Lab Report Offers a Glimpse Into FBI's Probe of Terrorism

Buried deep in this week's report that slammed practices at the FBI's crime laboratory is at least one bit of good news for the nation's beleaguered law-enforcement agency.

The Justice Department's investigation suggests that, in the case of the attempted assassination of former President George Bush during his 1993 visit to Kuwait, the FBI lab and other US agencies performed diligent detective work under difficult conditions. The bureau was charged with investigating Iraq's role in the plot.

The Justice Department's inspector general included the assassination probe in its 18-month investigation of the FBI lab because one of its explosives experts was concerned his findings in the case had been deliberately misinterpreted - and used to justify a US cruise missile attack against Iraqi intelligence in Baghdad.

Iraq killed eight civilians were killed in the June 1993 missile attack.

The review is part of the larger inspector general report that highlights serious problems at the FBI lab, including evidence that some agents may have slanted findings to help prosecutors win convictions. In the Bush case, the report found that a misunderstanding may have occurred, but that the explosive expert's findings played a minor role compared with other, more persuasive evidence linking Iraq to the assassination plot.

The 12-page analysis of the Bush case also offers a rare glimpse into US methods used to identify who may be responsible for suspected terrorist activities. Similar efforts are under way to identify those responsible for the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American servicemen in June 1996.

The assassination plot was uncovered after Kuwait officials arrested 17 suspects, many of them Iraqis. Two suspects reportedly confessed. Local police seized a Toyota Land Cruiser with more than 160 pounds of plastic explosives hidden behind the door panels. The plan was to detonate the car bomb at Kuwait University as Mr. Bush passed by, the report says.

Although officials immediately suspected Iraq, the accused terrorists' claims of Iraqi involvement weren't enough to make a credible case that Baghdad was behind the plot.

According to the IG report, CIA bomb experts analyzed the bomb components and compared them with the components of two Iraqi explosive devices found in other Middle Eastern countries. The experts discovered that the remote-control firing mechanisms in all three devices were identical, as well as other similarities, the report says.

An FBI bomb expert also examined the Kuwait device and concluded that the same person manufactured it and one of the Iraqi devices, the report says. He also concluded that the same person built the remote-control detonation systems and electronic-timing mechanisms in all three devices.

To bolster these findings, the FBI's expert compared the chemical composition of the Kuwait bomb and known Iraqi bombs. He found they were slightly different. But those findings were glossed over in several cables that suggested a composition match.

The inspector general concluded that the composition aspect of the investigation was too small to negate other evidence pointing to Iraqi responsibility.

Statements by two suspects and the bomb-component analysis were not the only evidence of Iraqi involvement in the plot. CIA intelligence indicated that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had personally authorized the Bush assassination.

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