Skip to comments.Five Years Later, Anthrax Questions Swirl Anew at FBI
Posted on 10/13/2006 3:46:10 PM PDT by Shermy
Nobody has been arrested for the anthrax mailings of 2001, but many people have paid for the crime.
Five died and at least 17 others got sick.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been frustrated. Careers have crumbled. Taxpayers have gotten socked for billions of dollars to shore up bioterror defenses that some experts say still fall short.
Now, an analysis from the FBI itself, buried in a microbiology journal, is raising more questions about the investigation.
In the August issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, FBI scientist Douglas Beecher sought to set the record straight. Anthrax spores mailed to politicians and journalists in September and October 2001, Beecher wrote, were not prepared using advanced techniques and additives to make them more lethal, contrary to "a widely circulated misconception."
The notion the anthrax spores were "weaponized" had fueled conjecture that only a government insider could have carried out the operation.
Beecher's article suggested a much wider universe of potential suspects -- who showed they could kill without highly refined spores.
"A clever high school student" could make such a preparation, according to Ronald Atlas, former president of the American Society for Microbiology and co-director of the Center for Health Hazards Preparedness at the University of Louisville.
The Beecher paper has left Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., wondering if the killings, which further shook a nation already reeling from the Sept. 11 terror attacks, will ever be solved. He blames the FBI for "botching" the case.
Agents spun their wheels chasing a small circle of weapons experts, Holt said.
In the anthrax attacks, Steven Hatfill, a virologist who had worked for the government, landed in the cross-hairs. Labeled a "person of interest" by officials but never charged, the scientist claims the public probe has made him unemployable. He is suing the government and media outlets.
Kenneth Berry's career also unraveled after the FBI searched a Dover Township, N.J., summer home he was visiting in 2004. Berry was a doctor from upstate New York who started an organization for training emergency workers to deal with biochemical attacks. He never was charged, either.
Holt also chides authorities for taking nearly a year to discover anthrax traces in a mailbox near Princeton University. That mailbox, where letters laced with anthrax bacteria may have begun their journey in 2001, is on a route that feeds the Hamilton Township postal center where anthrax letters were processed.
In a letter to Holt, FBI Assistant Director Eleni Kalisch declined to give a closed-door briefing to the House Intelligence Committee. Kalisch claimed sensitive information was leaked from classified briefings more than three years ago, and described the anthrax case as a criminal matter not subject to the committee's oversight.
Some cases take time to crack, Kalisch wrote. Seventeen FBI agents and 10 postal inspectors remain on the "Amerithrax" beat. The FBI said the anthrax investigation has spanned six continents and generated more than 9,100 interviews, 67 searches and 6,000 subpoenas.
Early on, the FBI hoped that analysis of the spores would point to the lab that prepared them. But Beecher's article underscores difficulties of such microscopic sleuthing. Particle sizes, for instance, may not yield as many clues as some expected.
Over time, after being handled and exposed to different conditions, particles "may not resemble the initial product," Beecher wrote.
Yet the FBI is confident, and has forged scientific ties and advances to help prevent future biological attacks, said Joseph Persichini Jr., acting assistant director in charge of the Washington field office, on the FBI's Web site.
Richard Ebright, a Rutgers University microbiologist, still thinks the anthrax attacks were an inside job because they used a virulent form of the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis, which only a few biodefense- or intelligence-related labs were thought to possess.
"Whoever did it is an insider," said Ayaad Assaad, a toxicologist with the Environmental Protection Agency, who formerly worked at an Army biodefense center at Fort Detrick, Md. "It started with anthrax. Now it's ricin, and God knows what's coming."
Ed Lake has tracked the case closely, self-publishing a book, "Analyzing the Anthrax Attacks, The First Three Years" and moderating a Web site. Lake is convinced the FBI knows the perpetrator but lacks evidence to prosecute. He believes the killer is a scientist from central New Jersey who wanted America to gird for an al-Qaida bioterror attack in the wake of Sept. 11.
"So he sent a warning to the media, saying this is next, there's a biological attack coming next, and be prepared: Take penicillin," said Lake, referring to hand-printed letters, bearing New Jersey postmarks, sent to NBC and the New York Post.
Leon Harris retired last year from the Hamilton Township postal center. He too suspects the bad guys are home-grown and will be caught.
"I don't care if it takes 10 years," the Air Force veteran said. "They're going to find them."
Ernesto Blanco agreed. He survived inhalational anthrax that killed his friend Bob Stevens, a colleague at a tabloid in Florida, five years ago this month. Blanco, now 79, returned to his mailroom job at American Media Inc. in 2002.
"I am positive they will catch them," Blanco said. "I have faith in what they are doing."
Key dates in the 5-year-old investigation of the anthrax attacks:
Sept. 18: Postal facility in Hamilton Township, N.J., processes anthrax-laced letters to NBC News in New York and the New York Post.
Oct. 5: Bob Stevens, photo editor at Florida tabloid the Sun dies from inhalational anthrax.
Oct. 9: Hamilton Township facility processes anthrax letters to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Patrick Leahy. Both letters have return address of fictitious "Greendale School" in Franklin Park, N.J.
Oct. 16: U.S. Senate closes; employees are tested for exposure to anthrax microbes.
Oct. 17: The House shuts down.
Oct. 18: Hamilton Township facility is closed.
Oct. 21: Washington postal worker Thomas Morris Jr. dies from anthrax.
Oct. 22: Washington postal worker Joseph Curseen dies from anthrax.
Oct. 31: Kathy Nguyen, who worked in a New York City hospital supply room, dies from anthrax.
Nov. 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Conn., dies from anthrax. Authorities suspect her mail was contaminated by other mail.
[snip - more at link]
Its a muslim, therefore they will never pursue. It was supposed to be a white crazy male remember?
Was it just a coincidence that there appear to have been connections between known Muslim terrorists, the Florida anthrax attack, and the New Jersey mailings?
""A clever high school student" could make such a preparation""
Coated or not, I don't think that's correct. It's still high-grade stuff.
"So he sent a warning to the media, saying this is next, there's a biological attack coming next, and be prepared: Take penicillin," said Lake..."
I also believe the mailer/s had a familiarity with Central New Jersey. Because the return addresses on the second batch nearly match a name of a school there and the town didn't match the zip code, town was adjacent or so to the zip code area - only someone from local familiarity would know enough to make that kind of mistake. If the mailer was from elsewhere but wanted to make a phoney return address they would look up the town's name on the internet or such and have the correct zipcode - no reason to dummy the zip code.
As far as the silica in the mix, that blew in on the day, September 8, 2001, the terrorists filled the envelopes in a public park in Boca Raton, FL.
""A clever high school student" could make such a preparation""
And s/he probably would have attended a really good private school
in a town with a good university library.
Or was a strong early-adapter of using the Internet for looking up
And the kid would probably get a free ride at Yale U., in the manner of
the Taliban admit.
Who is "they"?
"I missed this part of the story."
The Berry episode was very bizzare.
shhhh...our government. The FBI has its marching orders or continues to show its bungling incompetence.
Let's see: our clever HS student would need anthrax cultures, a supply of suitable medium,a freezer,a centrifuge,and,perhaps,a flash dryer or some form of bead mill.A glove box would be helpful,as would protective gear,air filtration.
What are we up to now ? $30-40,000 ?
You do realize that the Justice Department, FBI ... are under the control of President Bush.
Is he part of they?
"What are we up to now ? $30-40,000 ?"
I don't know. But the FBI expressed they were surprised how "pure" it was and such so I got the impression it was special.
Two points: 1) If all earlier reports of weapons grade anthrax were false, please identify those who made those false claims and then fire them. 2) In their tireless search for the criminal responsible for those anthrax attacks, has the FBI at last ruled out their favorite frame-up target, Richard Jewel?
In theory. In reality, President Bush abdicated responsibility for the executive bureaucracy and stopped caring some time ago. Remember, this is the guy who told "Brownie" he was doing a heck of a job and gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the incompetent, pink-tie wearing George Tenet.
If they filled the envelopes in a public park, then down wind, or in the soil, there would be left over spores. Someone would eventually get an infection.
Are there any infections???
More likely the envelopes were filled overseas, or in an apartment or beach house along the ocean side of Florida, maybe along the beach, that was subsequently burned. I've tried to get fire records of all the places that were torched about that time....mid Aug to Sept. 2001. So far have not.