Harvey Silverglate’s May 11 op-ed “Unrecorded testimony” informs us that the FBI depends on interview notes while refusing to record interviews electronically. If an interviewee’s account of what he said is different from the FBI’s account, the interviewee could be prosecuted for changing his story, with no recourse to an impartial record.
As a former reporter and editor, I know that people vary enormously in their ability to put oral communication on paper. Most bureaucracies accept that. When police take a theft report or an unemployment clerk does an interview, the interviewee can review the report and edit it. In my experience, these reports often do require correction. But the FBI does not show interviewees its notes. Instead, in an area where errors are typical, it claims infallibility.
Even without taking into account the possibility of pressure or deceit by FBI interviewers, the agency’s refusal to provide an electronic record and an opportunity for correction should disqualify most FBI statements. How sad that those we entrust with so much power are so arrogant in its abuse.
Massachusetts has tried to remedy the fact that official perjury is so common that police themselves call it “testilying.” Unrecorded testimony in state courts is now viewed with some skepticism. It’s time for the feds to follow suit.