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Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed--and Why It Still Matters Hardcover – April 24, 2012
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“Extraordinarily well-researched… The book brilliantly deconstructs the investigation.” (Wall Street Journal)
“The story of the Murrah building bombing receives its most comprehensive accounting yet… It is a cautionary and at times startling tale, filled with bizarre characters from the outer fringes of American political life, with continuing relevance today.” (Michael Isikoff, The Daily Beast)
“Impressive... There are enough freak-show touches to keep an FX drama stocked for three seasons… As Gumbel and Rogers tell it, the bombing investigation fell short of discovering the truth because of sloppiness, self-serving intra-office politics, and obstructive turf wars among law enforcement agencies.” (Salon)
“A well-reported, sober assessment... They make a strong case that some individuals involved in the bombing remain at liberty...the message is important for the future security of the U.S. citizenry.” (Kansas City Star)
“Credible and relevant... Offers a perspective other than what was proved at the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols...and explores the unsettling question of whether such an event could happen again by homegrown perpetrators.” (Tulsa World)
“This crisply written, fully documented book will anger you.” (The Tucson Citizen)
“The most comprehensive account yet...will dash the smug assertions at the time that the feds had caught all the perpetrators.” (The Commercial Dispatch (Mississippi))
From the Back Cover
In the early morning of April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh drove into downtown Oklahoma City in a rented Ryder truck containing a deadly fertilizer bomb that he and his army buddy Terry Nichols had made the previous day. He parked in a handicapped-parking zone, hopped out of the truck, and walked away into a series of alleys and streets. Shortly after 9:00 A.M., the bomb obliterated one-third of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people, including 19 infants and toddlers. McVeigh claimed he'd worked only with Nichols, and at least officially, the government believed him. But McVeigh's was just one version of events. And much of it was wrong.
In Oklahoma City, veteran investigative journalists Andrew Gumbel and Roger G. Charles puncture the myth about what happened on that day—one that has persisted in the minds of the American public for nearly two decades. Working with unprecedented access to government documents, a voluminous correspondence with Terry Nichols, and more than 150 interviews with those immediately involved, Gumbel and Charles demonstrate how much was missed beyond the guilt of the two principal defendants: in particular, the dysfunction within the country's law enforcement agencies, which squandered opportunities to penetrate the radical right and prevent the bombing, and the unanswered question of who inspired the plot and who else might have been involved.
To this day, the FBI heralds the Oklahoma City investigation as one of its great triumphs. In reality, though, its handling of the bombing foreshadowed many of the problems that made the country vulnerable to attack again on 9/11. Law enforcement agencies could not see past their own rivalries and underestimated the seriousness of the deadly rhetoric coming from the radical far right. In Oklahoma City, Gumbel and Charles give the fullest, most honest account to date of both the plot and the investigation, drawing a vivid portrait of the unfailingly compelling—driven, eccentric, fractious, funny, and wildly paranoid—characters involved.
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Top Customer Reviews
I chose not to answer Gumbel's questions for two reasons; one, I'm under no obligation to, and secondly, being cautious and concerned about the author's potential bias that was raised in the emails, came across a few disturbing Gumbel quotes, "...the rotten History of Democracy in America," "George Bush on global warming is one of those marriages of speaker and subject that can't help but generate its own peculiar brand of spectacular bulls***," and regarding the Oklahoma City bombing, "Like failure to prevent 9/11, this is a case of the federal government first failing to recognize or act on crucial warning signs and then claiming there were no warning signs at all. It's about coming up with a plausible cover story and sticking to it, no matter what. In contrast to the most glaring failures of the Bush administration, though, the government's bluff on Oklahoma City has gone largely uncalled."
My initial suspicion to his--I'm just an honest journalist approach where he said "I would vigorously take issue with your accusation of `bias' and submit that you are trying to discredit me ahead of time..." was confirmed as his final email ended with a veiled threat; "Up to you (to answer his questions), obviously, whether to respond, or leave the allegation unanswered. I will record your response in the book either way." Which Gumbel did on p. 402. This last portion of the exchange, "the allegation," related to a disgraced police officer who fabricated his own importance in an FBI case in which he had minimal involvement and no influence.
Most of Gumbel's questions were directed at the wrong person to begin with but were essentially to connect a significant multi-state bank robbery investigation, entitled Bombrob (dubbed by the press as the Mid-West Bank bandits, but actually white Supremacists operating as the Aryan Republican Army [ARA]; Richard Guthrie, Peter Langan, and others) to Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing (Okbomb) that occurred on April 19, 1995.
Gumbel, admittedly did much research (however, still couldn't go beyond a 1 rating) and asked a lot of questions in the book, but set the stage early on that no matter what the government agencies or its agents did, either way they were wrong; they were criticized, as he Monday-morning-quarterbacked everything. They were wrong even when they were trying too hard, by then alleging that some "...were prevented from contributing to a case that should have been the crowing pinnacle of their careers." (p. 6)
Gumbel does raise some compelling issues, most of it though already aired through the trials and media, however, if through this reader's personal knowledge some of his facts are called into question, then the entire `novel' treatment of the Bombrob-Okbomb connection collapses. Gumbel shuns the label (given, he says, by opponents of the government's theories), that he is not one of those "dishonest information-brokers pulling together random pieces of information to serve a self-interested agenda." That remains to be seen.
We can start here:
(For general information, FBI major cases, or multi-state cases, have one office designated as the Office of Origin (OO), with an overall case agent; all other offices are Auxiliary Offices with a case agent responsible for covering leads within that particular FBI division and feeding the results back to the OO. In this instance, designated Bombrob, the office or origin was Omaha and involved over a half-dozen auxiliary offices where some 22 armed bank robberies from Ohio to Nebraska occurred. The case covered two years and I was the Cincinnati case agent toward the end when the principle subjects, Guthrie and Langan were identified (through a cooperating witness--not, an informant) and arrested. Of course, major cases are given top priority and agents from other squads, and sometimes other offices, are detailed to cover leads, etc. Langan's trial, by decision of the United States Attorney's office, was prosecuted in Columbus, Ohio, where he was arrested, and that trial was coordinated by two other agents from the Columbus Resident Agency within the Cincinnati Division.)
Gumbel states, "So Langan decided to throw a wrench into the government's plans. You're going to have problems with your witnesses, because they have the blood of Oklahoma City on their hands." Woods responded: "You certainly have my attention now." And, "Langan was told that if he spilled everything he knew about the bombing, he could qualify for a plea deal, too. Langan, though, was suspicious; the negotiations broke down and the offer was withdrawn (p. 300-301)"
So picture this: Those were Gumbel's "facts." The reality was, however, after a grueling nearly non-stop three days after Guthrie's arrest in Cincinnati (including two round-trips to Indianapolis), he gave up their safe-house at 585 Reinhardt in Columbus where he was actually supposed to meet Langan. I had been working side-by-side with my supervisor during this period. On the morning of January 18, 1996 we set up in the surrounding neighborhood with other agents, task force officers and the Cincinnati SWAT team waiting for Langan to exit the house and get into his white van parked at the back of the property near an alleyway. Brilliantly, Langan entered the van, the SWAT team surrounded him and instead of complying, he comes up with a pistol and then dives into the back of the van. When the smoke cleared from multiple SWAT rounds, Langan is taken from the van, searched and handcuffed. I believed, as others no doubt, that he was seriously injured; it appeared at first with blood on his head and face that his left eyeball was hanging out its socket on his cheek; it was actually white plastic shotgun wadding. Turns out he was injured but not badly at all and my supervisor told me to go with him in the ambulance. In the Emergency room, Langan, for the dozen or so present, was holding court and acting like a class clown. The "revelation" about Langan's true make-up (no pun intended and which was incorrectly described by Gumbel, p. 295) took a far second to attempting to interview him about the bank robberies. Now, the fact that Langan was gender-confused about whether he was a modern-day macho Jesse James or Donna the drag-queen transvestite (or transsexual) doesn't make him/her a liar. That he was a leader of a white Supremacist cell dubbed the Aryan Republican Army doesn't make him a liar. That he was, and no doubt remains, a racist and anti-Semite, doesn't make him a liar either, but claiming that he, as Gumbel reports, said, during the only interview I had with him, that he mentioned Oklahoma City, blood on anyone's hands or a reply that "You certainly have my attention now," does make him a fraud. It's a lie of the very first order that can be easily explained and understood by any reasonable person. For example:
I had, during that interview, 24 years of unquestioned and impeccable service in the FBI. I had been involved in many major successful investigations and hundreds of lesser routine investigations. Had Langan even hinted about Oklahoma City, it's certain the bank robbery questioning would have taken a quick backseat and the emphasis would have been laser-focused on that seminal event. It never happened. Langan made this stuff up. Gumbel himself even acknowledged this premise in one email stating "I have absolutely no doubt that everyone and anyone in the Bureau would have given their eye teeth to solve the Oklahoma City bombing case." (As it was, I immediately reported to my supervisor what the interview had entailed, sent out appropriate leads to be covered, and wrote it up as I had done with perhaps thousands of other interviews over nearly a quarter century.)
So where did this revelation from Langan come from that Gumbel so critically hangs on every word to imply...no suggest...that this was just another example of the failure to connect the dots between Bombrob and Okbomb?
It came from Langan himself as sourced by Gumbel (p. 402).
So Gumbel, albeit deliberately, wants his readers to buy into his premise that a veteran FBI agent presented with a blatant statement offering the possibility to grab a piece of the most significant domestic terrorism case in the nation's history, would simply ignore it. Or forget about it? Or not tell anyone else? But not run to the phone to have his supervisor contact the Okbomb task force immediately? To suggest otherwise by Gumbel is just distorted reporting and slipping into the trap he despises so much; another conspiracy theorist relying on the likes of Peter Kevin Langan's fertile (or infertile) imagination.
As for Langan, he does what many lifers' yearn to do...make the time, which is all he has to deal with...pass just a little easier. It's a common theme as they clog the courts with frivolous filings. Beyond Langan's own warped craving for attention, making up lies (and this wasn't the only one) is easy and makes his prison mail calls something to look forward to, possibly providing bragging rights among other inmates or maybe an occasional field trip into a courtroom or two offering a break from the concrete walls. (Leonard Peltier would be another prime example of this kind of mentality. [...])
To add counterfeit credibility to Gumbel's reliance on Langan's invention, he cleverly (read, deceitfully) adds,"...the story was corroborated by his lawyer, Kevin Durkin, in an affidavit filed at the request of the Nichols state trial defense team..." So, attorney Durkin, files with the court a statement claimed by Langan before an "MGA documentary film crew." This, in Gumbel-world corroborates (or validates) Langan's lies. Hardly. It's simply repeating the fabricated story. Gumbel's bias has to be self-evident to any reasonable reader.
Another significant example of careless reporting relates to the following: "According to Matthew Moning of the Cincinnati Police Department, the FBI also questioned Guthrie about the bombing and threatened him with the death penalty if money from the robberies was ever tied to the financing of McVeigh's plot. If the questioning was intended to shock Guthrie into making revelations, though, it did not work. Guthrie's lawyer, Kelly Johnson, said his suicide had nothing to do with threats from the FBI. It was a "final tweak of the nose" at the government he despised. If he harbored any secrets, they died with him. (p. 301)"
Reading this was a bit disturbing. Kelly Johnson, Guthrie's court appointed federal public defender, or someone from his office, was present during a two-week initial formal debriefing of Guthrie in March 1996. After reading this quote from Gumbel, I called Kelly Johnson (1/25/13). His actual comment to Gumbel was that Guthrie's suicide was a "final tweak of the nose," meaning, that Guthrie had the final say and after all his cooperation would not testify for the government. Kelly did not imply, because he could not say that (by knowing the content of the Guthrie interview), that there were no threats of the death sentence or implication of a conspiracy with McVeigh. But that didn't prevent Gumbel from editorializing Kelly's response by suggesting (as he does throughout the book with little or no attribution; and another reason why I certainly would not talk to him on the phone; only written communications would suffice); "If he harbored any secrets, they died with him." Kelly didn't say or imply such a thing.
This also contradicts Gumbel's initial entre and emails where he stated, "So nothing I'm going to ask you is going to insinuate anything about dark plots to conceal the truth--I don't buy any of that." (Gumbel email 4/8/11) Really, he doesn't buy any of that? Yet goes right ahead and insinuates it anyway. Gumbel's agenda is transparent.
Contrary to the "wild Bill" persona that Guthrie is claimed to have had, (and granted, our long discussions were conducted in a jailhouse interview room), he was very pleasant, well spoken, even charming at times with a good sense of humor, never cursed nor even uttered one racial epithet, and had an excellent memory. (There was also independent corroboration of Guthrie's timeline and details during his interviews and ensuing investigation.)
At the end of the two-week interview, Kelly Johnson said there were two things Guthrie wanted to correct from his lengthy initial debriefing. One, we had already assumed (the two mad dashes to Indianapolis and an alleged meeting with Langan wasn't true...Guthrie was sizing up whether an escape was possible...it wasn't, so he gave up the Columbus safe house), and something much more significant and potentially detrimental for the entire Bombrob case. He had no other motive than to continue to tell the truth. In actuality he would have given up anyone to get a better deal for himself. But here, again, he came clean. Guthrie (who received a much too severe sentence in my opinion; I argued against it), would have given up his brother...matter of fact, he did...or anyone else to lessen his prison exposure.
The logic is that if Guthrie did have that deep dark secret Gumbel alludes to, his suicide would have been the perfect opportunity to jeopardize a major investigation (Okbomb) and a significant investigation (Bombrob) by simply stating that in his suicide notes. Taking it one step further, if Guthrie was diabolical, even though he had no involvement with McVeigh and Nichols, just claiming he did would have been devastating for the case. But he had none, and he didn't.
Guthrie himself validated one of Gumbel's key points about the reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing by the extreme far right; that they knew such an outrageous act would only bring more law enforcement attention and scrutiny to all of them. Gumbel states "...understanding that it would not be a catalyst to additional antigovernment action so much as a huge screeching brake." "Even those who did not fault the bombing's morality still attacked its operational stupidity." "But the reactions were also unmistakably tinged with contempt, if not anger, toward McVeigh." (p. 65)
But Gumbel was very selective in his reporting on this very central and critical point. Gumbel had, as he referenced and sourced in his book, Guthrie's diary/manuscript.
("Taunting Bandits" was a secretive 315 page handwritten diary by Guthrie during his six months in a Kentucky jail between his arrest in January and death in July, 1996, while being interviewed and awaiting transfer to Columbus, Ohio to begin testifying against Langan. Guthrie's candid exposé chronicled ARA's exploits. He was able to sneak the manuscript out of jail, unbeknownst to the jailers or the Bureau (Right, Gumbel, we `should' have known he was going to do that.) It wasn't turned over by the family until after Guthrie's death and it revealed nothing new and served to confirm the lengthy interview and the information he provided and his absence of involvement with McVeigh and Okbomb. This would have been yet another opportunity for Guthrie to uncover any government ineptitude and his and ARA's involvement in Okbomb; but he didn't, because it wasn't there.)
Guthrie's "Taunting Bandits" is listed repeatedly in Gumbel's "sources" as well as referenced numerous times throughout the book; each time, however, to prove a negative. And then Gumbel dodge's, or ignores, an inconvenient series of statements that help dismantle his premise.
Gumbel comes close, within the very same page in fact, of sharing some valuable insights with his readers. (p. 300-301; p. 368, source to "Guthrie account of April 19 taken from his memoir, p. 156.)
Had Gumbel continued with "Taunting Bandit's" page 156 and a couple more, he would have revealed Guthrie himself, and the others, revulsion to the bombing;
"It was then that I learned about the Oklahoma City bombing. At first I thought it was an act done by Arab terrorists. However, a few days later everyone including myself discovered that the feds had arrested two suspects named timothy McVeih and Terry Nickoles. It was then that I realized that it was only the beginning of what lies in this country. Simply put, within 10 years it's my opinion that this country will resemble Sarajevo." (The ongoing conflict in Sarajevo was prominent in the media during the 94-96 timeframe) "During the late evening of the 19th of April, the boys (referring to Stedeford and McCarthy) returned from Elohiem City in their new Chevy suburban. That night we discussed the issue of the Oklahoma City bombing. At the end of the discussion everyone agreed that things could begin to flare up with the company (referring to their Aryan Republican Army-ARA) and other right wing guerrilla organizations. But then, it was something that was expected sooner or later. (Guthrie offers a logical conclusion from his many years of far-right extremism.) (Guthrie and the others learn from several newspapers that the media was) "...speculating the `Mid-Western Bank Bandits' were possibly tied into the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The newspapers weren't the only ones involved in bombarding the public with their flambed gobldeegook, but the major networks were having a hay day with speculation on whether the Bandits were involved. The media blitz about the "Mid-Western Bank Bandits" had deeply concerned us. And during the weeks to follow, everyone in the company began to notice that the media had become ridiculous with their contemplation." (Guthrie; misspellings included.)
This secreted document would have given Guthrie yet another opportunity to thoroughly waste the government's time and deliberately jeopardize or completely ruin and dismantle significant major investigations, yet, in his own words, he didn't. Again, he told the same story, because it was the truth.
Gumbel relied on sources he even questioned, Mark Hamm's, In bad Company (among others), being a prime example. In Gumbel's "sources" section I stopped counting after over two-dozen references to this flawed work. Gumbel also referred to Hamm, erroneously, as a "criminalist" (p.280 ). Gumbel characterized Hamm as, "I can tell you that my reading of the complete OKBOMB case file has given me cause to question the accuracy of many, many aspects of his book In Bad Company. In fact, I am relying on nothing I have read there unless I can corroborate it elsewhere. The same holds true for Cash's work--too many times it has turned out to be incorrect, if not flagrantly incorrect."
Yet, admittedly defective, Gumbel uses it liberally to connect the dots of his own Bombrob-Okbomb conspiracy agenda.
(During our email exchange Gumbel said, "Though I would ask you to keep this and any future communication confidential." However, since Gumbel chose to violate his own request (with direct quotes and email dates on p. 402), he thus violated and waived his own confidentiality.)
(*For further review of Hamm's flawed research and conclusions, see the links below.)
* * *
Gumbel "the stuck-up Brit" (his words, not mine) reaches far to convince us that he's the smartest investigator in the room. He's the new Sherlock Holmes who now comes to show the U.S. Government, its agencies and investigators the error of their ways. How noble of him. But, if words like, should have, could have, would have, and the "ifs" etc., were removed, Oklahoma City `would have' been at least twenty pages shorter.
One would be hard-pressed to find any unqualified praise for any agency or its agents. Those Gumbel does praise, (and perhaps the ones he did actually interview), were used to prove just another point of overriding incompetence and inter-agency rivalry. In other words, his compliments serve to support his overall theme and bias. Even, FBI Agent Walt Lamar, arguably a quintessential G-Man, was used to prove a negative.
At the heart of Gumbel's shortcomings are those rare instances when he even acknowledges the size and scope of the investigations; with perhaps hundreds, or thousands of agents from the FBI and other agencies, covering thousands of leads in hundreds of places around the country, simultaneously at many points. He hardly recognizes, or when he does, barely glosses over massive amounts of information coming from multiple directions, and now, knowing the crucial evidence and facts tells us where we went wrong and could have done it much better...in his view.
Sherlock hasn't grasped that it's infinitely easier, in hindsight, to take cheap shots and put together a puzzle when you now have all the pieces and already know what the final picture is supposed to look like.
As a Kindle e-book, the book was a good read, the formatting was fine and I didn't encounter any anomalies in the presentation of the information or its formatting; however, when I reached the end of the book and ventured into the footnotes, which were not indicated at all in the body of the book, I was disappointed. The footnotes are not numbered or tracked in any way, and are not even formatted in a way that would allow them to be read in such a way as to distinguish where one ends and the next one begins!
Another weakness of books like this on the Kindle is a serious lack of flexibility - you can't easily "flip through the pages" to find photos, drawings, or footnotes (where applicable), they are not really formatted for that sort of thing. And in a case like this, it can be quite helpful to be able to refer to a photo or a footnote while reading a particular passage, not at the end...
As much as I love my Kindle because I don't have to haul a box of heavy books with me when I travel, I'm beginning to wish that I could buy the printed version of the books I want and get the electonic version included for a small premium; similar to buying a blu-ray movie and getting the digital copy thrown in.