Skip to comments.The Anthrax Media Event: Half Stampede And Half Lynch Mob
Posted on 08/16/2002 5:31:26 AM PDT by Starmaker
This isn't going to be a cute column. It may be a bit long. Some things need saying, so I'm going to say them.
Recently stories have appeared in the press implying that Steve Hatfill, among other things a former ebola researcher at the Army's biological-warfare research center at Fort Detrick, Md, sent the notorious anthrax-bearing letters to people around the country. The implication is that he is a murderer.
I know Hatfill socially, though we are not intimate. We met years back in Washington at a party held by a common friend. We have the occasional beer, bump into each other every year or so at parties, and infrequently participate in minor pub crawls.
Hatfill interested me because, aside from being good company, he was smart and knew a great deal about things technical, as for example ebola. I regard him as a friend, and will continue to do so until it is established that he has been killing people, which I think unlikely.
My involvement: In August of 1997, I published in the Washington Times a column I wrote with Steve's help on the vulnerability of the US to biological terrorism. At the time I was writing a weekly police column. Terrorism fit. The column re-emerged in connection with the Hatfill-as-murderer stories.
Since then, though on vacation in Mexico, I have gotten email from countless media outlets asking for interviews about him: The New York Post, Nightline, the New York Times, and such. In most cases I begged off. I know what television is, and know better than to subject myself to its directed editing. However, I have followed the stories. Overall the coverage has been contemptible, being half stampede and half lynch mob.
When the professional crosses into the personal, writing gets difficult. Personally, I'd trust Steve with my life. Journalistically, I can't tell you he didn't do it. How could I know? I don't think he did, but that is a judgment, not a fact. Jeff Dahmer seemed to be a nice fellow until you learned of his grazing habits. Neither can I prove that you didn't do it, or that Steve isn't a robotic space-alien disguised as an ebola researcher.
I can tell you, however, that the stories have embodied every trait that makes people detest the press. They have been mostly innuendo. They rely almost totally on unnamed sources, and largely fail to make sense. Many have been of the sort that run, "Sources say that Smith was seen walking past the parking lot. The next day a body was found there." The reader is invited to make the connection.
It makes me want to wash.
As one example chosen from many, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, one of those who emailed me about Hatfill, wrote in a column about "Mr. Z," recognizably Hatfill.
Asks Kristof, "Have you [the FBI] examined whether Mr. Z has connections to the biggest anthrax outbreak among humans ever recorded, the one that sickened more than 10,000 black farmers in Zimbabwe in 1978-79?"
Hatfill is now promoted to mass murderer. No evidence, no facts, just the leading question. The implication is one of guilt by geography. Hatfill went to medical school in Zimbabwe and served in the Selous Scouts. Kristof doesn't have the guts to make an accusation, or the honesty to admit that he has nothing to go on so he relies on innuendo. Welcome to journalism.
Personally, before I implied that anyone had endeavored to kill many thousands of people, I'd want a tad better evidence.
I am not familiar with the incident in Zimbabwe. However, anthrax comes in three varieties: intestinal, cutaneous, and "inhalation." The inhalation variety, the only one useful in warfare, doesn't sicken people. It kills them. If ten thousand people die of inhalation anthrax, there is no doubt that it has been done deliberately. Did they? Kristof doesn't say.
If it wasn't the inhalation variety, what was it? Kristof doesn't say. How you give 10,000 farmers intestinal anthrax isn't obvious. How clear is it that the incident, if any, was in fact deliberate? What did Hatfill have to do with it? The reporting is so bad as to be meaningless.
Laura Rozen, in The American Prospect, June 27, writes that genetic "analysis of the letter-anthrax suggested that it was indistinguishable from a strain developed by USAMRIID [i.e., the US Army.]" Unstated implication: Hatfill had access to the bug, so he must be guilty. Is this plausible? Hatfill would of course know that the bacillus would be DNA-sequenced and immediately traced to military sources. Why would he use a traceable variety? Conceivably he is secretly a space-alien psychotic android killer-bot. Stupid he isn't.
"Suggested that it was indistinguishable.."? That is careful reportorial weasel-wording. Was it indistinguishable, or was it not? Was the strain available elsewhere also? Anthrax has been the subject of all manner of research by civilian scientists. They get specimens from somewhere, probably ordinary biological supply houses (though I don't know).
Kristof also says, "FBI profilers are convinced that the real anthrax attacks last year were conducted by an American scientist trying to pin the blame on Arabs." I see. Then it really makes sense to use a variety identifiably developed by the US military, doesn't it? Exactly what Arabs would have.
By the way, Nick, which profilers? Name one.
Virtually all of the sources given in these stories are anonymous. "FBI profilers," "some of Hatfill's colleagues," etc. Now, I'm in the journalism racket. I know about anonymous sources. There's a saying, "You can bullshit the fans, but you can't bullshit the players." When anonymous sources exist, and they don't always, they have agendas, which the reader doesn't know about, and they play stupid reporters like cheap pianos.
Reporters, characteristically, are writing about things they don't understand. I'd give heavy odds not one in 500 knows purines from pyrimidines, PCR from RFLP, electrophoresis from a performing bear. Such things are the baby talk of genetics.
Aside from the shoddy reporting, a tremendous naiveté runs through this stuff. Kristof berates the FBI for not having an expert compare the handwriting on the letters with Hatfill's. This implies that Hatfill wouldn't know that handwriting is distinctive. Likely, don't you think?
Another story reported that one of the letters had been mailed from near Hatfill's residence. A child of ten knows about postmarks. Kristof wants the stamps DNA tested to identify whoever licked them. Does he think that Hatfill, a first-rate bio-research guy, doesn't know about DNA sequencing? All of this is smear by unsubstantiated implication.
Speaking as a sometimes reporter, the stories stink. If there is solid evidence that Hatfill is guilty, then publish it. But lame journalism craftedly skirting the libel laws doesn't cut it.
Didn't I hear that x-42 used pressure to sway the FBI in that direction in OKC?
Are these the same FBI agent?
Reprinted from NewsMax.com FBI Rejects Link Between Anthrax, 9-11 Terrorists
Phil Brennan, NewsMax.comEditor's note: See part one in this series, FBI and Anthrax: Another TWA 800 in the Making? Part two: FBI Ignored Letter in Anthrax Probe.
Friday, Aug. 16, 2002
BOCA RATON, Fla. One of the most intriguing aspects of the FBIs anthrax investigation is the bureaus apparent uninterest in the presence of al-Qaeda's Sept. 11 terrorists in the immediate vicinity of American Media Inc. (AMI) headquarters.
The bureau seems to reject out of hand the idea that these terrorists may well have been the source of the attack on AMI that killed one employee, almost killed another and sickened a third.
Yet there are a number of reasons why this theory could prove to be the answer to a puzzle the FBI has been unable to solve despite the most massive investigation in the bureaus history.
Here, according to government documents, are the 13 terrorists who were in Florida before Sept. 11.
(He Probably Voted Too)
At least 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers had Florida connections. Of the 19, three were in the country on expired visas, including Satam Al Suqami, who had a Florida driver's license listing a Boynton Beach address. Boynton Beach is a few miles north of Boca Raton and AMI.
In the summer, five suspected hijackers on the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center Mohamed Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi, Wail M. Alshehri, Waleed M. Alshehri and Satam Al Suqami bought one-month memberships at Woolard's gyms. Atta and Al-Shehhi paid to work out at the Delray Beach gym, the others in Boynton Beach. Delray Beach adjoins Boca Raton.
According to news reports five of the hijackers who seized United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, spent time in Florida. One was Marwan Al-Shehhi, Atta's roommate. A few days before 9-11, they both got drunk in a Hollywood, Fla., bar.
Four of the hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, also lived in Florida for several months. Two shared a condominium in Delray Beach. They left suddenly Labor Day weekend, the same weekend a group of suspected hijackers living in Vero Beach disappeared.
Seven of the hijackers got Florida driver's licenses or state identification cards. Investigators believe the hijackers were in Florida because of its numerous flight training schools, all of which have mainly foreigners as students.
Three of the hijackers, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alnami and Hamza al Ghamdi, lived for several months in the Delray Racquet Club, a condominium complex a couple of miles from AMIs headquarters.
None seemed to have jobs, but several were said to be airplane mechanics, students or tourists. Some said they worked for the Saudi government-owned Saudi Arabian Airlines, a claim the Saudi government denied.
In April, Atta was stopped by a Broward Country sheriff deputy, according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Atta could not produce a driver's license.
Following normal procedure, the newspaper reported, the deputy wrote him a ticket. Atta never paid, and deputies never learned that Atta was on a U.S. government "watch list" of people tied to terrorism.
Although none of the hijackers had jobs, some paid as much as $10,000 each for flight lessons. Condos in the Delray Beach complex rented for up to $3,000 a month.
What seemed most important to them was their privacy.
For three months in the summer of 2001, Charlie Lisa's home in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, about 20 miles south of Boca Raton, was occupied by two of the hijackers, Amad Al Haznawi, 20, and Ziad Samir Jarrah, 26, who moved out in late August.
Landlady Married to Sun's Editor
Several of the hijackers rented an apartment from a real estate agent who is the wife of the Suns editor, Mike Irish.
Four of the hijackers who attacked America on Sept. 11 tried to get government loans to finance their plots, including ringleader Mohamed Atta, who sought $650,000 to modify a crop duster, Johnelle Bryant, a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan officer, told ABC News.
Terrorists Wanted to Be on Taxpayers' Dole
First Atta, then Marwan Al-Shehhi, Ahmed Alghamdi and Fayez Rashid Ahmed Hassan al Qadi Banihammad, all of whom died in the September attacks, tried to get loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bryant said.
In April or May of 2000, Atta paid a visit to Bryant, who described him as "most persistent and frightening."
According to Bryant, employed at the government agency for 16 years, Atta arrived in her office sometime between the end of April and the middle of May 2000, inquiring about a loan to finance an aircraft.
"At first, he refused to speak with me," Bryant told ABC. She remembered that Atta called her "but a female." Bryant explained that she was the manager, but he still refused to conduct business with her.
Ultimately, she said, "I told him that if he was interested in getting a farm-service agency loan in my servicing area, then he would need to deal with me."
During the initial applicant interview, Bryant was taking notes. "I wrote his name down, and I spelled it A-T-T-A-H, and he told me, 'No, A-T-T-A, as in Atta boy!'"
He said he had just arrived in the United States from Afghanistan "to start his dream, which was to go flight school and get his pilot's license, and work both as a charter pilot and a crop duster too," she said. He was seeking $650,000 for a crop-dusting business.
"He wanted to finance a twin-engine six-passenger aircraft and remove the seats," said Bryant. "He said he was an engineer, and he wanted to build a chemical tank that would fit inside the aircraft and take up every available square inch of the aircraft except for where the pilot would be sitting."
Possible Link to Iraqi Bioterrorism
This last takes on significance in view of a U.N. inspection report that Iraq's most effective bioweapons platform was a helicopter-borne aerosol generator that worked like an insecticide disseminator (perhaps this was intended for domestic use or against Iranian troops close to the Iraqi border). The disseminator was successfully field tested.
Iraq was also known to have field-tested anthrax not only in aerial bombs but also in sprayers of the kind used in crop dusting attached to helicopters, fighter aircraft and possibly unmanned drones.
The point is that AMIs neighborhood was crawling with these people. To overlook that fact, or play it down, is to overlook or play down the possibility that they may well have had a hand in the anthrax attack on AMI. And there is evidence that this was the case.
Note to FBI: Hijacker Had Anthrax
There is, for example, the extraordinary account by a Florida doctor revealed by the New York Times, which reported that the physician believes a man he treated in June had skin anthrax. That man was one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, suggesting a link between Osama bin Ladens terrorist group and the mailings.
According to the Times, two men identified themselves as pilots when they came to the emergency room of Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale in June 2001. One, Dr. Christos Tsonas recalled, had an ugly, dark lesion on his leg that he claimed he got from bumping into a suitcase two months earlier. The doctor said at the time he thought the injury was curious, but he cleaned it and prescribed an antibiotic for infection.
In the wake of 9-11, however, when federal investigators found the medicine among the possessions of one of the hijackers, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Dr. Tsonas reviewed the case and arrived at a new diagnosis. The lesion, he told the Times, "was consistent with cutaneous (skin) anthrax."
In a memo prepared by experts at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies, and circulated among top government officials the group, which interviewed Dr. Tsonas, concluded that the anthrax diagnosis "raises the possibility that the hijackers were handling anthrax and were the perpetrators of the anthrax letter attacks."
Assistant FBI Director John Collingwood played down the possible anthrax connection.
"This was fully investigated and widely vetted among multiple agencies several months ago," he said in a written statement. "Exhaustive testing did not support that anthrax was present anywhere the hijackers had been. While we always welcome new information, nothing new has, in fact, developed."
Alhaznawi died on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. Federal officials believe the man who accompanied him to the hospital in June was another hijacker, Ziad al-Jarrah, thought to have taken over the controls of United Flight 93, the Times said.
Law enforcement officials told the Times that in addition to interviewing Dr. Tsonas in October and again in November, they thoroughly explored any connection between the hijackers and anthrax. They said the FBI scoured the cars, apartments and personal effects of the hijackers for evidence of the germ, but found none.
Dr. Tsonas' comments add to what the Times called "a tantalizing array of circumstantial evidence." As already noted, some of the hijackers, including Alhaznawi, lived and attended flight school near American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, where the first victim of the anthrax attacks worked.
In addition, the Times reported, in October a pharmacist in Delray Beach said he had told the FBI that two of the hijackers, Mohamad Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, came into the pharmacy looking for something to treat irritations on Atta's hands.
If the hijackers did have anthrax, they would probably have needed an accomplice to mail the tainted letters, bioterrorism experts knowledgeable about the case told the Times.
Dr. Tsonas told the Times he believed that the hijackers probably did have anthrax.
'Too Many Coincidences'
"What were they doing looking at crop dusters?" he asked, echoing experts' fears that the hijackers might have wanted to spread lethal germs. "There are too many coincidences."
AMIs Steve Coz suspected a connection, particularly to Atta.
"We know Mohamed Atta was within three miles of the [American Media] building. We know he was within a mile of Bob Stevens' house. We know that the FBI is now going to local pharmacies to see if he did in fact get Cipro. We know that he showed up at a pharmacy with red hands.
"There are people in this area who have very direct recollection of seeing him. He worked out in a gym where some of our employees were."
The FBI continues to say it has not made a direct connection between the terrorists and the anthrax cases.
Speaking on ABC's "Good Morning America," Coz also noted that Atta had lived only a few miles from the company building. He said the circumstances of the outbreak left little doubt.
"If you just look at the incredible coincidences, you cannot arrive at any other conclusion in my mind other than that this is a bioterrorist attack," he said.
AMI Chief Executive David Pecker told CNN he thought his company was targeted because of its name.
'First Bioterrorism Attack in the U.S.'
"I think this is an attack against America. The World Trade Center was attacked, the Pentagon was attacked, and American Media was attacked, and I think this was the first bioterrorism attack in the United States," Pecker said.
"If you just look at the incredible coincidences, you cannot arrive at any other conclusion in my mind other than that this is a bioterrorist attack."
Despite the FBIs insistence that it could find no connection between the hijackers and the anthrax attack on AMI, the indisputable fact remains that the area around AMI headquarters had a large concentration of hijackers whose actions showed their determination to harm the United States and its citizens. To cavalierly reject the idea that they could have been responsible for the anthrax attack on AMI and the subsequent attacks makes no sense at all.
The fact that no traces of anthrax were found in the hijackers apartments or cars proves nothing. The weaponizing of the anthrax spores could have easily been done at a different location and by an unknown ally of the hijackers who mailed the AMI letter and then went north to New Jersey to mail the other anthrax letters.
Next: anthrax, a missing blender and the Iraqi connection.
Don't know about that. But I have a reliable (journalistic) source who claims his source within the FBI inferred Clinton (or the White House, specifically "the very highest place") pressured the FBI to pick up Richard Jewell.
Boy I am impressed with the thorough research done by our FBI. They certainly spent considerable time verifying their belief that the 9/11 terrorists probably did not have anything to do with the Anthrax attacks. Using their logic it is probably safe to say that this Country has nothing to fear from terrorism any longer since these 9/11 terrorists are now dead.
Or.......is it just possible that there are others out there looking to do us harm?
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