Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Anthrax Investigation: Deceptions and False Trails

Just over four years ago, a small batch of letters was dropped into the mail at Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ. Unlike our regular, dependable mail, these letters were tainted with a reasonable approximation of weapons-grade anthrax.

Evaluators have differed over how close to weapons-grade the deadly enclosure was, but none can quarrel with its effect: 5 people known dead, at least 17 others seriously ill (some with permanent after-effects) , paralysis of the postal system, contamination of Senate offices, and nationwide panic.

The letters themselves contained layers of deception – ranging from the use of a fictitious New Jersey elementary school as a return address on the envelopes, to the text of the letters themselves.

This is the text (including exact punctuation used ) of the letter sent to Senator Tom Daschle ( D- S. Dakota ) who was then Senate Majority Leader.



This is the text (Note lack of punctuation) of the Brokaw and NY Post letters.



( Please note – in both sets of letters – the flat,unemotional affect of the text. No exclamations; no excitement.)

It took me quite a while – and the reading of Lord knows how many actual “jihad” letters , published by genuine Islamic militants – to see
what was wrong with the text of these letters : “Allah” is mentioned in the wrong part of the anthrax letters.

Every “jihad letter” I have ever seen opens with a pious invocation of the name of Allah ; eg : “The blessings of Allah the merciful and compassionate be upon us.” – even when the rest of the letter promises the destruction of the recipient.

Placing the name of God at the end of the letters constitutes an act of disrespect verging upon the blasphemous , and tells us the persons who prepared the anthrax letters were probably not militant Muslims.

Yet another (probable) layer of deception is the use of “ 09-11-01” as a heading. It is intended to persuade the recipient the letter has a direct relationship to the 9/11 attacks – and was , arguably, carried out by the same organization : al-Qaeda.

Viewed as a deception alone , the letters say ( to me, anyway ) “ This attack has nothing to do with 9/11; and, had it occurred at some other time, might well have revealed the identities of those responsible. We have, therefore, used 9/11 as a frame of reference because we want you to link these separate events. “

Footnote on the letters: The misspelling of penicillin as “penacilin” in the letters has been taken as evidence they were written by a non-English-speaking person. If you run a search of that word-spelled that way- you will learn such a misspelling is fairly common among Americans – especially those who learned phonetic spelling- as a precursor for “the real thing” -in school; Americans now in their 30’s and 40’s.


Let’s imagine – (Humor me on this ) – 9/11 had never happened , but there had been an anthrax attack.

(There would,of course,be no reference to “09-11-01” at the top of the letters , and I imagine Allah might have been “out of the picture” for this purpose – no offense to Muslims intended ! )

Who would suspicion have fallen upon ?

Would this group have become “Persons of Interest” ?

DISCLAIMER: As far as I know, the Sunshine Project had nothing whatsoever to do with the anthrax attacks of 2001, and is merely a well-informed non-profit group dedicated to eliminating biochemical warfare-a goal I concur with.I have used them purely and solely as an illustration !

The Sunshine Project
Press Release
29 August 2000
USA Admits Possible Link between Biological Weapons and Agent Green
Seattle and Hamburg, 29 August - In an August 22 memorandum, US President Bill Clinton has conceded that the US plan to use microbial agents to eradicate drug crops may have an impact on biological weapons proliferation. This is the first time that US officials have publicly admitted that the use of biological agents like Fusarium oxysporum (dubbed "Agent Green") raises arms control concerns.

The Sunshine Project has convincingly argued that F. oxysporum and other mycoherbicides are biological weapons. Because of its illicit coca crop, Colombia is on the front line of US biological warfare plans. Other projects on biological agents to kill opium poppy and marijuana are also funded by the US and the British Governments.

The Presidential memo waives several conditions for US assistance to Colombia. In particular, Clinton overruled the US Congress and severed the link between Colombian acceptance of Agent Green and the overall implementation of the US 1.3 billion dollar bilateral assistance package for Plan Colombia. Clinton states that the US will not use Agent Green until "a broader national security assessment, including consideration of the potential impact on biological weapons proliferation and terrorism, provides a solid foundation for concluding that the use of this particular drug control tool is in our national interest." (from Memorandum of Justification for Presidential Determination 2000-28).

According to the Sunshine Project's Edward Hammond, "This is an important step forward. While important parts of the US Government stubbornly refuse to withdraw support for Agent Green, President Clinton has eased the bilateral pressure on Colombia and admitted that this may have been a bad idea from the start."

Adds Sunshine's Jan Van Aken, "Agent Green is a biological weapon. It was developed with a hostile purpose, intended to be used in an armed conflict in Colombia. Use of Agent Green threatens to undermine international agreements prohibiting biological weapons. It must be stopped immediately, worldwide."

It is important to note that the presidential memorandum does not necessarily signal a change in US policy. "Pro-fungus parts of the schizophrenic US Government could easily rebound. The memorandum is a window of opportunity. Governments should take fast action and exploit the possibilities for progress before the window closes." says the Sunshine Project's Susana Pimiento.

The Sunshine Project is calling on governments and international agencies to take the following steps:

The United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP), which administers the US-funded work in Uzbekistan and is promoting Fusarium testing in Colombia, should immediately freeze all of its international projects on crop-killing biological agents and withdraw the contract it is offering Colombia. No government, much less a United Nations agency, can take risks with bioweapons proliferation. Work cannot resume until the arms control issues have been resolved, a broader range of expert UN agencies have independently evaluated the program, and UNDCP's governing body has fully reviewed the work.

With aid no longer conditional on acceptance of Agent Green and with the US publicly admitting that it is uncertain about bioweapons links, there is no reason why the Government of Colombia has to proceed with the US-inspired biological eradication idea. Colombia may now heal regional unease with the plan and publicly withdraw from negotiations with UNDCP, halting any planned research on Fusarium and other biological agents.

The US Government must conduct a transparent review of the US Department of Agriculture program that funded and developed F. oxysporum and other crop-killing weapons.

The USDA worked for more than a decade on projects. A dangerous policy failure has taken place if serious assessment of the treaty compliance and proliferation aspects of this program have not been reviewed until now - after agent identification, work on virulence enhancement, delivery systems, and field testing.

The current situation offers a remarkable opportunity to strengthen the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BTWC), updating it to reflect new and different political realities and type of conflict prevalent in the post-Cold War era. With the US leadership having conceded there are proliferation concerns raised by the drug war biological agents, during the next Review Conference of the BTWC in 2001, states parties should leap on the opportunity to insure that all crop-killing biological agents, especially those used with hostile intent in an armed conflict, are banned by the convention.

Opposition Increasing In July, the Ecuadorian Government banned the introduction and use of Fusarium oxysporum. In an editorial in its August 7th edition titled "Agent Orange and F. oxysporum", the Managing Editor of Chemical and Engineering News, the magazine of the American Chemical Society, called for a halt to drug war bioweapon research. Accusing the US of developing "dubious weapons systems", the editorial condemns the program, saying, "There is an unavoidable moral component to scientific research, and development of F. oxysporum as a weapon in the war on drugs or any other war violates it. Scientists should just say no to participating in this research."

If you knew Jan Van Aken holds a PhD in Cell Biology, has received UNMOVIC training , and is on the UNMOVIC roster , would you wonder about him as the FBI wondered about Hatfill and Berry ?

If you knew Susana Pimiento was Colombian - born –( I don’t know what her citizenship status is at present) – would you wonder if the possible destruction of cocoa crops , necessary to cocaine production, in Colombia and Ecuador might have inspired a “counterattack” ?

If you knew Edward H. Hammond had published something “interesting”- on or about the same date the anthrax letters were mailed
Would you think of him as a “person if interest” ? (Following was published on 9/19/01.A similar statement was published on 09/25/01.)


Critical Policy Mistakes
As fear of a terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction skyrockets, the US must analyze and correct its policies that contribute to biological weapons instability. There are four recent critical missteps:
 First, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is conducting a secret program of biodefense research that, in the opinion of many experts, violates the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. This work, revealed in the New York Times, involves testing mock biological bombs and construction of a bioweapons production facility in Nevada. If any other country conducted this research, it would have drawn the US's harshest denunciations and, quite possibly, military attack. The longer the United States insists on this biological weapons research double standard, the more determined its enemies will be, and the greater the risk to its own and allies' citizens.

 Second, the United States failed to disclose the CIA's research in annual declarations of biodefense activities to the Bioweapons Convention, deliberately evading a UN mechanism to enhance transparency and trust between nations. The significance of this US failure is difficult to overstate. Secret US biological weapons research has drawn suspicion from the US allies and undermined faith in voluntary confidence building measures. To US enemies, the CIA's work is nothing short of a biological weapons threat. Failing corrective action, pious declarations about the danger of bioweapons will ring hollow and be understood by US enemies as lies - or even threats.

 Third, while it may shock many Americans, it is no secret to arms control experts that the United States has menaced Afghanistan (and Colombia, home to three groups on the US State DepartmentÕs terrorist list) with the threat of a biological attack since at least 1998. This threat is through plans to use the fungus Pleospora papaveracea, a biological weapon, to forcibly eradicate opium poppy crops. Transcripts of Kabul Radio clearly indicate that the Taliban is aware of the plan and opposes it. Through the United Nations Drug Control Program, the US has attempted to veil the fungus in legality by obtaining the approval of the Afghan government in exile, which has no de facto power. The Taliban is thought to willingly harbor terrorists who use weapons of mass destruction. The US and its allies are foolish, hypocritical, and courting disaster to continue to threaten such a state with a biological weapons attack.

 Fourth, in July, the United States trashed six years of negotiations to develop a Protocol for international verification of the Bioweapons Convention. Not only did it anger the world by being uncooperative, the US even said it would block other nations' attempts to proceed with new controls on biological weapons. Close US allies were publicly appalled; but few publicly suggested it was because the US itself intended to violate the treaty. With the New York Times revelation and the new, dangerous atmosphere following the terrorist attacks, the size and ramifications of the USA's terrible miscalculation are now fully apparent.
At a minimum, the US needs to take the following actions:
1) The CIA's research program must be immediately and entirely terminated. Because of frail US credibility on this issue, this decision must be made and explained in clear detail by a high-ranking US official and;
2) In light of incontrovertible evidence that it has not complied with confidence building measures, the US has no peaceful alternative but to endorse a United Nations system of bioweapons verification requiring broad declarations and mandatory, short-notice, and comprehensively-equipped UN inspections of commercial and military biotechnology facilities. Nothing less will restore faith in US compliance. Dubious arguments about shielding US facilities in deference to commercial interests are outmoded by recent events and no longer tenable. Lives cannot be put at risk in the interest biotechnology profits, even if the US Defense Secretary once headed Searle, the former pharmaceutical division of Monsanto;
3) The Drug War cannot be a pretext for undermining biological weapons controls and escalating the war on terrorism. The United States and the United Nations Drug Control Program must immediately and unequivocally renounce the development and use of biological agents in forced crop eradication. The US-supported research facility at the Institute for Genetics in Tashkent, Uzbekistan must be immediately locked and the key thrown away. Research efforts in the United States must be similarly halted. The government of the United Kingdom, which has provided lukewarm support for the research, should announce that in light of the current political situation it must withdraw its support in the interests of peace and security.
4) The United States must come back to the table at the Verification Protocol negotiations and signal its intention to cooperate. The US does not have the ability to inspect suspected biological weapons facilities worldwide. A UN system could possess this strength and obtain access and apply verification technology not possible for any state to use alone. US policymakers say they are developing new ideas for verification, which they Ð and other countries - should bring to the 5th Review Conference of the BTWC in November. But political reality dictates that the current negotiating text must be the starting point. The vast majority of countries have already agreed to a number of measures to improve verification. Scrapping existing work and developing a new text is an option unlikely to be possible for at least several years.
A working hypothesis might well conclude – had the anthrax attacks occurred in some context other than 9/11 – that a domestic group – willing to use mass terror to achieve its ends, and not overly squeamish about possible loss of life was responsible.

Investigators would probably begin with some of the large number of highly-skilled people who had been laid off in the early to mid 90’s from “secure” government careers at Fort Detrick and Dugway ,and who might be bitter at the loss of their jobs.

It was exactly such people the Hartford Courant interviewed in November/December of 2001- and it is from these people the Courant learned of the deplorable “ Camel Club” incidents of 9 years earlier-incidents the Courant was able to verify with FOIA filings.

The Hartford Courant did a tremendous job of reporting --- but could very well have been “played” by one of the disaffected former workers, who wanted to lay a false trail , and deflect attention from his/her own activities.

It has been an exceptionally durable false trail – used as recently as a month ago by the “ever popular” Justin Raimondo for one of his “Neo-Copperhead” rants.

That particular false trail – which inferred, without a shred of supporting evidence, that because retired Army Colonel Philip Zack visited lab worker Marian Rippey when she was working the night shift, the visits involved conspiracy instead of concupisence.

The next false trail was laid by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg – generally described as “ an expert in bioweapons” (though some have raised doubts about that description).

As far as I know, Dr. Rosenberg was acting in good faith when she began suggesting to the FBI they might have a “person of interest” in Steven Hatfill – a man with a slightly questionable past.Dr. Hatfill and his attorney think otherwise,as might be imagined.

After a massive ( some might say frenzied) FBI investigation – that included the draining of a pond and the destruction of Hatfill’s career, the FBI moved on to ( You guessed it !) yet another false trail.

This one included Dr. Kenneth Berry an upstate New York physician who was apparently at odds with his wife, and who may (according to media reports) have engaged in domestic violence.

Again, there was massive media frenzy: fanned by images of FBI agents in protective gear raiding Dr. Berry’s homes , coming up with nothing, and wrecking whatever career he had. (He is drawing Unemployment benefits in New Jersey , as of last report.)

So far, I’ve counted 3 major false trails (apart from the letters themselves) , and really don’t know if they were deliberately laid – or just happened ; but I am beginning to doubt they were all happenstance.

I’m also beginning to form a “ profile “ of the persons who were responsible for the anthrax attacks – and I invite you to do likewise.

Maybe-just maybe – one of us will come up with an answer.


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