Is the FBI Dragging Its Feet?
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federation of American Scientists
5 February 2002
For more than three months now the FBI has known that the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks is American. This conclusion must have been based on the perpetrator’s evident connection to the US biodefense program. In addition to this signpost, the perpetrator has left multiple, blatant clues, seemingly on purpose: second letters, addressed similarly to the anthrax letters and containing powder, sent to most (and possibly all) the anthrax recipients; similar letters sent to several other media organizations; even a letter, addressed to the Military Police at the Quantico Marine Base, accusing a former USAMRIID scientist (with whom the anonymous writer says he once worked) of having bioterrorist intentions. Almost all the letters were mailed before there were any reports of anthrax letters or of hoax letters sent to media (see “Analysis of the Anthrax Attacks” below for a chronology and discussion of the available data). The postal addresses and dates of these letters map out an itinerary of the perpetrator(s) and indicate certain connections, which taken together must single out the perpetrator from the other likely suspects.
This evidence permits a more refined estimate of the perpetrator’s motives. He must be angry at some biodefense agency or component, and he is driven to demonstrate, in a spectacular way, his capabilities and the government’s inability to respond. He is cocksure that he can get away with it. Does he know something that he believes to be sufficiently damaging to the United States to make him untouchable by the FBI?
The perpetrator is surely too smart to believe that either the FBI’s ludicrous recent actions or the White House protestations of ignorance mean that the authorities are not on to him. Blanketing Central New Jersey with fliers showing handwriting that was obviously disguised can’t possibly evoke useful information, nor can letters to 32,000 American microbiologists, 31,800 of whom live in a different world from the perpetrator. This is no way to instill public confidence in the competence of the FBI. The press is increasingly questioning the situation, and other scientists have independently raised similar issues (see, for example, “In Search of the Anthrax Attacker” http://www.redflagsweekly.com/nassanthrax3.html). Most importantly, the apparent lack of action is sending a dangerous message to potential bioterrorists.
Analysis of the Anthrax Attacks
Updated 31 JANUARY 2002
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federation of American Scientists
I. LETTER CHRONOLOGY
Four letters with anthrax have been found, and a fifth (to AMI) was apparently discarded after opening. In addition, at least three of the five anthrax recipients also received “hoax” letters containing an innocuous powder; and several different media offices received similar hoax letters. Some of the hoax letters were mailed BEFORE the first anthrax case (in Florida) was reported, and all but one hoax letter were mailed BEFORE there were any reports of anthrax letters or hoax letters. Therefore the hoax letters targeting media are not simply a copycat phenomenon. The envelopes on most or all of the hoax letters were addressed in block capitals similar to the addresses on the anthrax envielopes, even though they were mailed before the anthrax envelopes became known. A photograph of one hoax letter (to St. Petersburg Times) has been published, and descriptions or comparisons of others have been reported. If analysis confirms that the hoax letters were sent by the anthrax perpetrator, their postmarks will indicate his itinerary (or the assistance of an accomplice)-see chronology below.
At least three hoax letters, known to have been mailed from St. Petersburg, are similar in many ways to each other and to the anthrax letters: addresses written in similar block capitals, tone of letters, unconvincing misspellings. Were the enclosed letters also xeroxed? no fingerprints? stamps not licked? Are the other hoax letters similar?
Furthermore, an anonymous letter accusing a former USAMRIID scientist of plotting terrorism was sent to police BEFORE any anthrax letters or disease were reported. The letter contains evidence that the anonymous writer had probably worked at USAMRIID. This letter may also come from the anthrax perpetrator.
|Sept. 18, 2001||Trenton||Mailed anthrax letters to NBC and NY Post (and probably to National Enquirer).|
|Sept. 20||St. Petersburg||Mailed hoax letter to NBC and possibly to NY Post** [& Natl. Enq.?]|
|Sept. 19-25||NBC received & opened anthrax letter (brown granular sandy); not recognized as dangerous.|
NBC received & opened hoax letter.
|late Sept.||place?||Mailed letter to Quantico Marine Base accusing Dr. Asaad, former USAMRIID scientist, as terrorist.|
First report of anthrax case (in Florida).
|Oct. 5||Death of first anthrax victim (in Florida)|
|Oct. 5||St. Petersburg||Mailed hoax letters to J. Miller at NY Times and H. Troxler at St. Petersburg Times.|
|Oct. 5-9||place?||Mailed hoax letters to CBS (DC), Fox News and possibly to NY Post**|
|Oct. 9||Troxler (St. Petersburg Times) opened hoax letter.|
|Oct. 9||Trenton||Mailed anthrax letters to Daschle and Leahy.|
|Oct. 12||Miller at NYT opened hoax letter.|
|Oct. 12-13||First reports of any letters to media.|
|Oct. 13||NBC anthrax case and both suspicious letters first reported. (FBI had previously overlooked events at NBC.)|
|Oct. 13||CBS News (D.C.) received envelope with powder visible on outside.|
|Oct. 8-13||Fox News received hoax letter.|
|Oct. 15||Daschle’s Hart office opened anthrax letter.|
|Oct. 19||NY Post anthrax case diagnosed and letter with anthrax found unopened in mailroom. Employee remembers opening a similarly-addressed (hoax) letter**, earlier.|
|late Nov.||UK Mailed hoax letter to Dascle office in Capitol.|
|Jan. 3 2002||Daschle’s Capitol office opened hoax letter (delay in receipt due to irradiation of Capitol mail).|
II. NOTES ON THE LETTERS
1. Florida anthrax letter: postal traces show that a letter containing anthrax must have been sent to the National Enquirer at its previous address, then forwarded to the AMI office.
This indicates that the perpetrator was not familiar with AMI and the Natl. Enquirer.
2. Florida hoax letter?: Possibly a hoax letter was discarded without notice, as the anthrax letter was. In addition, on approximately 4 Sept. AMI received a letter containing powder and a star of David, addressed to actress Jennifer Lopez c/o The Sun (one of the AMI tabloids).
3. Hoax letter to NY Post: was received and thrown out sometime before 19 Oct. It was addressed to the Editor in block capitals, similar to the anthrax letter received by the NY Post. The NYPost hoax letter could have been mailed on 5 Oct. from St. Petersburg, along with the hoax letters to the NY Times and St. Petersburg Times, or it could have been mailed earlier (eg, on 20 Sept., when the hoax letter was mailed to NBC). The anthrax letters to NBC and the NY Post had been mailed at the same time (18 Sept) and it is possible that the perpetrator mailed hoax letters on 20 Sept to all of those previously sent anthrax.
4. Hoax letter to NBC: letter contained talcum and was mailed from St. P on 20 Sept., two days after the anthrax letter was mailed to NBC from Trenton. Both letters contained threats to Israel.
5. Hoax letters to Judith Miller at the NY Times and Howard Troxler at the St. Petersburg Times: these were mailed on 5 Oct. from St. Petersburg and were similar in appearance and content to the NBC hoax letter mailed from St. P on 20 Sept. but not yet reported. The NY Times and St. P Times letters were in stamped, plain envelopes with no return address. A photo of the St. P. envelope was published in the St. P Times, showing great similarity to the printing on the anthrax letters (which had not yet been reported-in two cases-or mailed-in the other two cases). The NY Times letter contained talcum and threatened the Sears Tower in Chicago and President Bush. The St P Times letter contained what looked like sugar or salt and said “Howard Toxler…1st case of disease now blow away this dust so you can see how the real thing flys. Oklahoma-Ryder Truck! Skyway bridge-18 wheels.”
6. Hoax letters to CBS News in Washington, DC and to Fox News: were received on or shortly before 13 Oct. No further information has been reported. They could have been mailed from St. Petersburg on 5 Oct., along with the NY Times and St. P Times letters; or from a place between St. Petersburg and Trenton between 5-9 Oct. Oct. On 12 Oct. an FBI official said they were investigating multiple mailed envelopes from St. Petersburg. The St. Petersburg Police Chief would not comment on whether that included other letters in addition to those sent NBC, NY Times and St. P Times.
7. Hoax letter to Senator Daschle: was received and opened by Sen. Daschle’s office in the Capitol on 3 Jan. 02, after a delay for irradiation. The letter was mailed from the UK. The envelope contained a powder and a threatening letter unlike those that were mailed with anthrax, according to the FBI. This letter was mailed much later than the others, sometime in late Nov., a month after the other hoax letters and the anthrax letters had been reported. Whether the letter was addressed in block printing, like the anthrax letters, has not been revealed.
8. Anonymous letter of accusation: contained a long, typed letter with good command of English language, displaying considerable knowledge of Dr. Assaad, his work at USAMRIID and his personal life and accusing Assaad of planning terrorism. The letter was shown by the FBI to Assaad and his lawyer. The FBI subsequently exhonorated Assaad. The letter, sent to the Marine base at Quantico, VA., asserts that the accuser formerly worked with Assaad. It was sent before any cases of anthrax were discovered.
III. ANALYSIS OF THE SOURCE OF THE ANTHRAX ATTACKS
17-31 January 2001
1. The Present Situation
–The FBI has surely known for several months that the anthrax attack was an inside job. A government estimate for the number of scientists involved in the US anthrax program over the last five years is 200 people. According to a former defense scientist the number of defense scientists with hands-on anthrax experience and the necessary access is smaller, under 50. The FBI has received short lists of specific suspects with credible motives from a number of knowledgeable inside sources, and has found or been given clues (beyond those presented below) that could lead to incriminating evidence. By now the FBI must have a good idea of who the perpetrator is. There may be two factors accounting for the lack of public acknowledgement and the paucity of information being released: a fear that embarrassing details might become public, and a need for secrecy in order to acquire sufficient hard evidence to convict the perpetrator.
2. Anthrax Strain
–All letter samples contain the same strain of anthrax, corresponding to the AMES strain in the Northern Arizona University database (which has been used for identification). The Ames strain possessed by N. Arizona University is referred to herein as the “reference strain.” That strain was obtained by LSU from Porton Down (UK) in 1997 (the sample was marked “10-32″ meaning no. 10 of 32 samples sent); Porton had gotten it from Fort Detrick. Fort Detrick got it from Texas A&M (but mistakenly attributed it to the USDA laboratory in Ames, Iowa) in 1981. Earlier anthrax isolates from Ames, Iowa have caused some confusion but they are no longer relevant to the situation, thanks to recent genetic analyses (see below).
–Contrary to early speculation, there are no more than about 20 laboratories known to have the Ames strain. The names of 15 of these have been found in the open literature (see Appendix). Of these, probably only about four in the US might possibly have the capability for weaponizing anthrax. Those four include both US military laboratories and a government contractor.
–Genetic analysis performed at Northern Arizona University on Ames strain samples from Fort Detrick (USAMRIID), Dugway Proving Ground, the UK defense establishment at Porton, Louisiana State University and Northern Arizona University has shown that all of these laboratories possess identical anthrax stocks that match the letter anthrax perfectly (in the limited analyses that have been done). All these stocks were originally derived from Fort Detrick’s 1980 Ames strain. USAMRIID acknowledges that it also provided Ames to the Canadian defense establishment at Suffield, the University of New Mexico, and Battelle Memorial Institute (a large contracting organization with laboratories and personnel in many locations including military laboratories).
Excluding the three academic institutions, two of which are intimately involved in the investigation, and the two foreign defense laboratories, places the focus on USAMRIID, Dugway and Battelle as the source of the Ames strain for the letters.
–The complete sequence has been determined for the genomes of both the anthrax used in the Florida attack and the Ames reference strain to which it corresponds. This work was done under government contract by the Institute for Genetic Research, a private non-profit organization. The results have not been made public but they are in government hands and there has been no retraction of the oft-repeated official statement that the letter anthrax matches the Ames reference strain.
–Analysis of trace contaminants in the letter anthrax has probably been carried out but not reported. The results could indicate whether the anthrax was grown in liquid medium (and what kind of medium), or on petri dishes; the latter would likely rule out large-scale preparation. It has been estimated that the perpetrator used a total of about 10g in the letters.
3. Anthrax Weaponization
–“Weaponization” is used here to mean preparation of the form of anthrax found in the Daschle letter: fine particles, very narrow size range, treated to eliminate static charge so it won’t clump and will float in the air. The weaponization process used was extraordinarily effective. The particles have a narrow size range (1.5-3 microns diameter), typical of the optimal US process.
–The extraordinary concentration (one trillion spores per gram) and purity of the letter anthrax is believed to be characteristic of material made by the optimal US process.
–The optimal US weaponization process is secret-Bill Patrick, its inventor, holds five secret patents on the process and says it involves a combination of chemicals . There is no evidence that any other country possesses the formula.
–Under the microscope, the letter anthrax appears to be unmilled. Milled anthrax spores are identifiable because they contain debris. The optimal US process does not use milling.
–The Daschle sample contains a special form of silica used in the US process. It does not contain bentonite (used by the Iraqis).
–A “coating” on the spores in the letter sample, indicative of the secret US process, has been observed.
–The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, DC has studied the sample using an energy dispersive X-ray specroscope, which can detect the presence of extremely tiny quantities of chemicals; traces of several chemicals have been found (but not reported, presumably for security reasons).
–All the letters probably contained the same material. The clumping of the anthrax in the two letters mailed on Sept 18 (to NBC and the NY Post) probably resulted from the letters getting wet in the course of mail processing or delivery, according to Army scientists. This conclusion is strengthened by the similarity of the Florida anthrax (the first to be observed, probably also mailed on Sept 18) to that in the Daschle letter, mailed Oct 9.
–The letter anthrax was made after 1980 (when the Ames strain used was obtained) using a process similar to the secret, optimal US process. If the anthrax was weaponized by the perpetrator himself, there may be some differences from anthrax weaponized by the government, depending on the availability of materials to the perpetrator and the conditions of preparation.
4. Other Clues
–Scientists formerly at USAMRIID say that it would have been easy for a scientist working with anthrax to remove a sample of the Ames strain from the lab. Only a miniscule amount would be needed, and security has been lax.
–On the other hand, experts believe that it would be extremely difficult to steal 10g of weaponized anthrax from a government lab. Thus, the perpetrator very likely grew and weaponized the letter anthrax himself.
–There was only one week between Sept 11 and Sept 18, when the first two letters (and probably another letter, never found, to AMI) were postmarked. This suggests that the anthrax was already in hand, and the attack largely planned, before Sept 11.
–A classified report dated February, 1999 discusses responses to an anthrax attack through the mail. The report, precipitated by a series of false anthrax mailings, was written by William Patrick, inventor of the US weaponization process, under a CIA contract to SAIC. The report describes what the US military could do and what a terrorist might be able to achieve. According to the NY Times (12 Dec. 01) the report predicted about 2.5g of anthrax per envelope (the Daschle letter contained 2g) and assumed a poorer quality of anthrax than that found in the Daschle letter. If the perpetrator had access to the materials and information necessary for the attack, he must have had security clearance or other means for accessing classified information, and may therefore have seen the report and used it as a model for the attack.
–An anonymous letter was sent to police, apparently in September, accusing an Egyptian-born American scientist who had been laid off by USAMRIID of being a terrorist. The FBI questioned and released the accused scientist as innocent. Details of the letter have not been released. Could this letter have been sent by the perpetrator (who would likely have known about the USAMRIID lay-offs) to cover his traces?
–The perpetrator did not aim to kill but to create public fear. The letters warned of anthrax or the need to take antibiotics, making it possible for those who handled the letters to protect themselves; and it is unlikely that the perpetrator would have anticipated that the rough treatment of mail in letter sorters, etc, would force anthrax spores through the pores of the envelopes (which were taped to keep the anthrax inside) and infect postal workers and others.
–The perpetrator was probably ready before Sept. 11 and simply took advantage of the likelihood that Sept. 11 would throw suspicion on Muslim terrorists. Was the perpetrator trying to push the US toward some retaliatory military action?
–The perpetrator must have realized in advance that the anthrax attack would result in the strengthening of US defense and response capabilities. This is not likely to have been a goal of anti-American terrorists, who would also be unlikely to warn the victims in advance. Perhaps the perpetrator stood to gain in some way from increased funding and recognition for biodefense programs. Financial beneficiaries would include the BioPort Corp., the source of the US anthrax vaccine, and other potential vaccine contractors.
–Expert analysts for the FBI believe that the letters were written by a Westerner, not a Middle Easterner or Muslim, although the text was clearly intended to imply the latter.
–The choice of a variety of media as targets seems to have been cleverly designed to ensure a broad spectrum of publicity about the attacks. The choice of Senators Daschle and Leahy suggests that the perpetrator may lean to the political right and may have some specific grudge against those Senators.
–The perpetrator successfully covered every personal trace when he prepared and mailed the letters, which suggests that he had forensic training or experience.
–Even if the perpetrator did not make the anthrax himself, just filling the letters with it was a dangerous operation. The perpetrator therefore must have received the anthrax vaccine recently (it requires a yearly booster shot). The vaccine is in short supply and is not generally accessible, and vaccination records are undoubtedly available. The perpetrator also appears to have special expertise in evading contamination while handling weaponized anthrax.
5. Government Statements, Actions and Chronology
–On 13 Jan. 02 Homeland Security Director Thomas Ridge said “the primary direction of the investigation is turned inward” toward domestic terrorists.
–On 2 Dec. 01 a law enforcement official close to the federal investigation called the concept of a government insider, or someone in contact with an insider, “the most likely hypothesis�it’s definitely reasonable.” Another American official was quoted in the same article saying that, in addition to military laboratories, “there are other government and contractor facilities that do classified work with access to dangerous strains, but it’s highly likely that the material in the anthrax letters came from a person or persons who really had great expertise. We haven’t seen any other artifacts that point us elsewhere.”
–Secret or questionable biodefense projects tend to be given to the CIA, DOE or other agencies and contractors instead of to DOD, in order to maintain deniability (for example, only DOD programs have been reported by the US in the annual information exchange about biodefense activities, under the Biological Weapons Convention). Many contractor scientists work in government labs. A CIA spokesman says that CIA scientists work with other government agencies and contractors on the biodefense program.
–Chronology: Analytical data on the anthrax in the letters became available to investigators in late October, 2001. The FBI then began questioning former government scientists. On 31 Oct. it was reported that the US rejected a UN resolution offered by France to condemn the anthrax attack, on the grounds that it could have been domestic terrorism. On 9 Nov. the FBI released a profile of the perpetrator as a lone, male domestic terrorist, obviously one with a scientific background and laboratory experience who could handle hazardous materials. In early Dec. the FBI said it was investigating government and contractor labs possessing the Ames strain, and individuals who had access to them. On 16 Dec. the FBI said it was focusing on a contractor that worked with the CIA. At about the same time the FBI said it was interested in non-military individuals who had received the anthrax vaccine.
–John Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, said on 19 Nov. that “We don’t know�at the moment, in a way that we could make public, where the anthrax attacks came from.” Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, recipient of one of the anthrax letters and in frequent contact with investigators, said on 8 Dec. that the perpetrator was probably someone with a military background. Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said on 17 Dec. that it is increasingly “looking like it was a domestic source.”
–After a series of uncontrolled statements to the media, relevant experts have been asked to keep quiet and, in some cases, appear to have been asked to “correct” former statements.
6. Possible Portrait of the Anthrax Perpetrator
–Insider in US biodefense, doctoral degree in a relevant branch of biology
–Experienced and skilled in working with hazardous pathogens, including anthrax, and avoiding contamination
–Works for a CIA contractor in Washington, DC area
–Has up-to-date vaccination with anthrax vaccine
–Has clearance for access to classified information
–Worked in USAMRIID laboratory in the past, in some capacity, and has access now
–Knows Bill Patrick and has probably learned a thing or two about weaponization from him, informally
–Has had training or experience in covering evidence
–May have had an UNSCOM connection
–Has had a dispute with a government agency
–Has a private location where the materials for the attack were accumulated and prepared
–Worked on the letters alone or with peripheral encouragement and assistance
–Fits FBI profile
–Has the necessary expertise, access and a past history indicating appropriate capabilities and temperament
–Has been questioned by FBI
–A recent report by the Congressional General Accounting Office, as well as many recent statements by military and non-governmental experts in the BW field, holds that terrorists are unlikely to be able to mount a major biological attack without substantial assistance from a government sponsor. The recent anthrax attack was a minor one but nonetheless we now see that it was made possible by a sophisticated government program. It is reassuring to know that it was probably not perpetrated by a lone terrorist without state support.
–It is not reassuring, however, to discover that secret US programs may have been the source of that support, and that security is so dangerously lax in military or defense contractor laboratories. US government insistence on pursuing and maintaining the secrecy of elaborate biological threat assessment activities is undermining the prohibitions of the Biological Weapons Convention and encouraging biological weapons proliferation in other countries, which in turn may support bioterrorist attacks on the American public. Future deterrence, and the peace of mind of the American people, require that the perpetrator must be publicly identified and brought to justice without delay.
LABORATORIES THAT HAVE WORKED WITH THE AMES STRAIN OF ANTHRAX
(Information obtained from open sources)
1. USAMRID # +
2. Dugway Proving Ground (Utah) # * +
3. Naval Research Medical Center and associated military labs (MD) #
4. Battelle Memorial Institute (Ohio; plus laboratories in many other locations) # * +
5. Duke University Medical School, Clinical Microbiology Lab (NC)
6. VA Medical Center, Durham (NC)
7. USDA laboratory and Iowa State College of Veterinary Medicine, Ames (Iowa)
8. LSU College of Veterinary Medicine * +
9. Northern Arizona State University (Arizona) * +
10. Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute (IL)
11. University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, Albuquerque (NM) * +
12. Chemical and Biological Defense Establishment, Porton Down (UK) * +
13. CAMR, Porton (UK) *
14. Defense Research Establishment, Suffield (CA) * +
15. BioPort Corp (MI)
In addition, CDC, NIH, Los Alamos and a few others may have the Ames strain; the Institute for Genomic Research (MD) says they have the Ames DNA but not the bacteria.
# indicates laboratories in the US that are estimated to be more likely than the others to have weaponization capabilities
* Obtained through a FOIA request by the Washington Post (article Nov 30, 01)
+ indicates acknowledged recipients of the Ames strain from USAMRIID
Contact: Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, PhD
Chair, Federation of American Scientists Working Group on Biological Weapons