By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Linda James complains her house is completely overtaken by her business. "I've had to knock out walls to make room," she says. James has been a forensic document examiner for the past 13 years. Her house bulges with stacks of photographs of signature samples, boxes marked "evidence" and imaging equipment. She transformed her game room into a laboratory equipped with an assortment of camera bodies, lenses, microscopes and a machine called a video spectral comparator used to analyze inks.
She points to a long room next to the lab that once was a wet bar. She ripped it out and converted the space into a storage room, filling it with rows of filing cabinets and fireproof safes. The last few days have been frantic for James and her tiny Plano business. Television crews from Fox News, CNN and NBC have filed through her dining room, which serves as a front office area and conference center. She's had a string of calls from radio and print journalists. "It's like an invasion," she says. "All of a sudden, I can't pay attention to my workload. All I wanted to do was make that statement."
The statement to which James refers is one she hoped would distance her from the September 8 CBS 60 Minutes broadcast that featured purported 30-year-old documents alleging that political favoritism was exerted to get President George W. Bush into the Texas Air National Guard and then fluff up his record. Under a blizzard of criticism concerning the authenticity of the explosive memos, CBS stated in a September 10 Washington Post story that each of the documents "was thoroughly vetted by independent experts, and we are convinced of their authenticity." (On Monday, the network said it could not authenticate four documents used in the story and that the report was a "mistake in judgment.")
"I didn't want it to be known, if it ever came out, that I was one of the ones," James says. "I didn't want it known that I had authenticated them, because I hadn't. I didn't want anyone to think that I was one of those [independent experts]."
James' role in the CBS imbroglio began on September 3, when she says she was contacted by CBS and asked if she could attempt to authenticate some documents. She also was asked to provide the names of other document experts, which she did, giving them contact information for Marcel Matley and Emily Will. The next day, a CBS representative hand delivered the documents to her Plano home. "They did not tell me what it was about at all," she says. "I did not know what the documents were until they came."
When she opened the envelope, she discovered two memos allegedly written by Bush's guard commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian, along with an assortment of National Guard documents known to be authentic for comparison.
At the outset, James says, she noticed significant problems with the two documents, one of which was dated August 1, 1972, while the other carried a June 24, 1973, date. (The latter document was not included in the four documents used by CBS in its 60 Minutes broadcast. USA Today has reported that there were originally six memos.) Immediately James said she was struck by discrepancies between the Killian signature on the 1973 memo and those Killian signatures on the authenticated documents. (The August 1, 1972, memo has Killian's initials. Killian died in 1984.)
She points to breaks in the signature, dropouts (that could be the result of repeated copying) with lines not consistent with his "knowns" or known signature features. She says she requested CBS provide more documents, stating she had insufficient samples to distinguish between natural signature variation and the possible scrawl of a forger. James also asked CBS if they had any information on Killian's medical history that might include broken bones, medications or possible neurological disorders that could explain the strange breaks in the signature she was examining.
She zeroed in on other discrepancies, noting that each document revealed diverging typing habits. In the 1972 memo, the word "subject" in the heading is entirely uppercase, while in the 1973 memo only "S" is capitalized. Also, the 1973 memo has a "111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron" heading at the top with only the "34567" post office box beneath it, while the 1972 memo includes the complete address with the city, state and ZIP code. In addition, the 1973 memo has a comma between the month and the year, while the 1972 memo has no commas in the date. But what is perhaps most striking in the 1973 memo is the salutation "sir," even though the memo is not addressed to anyone. (James says she didn't have time to fully investigate the typographic discrepancies in both documents pointed out in other reports.)
"There are just a lot of questions that are unanswered," James says. "Red flags go up when certain things are there...And they're major. They're not little ones."
James says she raised her concerns with CBS the day before the broadcast aired. "They told me at the last that they were not going to use the handwriting part, that they decided to have a guard, this National Guardsman, to vouch for the documents," she says. "So I thought, 'OK. They're not going to go on with this.'" (She says CBS didn't tell her who the National Guard officer was, but CBS later revealed they had contacted Retired Major General Bobby Hodges of Arlington to authenticate the documents.)