(AND TRIDATA, THE HIRED GUN)
“The right to search for the truth implies also a duty; one must
not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be the truth.”
~Albert Einstein, German-born theoretical physicist
“I know of no formula for evil that is surer than sloppy research … ,”
~Sherman Kent, World War II intelligence officer and
the father of U.S. modern intelligence analysis
By the time it was done, the Governor’s Review Panel Report (the Addendum) on the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech cost the taxpayers around three-quarters of a million dollars. In the final analysis the document is a testimony to the willingness of a large number of Virginians in positions of trust to engage in half-truths and even lies to protect their careers and thwart legal action. The report is specious—it is, in many respects, impotent. On the surface it looks good; the goals, as laid out by the governor, are excellent. But upon close examination, the report is stunningly flawed. Some of the most damning evidence against Virginia Tech, Virginia law enforcement officials, and the politicians in Richmond is missing in the error-ridden report’s content and in the circumstances surrounding its writing. Furthermore, the report writers were at the mercy of Virginia Tech for much of their information. For example, school officials insisted that a case, but somehow this arrangement was accepted when the review panel was set up.
Some might say that small errors and inconsistencies creep in to any large work; however, the report has a basic flaw that is so serious that it undermines the credibility of much of the document and the people who wrote it. This flaw, in and of itself, is a testimony to the lack of thoroughness and professionalism in the document’s research and writing. The flaw is so fundamentally important to the investigation that leaving it uncorrected puts into question whether any investigation was done by TriData at all. The flaw shows that TriData was not able to even simply record what multiple witnesses reported: the location and time that the killer, Seung Hui Cho, committed suicide.
Survivors were in the room when Cho committed suicide in the front of the French class, right after he heard the police use a shotgun to blast open the lock of a Norris Hall entrance.
Here are excerpts from the Governor’s Review Panel Report 9:45 am timeline entry. “Cho returns to room 211, the French class, and goes up one aisle and down another, shooting people again. Cho shoots Goddard two more times. … Cho (then) tries to enter room 204 where Liviu Librescu is teaching Mechanics. Professor Librescu braces his body against the door yelling for students to head for the windows. He is shot through the door. Students push out screens and jump or drop to grass or bushes below the window. Ten students escape this way. The next two students trying to escape are shot. Cho returns again to room 206 (the graduate engineering class in Advanced Hydraulics) and shoots more students.”
The 9:51 am entry reads: “Cho shoots himself in the head just as the police reach the second floor. …” The timeline is botched up. Cho did not leave the French class and go to rooms 204 and 206. Cho was in those rooms before he committed suicide in room 211.
A timeline is the most important part of any crime scene analysis. Indeed, all analyses flows from the time-sequence of events. Not knowing where the killer committed suicide implies either incompetence or purposeful blurring of facts, and could indicate an effort to make the report less useful to those who would seek to analyze the crime independently. This error in the Governor’s Review Panel Report is critical and casts serious doubt on the report as a whole.
Here is another example of a flaw in the timeline. This one, being an error of omission, seems even more likely to be an attempt on the part of TriData to keep their clients, Virginia Tech and the state of Virginia, out of trouble:
April 16, 2007: 8:16 am-9:24 am: Police allow students in West Ambler Johnston Hall to leave; some go to 9:00 am classes in Norris Hall. (The timeline does not specify that students Henry Lee and Rachel Hill were allowed to leave West Ambler Johnston Hall for their 9:05 am class French class in Norris Hall where they were shot and killed. The school’s failure to lockdown West Ambler Johnston Hall and the deaths of Lee and Hill are critical in making a judgment about the school’s reaction to the shooting—a lockdown would have saved those two lives.)
If the above error was not serious enough to cast doubt on the report’s accuracy, stop to think that when it was first published in August 2007. The errors in the initial version were so glaring and the outcry in the media and from the victims’ families so great, that the report was revised—twice. The first revision was published in November of 2009 and the second revision in December of 2009. Even the second revision, the Addendum, did not correct all the mistakes.
The extent and magnitude of the flaws in the initial report were so serious that Governor Kaine had no choice but to go back to TriData to fix the problems. The “fix” was based primarily on the work of the victims’ families—to Mike’s and my knowledge TriData caught none of the errors. To reiterate, the $75,000 was given to the firm to make corrections based on the work others had done. None of these errors seems to have inspired the company to go back and do their own research or fact checking. As far as we can tell, TriData was adept at printing what was handed to them, but less adept at looking at the evidence with a critical eye.
Putting it bluntly, the company that did substandard work in the first place, was then rewarded with another fee to fix what they screwed up. If the first report wasn’t accurate, then TriData ought to have been fined, not rewarded with more money. But that argument assumes that TriData was not doing exactly what it had been paid to do. You have to ask yourself, “Was TriData the hired gun to shoot down truth and accountability?”
The report, even with the revisions, will probably go down in history as a poorly researched, poorly analyzed, and poorly written document. What a shame. Even in the best light, the report can only be seen as a missed opportunity to do something to help prevent school shootings. For example, the Review Panel Report does not address problems central to the causes behind the shooting and shies away from making the tough recommendations needed to get at the heart of the problem and prevent future shootings on school grounds. In the final analysis, the reader is left with the impression that the incentive to produce a candid and objective report was low. (To be continued)