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Unanswered questions behind the anthrax case Wednesday, 20 August, 2008

Posted by Farbod in Features.
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Press TV – Unanswered questions behind the anthrax case.

Wed, 20 Aug 2008 10:55:08 GMT
By Yusuf Fernandez, Press TV, Madrid

Bruce Ivins

A US Army scientist called Bruce Ivins is considered to be the only person responsible for the anthrax letters that terrified the United States closely after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

At that time, anthrax-filled mail turned up in the offices of two Democratic Senators, Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, as well as news media offices in Washington DC and Florida. Five people died and 17 others fell ill due to exposure to the anthrax. The events were then widely viewed as the work of “Islamic terrorists”.

The FBI’s investigation of these facts dragged on for years. However, according to a federal prosecutor, US authorities are going to close the case soon.

“We are confident that Ivins was the only person responsible for the attacks,” Jeffrey Taylor, US Attorney for the District of Columbia, told a news conference.

However, Ivins, 62, died on July 29 in what authorities ruled was “suicide” as prosecutors prepared to indict him on murder charges. He had worked for three decades at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), the secret government installation in Frederick, Maryland.

Meanwhile, the US Justice Department recently released dozens of documents all pointing to his guilt. According to them, the scientist was in sole possession of anthrax spores of the so-called Ames strain of bacteria with “certain genetic mutations”, which was identical to the anthrax used in the attacks.

Several tests concluded that all the samples came from a single batch, code-named RMR-1029, stored at Fort Detrick. Ivins was “the sole custodian of RMR-1029 since it was first grown in 1997,” said one document. The released documents also claim that Ivins tried to mislead FBI investigators since 2002, when he allegedly gave them wrong anthrax samples.

He was also unable to give the FBI “an adequate explanation for his late laboratory work hours around the time of the attacks and sought to frame unnamed co-workers”, Reuters reported.

Also, US authorities claim that the kind of language Ivins used in an e-mail sent just days before the 2001 anthrax attacks was similar to the messages in anthrax-laced letters to Daschle and Leahy.

One FBI document said that Ivins “repeatedly named other researchers as possible mailers and claimed that the anthrax used in the attacks resembled that of another researcher” at the same facility.

Stephen A. Hatfill’s career as a bioscientist was ruined after the then-Attorney General John Ashcroft named him a “person of interest” in the probe.

The government has recently had to pay $6 million to settle a lawsuit by Hatfill, who worked in the same laboratory as Ivins. Here is a prime example of double standards operating in the US. If Hatfill had been an Arab or a Muslim, he would have been arrested, imprisoned in solitary confinement, and denied access to a lawyer or to the media. In contrast however, Hatfill got one of the biggest financial awards ever issued for government misconduct.

With regards to the motive, FBI investigators have offered different reasons for the attacks: that Ivins wanted to get support for a vaccine he had helped create and that the scientist, who was an anti-abortion conservative Catholic, wanted to target two pro-choice Catholic lawmakers. He also wrote letters to a local newspaper which called Jews the chosen people and which were hostile to Islam.

The FBI believes that with his alleged dispatch of the anthrax-filled envelopes, Ivins wanted to set up Muslims as the instigators of the anthrax attacks.

However, other reports suggest that the case against Ivins was largely circumstantial.

Ivins’ attorney, Paul Kemp, repeatedly claimed that his late client was innocent and that he had been driven to suicide by false accusations. He said that dozens of other researchers in Ivins’ laboratory also had access to the type of Ames strain used in the attacks.

The FBI itself sent the anthrax letters to Ivins and his colleagues at the biodefense lab for analysis “almost immediately” following the attacks in 2001. Furthermore, visitors from other institutions and employees at military labs in Ohio and New Mexico received anthrax samples from the Fort Detrick laboratory.

“You can trace the anthrax to a lab, but you cannot trace it to a person,” said Meryl Nass, a Maine doctor who studies the anthrax vaccine, to the magazine Time.

Kemp said that Ivins took two polygraph tests, and apparently passed both. Ivins was “totally responsive to every single question and never refused to answer,” the lawyer said.

Over the past seven years, before he was a suspect in the case, Ivins was interviewed between 20 to 25 times regarding the case. He cooperated fully and his security clearances were renewed, Kemp told Times. The scientist even received the highest honor given to Pentagon civilian employees for his work on techniques to manufacture an anthrax vaccine in 2003.

Many American want now to know why, after he came under suspicion in 2005 or even earlier, why Ivins was allowed to retain a high-level security clearance that enabled him to continue working in the bioweapons laboratory at Ft. Detrick. He even continued to publish research papers on anthrax as late as June 2008.

Some of Ivins’ former colleagues also dispute the FBI assertion that he had the capability to mill tiny anthrax spores and then bind them to silicon particles, the form of anthrax that was mailed to the office of Tom Daschle, Time reported.

Jeffrey Adamovicz, who directed the bacteriology division at Fort Detrick in 2003 and 2004, told Time that the anthrax sent to Daschle was “so concentrated and so consistent and so clean that I would assert that Bruce could not have done that part”.

Richard Spertzel, who also worked at Fort Detrick lab for 21 years before he retired in 1987, also does not believe that Ivins could “make something that no one else in the world can make with the kind of equipment that is available.” He doubts that the lab possessed the equipment needed to mill the spores.

In December 2001, the then-Fort Detrick commander Maj. Gen. John Parker also rejected suggestions that his laboratory might be involved. “We do not have that capability here nor do we have the scientists who know how to do that,” Parker said at the time.

Although the laboratory had had the necessary equipment, “Ivins could not have produced anthrax of that type and potency at his Army research lab without many other people being aware of it”, Spertzel told The Wall Street Journal.

On the other hand, prosecutors have been unable to obtain any evidence placing Ivins in Princeton, New Jersey, where the letters were posted, on the same day that the first batch of letters was sent. There was no match between Ivins’s handwriting and that found in the anthrax-filled letters either.

Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey has publicly questioned the government’s insistence that the complex attack could have been orchestrated by just one individual.

As a result of all the discrepancies, some fear that the anthrax case may end up becoming one of the US’s most high-profile unsolved crimes.

The Bush administration for its part has refused all congressional requests for information on the investigation for nearly seven years. The US organization “Judicial Watch” has revealed that the White House staff were all given tablets of Cipro, which protects against anthrax, on September 11, 2001 – almost a month before the first mailings arrived in Washington and Florida.

Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch declared in a press statement, “We believe that the White House knew or had reason to know that an anthrax attack was imminent or underway.”

Richard Cohen, a columnist for the Washington Post, has said that “soon after” the September 11 attacks a “high-ranking government official” suggested that he should get a supply of Cipro, “the antidote to anthrax.” And a few days later, the anthrax-filled letters began to arrive.

American journalist Gleen Greenwald has written an important article for Salon.com in which he demonstrates, with copious evidence that a major government scandal lurks behind the anthrax story. “If the now-deceased Ivins really was the culprit behind the attacks, then that means that the anthrax came from a US Government lab, sent by a top US Army scientist at Fort Detrick.”

Without resorting to any speculation or inferences at all, it is hard to overstate the significance of that fact. “From the beginning, there was a clear intent on the part of the anthrax attacker to create a link between the anthrax attacks and both Islamic radicals and the 9/11 attacks,” he said. Greenwald added, “Much more important than the general attempt to link the anthrax to Islamic terrorists, there was a specific intent -indispensably aided by ABC News- to link the anthrax attacks to Iraq.”

ABC for its part claimed that it had been told by “four well-placed and separate sources” that the anthrax used in the attacks contained bentonite, which “was produced in Iraq.”

Meanwhile, as Greenwald points out that the four well-placed sources of ABC News fed them information that was completely false. In all likelihood, “the same Government lab where the anthrax attacks themselves came from was the same place where the false reports originated that blamed those attacks on Iraq… Surely the question of who generated those false Iraq-anthrax reports is one of the most significant and explosive stories of the last decade.”

Greenwald also notes that John McCain and hawkish Senator Joe Lieberman were among the first people to claim publicly, during an appearance on the David Letterman Show, that the anthrax came from Iraq.

Therefore, the anthrax issue played an important psychological role in influencing the American journalists and public to support the invasion of Iraq.

People who leaked these lies are not “sources”, Greenwald pointed out. “They are fabricators and liars who purposely used ABC News to disseminate to the American public an extremely consequential and damaging falsehood. But by protecting the wrongdoers, ABC News has made itself complicit in this fraud perpetrated on the public.”

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