Frederic Whitehurst

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Frederic "Fred" Whitehurst is an American chemist and attorney who served as a Supervisory Special Agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory from 1986 to 1998. Concerned about problems he saw among agents, he went public as a whistleblower to bring attention to procedural errors and misconduct by agents. The FBI agreed to 40 reforms to improve the forensic reliability of its testing.

Based on new concerns about the reliability of hair analysis and learning that agents oversold it in court, the Department of Justice conducted a

Biography[edit]

Vietnam[edit]

Whitehurst served as an intelligence specialist at the Americal base in Đức Phổ, Vietnam during the early 1970s. 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 woman doctor working for North Vietnam. He kept them for 35 years, with the intention of eventually returning them to Trâm's family, if possible.

FBI career[edit]

Dr. Whitehurst received a Ph.D. in chemistry from Duke University, and a J.D. from Georgetown University. He joined the FBI in 1982 and served as a Supervisory Special Agent in the FBI crime lab from 1986-1998.

While he was 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. Concerned about a number of issues that he observed and by the behavior of agents in the laboratory, he began to investigate their procedures. He eventually uncovered and reported what he thought were cases of scientific misconduct, alleging that the agents were biased toward the prosecution.In the OIG's report of Whitehurst's allegations,it was concluded that,"most of Whitehurst allegations were not substantiated," and that Mr, Whitehurst had,"common sense and judgement to serve as forensics examiner. The FBI crime lab finally agreed to forty major reforms, including undergoing an accreditation process. During this period, to protect himself in administrative proceedings, Whitehurst hired Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, a Washington, D.C. law firm specializing in defending whistleblowers.[1]

Post-FBI years[edit]

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.

Dr. Whitehurst practices criminal law in Bethel, North Carolina. He was elected to the commission of the town of Bethel.

The Diaries[edit]

In March 2005, he and his brother Robert (also a Vietnam War veteran) brought the Đặng Thùy Trâm 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 Đỗ Xuân Anh, a staff member in the Hanoi Quaker office, Engelmann was able to locate Trâm’s mother, Doãn Ngọc Trâm. He obtained connections to the rest of her family.[1]

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.[2][3]

In August 2005, Fred and Robert Whitehurst traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam, to meet Trâm’s family. In October of the same year, the Vietnamese family came to Lubbock, Texas, to view the diaries, which are archived at Texas Tech University's Vietnam Archive. They visited Fred Whitehurst and his family in his home state of North Carolina.

The diaries have been translated into English and published in September 2007. The book includes photographs of Đặng during high school and with her family. Additional translations have been made and the book has been published in at least sixteen different languages.

In 2009 a film about Đặng Thùy Trâm by Vietnamese director Đặng Nhật Minh, entitled Đừng Đốt (Do Not Burn It), was released.

Legacy[edit]

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.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • 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

External links[edit]