TRAIL OF TERROR
'Government had missile in
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma City federal
building, the government had a TOW antitank missile stowed in a locker
several floors above the daycare center.
The missile, about 3 feet long, actually had an inert warhead and only a
small amount of rocket fuel, and the government says it did not contribute
to the massive explosion that day. Instead, it tumbled into the rubble of
the Alfred P. Murrah building.
But its discovery prompted an evacuation that slowed rescue efforts April
19, 1995, in part because the missile had been marked as live ordinance to
make it look believable to the targets of a planned law enforcement sting,
according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
``Tow Missile recovered from A.P. Murrah Building,'' states an Oklahoma
County sheriff's department evidence form showing the missile was removed
from the rubble by the department's bomb squad and examined by military
Oklahoma City emergency personnel records show the rescue site evacuation
lasted 44 minutes.
``People were scrambling in every direction,'' recalled Sgt. William
Grimsley of the Oklahoma County sheriff's department bomb squad, who helped
remove the missile during the evacuation. ``From the crate, we knew it was
some kind of a missile. We were told to get it out of there and get it out
of there as fast as we could.''
The missile was the subject of a lengthy FBI investigation and also was
examined by a local grand jury in Oklahoma, according to documents and
interviews, but its existence has remained mostly a secret to the public -
except for a handful of conspiracy theorists and government critics.
``There was a gag order at the time, we just didn't talk about it at all. It
was an ongoing investigation,'' Grimsley explained.
McVeigh was convicted and later executed for the truck bomb blast that
killed 168 people, including 19 children - most of them in a day-care center
on the second floor.
Though a sidelight in the Oklahoma City drama, the missile's unexpected
appearance in the rubble of a federal building frequented by civilians -
including children - raises broader safety issues, experts say.
``We have no idea of what the potential dangers are in federal buildings
because there is no methodology'' for the General Services Administration,
the government's landlord, to independently review what is stored in every
building, said John Culbertson, a former congressional aide to expelled Rep.
James Traficant, D-Ohio.
Culbertson investigated the Oklahoma City building and other federal
building safety issues and testified before a House subcommittee.
The GSA says its security procedures have changed greatly since 1995. The
changes ``include extensive exchange of information with local, state and
federal law-enforcement organizations, designing federal buildings to
incorporate security measures and using magnetometers, X-ray machines and
other innovations, some not visible to the public,'' GSA spokeswoman Viki
Just last summer, GSA implemented a new regulation requiring federal
agencies to seek its authorization before bringing ``hazardous explosive or
combustible materials'' into federal buildings.
Still, the TOW missile is among a growing number of recent examples of
weaponry, ordinance and other potentially dangerous materials that have been
involved in incidents in government buildings.
In December, an FBI agent suffered severe burns on his hands, arm and
abdomen when a stun grenade accidentally exploded in a federal building in
Buffalo, N.Y. Witnesses said the explosion shook the building and caused
smoky haze to drift through the complex.
And shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, authorities divulged that a
government office building that collapsed in a fiery heap near the World
Trade Center had stored thousand of gallons of diesel fuel in tanks just
above the ground floor. Investigators have examined whether the fuel could
have contributed to the fire and collapse, and some insurance companies have
sued the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for storing the fuel
The federal building in Baltimore was evacuated in 1997 when pepper gas was
discharged, overcoming several workers.
Some potential perils have been known by the government for more than a
In 1987, a fire inside an FBI crime laboratory in Washington set off
ordinance stored casually in a cabinet. ``The detonation of ordinance stored
in the lower area of the cabinet occurred late in the fire as the heat level
approached the floor,'' an FBI investigative report said.
That report states that among the items to detonate were two
rocket-propelled grenades and 30 Soviet-made detonating fuses.
Federal law enforcement officials say their agencies frequently must store
weapons - everything from handguns and ammunition to semiautomatic rifles
and flash grenades - inside buildings frequented by civilians, but that
those who handle them are carefully trained and abide by existing laws.
The Customs Service acknowledged it possessed the TOW missile in the Murrah
building. When its discovery in the rubble sparked alarm, a Customs agent
attempted to assure rescuers the missile was unarmed and pleaded
unsuccessfully not to delay the rescue efforts.
``The Customs agent offered to personally remove the inert TOW missile from
the building,'' the service said in a statement to AP. ``Rescue officials
did not take up the agent's offer.''
Customs said the missile was marked live because it ``must appear to be live
in order to gain the confidence of suspected arms traffickers during
undercover investigations.'' But the agency added it believes its storage in
a ``reinforced strong room'' was legal.
``Customs' actions in possessing and storing this system were completely
within the law,'' the agency said. It would not discuss the details of the
The FBI eventually took custody of the missile and traced the weapon's
history from its creation and initial firing at an Alabama Army depot to its
reconfiguration with a dummy warhead.
One military expert told the FBI that even an inert missile could pose
dangers. ``He stated that inert TOW missiles are still operational. ...
These missiles are still fireable as they contain an engine which is
propelled by rocket fuel,'' an FBI report said.