Tag Archive: anthrax

We Got Bin Laden; How About the Anthrax Killer?

Just after the attacks of September 11th there was another attack that is often and curiously forgotten.  A series of letters to politicians and the media were sent out from a Hamilton, NJ post office that included a weaponized version of Anthrax.  Five people died in these attacks, and mail in many offices throughout the government and business world is still handled differently to this day.

In 2008 Bruce Ivins, one of the prime suspects and a civilian expert on anthrax for the military, committed suicide and the FBI and Department of Justice said, “OK, it’s over.  We got out guy.  Nothing to see here.  Move on!.”

Only many people — including one pretty smart dude named Rush Holt — thought that this was a load of crap and demanded it be looked into.  Most in the media and government (those who were attacked) mysteriously yawned, which was particularly difficult because they also had their heads up their asses.

Well, looks like the DoJ decided to take theirs out, and it looks like they now think Ivins wasn’t so much able to make the anthrax in those letters.

Shortly after Ivins committed suicide in 2008, federal investigators announced that they’d identified him as the mass murderer who sent the letters to members of Congress and the news media. The case was circumstantial, with federal officials arguing that the scientist had the means, motive and opportunity to make the deadly powder at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md.

Now, however, Justice Department lawyers have acknowledged in court papers that the sealed area in Ivins’ lab – the so-called hot suite – didn’t contain the equipment needed to turn liquid anthrax into the refined powder that floated through congressional buildings and post offices in the fall of 2001.

That was the key thing, that Ivins used the Army’s lab to weaponize anthrax so it could be inhaled and kill.  But now the government (who still says he did it) says he couldn’t have done it at that lab.  And they are unable to explain how he could have accessed or built another lab they can’t find or place him in to have made it.  

Which pretty much means he had to buy it at the local Wal*Mart, maybe during the Terrorist Device Sales Days of September 2001.

Or it means that the person who really murdered those five people, injured dozens of others and terrorized our country is still out there enjoying their freedom.

Today in Congress

It seems every day in December is a big day for legislatures as they work to finish up business for the year. Here’s the significant news of the day from New Jersey’s Members of Congress.

A minority of Republican senators blocked the Defense Authorization Act. Senator Lautenberg tells it like it is:

“Senate Republicans refuse to even begin debating a repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.  The other side has run out of excuses.  Eliminating ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is the right thing to do and would ensure that our military policy reflects the values of our nation.  

“The fact that Republican Senators are willing to hold up a bill that provides vital resources to our troops and ends discrimination in our military is deplorable.  I will continue working to pass a Defense Authorization bill that provides our military with the equipment and services they need while also bringing an end to discrimination within the ranks.”

Of course, Democrats letting Republicans takes “hostages” will go on as long as our Senators and our President let them. Why did they add DADT to the bill if they give up anyway? What was the point?

More below on the Anthrax investigation, water supplies for the Delaware River Basin, 9/11 Responders, and Iran.

Obama threatens veto of intelligence spending bill over Holt Anthrax amendment

The Obama Administration is threatening to veto Congress’ intelligence spending bill for this fiscal year because of an Amendment sponsored by Congressman Holt asking the intelligence community’s inspector general to look into whether intelligence suggesting foreign influence in the anthrax attacks was overlooked is a factor in the decision. From a March 15 letter by Peter Orzag, we learn that the budget bill “still contains several provisions of serious concern to the intelligence community” and if not fixed, they would recommend a veto of the whole bill:

The concerns are outlined in a seven-page document, and the anthrax amendment is ninth on the list of issues. Orszag said an investigation would be “duplicative, and the Administration is greatly concerned about the appearance and precedent involved when Congress commissions an agency Inspector General to replicate a criminal investigation.”

Congressman Holt didn’t appreciate the push back against further investigation of the anthrax attacks:

“I am not surprised at the FBI’s opposition to [a Congressional investigation], given the fact that they have stonewalled every House and Senate member who has sought information on this investigation over last decade,” Holt wrote. “What surprises me is that an Administration that has pledged to be transparent and accountable would seek to block any review of the investigation in this matter.”

I’ll put the full text of his letter to Orzag below the fold. The FBI has been trying to close this investigation for years and Congressman Holt has continued to push for answers. He recently introduced legislation to create a Commission that would look into the 2001 attacks and the federal government’s response. Emptywheel has been all over some of the gaping holes in the FBI’s story. It’s disappointing that the Obama Administration would oppose getting answers and looking back so that we can be prepared when someone tries to do this again.

Glenn Greenwald: Anthrax attacks played key role in building case for Iraq war

We have written here at Blue Jersey about Congressman Rush Holt’s attempts to get answers about who was responsible for the Anthrax attacks when many have long moved on.  Glenn Greenwald provides another reason why we need answers, courtesy of a key British official:

Britain is currently engulfed by a probing, controversial investigation into how their Government came to support the invasion of Iraq, replete with evidence that much of what was said at the time by both British and American officials was knowingly false, particularly regarding the unequivocal intention of the Bush administration to attack Iraq for months when they were pretending otherwise. Yesterday, the British Ambassador to the U.S. in 2002 and 2003, Sir Christopher Meyer (who favored the war), testified before the investigative tribunal and said this:

Meyer said attitudes towards Iraq were influenced to an extent not appreciated by him at the time by the anthrax scare in the US soon after 9/11. US senators and others were sent anthrax spores in the post, a crime that led to the death of five people, prompting policymakers to claim links to Saddam Hussein. . . .

On 9/11 Condoleezza Rice, then the US national security adviser, told Meyer she was in “no doubt: it was an al-Qaida operation” . . . It seemed that Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy, argued for retaliation to include Iraq, Meyer said. . . .

But the anthrax scare had “steamed up” policy makers in Bush’s administration and helped swing attitudes against Saddam, who the administration believed had been the last person to use anthrax.

Greenwald continued:

Here we have one of the most consequential political events of the last decade at least — a lethal biological terrorist attack aimed at key U.S. Senators and media figures, which even the FBI claims originated from a U.S. military lab.  The then-British Ambassador to the U.S. is now testifying what has long been clear:  that this episode played a huge role in enabling the attack on Iraq.  Even our leading mainstream, establishment-serving media outlets — and countless bio-weapons experts — believe that we do not have real answers about who perpetrated this attack and how.  And there is little apparent interest in investigating in order to find out.  Evidently, this is just another one of those things that we’ll relegate to “the irrelevant past,” and therefore deem it unworthy of attention from our future-gazing, always-distracted minds.

Yet another reason why it’s so important that we get answers as to who was truly responsible for the Anthrax attacks.  Unfortunately, many who would be able to get those answers seem uninterested in asking further questions and want to call the case closed.

Holt: “The FBI — suffers from a credibility gap on this issue”

Congressman Holt had some strong words about the FBI and the investigation into finding the person responsible for the anthrax attacks:

A key congressional critic of the FBI’s investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks called Friday for a broader inquiry into the government’s handling of the case, saying he remained deeply skeptical of the bureau’s assertion that a Maryland scientist acted alone in carrying out the country’s worst bioterrorism attack.

“Our government — and specifically, the FBI — suffers from a credibility gap on this issue,” Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.) told an expert panel that convened in Washington this week to begin reviewing the scientific methods the FBI used to link the attacks to Bruce E. Ivins, a microbiologist who worked in the Army’s chief biodefense lab at Ft. Detrick, Md.

He questioned the methods used by the bureau:

?If the technical and scientific procedures [used by the FBI] are as flawed as the non-technical procedures, they certainly deserve a look,? the Frederick, Md., News-Post quoted Holt as saying.

But he didn’t stop there saying the focus of the panel was too narrow:

“I have fundamental concerns about how this was conducted and lingering doubts about the conclusions — and a lot of others do,” Hold said in an interview. “I’d like to be able to assure my constituents in New Jersey that there is no longer a murderer at large, and that we’re prepared to deal with the next bioterrorist attack.”

The Congressman has consistently pushed for more investigations, most recently calling for an independent commission to investigate why the incident wasn’t stopped and how we can prevent further attacks in the future.

Holt wants commission to investigate anthrax attacks

Congressman Holt still hasn’t gotten the answers he wants from the FBI on the 2001 anthrax attacks and he has re-introduced legislation to establish a commission to investigate.  Here’s his speech from the floor:

Holt has pushed all along for answers on the person truly responsible for the anthrax attacks, not settling when the latest suspect (according to the FBI), died last year. Glenn Greenwald over at Salon.com has more on the situation:

I’ve written repeatedly and at length about the huge questions that still remain with regard to the anthrax attacks, with a particular focus on the early and quite successful efforts (aided by ABC News’ Brian Ross) to blame the attacks in the public’s mind on Saddam Hussein, followed by the extremely unconvincing FBI assertion last year that it was now-deceased U.S. Army research scientist Bruce Ivins, and Ivins alone, who perpetrated that attack.  The FBI’s case is riddled with glaring inconsistencies and numerous internal contradictions, enormous evidentiary holes, and pretenses of scientific certainty that are quite dubious (my interview with a scientist specializing in biosecurity over some of the scientific holes in the FBI’s case is here).  Doubts about the FBI’s case continue to emerge.

Holt’s skepticism about the FBI’s claims is notable for several reasons.  It was Holt’s Congressional district from which the anthrax letters were apparently sent, and the attacks imposed a serious disruption on the lives of his constituents.  More significantly, Holt, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is a trained physicist.  Before entering Congress, he taught physics as a faculty member at Swarthmore College and also headed the State Department’s Nuclear and Scientific Division of the Office of Strategic Forces during the Reagan administration.  Both his interest in this matter and his knowledge of it are at least as great as any other member of Congress.  That he maintains extreme skepticism over the FBI’s case and vehemently believes in the need for an independent investigation should, by itself, be quite compelling to any rational person (I interviewed Holt about the anthrax case in September of last year — here).

The Greenwald piece is a really good read. There are some parts of the story that just don’t add up. Holt’s idea for an independent commission could help answer any remaining questions. It will look at the incident, why it wasn’t prevented and what we can do to stop the attacks in the future. Unfortunately this won’t be the last time we face a chemical attack using biological weapons. It would make more sense to get the answers now, rather than try to make it go away. We don’t want to find ourselves dealing with an even larger disaster in the future because we didn’t learn the lessons when we had the chance.

Rush Holt Questions FBI On Ivins

Update: Listen to the audio of the interview.

Rush Holt’s district includes the NJ post office mailbox where letters with weaponized anthrax was sent to media and political leaders.  He is also the chair of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel which has oversight over this stuff.

Glen Greenwald interviewed Holt and it appears that our Rocket Scientist is pretty skeptical about whether Ivins the Accused did it, whether the FBI has compelling evidence, or whether we are safer in Central NJ.

Having watched how [the FBI] collected evidence, I don’t have a lot of confidence, and I think the burden is on them to satisfy me, and other members of Congress, that they’ve done this right. . . . The case seems to me at this point to be circumstantial, and again, without briefings from the FBI, it would be presumptuous of me to say. And it would be presumptuous of people in Central New Jersey to breathe a sigh of relief and say: “They got the murderer. He is no longer at-large.” The people deserve better re-assurances than what they’ve been given.

Holt pushing to learn more about anthrax attack investigation

Rush Holt, who has consistently pushed for more investigation of the mysterious 2001 anthrax attacks, released this statement today and hits the nail on the head:

The public, the victims’ families, and law enforcement would like to know that the book is closed on this investigation. The FBI has not briefed me about today’s news reports, so I cannot say whether that is the case. What we learn will not change the fact that this has been a poorly handled investigation that has lasted six years and already has resulted in a trail of embarrassment and personal tragedy.

His letter to the FBI Director is below…  

Anthrax Terrorist (Maybe) Found, Commits Suicide

In 2001 someone mailed letters with weaponized inhalable anthrax from the Hamilton Post Office in New Jersey to Senators Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Patrick Leahey (D-VT), television stations in New York and the National Enquirer.  Five people died.

This terrorist attack is often forgotten under the glare of the 9/11 attacks, but in some ways is scarier because it appeared to come from inside the government’s research community.  One government scientist, Steven Hatfill, was targeted by the government, and harassed so badly that he won a $5+ million settlement earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the case went unsolved.  Two years ago the Hamilton Post Office finally reopened, but the criminal who killed five people was still running free.

Now it appears that the feds have finally found at least one of the perpetrators, and it turns out he worked with Hatfill at the biomedical research center at Fort Detrick in Maryland.  

A Maryland bioweapons expert, who prosecutors were on the verge of linking to 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and terrorized the country, has died — apparently by suicide, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Bruce E. Ivins, 62, worked for nearly two decades at the Army’s elite biological research unit in Fort Detrick. The facility has been a focus of Justice Department and FBI investigators for nearly six years, since anthrax-laced letters arrived at media organizations and U.S. Senate offices shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Apparently the FBI switched the investigative leadership, and quickly changes were made in the style and target of the investigation.

The Times report said federal investigators moved away from Hatfill and concluded Ivins was the culprit after FBI Director Robert Mueller changed leadership of the investigation in 2006. The new investigators instructed agents to re-examine leads and reconsider potential suspects.

Ivins connection to New Jersey was his father, who was educated at Princeton University just a few miles from the Hamilton Post Office.  Why Ivins chose — assuming he did — to mail the letters from New Jersey is also unknown.

The grand jury was interviewing all the scientists from Fort Derrick and the article suggests Ivins knew he was the target.  So he took his life.

Looking at the timeline it appears that the rapid-fire shoot ’em all and let God sort ’em out ethos of the Bush administration after 9/11 was at work in the early days, and cost the government more than $5 million dollars and a chance to quickly catch an American terrorist.

We still don’t know whether Ivins worked alone, whether it was political or just insanity.  And it may be that we never will, thanks to the incompetence and idiotic strategy of the Bushies.