The U.S. government declared victory after prosecuting Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols for the horrific explosion seventeen years ago this week that tore the face off the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. But nagging controversy over the completeness of its investigation into the disaster provoked two journalists to write a new book about the bombing that details the bureaucratic dysfunction during the probe.
The book, “Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed and Why It Still Matters,” by Andrew Gumbel and Roger Charles, is due out at the end of the month. It describes missed signals, ignored investigative threads, blown leads, and bureaucratic infighting so counter-productive that it almost defies imagination. Throughout the probe, the FBI and the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms failed to share crucial information and fought bitterly for credit while disparaging the other.
The two groups embraced evidence that pointed to McVeigh and Nichols, but ignored or bad-mouthed evidence that linked those men to others, including at least seven members of the radical right. Many had ties to Elohim City, a 240-acre religious compound in northeast Oklahoma that was home to a community of white supremacists. The ATF and FBI never coordinated their investigations of the group, according to the book, and prosecutors chose to keep things simple for a jury.
The April 19 explosion, which killed 168 people — including 19 infants and toddlers at a day care center in the building, has been eclipsed in notoriety by the World Trade Center’s destruction on 9/11. But some of the connect-the-dots issues and petty rivalries that bedeviled law enforcement both before and after the bombing foreshadowed vulnerabilities that would re-emerge in the wake of 9/11.
Another recently published item worth a look is the Los Angeles Times’s compelling and worrisome account on April 7 of the growing use of antidepressants, stimulants, narcotics and other drugs by uniformed service members. Those who start taking drugs while on leave — often to alleviate the residual stresses of an initial deployment — are frequently redeployed with a six-months supply of drugs and little medical oversight, “allowing them to trade with friends or grab an entire fistful of pills at the end of an anxious day.” In total, more than 110,000 active-duty Army troops are taking such medications now, the Army’s surgeon general told the Times.
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