January 6, 2006
FBI sense of superiority over Spanish led to arrest error
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI's sense of superiority over
its Spanish counterparts was partly to blame for a U.S.
lawyer's detention after a fingerprint match erroneously linked
him to the 2004 Madrid train bombings, a Justice Department
audit showed on Friday.
The department's inspector general said the FBI laboratory
was overconfident and investigators showed some prejudice
against the lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, an American-born Muslim
Mayfield was held as a material witness for two weeks in
2004 after the FBI mistakenly identified his fingerprint on a
bag of detonators found near a Madrid train station. The March
11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid killed 191 people and
wounded more than 1,500.
A test by the Spanish police ruled out a match between
Mayfield and the fingerprint found in Madrid, but the FBI
laboratory did not take the report seriously enough, the
inspector general's report said.
The report said there was an unusual similarity between
Mayfield's fingerprint and the one found on the bag.
"However, we concluded that the examiners committed errors
in the examination procedure, and that the misidentification
could have been prevented through a more rigorous application
of several principles of latent fingerprint identification,"
the report said.
"We believe the FBI laboratory's overconfidence in the
skill and superiority of its examiners prevented it from taking
the (Spanish report)...as seriously as it should have," it
The inspector general also said the investigation showed
that Mayfield's religion could have played a role in the case.
"We believe that Mayfield's representation of a convicted
terrorist and other facts developed during the field
investigation, including his Muslim religion, also likely
contributed to the examiners' failure to sufficiently
reconsider the identification after legitimate questions about
it were raised."
Mayfield had represented a convicted terrorist in a child
custody dispute in Portland, Oregon, but the FBI's
investigation did not turn up any information specifically
linking Mayfield to the Madrid train attacks, the inspector
The FBI issued a rare apology to Mayfield.
Mayfield has sued the government for unspecified damages
for violating his civil rights.