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Case against Oklahoma bomb suspect collapses

by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard


Sunday Telegraph (London, England) February 2, 1997:

THE government case in the Oklahoma bombing trial, due to open next month, is disintegrating. It is now quite possible that Tim McVeigh, the main suspect, will be acquitted.

The latest blow to the prosecution is a report that the FBI crime lab altered forensic conclusions to accommodate government claims that the blast, which killed 168 people in the spring of 1995, was caused by a 4,000 lb ammonium nitrate bomb.

The report, by the Justice Department's Inspector General, found that some lab officials have been pressed to falsify evidence and commit perjury to support prosecutions. With the FBI crime lab going through the worst crisis in the history of the Bureau, everything it touches is now tainted.

But there are deeper problems with the case, the deadliest act of terrorism ever committed on American soil, one that precipitated a witch hunt against the militia movement and, by raising the spectre of Right-wing extremism, arguably helped President Clinton's re-election.

The prosecution has been tying itself in knots from the beginning. This is chiefly because it insists on a 'lone bomber theory'- - with another man, Terry Nichols, helping in the background - when the evidence clearly indicates a more complex conspiracy involving a terrorist cell.

Last week it became clear that the Justice Department is willing to let the case collapse rather than risk collateral revelations. On Thursday the FBI arrested Michael Brescia, the man alleged to be the mysterious 'John Doe II' seen with McVeigh in the days before the bombing. Brescia has been named in a private lawsuit by victims of the blast as a co-conspirator of McVeigh.

But in keeping with the "Alice in Wonderland" character of this investigation, Brescia was arrested for his alleged role in a series of bank robberies carried out by a neo-Nazi group called the Aryan Republican Army. McVeigh is also tied into this ARA cell, and his sister told the FBI in May 1995 that her brother had been involved in bank robberies. But the Justice Department does not want to know.

Indeed, it has gone to hazardous lengths to stamp out talk of a broader bombing conspiracy involving the Aryan Republican Army. On Wednesday, the day before Brescia's arrest, it announced that John Doe II - the subject of the massive FBI manhunt in the weeks after the bombing - had never existed.

The Justice Department stated that Tom Kessinger, a clerk at the Ryder rental agency where McVeigh allegedly rented the bombing vehicle, was confused when he helped to produce a artist's sketch of a second man with McVeigh. This is highly contentious. Mr Kessinger provided the famous John Doe II sketch immediately after the blast. Almost two years later he abruptly changes tack and asserts that he muddled John Doe II with a soldier named Tod Bunting who came into the office on a different day.

Unfortunately for the prosecution, Mr Kessinger has already given too many interviews ridiculing the Bunting canard. "He was laughing about it and said 'I don't know how they came up with that one'," said Glenn Wilburn, a bombing victim, when he visited Mr Kessinger last year. The Justice Department has now destroyed Mr Kessinger's credibility, so it can no longer put him on the stand to identify McVeigh as the man who rented the Ryder truck. But the prosecution does not have much else to rely on.

The original FBI statements by the employees at the Ryder rental agency describe the man supposed to be McVeigh - who used the alias of Robert Kling - as heavy-set, 5ft 11in, stocky, with a pock-marked face. This bears no resemblance to the lanky, 6ft 3in, baby-faced McVeigh. The prosecution, of course, can draw on an army of witnesses who saw McVeigh with a Ryder truck shortly before the bomb went off at 9am on April 19 1995. But they all saw him with other suspects, making a mockery of the claim that McVeigh acted alone.

So it appears that none of these witnesses is going to be called to testify. Instead, the prosecution is relying on a single man who thought he might have seen McVeigh getting out of a Ryder truck. Why is the Justice Department destroying its own case? A clue came last Tuesday in an Oklahoma newspaper, the McCurtain Daily Gazette, which has gathered evidence that the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) was monitoring the bombing conspiracy from the very start.

According to the Gazette, a paid informant working for the Tulsa office of the ATF has come forward to admit that she used hidden cameras to film three members of a neo-Nazi group in Oklahoma discussing plans to blow up a federal building.

One was Andreas Strassmeir, a former German army officer with ties to McVeigh. Strassmeir shared a house at the time with Michael Brescia of the Aryan Republican Army underground. The story helps to explain how bomb squads could have been seen in downtown Oklahoma hours before the explosion. It also buttresses testimony that McVeigh appeared to be operating as part of a team on the day of the crime in Oklahoma City.

The only conclusion that one can draw is that the Justice Department is protecting a federal informant who had penetrated the bombing conspiracy - probably Strassmeir, but possibly also Brescia - and is trying to cover up a bungled sting. McVeigh's defence lawyer, Stephen Jones, says that the American people will never be able to think of their government in the same way once they learn the full truth about the Oklahoma bombing. Is he just bluffing?

Copyright Telegraph Group Limited 1997.

Posted here February 3, 1997
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