Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Examination of Questioned Documents

On September 8, 2004, CBS News broadcast a "60 Minutes Wednesday" segment concerning President George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. At the heart of that broadcast segment were several copies of documents purporting to shed light on then-Lieutenant Bush's service.

Shortly after the story aired, it started unravelling when people began to question the authenticity and content accuracy of the documents on which CBS News had based the story. Ultimately, the story was discredited, in part because the documents on which CBS had relied had not be sufficiently authenticated.

On September 22, 2004, CBS requested that former US Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and retired Associated Press President and Chief Executive Officer Lou Boccardi convene an independent review panel to determine what had gone wrong in the story's production. The entire Report of the Independent Review Panel , including detailed examination of the issues surrounding the questioned documents, is available on the Internet.

Even in today's age of electronic mail (e-mail), original ink (or pencil lead)-on-paper documents are important in our lives. When the authenticity of those documents is challenged, forensic document examiners are often retained to examine them and arrive at conclusions. However, the field of forensic or questioned document examination is not as scientifically and precisely defined as it might appear. For example, graphologists purport to be able to infer behavioral characteristics about the writer from an examination of his writings. The scientific validity of graphology has not been fully accepted in US courts.

There are several organizations that offer certifications and memberships to persons representing themselves as questioned document examiners. Here are links to some of them:

- The National Association of Document Examiners (NADE)

- The American Society for Testing and Materials, Technical Committee, Subcommittee on Questioned Documents

- The American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Questioned Documents Discipline

- The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners

- The American Society of Questioned Document Examiners

After reviewing these websites, it is easier to understand why the CBS "60 Minutes Wednesday" production team had some difficulty authenticating the documents.

The American Society for Testing and Materials website has several links to help the reader better understand the various disciplines involved in questioned document analysis and authentication.


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