Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed--and Why It Still Matters

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Overview

In the early morning of April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh drove into downtown Oklahoma City in a rented Ryder truck containing a deadly fertilizer bomb that he and his army buddy Terry Nichols had made the previous day. He parked in a handicapped-parking zone, hopped out of the truck, and walked away into a series of alleys and streets. Shortly after 9:00 A.M., the bomb obliterated one-third of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people, including 19 infants and toddlers. McVeigh claimed he'd worked ...

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Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed--and Why It Still Matters

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Overview

In the early morning of April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh drove into downtown Oklahoma City in a rented Ryder truck containing a deadly fertilizer bomb that he and his army buddy Terry Nichols had made the previous day. He parked in a handicapped-parking zone, hopped out of the truck, and walked away into a series of alleys and streets. Shortly after 9:00 A.M., the bomb obliterated one-third of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people, including 19 infants and toddlers. McVeigh claimed he'd worked only with Nichols, and at least officially, the government believed him. But McVeigh's was just one version of events. And much of it was wrong.

In Oklahoma City, veteran investigative journalists Andrew Gumbel and Roger G. Charles puncture the myth about what happened on that day—one that has persisted in the minds of the American public for nearly two decades. Working with unprecedented access to government documents, a voluminous correspondence with Terry Nichols, and more than 150 interviews with those immediately involved, Gumbel and Charles demonstrate how much was missed beyond the guilt of the two principal defendants: in particular, the dysfunction within the country's law enforcement agencies, which squandered opportunities to penetrate the radical right and prevent the bombing, and 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 again on 9/11. Law enforcement agencies could not see past their own rivalries and underestimated the seriousness of the deadly rhetoric coming from the radical far right. In Oklahoma City, Gumbel and Charles give the fullest, most honest account to date of both the plot and the investigation, drawing a vivid portrait of the unfailingly compelling—driven, eccentric, fractious, funny, and wildly paranoid—characters involved.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

More than fifteen years have passed since Timothy McVeigh's deadly bombing in Oklahoma City, but most of us still associate the name of the city with that horrendous attack. This new book by veteran award-winning investigative reporters Andrew Gumbel and Roger Charles contends that McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols did not act alone, but were part of a virulent, clandestine antigovernment militia. Bound to receive media attention.

Sallye Leventhal

Publishers Weekly
Intriguing leads—but no smoking guns—point to a wider conspiracy in the 1995 terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City in this suggestive recap. Journalists Gumbel (Steal This Vote) and Charles trace the plot by antigovernment zealot Timothy McVeigh and his submissive sidekick, Terry Nichols, to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 people, and the allegedly botched investigation. The authors’ meandering, disjointed probe examines evidence of additional culprits that they contend was dismissed by fractious federal investigators: eyewitness accounts of a “John Doe Two” present when the bomb-bearing truck was rented; sightings of other figures accompanying McVeigh during the attack; McVeigh’s extensive contacts with other extremists. Advancing a restrained, plausible theory that there were other violent, ultraconservative racists in on the crime besides the two who confessed, the authors offer an inconclusive case that doesn’t tell us which potential co-conspirators did what. They do paint a vivid portrait of the right-wing circles in which McVeigh and Nichols moved, a colorful milieu of gun nuts, fundamentalist sectarians, cross-dressers, meth heads, and costumed neo-Nazi bank robbers. While not fingering a specific perp, Gumbel and Charles present a telling sketch of the subculture that birthed the crime. Photos. Agent: Gail Ross, Ross Yoon Agency. (Apr.)
Wall Street Journal
“Extraordinarily well-researched… The book brilliantly deconstructs the investigation.”
Salon
“Impressive... There are enough freak-show touches to keep an FX drama stocked for three seasons… As Gumbel and Rogers tell it, the bombing investigation fell short of discovering the truth because of sloppiness, self-serving intra-office politics, and obstructive turf wars among law enforcement agencies.”
Kansas City Star
“A well-reported, sober assessment... They make a strong case that some individuals involved in the bombing remain at liberty...the message is important for the future security of the U.S. citizenry.”
Tulsa World
“Credible and relevant... Offers a perspective other than what was proved at the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols...and explores the unsettling question of whether such an event could happen again by homegrown perpetrators.”
The Tucson Citizen
“This crisply written, fully documented book will anger you.”
The Commercial Dispatch (Mississippi)
“The most comprehensive account yet...will dash the smug assertions at the time that the feds had caught all the perpetrators.”
Michael Isikoff
“The story of the Murrah building bombing receives its most comprehensive accounting yet… It is a cautionary and at times startling tale, filled with bizarre characters from the outer fringes of American political life, with continuing relevance today.”
Library Journal
Gumbel has been writing about the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing for over ten years. Charles was a consultant for ABC's 20/20 1996–97 coverage of the bombing. Both are award-winning investigative journalists, and Charles is also a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel. So we should pay attention when they argue that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols did not act alone but were part of a disaffected antigovernment militia. With a 100,000-copy first printing and likely of considerable import; I hope people will listen.
Kirkus Reviews
Journalists Gumbel (Steal This Vote: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America, 2005, etc.) and Charles investigate the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, uncovering failures in the official investigation and making a strong case for a larger conspiracy that fueled the attack. In this minutely researched book, the authors take a multifaceted approach. Beginning days before the April 19 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, the authors retrace the movements of the two men officially accused of the crime, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, as well as their known associates in radicalized militia communities scattered across the Midwest. Tracing the events of that day, the authors recount the series of miscalculations that led the bombers to switch targets, as well as hypothesize about the larger networks of discontented extremists who had long been threatening a response to the federal government's bungled handling of the Waco situation. Gumbel and Charles balance their account of the perpetrators with multi-agency accounts from FEMA, the FBI, the ATF and local police and fire departments. By comparing these agency narratives, it becomes clear that many errors in the investigation were the product of miscommunication, territorialism and, in some cases, purposeful misrepresentations on the part of agents. The many voices of responders and investigators add to the voluminous cast of characters featured, from the ranks of extremist militia groups to the stalwart firefighters who treated the first victims. The authors deliver a compelling, articulate narrative history, thorough in both mainstream theories about the bombing and fringe conspiracy theories. A valuable contribution to the larger study of terrorism in the United States.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061986444
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/24/2012
  • Pages: 439
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Gumbel

Andrew Gumbel has worked for more than twenty years as a foreign correspondent for British newspapers. He has won awards for investigative reporting and political commentary, and written widely for U.S. publications including the Los Angeles Times and The Atlantic. His book Steal This Vote: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America was published to great acclaim in 2005. He was born in England and educated at Oxford University.

Roger G. Charles is a retired lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps and an award-winning investigative journalist. In 1996 and 1997 he was a consultant on the Oklahoma City bombing for ABC's 20/20. He also worked as an investigator for Stephen Jones and the legal team defending Timothy McVeigh in his federal trial. Charles was born in Texas, raised in West Virginia, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1967.

Andrew Gumbel has worked for more than twenty years as a foreign correspondent for British newspapers. He has won awards for investigative reporting and political commentary, and written widely for U.S. publications including the Los Angeles Times and The Atlantic. His book Steal This Vote: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America was published to great acclaim in 2005. He was born in England and educated at Oxford University.

Roger G. Charles is a retired lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps and an award-winning investigative journalist. In 1996 and 1997 he was a consultant on the Oklahoma City bombing for ABC's 20/20. He also worked as an investigator for Stephen Jones and the legal team defending Timothy McVeigh in his federal trial. Charles was born in Texas, raised in West Virginia, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1967.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted April 27, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    "It was the FBI's finest hour!" at least that is what

    "It was the FBI's finest hour!" at least that is what they thought. In light of the world's worst terrorist attack prior to 9/11, we still have a lot to learn and you would have thought we would have learned plenty by now.

    On April 19, 1995 at 9:02am, security as we thought we knew it would completely change forever in the lives of 168 people who died that morning going about what they did every day. In Oklahoma City, at the Murrah Federal Building, Timothy McVeigh would take a Ryder rental truck, park it in a handicap spot, light a fuse containing home made bombs and walk away. Two men were convicted in this plot against the government, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. But were they really the only ones involved?

    In the book, Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed - and Why It Still Matters by Andrew Gumbel and Roger Charles, the readers are given information in a unique way. Challenging the official account of a major historical event can seem presumptuous, even fool hardy. Journalists, and authors, after all, do not have subpoena power, forensics laboratories, or polygraph kits. They can not interview 18,000 witnesses or run down 43,000 leads, as the Oklahoma City investigators did.

    What they do have, in this case, is the opportunity to review the government's work from start to finish. This book is based on records that have been unearthed for the first time, including the complete archive of documents shared with the defense teams in the two federal trials and in Terry Nichol's state trial in Oklahoma. They also have a voluminous body of writings from Nichols, who did not utter a word for ten years after his arrest but agreed to discuss the case with the authors in great detail.

    This book does not pick sides in any way but merely showcases where investigators went wrong and the suspects that were never questioned or leads that were not brought to trial. The book lets the reader decided what went wrong and why were only two people arrested and convicted when it appears that so many more were accountable for their actions in this case.

    I received this book compliments of William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins Publishers for my honest review and it really brought back for me as a reader and reviewer, what I didn't realize. How the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation had a bomb squad out looking for a device outside the Federal Court House just minutes before the explosion but would later deny they did. Did they have advanced warning something was going to happen?

    How twenty four eye witnesses saw other people with Timothy McVeigh both in the Ryder Truck but also driving three other vehicles around the Murrah Building. "Not one of the witnesses who saw McVeigh that morning were called to testify at trial, because the government determined that every one of them was wrong to say he was not alone. If only one person had seen it, or two or three...but twenty four? That's pretty powerful." (pg 37).

    This book is truly an eye opener for me and I'm sure for anyone who reads it. For me the main question is from 1995 to 2001, why have we not learned much from one terrorist attack to the next. Is this leaving us open for another attack in the future? History teaches us that we need to learn from our previous mistakes to avoid future ones, and I ask you have we learned enough? I rate this book a 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to anyone who is interested in these types of books. I think there is a lesson in there for all of us!

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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