, federal authorities "moved immediately" to have Mayfield released.
The chronology of
the FBI's mistaken identification of Mayfield can be seen in the dozens of pages of court documents released yesterday.
a week of the bombing, the FBI was provided with the fingerprint images by Spanish authorities.
FBI senior fingerprint
examiner Terry Green entered one of the prints into the agency's fingerprint computer. Mayfield was among 15 persons returned
as potential matches to the unknown suspect.
Green compared Mayfield's fingerprint card from his military service
with the Spanish evidence and found 15 points in common. Green considered the match a "100 percent identification," documents
Green's supervisor, Michael Wieners, and retired FBI fingerprint examiner John Massey also verified the match.
don't know whether the second or third level of examination was done blind or done with knowledge of who he was," Wax said
The Portland lawyer was not under federal investigation before March 18, records show. But after the identification,
Portland FBI agents investigated him, searching news articles, travel records and telephone records.
In the search warrant
seeking probable cause, federal agents noted the nationality of his wife, the former Mona Mohamed, and his representation
of Jeffrey Battle, as well as his honorable discharge from active duty at Fort Lewis and his work as a second lieutenant in
The documents also show federal authorities learned that Mayfield had not left the country traveling under his
own name and that his passport had expired in October 2003. The FBI did not find any aliases used by Mayfield, records show.
"People should wake up," Mayfield said yesterday. "You can't trade freedom for security, because if you do, you're going
to lose both."
Mayfield listens to his wife, Mona Mayfield, during a news conference yesterday in Portland. A federal judge cleared the attorney
of any involvement in the March 11 train bombings in Madrid.
free, Mayfield turns furious
Ex-terror suspect says he was manacled, threatened in jail.
By BEN JACKLET AND TODD
Portland Tribune - Issue date: Tue, May 25, 2004
Local attorney Brandon Mayfield blasted the federal
government Monday for jailing him for two weeks without charges and labeling him a terrorist on the basis of a misidentified
Mayfield said that he was often manacled and chained while imprisoned, threatened by at least one prison
guard and denied the opportunity to visit with his family.
Mayfield, a Kansas-born convert to Islam who runs a small
family law practice in Beaverton, was arrested May 6 and detained as a material witness in the investigation of the Madrid,
Spain, train bombing that killed 191 people and injured more than 2,000.
Mayfield was jailed for two weeks before
being released Thursday afternoon. Then on Monday, U.S. District Judge Robert Jones, who had authorized Mayfield's detention,
released a statement that due to the misidentification by the FBI of a fingerprint, the court orders the material witness
Jones also ordered that Mayfield's property was to be returned, the court's protective order
was to be rescinded, the gag order was to be dropped and court documents were to be unsealed.
Robert Jordan, special
agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, issued an apology to Mayfield Monday afternoon, saying the bureau will consider adopting
new guidelines for fingerprint analysis.
The FBI also plans to ask an international panel of fingerprint experts to review
our examination in this case, Jordan stated. The FBI apologizes to Mr. Mayfield and his family for the hardships that this
matter has caused.
Surrounded by a dozen supporters including his wife and three children, Mayfield called his detention
â€œan abuse of the judicial process that shouldn't happen to anybody.
At one point he held up
his hand and said, two or three days out of detention, and I am just now starting to not shake.
In numerous leaks to
the media, FBI officials had said that Mayfield's fingerprints were found on bomb-making material found near the scene of
the March 11 bombing. The first hint of a possible American connection to the terrorist attack made front-page headlines in
The New York Times on May 7 and brought dozens of reporters into Aloha to camp out in front of Mayfield's modest suburban
Mayfield's attorney, Steven Wax, demanded an investigation of the FBI leaks to the media, which they suspect
occurred in Washington, D.C.
According to the unsealed documents, Jones originally ordered that Mayfield was to be detained
given the gravity of the matter and possible flight risk.
The documents also show that an independent expert selected
by Mayfield's defense team had backed up the FBI's analysis of the fingerprint.
The court appointed Kenneth Moses, director
of Forensic Identification Services of San Francisco, to analyze the fingerprint submitted by the FBI's analyst, Terry Green.
Moses testified under oath last Wednesday that the œlatent fingerprint forwarded from Spanish authorities to the FBI
is that of Brandon Mayfield.
Moses did not return calls from the Tribune on Monday afternoon.
in apparent contradiction of the analysis by Moses and Green, the government released Mayfield after a secret proceeding in
Jones's court on the 10th floor of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse. This occurred just hours after Spanish authorities
announced that the fingerprints in question matched those of an Algerian national named Ouhnane Daoud, not Mayfield.
emerged that day from the courthouse visibly shaken, while his Egyptian-born wife, Mona, flashed a continuous smile and their
three children huddled around their parents legs.
In his first public words since his arrest, Mayfield called his
detention a harrowing ordeal and recited a brief prayer in Arabic.
Despite his release Thursday, Jones ordered that Mayfield
remain a material witness. He then rescinded the order Monday, dropping the case and unsealing the court documents.
never did testify before a grand jury. He was scheduled to do so on May 11, but that was postponed and eventually canceled
when the fingerprint turned out to be misidentified as his.
On Monday afternoon, Mayfield released a written statement
that said in part: The government's handling of this case has been prejudicial and discriminatory in the extreme. Upon initially
being arrested I was informed by the arresting officers that the media was close behind. Within minutes of my arrest the allegations
of my involvement in the Madrid bombing were being disseminated through the media. Notwithstanding the judge's gag order,
the government put out its theory and its facts while we were prevented from saying anything.
Contact: Graham Ford