Frederic Whitehurst was a Supervisory Special Agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory from 1986 to 1998, where he went public as a whistleblower to bring attention to procedural errors and misconduct.
Whitehurst served as an intelligence specialist at the Americal base in Đức Phổ, Vietnam during the early seventies. He was tasked with reviewing seized documents and destroying any that had no military value. Working with translator Sergeant Nguyen Trung Hieu and following his advice, he saved two diaries written by Dr. Đặng Thùy Trâm, a civilian doctor working for North Vietnam. He kept them for 35 years, with the intention of eventually returning them to Trâm's family, if possible.
Dr. Whitehurst received a Ph.D. in chemistry from Duke University, a J.D. from Georgetown University and joined the FBI in 1982 and served as a Supervisory Special Agent in the FBI crime lab from 1986-1998. Dr. Whitehurst practices criminal law in Bethel, North Carolina, and is a commissioner of the town of Bethel.
While employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory, the FBI officially rated Dr. Whitehurst as the leading national and international expert in the science of explosives and explosives residue. He investigated, uncovered and reported scientific misconduct which forced the FBI crime lab to agree to forty major reforms, including undergoing an accreditation process. During this period, Whitehurst was forced to defend himself from retaliation by the FBI by hiring Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, a Washington, D.C. law firm specializing in defending whistleblowers.
Dr. Whitehurst currently serves as the Executive Director of the Forensic Justice Project (FJP). The FJP was formed in 1998 as a project of the National Whistleblower Center, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. The goal of the FJP is to lead a national effort to accomplish the following:
- Review cases to make sure that innocent people have not been wrongfully convicted through the misuse of forensic science;
- Provide expert testimony in cases in order to assure that forensic science is not misused in civil and criminal prosecutions impacting on the public interest or the rights of individuals;
- Offer objective scientific evaluations of forensic evidence;
- Publish and distribute information necessary for an objective analysis of the quality and objectivity of forensic science and crime laboratories nationwide.
In March 2005, he and his brother Robert (also a Vietnam War veteran) brought the diaries to a conference on the Vietnam War at Texas Tech University. There, they met photographer Ted Engelmann (also a Vietnam veteran), who offered to look for the family during his trip to Vietnam the next month. With the assistance of Do Xuan Anh, a staff member in the Hanoi Quaker office, Engelmann was able to locate Trâm’s mother, Doan Ngoc Tram, and from then on obtained connections to the rest of her family.
In July 2005, Trâm’s diaries were published in Vietnamese under the title Nhật ký Đặng Thùy Trâm (Đặng Thùy Trâm’s Diary), which quickly became a bestseller. In less than a year, the volume sold more than 300,000 copies and comparisons were drawn between Trâm’s writings and that of Anne Frank.
In August 2005, Fred and Robert Whitehurst traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam, to meet Trâm’s family. In October of the same year, the family visited Lubbock, Texas, to view the diaries, which are archived at Texas Tech University's Vietnam Archive, then visited Fred Whitehurst and his family in his home state of North Carolina.
The diaries have been translated into English and the English version was published in September 2007. It includes photographs of Dang during high school and with her family. Translations have been done and published in at least sixteen different languages.
In 2009 a film about Tram by Vietnamese director Đặng Nhật Minh, entitled Đừng Đốt (Do Not Burn It), was released.
During his military service in Vietnam, Whitehurst saved Dr. Đặng Thùy Trâm's diaries, which were first published in 2005 and are the basis for the 2009 film Đừng Đốt (Don't Burn It). In addition, as noted above, he investigated, uncovered and reported scientific misconduct which forced the FBI crime lab to agree to forty major reforms, including undergoing an accreditation process.
- Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab, by John F. Kelly and Phillip K. Wearne
- Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab Prologue, New York Times Web
- National Whistleblower Center
- Forensic Justice Project
- Whitehurst' testimony at the World Trade Center Bombing Trial
- "Dismal Science: When the F.B.I.'s crime lab makes a mistake, two journalists contend, it's a beaut", by David Johnston, New York Times review of Tainting Evidence (September 27, 1998)
- "Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab, by John F. Kelly and Phillip K. Wearne", Crime Magazine review
- Introduction about Whitehurst by National Whistleblower Center Chairman Stephen M. Kohn, Esq. before the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime, May 13, 2007