EDITOR’S NOTE: The article below was originally published as a three-part series Sept. 28-30, 2009. I share it again today, in one piece, with only minor modifications and the addition of some new graphics as I continue my six years of coverage on this earthshaking event that changed the lives of so many in Oklahoma, the state where I was born and raised.
In an editor’s note Sept. 27, 2009, I informed my readers I had attempted to contact Jayna Davis for her take on a breaking news story related to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on the morning of April 19, 1995. This morning, I became the first journalist in four years to speak with Davis about the investigation of the bombing, a subject with which she became all too familiar during a decade-long investigation.
At the time of the bombing, Davis was an award-winning investigative reporter for NBC affiliate KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City. Unlike other journalists, who’ve attributed the horrific attack fully to so-called “domestic terrorists” Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, Davis turned up details which pointed a share of the blame to a man of Middle East origin; hence, the title of the book she went on to write, The Third Terrorist, which made it to The New York Times Best Sellers list with the help of then-upstart conservative talk show host Glenn Beck.
Because I had spoken with Davis by phone years earlier on an unrelated matter, she responded favorably to my request for her reaction to the content of a NewsOK.com article published Sept. 27, 2009, under the headline, Attorney: Oklahoma City bombing tapes appear edited.
After explaining how and why she was so woefully disappointed with the content of the story, Davis forwarded to me a three-page summary of more than 700 pages of investigatory findings related to the surveillance camera footage. I share those findings below in three parts:
PART ONE: Regency Towers Surveillance Tape
By Jayna Davis, author of The Third Terrorist
Why did the FBI not disclose the images viewed by a second lobby camera mounted in the entryway of Regency Tower Apartment complex? According to ADT Security officials who installed the system and Regency Tower employees who monitored the security cameras, the master recording from the building’s fourteen cameras would have captured images recorded by an additional ground floor camera. That camera was aimed in an eastward direction toward the intersection of 5th and Harvey Streets, where the Murrah Building once stood. What did it capture the day of the bombing? Curiously, government prosecutors limited its disclosure of photographs in court to the lobby camera pointed westward, away from the federal building. That videotape only produced a blurry image of a Ryder truck.
FBI documents establish that the Regency Tower security cameras were simultaneously recorded by a Vicon VCR 401 time lapse 4-head double density video recorder, Robot MV 16 multi-vision plus processor. So what does that technical jargon mean? Plenty. The Regency Tower security recording system simultaneously memorialized the events captured by both lobby cameras, not just one. But for some unknown reason, the image of the passing Ryder truck originating from only one camera was presented in the Denver courtroom during McVeigh’s federal trial.
So what events, vehicles, and passersby did the second lobby camera, which was pointed in the general vicinity of the federal complex, memorialize during the early morning of April 19? The FBI has not answered that question, but one can safely conclude the images from the eastward pointing camera were captured on the Regency Tower recorder.
PART TWO: Surveillance videotape in FBI custody that may memorialize the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing
I have compiled a comprehensive dossier of court records and evidence which lays a firm foundation for the belief that the public has yet to see all the surveillance tapes in the government files which relate to the Oklahoma bombing.
In 2001, federal authorities reluctantly conceded in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by an Oklahoma journalist that the Department of Justice maintains custody of twenty-two surveillance videotapes. They were recorded between April 15 and April 19, 1995. The FBI confiscated those twenty-two tapes from security cameras near the doomed Murrah Building. So who and what do those tapes reveal?
The Justice Department steadfastly maintains that only one surveillance videotape, recorded by a camera positioned in the lobby of the nearby Regency Tower Apartment complex, captured the events of April 19. The blurry, black and white photographic image of a large Ryder truck heading east on 5th Street on its deadly trek to the federal complex was unveiled during Timothy McVeigh’s federal trial.
Is the Regency Tower’s videotape the only recording which memorialized the morning of the bombing? The judge who presided over the FOIA case in Oklahoma federal court says no.
After reviewing a confidential index of the surveillance videotapes in federal custody, U.S. District Judge Wayne Alley ruled on July 10, 2001 “the FBI’s list of responsive material from its Oklahoma City Field Office includes numerous other tapes dated April 19, 1995, from several sources.”
In short, Judge Alley plainly stated in the court record that the FBI possesses numerous tapes which were recorded on the day of the bombing – tapes the public has never seen. The judge stopped short of stating what those tapes show and the location of the cameras that recorded the images of that fateful day. However, I have uncovered a trail of evidentiary clues which raises many disturbing questions.
Journal Record Building surveillance tape
Where is the videotape which purportedly captured a vehicle that resembled McVeigh’s Mercury Marquis when it was parked directly north of the Murrah Building in the Journal Record parking lot moments before 9:02 am? On April 27, 1995, Oklahoma City FBI Special Agent Jon Hersley testified in open court to having viewed photographs originating from a security camera positioned on the Journal Record Building.
What happened to that tape? Agent Hersley said under oath that the surveillance photographs likely showed McVeigh’s Mercury Marquis. I have an FBI 302 which establishes the tape that might have captured the bomber’s getaway car was taken into federal custody within hours of the blast. The exterior security camera positioned on the Journal Record Building was trained on the alleyway through which McVeigh reportedly fled in his Mercury Marquis shortly before the explosion. However, that tape has not surfaced. My research indicates the defense teams never received a copy. Why?
Why? That’s a question you’re likely to be asking yourself after reading parts two and three of this series and after reading Davis’ book, The Third Terrorist.
[Editor’s Note: A “302” is an FBI document containing an actual recitation of a witness interview or an agent’s record of an interview or other investigative matter.]
Part Three: Murrah Building Videotape
There remains one additional videotape which could have potentially captured Timothy McVeigh and John Doe 2 as they parked the explosives-laden Ryder truck. This security camera was positioned on the northeast side of the Murrah Building and had tape been rolling, it would have provided an instant replay of the crime and all those involved.
In the fall of 2000, I scoured through thousands of photographs taken by journalists, bystanders, first responders, and the bombing memorial archives searching for the earliest images of the bombed out building. I found one photograph that clearly showed the camera mounted above the first floor of the Murrah complex on the northeast side of the building. The lens was trained directly on the area where McVeigh parked the bomb truck.
In a sworn affidavit, an Oklahoma City police officer who commanded the search and rescue canine unit stated that he witnessed the FBI removing the surveillance cameras from the exterior of the Murrah Building. Those cameras were stripped by one o’clock in the afternoon on April 19, just four hours after the blast.
So here’s the $64,000 question: Was there tape rolling in the record deck of the Murrah Building surveillance system on the day of the bombing, and did that particular tape survive the blast? I can provide only a partial answer. I know for a fact that the recording device for the Murrah Building video surveillance system was located in the basement of the federal courthouse. The courthouse was positioned south of the Murrah Building and was shielded from the tremendous impact of the explosion. So if there was videotape in the recorder, it would have remained intact.
I spoke to employees of the General Services Administration who led me to believe that federal budget cutbacks rendered the cost of record tapes prohibitive, so there would not have been a videocassette rolling on April 19. However, that excuse does not hold up to scrutiny. Prior to the bombing, the federal government purchased a state of the art security system for the Murrah Building and installed an extra surveillance camera on the ground floor outside the GSA office due to a “known security risk to employees.”
So why could Uncle Sam not afford the nominal expenditure for a video library of tapes that would document events in and around the federal complex on a twenty-four hour cycle? I never received a satisfactory answer to that question.
Surveillance tapes permanently sealed
In late 2001, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who presided over the bombing trials, ruled in favor of the Justice Department request to seal all twenty-two tapes recovered from downtown businesses surrounding the Murrah Building. To this day, the content of those recordings remains unknown.
The federal judge in the FOIA lawsuit implored Judge Matsch to lift the “shroud of secrecy” and release the tapes. But I guess now, that will never happen.
(Note: Ask Marin about the amicus brief filed by CBS News in 2001 urging the unsealing of the surveillance tapes. I did not receive a copy of the brief. It obviously did not impact Judge Richard Matsch’s decision to keep the tapes under seal.)
Jesse Trentadue FOIA lawsuit for surveillance tapes
The surveillance tapes released in response to attorney Jesse Trentadue’s lawsuit do not address the above-referenced recordings of the events leading up to detonation of the Murrah Building bomb, as the clock ticked closer to 9:02 am April 19, 1995.
Copyright © 2009-2015 Bob McCarty. All rights reserved. Reprint permission required.
FYI: Federal Judge Clark Waddoups is expected to rule on Jesse Trentadue’s FOIA lawsuit soon.
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