Exclusive: FBI Software Glitch Causing Incorrect DNA Information to Display on Crime Lab Computers


State DNA scientists have discovered a software glitch in the FBI’s national DNA database—an error officials say led to the display of incorrect information for at least two genetic profiles in state cases, and which may be impacting cases across the country, Bronx Justice News has learned.

The glitch was discovered by New York’s state’s DNA lab after technicians noticed results being displayed for an offender “hit” from CODIS—the FBI’s national DNA database—were inaccurate. Later, a second instance of incorrect genetic information being displayed was discovered.

The problem is impacting local CODIS-accredited labs nationwide, officials said.

“We determined that the offender profile that was involved in that match as it was displayed down at the local lab was a different profile that what should have been for that offender,” said Dwight Adams, chairman of the state’s DNA Subcommittee and a former director of the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, told members at a Feb. 1 subcommittee meeting.

“It is something that was under the radar,” Adams said of the glitch. “The local labs didn’t know that this was taking place.”

Adams said the state lab notified the FBI, which then blasted out a notification to labs disclosing the display problem.

“The FBI is working on a utility to identify these [errors] and then correct that,” Adams said, adding that the FBI believed it would have a repair ready four to six weeks from the Feb. 1 meeting. The system repair will be able to identify any other offender affected cases, Adams said.

Adams did not reveal which local labs saw incorrect information from CODIS offender profiles. The database contains the DNA profiles of more than 13.6 million Americans.

There are eight CODIS-approved labs in New York, including the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s lab as well as labs in Westchester and Nassau Counties.

The glitch was the result of a July 2018 software update to the CODIS system, and only impacts offender profiles logged before 2012, officials said.

“What we did find out is this is not unique to New York state,” said Adams. “It’s a global issue.”

“The instruction is….just be diligent in looking at the matches,” he said of the FBI’s advice for local labs.

The FBI’s New York office did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment Monday.

The state DNA subcommittee is part of New York’s Office of Forensic Services, which administers the state’s DNA Databank and sets state policy and rules for the gathering and testing of DNA in criminal investigations.

On Friday, Bronx Justice News reported that the subcommittee will permit qualifying law enforcement agencies to use Rapid DNA—a controversial technology that provides near-instantaneous test results on human genetic samples without the need for scientific supervision.

Animation credit: Millie Georgiadis/Indiana University School of Medicine

About Kevin Deutsch 265 Articles
Kevin Deutsch is a Staff Writer for Bronx Justice News covering the criminal justice system, drugs, and DNA use by law enforcement. An award-winning journalist, Deutsch is the author of the true crime books "Pill City" and "The Triangle." He has worked on staff at the Daily News, Miami Herald, Newsday, The Palm Beach Post, and The Riverdale Press. His work has also appeared in Newsweek, Columbia Journalism Review, The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Forward, The Independent, Huffington Post, Orlando Sentinel, and the New York Post, among other publications. His numerous television appearances include spots on CNN, MSNBC, and C-SPAN's BookTV. He has also been featured in The New Yorker. A Bronx resident, Deutsch hosts the true crime podcast "A Dark Turn" on the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network.