Friday, March 15, 2013

Guest Review: Oklahoma City

Summary: Veteran journalists Andrew Gumbel and Roger G. Charles give the fullest account yet of the Oklahoma City bombing plot and investigation, with unprecedented access to government documents, voluminous correspondence with Timothy McVeigh's partner, Terry Nichols, and more than 150 interviews. In Oklahoma City, Gumbel and Charles document what went wrong: in particular, the dysfunction within law enforcement agencies that squandered opportunities to prevent the bombing, as well as 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 on 9/11. Oklahoma City gives the most complete, honest story of both the plot and the investigation, drawing a vivid portrait of the unfailingly compelling—driven, eccentric, fractious, funny, and wildly paranoid—characters involved. -- William Morrow

When OKLAHOMA CITY: THAT THE INVESTIGATORS MISSED AND WHY IT STILL MATTERS arrived in my mailbox, I pretty much knew it wasn't the book for me. However, I had a feeling that my dad might be interested in it. Here are his thoughts:

In OKLAHOMA CITY: THAT THE INVESTIGATORS MISSED AND WHY IT STILL MATTERS, authors Andrew Gumbel and Roger G. Charles make their case that the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995 was a much larger conspiracy than presented at the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.  As you may remember McVeigh and Nichols were convicted of a conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.  McVeigh was sentenced to death and executed on June 11, 2001 and Nichols was sentenced to life in prison with no parole.  The government’s cases advocated that the two acted alone.  

Gumbel and Charles had access to a vast volume of government documents, extensive correspondence with Terry Nichols and interviews with many others to make their case.  They talked to and investigated, among others, federal agents, para-military groups, gun show fanatics, a fringe religious sect in Elohim City, bank robbers, drug addicts and neo-nazis.  Charles also worked as an investigator for the McVeigh defense team.

The authors, although convinced that both McVeigh and Nichols were guilty, contend that the investigators missed or ignored evidence of additional co-conspirators.  Examples presented by Gumble and Charles include eyewitness accounts of a second man with McVeigh before and after the bombing; the lack of checking fingerprints found in McVeigh’s car and hotel room and at the rental agency; a second rental truck theory; the lack of explosive training by either McVeigh or Nichols; and contacts McVeigh and Nichols had with the radical right.

Gumble and Charles argue that several actions in combination prevented the government from looking deeper into the possibility of a vast conspiracy.  For example, there was an unhealthy competition among government entities like the FBI, FEMA and ATF. (The FBI and Louis Freeh are put in a particularly bad light.); federal prosecutors wanted to quickly conclude the case to quell public outrage and neglected the idea of a bigger conspiracy; and the federal government was hesitant to look into the possibility of a radical far right involvement in fear of another disaster like the 1992 Ruby Ridge encounter or the 1993 Waco fiasco (the bombing occurred on its second anniversary). 

OKLAHOMA CITY does not answer any of the questions that Gumble and Charles raise but does point out the many complexities that arise from investigating federal disasters. The Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 attack are two other examples.  Like Oklahoma City, conspiracy theories remain in both these disasters and the government investigations are always painted as inept. 

OKLAHOMA CITY is a well researched book by two respected investigators.  Whether their contention of a far reaching conspiracy is to be believed or regarded as just “another” wacky conspiracy theory is up to the reader.  I do recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more detail of the Oklahoma City bombing case or is interested in the workings of the federal agencies in investigating a crime of this nature.   

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for his review.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I think I must have some male genes in my brain because I really like books like this, a genre that is typically read by men. I don't even necessarily need a conclusion, I just enjoy the suggestion that there may be more to the story than was originally reported.

Dolly said...

I love Booking Pap Pap! Great review!

I also enjoy books that are less than traditionally 'feminine', although conspiracy theory books aren't my style. Probably my family's police/gov't background showing!

bermudaonion said...

This actually sounds like a book I would like, especially since I know little about the bombing.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think there is always that competition among interested agencies that screws things up! Very frustrating!