When Morris Kuper testified at the trial of Terry Nichols, Tim McVeigh's co-conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing, he said that at 8:02 a.m. he had seen a man closely resembling McVeigh and a swarthy, muscular man walking to a parking lot a block from the Murrah Building. That was an hour before the Murrah Building was blown up, killing 168 people.

Kuper, a computer expert with the Kerr-McGee Corporation, said he looked at his watch because he was late for work. He said he saw the two men enter the parking lot and get into an old, light-colored car like the one McVeigh was driving when he was arrested. He called the FBI two days later, telling them to get surveillance tapes from the public library building and the Southwestern Bell building because they might show something interesting that he had seen in the parking lot. They took his name and number, but did not interview him about what he had seen until four months later.

There were many other witnesses who had seen McVeigh with a man fitting Kuper's description before and after the bombing. The FBI had circulated a sketch of him, calling him John Doe No. 2. They later retracted this identification because the first of the many witnesses who saw this man had been persuaded that he was mistaken. The FBI has yet to say whether any of the 23 tapes that they took from surveillance cameras on the Murrah Building and buildings nearby showed McVeigh with such a man.

An important lawsuit, "David Hoffman vs. the Department of Justice," is now before the federal court for the Western District of Oklahoma. It is a Freedom of Information suit seeking release of the surveillance tapes. The Freedom of Information Act was passed to promote honesty and facilitate the exposure of cover-ups of wrongdoing by government officials, objectives embraced by the Bush administration. Since Attorney General John Ashcroft appears to have bought the FBI claim that none of the material withheld by the FBI has any significant bearing on the McVeigh and Nichols verdicts, why is his department opposing release of the tapes?

It has even imposed a gag order to keep those familiar with the sequestered material from discussing what it reveals. On May 29, "60 Minutes II" aired a segment featuring four former FBI agents, three who had been forced out of the bureau and one who had retired. One, Rick Ojeda, had won a commendation from Louis Freeh for his work on the Oklahoma bombing case. Ojeda said that he had checked to see if information that he had developed had been mentioned in the trials. He asked other agents to find out if interview reports that he had written had been turned over to the attorneys. They couldn't find them.

Ojeda wrote to Senator Charles Grassley, a critic of the FBI, saying he was aware of exculpatory information in the Oklahoma bombing case that had been ignored. Asked by Dan Rather to describe some of that information, Ojeda said a gag order prevented him from doing so. He could only say, "I thought they were leads that should have been followed up on." There was no one on the program who was free to explain what was being concealed.

Those familiar with the evidence believe that some surveillance tapes and many of the documents show that the John Doe that Morris Kuper saw with McVeigh was a co-conspirator and probably a link to Middle Eastern terrorists backing the plot. A former agent familiar with the case says John Doe was dropped as a target because the FBI wanted a quick solution. A Middle Eastern connection would have complicated the case.

Dan Vogel, the retired agent on the program, said that the FBI has a cultural problem, and if it doesn't address it, it will destroy itself. That problem is the tendency to control and manipulate the evidence to obtain a desired result. Danny Defenbaugh, who ran the bombing investigation and now runs the Dallas field office, where all those missing Oklahoma documents were sent, has been described as exemplifying the culture.

A few days before the cover-up was exposed, Defenbaugh said on TV that whenever you hear criticism of the FBI, "you never hear about the Oklahoma City bombing case." Having sat on the documents for months, and with McVeigh's execution imminent, he had no reason to anticipate being ordered to turn them over.

Somewhere in the FBI family, there must be a hero who threatened to expose the obstruction of justice, implicating Louis Freeh and forcing him to order Danny Defenbaugh to surrender his hoard.