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Federal Bureau of Investigation: History

F.b.i. Investigations In The 1990s

Since the early 1990s, the F.B.I. has been involved in numerous high-profile criminal investigations. It is perhaps, at least in part, because of the F.B.I.'s involvement in these extraordinary investigations that the bureau continues to enjoy high status and prestige. For instance, the F.B.I. had the lead role in the investigation of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that occurred on 19 April 1995. This bombing remains the worst terrorist attack ever to occur on American soil, killing 168 and wounding approximately 700. Within two days of the bombing, and with some good fortune, agents had a perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh, in custody. Agents identified part of the vehicle that carried the explosives and traced it to a rental shop. This eventually led to the identification and conviction of McVeigh.

In February 1993 a massive explosion at the World Trade Center in New York City killed six people, injured 1,042, and caused over $500 million in damage. Similar to the Oklahoma City bombing, the vehicle that carried the explosives was traced to a rental shop. This information eventually led to the arrests of four of the perpetrators. Six perpetrators in all were identified and each was sentenced to 240 years in prison.

As a result of the investigation into the World Trade Center bombing, in 1993 F.B.I. agents disrupted the plans of a group of Muslim fundamentalists to blow-up simultaneously various places in New York City: the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, the United Nations building, and the Jacab Javits Federal Building. Through the use of surveillance and undercover infiltration, eight suspects were arrested and sentenced to prison.

Other recent skillful, high-profile investigations by the F.B.I. that have resulted in apprehensions include the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December 1988, which killed more than 260 people; the case of CIA officer Harold James Nicholsen, who was arrested by the F.B.I. in 1996 and charged with committing espionage on behalf of Russia; and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which occurred on 7 August 1998 and resulted in the death of over 350 people. Three individuals were arrested shortly after the embassy bombings.

Equally high profile but rather unsuccessful investigations of the F.B.I. have cast a shadow on the effectiveness of the F.B.I. and serve as a reminder that what was once true is still true: that the F.B.I is not immune from error. For example, in 1992, agents from the F.B.I. and ATF surrounded the home of Randy Weaver in Idaho, a white supremacist who was wanted on gun violations. During the course of the siege, federal agents fatally shot Weaver's wife and son.

The catastrophic burning of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco Texas in 1993 raised serious questions about the role of the F.B.I. in causing the fire. Subsequent investigations and inquiries into the incident revealed that the F.B.I. agents had in fact used incendiary devices in the attack, contrary to Attorney General Janet Reno's orders. However, it has not been definitively determined what role, if any, these devices played in starting the fire that killed the eighty-six people inside the compound.

With the UNABOMBER case—the name UNABOMB was derived from UNiversity and Airline BOMbing, the perpetrator's early targets—the F.B.I. successfully apprehended the perpetrator, but it took almost eighteen years to do it. Beginning in 1978 and continuing through 1995, sixteen bombs were mailed to, or placed with, various individuals. The bombings resulted in three deaths and twenty-three people injured. In 1996 the bomber requested that his "manifesto" be published in two widely circulated newspapers. With the request granted and the manifesto published, the perpetrator was identified by his own brother, who read the manifesto in the newspaper and alerted the F.B.I. that the writing resembled that of his brother, Ted, who lived in a one-room shack in Montana. Agents converged on the shack and arrested Ted Kaczynski in the midst of bombmaking equipment, supplies, and instructions. He was sentenced to life in federal prison without the possibility of parole.

The F.B.I. investigation of the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996, which killed two people and injured 111, serves as another example of the bureau's mixed success. The F.B.I. targeted Richard Jewell, a security guard who was working at the park at the time of the explosion. The F.B.I. has come under considerable criticism for focusing on Jewell (some say smearing him) on the basis of scant evidence. The focus on Jewell may have prevented investigators from pursuing other leads and others suspects. The bombing remains unsolved.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawFederal Bureau of Investigation: History - Before The Beginning Of The F.b.i., The Beginning Of The F.b.i.