FBI Reliance on Polygraph Delayed Finding of Nichols’ Explosives Cache

The Associated Press reports in a story published by MSNBC.com under the title, “FBI at first dismissed tip on Nichols explosives.” Excerpt:

WASHINGTON – The FBI initially dismissed a tip that convicted bomber Terry Nichols had hidden explosives and they might be used for an attack this month coinciding with the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.

While the FBI has found no evidence supporting the idea that an attack is in the works for the April 19 tenth anniversary, the information that explosives had been hidden in Nichols’ former home in Herington, Kan., turned out to be true.

The tip came from imprisoned mobster Gregory Scarpa Jr., 53, a law enforcement official said this week. Scarpa is an inmate in the same maximum-security federal prison in Florence, Colo., where Nichols is serving life sentences for his role in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred Murrah federal building that killed 168 people. Timothy McVeigh was convicted of federal conspiracy and murder charges in the bombing and executed in 2001.

Scarpa learned about the explosives from Nichols, mainly through notes passed between them, said Stephen Dresch, a Michigan man who is Scarpa’s informal advocate.

Source failed lie detector test
Dresch gave the information to the FBI in early March. But FBI agents did not search the vacant house until March 31. The bureau did not act more quickly because Scarpa failed a lie detector test, said the law enforcement official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

The FBI lab continues to examine the materials for fingerprints and other clues that might show where the explosives originated and who may have had them before they got into Nichols’ home.

Scarpa, a member of the Colombo organized crime family serving 50-plus years on drug trafficking, conspiracy and racketeering convictions, first communicated information about the explosives on March 1, then provided more details on March 10 and 11, Dresch said in letters sent to the staffs of two members of Congress and to the FBI’s Detroit office. Scarpa revealed the location of the house on March 11, Dresch said.

The first letter said Scarpa learned from another prisoner, assumed by Dresch to be Nichols, “the location of a bomb on U.S. soil.” The second described two rock piles in the crawl space beneath Nichols’ former home. Under one, it said, were cardboard boxes wrapped in plastic. Those details match what the FBI said it found.

The FBI should use actual investigation instead of the make-believe science of polygraphy to evaluate tips. The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center might have been averted had not the FBI terminated a well-placed confidential informant, in part because of inconclusive polygraph results. The FBI’s foolish reliance on polygraph screening has also cost it the services of at least one other confidential informant.

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