Did the FBI Leave It to Beaver in the Mayfield Case?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


In a case that shows quite succinctly that giving up our civil liberties does not make us safer, the FBI has acknowledged that it falsely arrested Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield in conjunction with the 2004 Madrid bombings.

Mayfield, a convert to Islam who has represented terror suspects, became a suspect himself (technically, a material witness) when a partial fingerprint lifted from a bag of detonators was wrongly identified as his. Get this: Three weeks before Mayfield was arrested, Spanish authorities had told the FBI the prints weren’t his. But the FBI arrogantly ignored their advice. (Speaking of overconfident disregard of expert advice, see Leigh and Jonathan’s posts below.)

The government then jailed Mayfield (he claims he was mistreated in jail), tapped his phone, secretly searched his home without a warrant, and plundered his personal information.

A March report [PDF] by the Justice Department Inspector General found that Patriot Act provisions allowed the FBI to share the results of its fishing expedition with law enforcement and intelligence agents, “amplify[ying] the consequences” for Mayfield of the FBI’s amateur mistake.

Now that Mayfield has been cleared, the FBI has apologized and agreed to pay a $2 million settlement. It has also agreed to destroy the information it collected about him. Too bad they can’t undo the damage already done.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

payment methods

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate