The task force took nine years to complete its work and never publicly released its findings. Not the results of its case reviews of suspect lab work. Not the names of the defendants who were convicted as a result. And not the nature or scope of the forensic problems it found.
Those decisions more than a decade ago remain relevant today for hundreds of people still in the U.S. court system, because officials never notified many defendants of the forensic flaws in their cases and never expanded their review to catch similar mistakes.
A review of more than 10,000 pages of task force documents and dozens of interviews demonstrate that the panel operated in secret and with close oversight by FBI and Justice Department brass — including Reno and Freeh’s top deputy — who took steps to control the information uncovered by the group.
“It was not open,” said a person who worked closely with the task force and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the bureau and Justice Department maintain a strong influence in forensic science. “Maybe [a coverup] wasn’t the intent, but it did seem to look that way. . . . It was too controlled by the FBI.”…
A Washington Post review of the department’s actions shows an agency struggling to balance its goal of defending convictions in court with its responsibility to protect the innocent. The Justice Department’s decision to allow prosecutors to decide what to disclose to defendants was criticized at the time and allowed most of the process to remain secret. But by cloaking cases in anonymity, failing to ensure that defendants were notified of troubles with their cases and neglecting to publicly report problems or recommend solutions, the task force obscured problems from further study.