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]
Not a High School student.
Graduate college student from same place as the last meeting between Jose Padilla and KSM.
Nobody has been arrested for the anthrax mailings of 2001.
So this is the new mantra. I seem to recall that we (the US government) were unable to aerolicize (sp?) anthrax, but maybe my memory is faulty. I also have several articles saved that Iraq WAS able to do what our own scientists couldn't do.
When you add in the logic of "pure" into this entire search...then you start talking of a "expert"...not a teenage kid named Carl working in his home-made lab over the garage. If you look at all of these scientists....who work on government projects...all make in excess of $80k per year. Most will make more than $100k a year...so they can afford to build a lab in the back of their garage that would easily handle this kind of situation. Don't forget...there are college labs that are selling or dumping their old hardware all the time...so a smart guy could walk in and buy a $50k item for less than $6k...and just build onto his lab piece by piece. These guys are like mechanics...they know their profession and their tools.
Behind all of this PR work of the FBI...they have to know that this is a inside job...that their list of possible performers is down to probably 15 guys...and they just can't get much further. Whoever did it...was very smart...and covered every obvious trail. They will have to slip up...and a third party realize their connection (like a ex-wife) before this will happen. In fact...they probably already know that the guy is single...because a curious wife would have called the cops already.
Looks like Hold,(D, NJ) is fed up with Gommint attempts to solve the puzzle.
Don't think the article mentions the Postal Inspectors either.
Did you read post 17?
"He [bin Laden] was a busy person and had hundreds of people working for him," said one El Hage family member. "You didn't get to see him unless he invited you." El Hage's mother-in-law received letters from El Hage that contained seed samples from the Sudanese farms. El Hage frequently took international trips to Europe and elsewhere on business for bin Laden, family members say. -"A Portrait of Wadih El Hage, Accused Terrorist," by Oriana Zill, Frontline, PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/upclose/elhage.html.(Oriana Zill was Associate Producer of FRONTLINE's "Hunting Bin Laden")
OCTOBER 25, 2001 : (COLUMBIA : IRA TERRORISTS REPORTEDLY TRIED TO BUY COCAINE; PLANNED TO MIX ANTHRAX WITH COCAINE) <4?On October 25,2001, Univisions Spanish T.V., "Primer Impacto' and in the late nightly international news, it was reported from Colombia that the IRA terrorists arrested this month in Colombia had their headquarters in Cuba and tried to buy 1,500 kilograms of cocaine in order to be mixed with anthrax for further distribution in the U.S. Although the Spanish TV channel interviewed the DEA agent who exposed the operation, the American media censored this important news that brings forward Castros involvement in bio-terrorism. - "CASTRO AND THE INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM, A CHRONOLOGY," by Eugene Pons with a foreword by Jaime Suchlicki , Institute for Cuban &Cuban-American Studies, Occasional Paper Series, September 2001
Why fill the envelopes "overseas" when all that's going to happen is they will start leaking before they can be mailed. Remember, anthrax spores are so small they migrate right out through the spaces in the paper used in USPS envelopes and the attackers knew that as evidenced by the fact they placed wide mailing tape all around the envelopes.
These envelopes were mailed within hours of being filled.
It's much more convenient to do the work down in the basement.
It's actually not "rocket science" ~ find a dead cow in Texas and it will most likely have exactly the same strain of anthrax used in the attack.
Bring home your sample.
The trick is to get the living bacterial mass/mat to "spore". I don't happen to know how that happens, but that's the only "secret". All the rest of the deal has to do with cleaning the debris out of the spores, and it's not like these things don't drift on the wind anyway.
Clearly, Karl Rove was involved, and should be frog-marched out of the White House for immediate execution by the more progressive members of the media...
Our country trains hundreds of thousands of foreign students and has for some time.
Please define "inside job".
One of us trying to warn people??? or one of them on the inside of one of our institutions?
There are lots of dead cows in Texas on any given day.
Misquoting X-Files, "The Strain Is Out There".
There's a large Pakistani community in SE Texas. They are there for the climate AND chemical industry. There are enough of them they support a decent goat/sheep slaughtering business (as they do here in the DC area). You becha' Paks know about anthrax.
No, I wasn't assuming the letters were mailed abroad ~ that's clearly not the case. However, once the envelopes were filled with anthrax, the anthrax spores would begin filtering through the paper. That started immediately, not later. Because the guys doing the attack knew that this was going to happen they TAPED the envelopes. This involved wrapping the envelope end to end, on both sides, with a piece of clear packaging tape ~ the wide stuff!
Grand Central Station must have some areas where the wind or fan or HVAC system creates a good breeze. What would happen if this envelope were sprinkled in front of this breeze?