CASE CLOSED … what really happened in the 2001 anthrax attacks?

* Who will lift the veil of secrecy regarding the FBI investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks?

Posted by DXer on June 16, 2009

Lew’s new novel CASE CLOSEDCC - front cover - small

explores the FBI’s failed investigation of the 2001 anthrax case …

* see CASE CLOSED VIDEO on YouTube

* purchase CASE CLOSED (paperback)

* Who will lift the veil of secrecy …

It seems that the FBI’s stonewalling tactics are working just fine for them. Congress is accomplishing little, despite many strong statements and excellent questions, to lift the veil of secrecy which surrounds the failed FBI anthrax investigation.


The House Judiciary Committee (Congressmen Conyers and Nadler) received answers from the FBI to its September 2008 questions …  seven months later in April 2009. The answers were apparently never made public until I did so on this blog last Friday, after receiving a copy from the Committee staff with help from Congressman Conyer’s office.

Beyond the excessive time the FBI took in answering, the FBI’s answers are so unresponsive as to be insulting and demeaning both to the Congress and to the American people.

I again called Congressman Holt’s office (his staffer Patrick Eddington) to ask the status of the legislation that would create an Anthrax Investigative Commission. Again, not the courtesy of a return call.

I again called Senator Grassley’s office (Brian Downey at the Senate Finance Committee) to ask if Senator Grassley has ever received an answer to the 18 questions he asked the FBI last year. Again, not the courtesy of a return call.

The silence of the media on this story is also surprising.

It is a potentially blockbuster story: The FBI hides the truth in the anthrax investigation and Congress states its discontent but accomplishes little to force the FBI to come clean under oath. And what the FBI is hiding could be of huge consequence to America’s future security.

Which investigative reporter will break this story?

* related post … * the FBI’s answers to questions posed by members of the House Judiciary Committee in September 2008 as to certain aspects of the FBI’s investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks are insulting and demeaning to the U.S. Congress and to the American people

This post gives the House Judiciary Committee’s questions and the FBI’s verbatim answers.

4 Responses to “* Who will lift the veil of secrecy regarding the FBI investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks?”

  1. DXer said

    There was a time — for 7 years — that Ed argued that the mailer was separate from the supplier. And thus given that the supplier would have what Ed has elsewhere argued might be the “perfect alibi,” it is not possible to eliminate those with an alibi on the date of mailing from participation.

    Anthrax – A Possible Scenario
    Ed Lake
    March 11, 2002
    (last revised October 16, 2003)

    “There seems no doubt that the FBI has narrowed the search for the anthrax terrorist to a small number of suspects. But they probably can’t name those suspects without generating a media feeding-frenzy. With all the pent-up interest in the anthrax case, when an arrest is finally made, the media will be there in force to a degree that will make the OJ trial look like a barking dog complaint tried before Judge Judy.

    The anthrax case has not only been narrowed down to a “small number of suspects”, but the actual case could very easily involve more than one scientist. The person who took the anthrax from the government lab is very likely not the same person who mailed the anthrax letters. Everything makes much more sense if a second scientist is added to the equation. If everything had been done by a single person, how many scientists with the specialized knowledge were in Trenton, New Jersey, on September 17 or 18 and October 8 or 9?

    When there is more than one person involved in a crime, the complications explode and the case becomes vastly more difficult to prove.

    The Supplier

    It appears that someone obtained some Ames anthrax from a government lab, and it was almost certainly done prior to September 11, 2001. The FBI may have a suspect, but they haven’t said so. There is ample evidence that items could easily be taken from some secure labs, and there is testimony that scientists have routinely given samples of lab materials to other scientists without keeping track – including anthrax of the Ames strain.

    For the purposes of this speculation, I’m only going to suggest that the Supplier (i.e., the person who took the anthrax from a government lab) had some form of Ames anthrax available at some point in time before Sept. 11. And for some reason he turned it over to someone else. That second person is the anthrax Refiner/Mailer.

    But why did the Supplier give the anthrax to the Refiner/Mailer? And when?

    The Transfer

    … The letters had to have been mailed by someone who could get to Trenton and back without being missed and/or without much risk of being caught without any logical explanation for being in that area if some accident should occur or if he should be recorded on some security camera.

    It seems unlikely that the Supplier would have turned the anthrax over to the Refiner/Mailer in the week between September 11th and September 18th. After the airliner attacks, the nation was jittery and on the alert. It was not the time for rash decisions that could be highly illegal. Plus, it seems ridiculously unlikely that the anthrax was stolen from the government lab after the heightened alerts that began immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11th.

    It is much more likely that the anthrax was both stolen and changed hands sometime prior to September 11th. It may have been stolen as much as a year or two earlier, but it probably didn’t change hands until about a month before the attacks. Best guess: it happened between the collapse of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention in July and August of, 2001, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.


    It seems unlikely that the Supplier would give away live anthrax to another scientist without some very solid reason. And he would also have to have a reason to trust that the anthrax would not be misused. Anthrax just isn’t something an intelligent scientist is likely to turn over to a casual acquaintance. There must have been at least some very firm meeting of the minds – and that meeting of the minds had to have been connected to the possible uses of that anthrax.

    Because some very special processing was done to the anthrax, the supplier and the anthrax refiner may have originally come together to discuss the ways that such processing could be accomplished. Alone each may not have had to knowledge required to refine the anthrax, but together they may have figured out a way to do it that no one else in the field of bioweaponry was aware of.

    Could the Supplier have simply sold the anthrax for money? That’s definitely possible. But there would still be the very important element of trust. If someone is looking to buy anthrax, would the Supplier have any way of knowing it wasn’t some kind of FBI sting? Would the Supplier know that the anthrax would never be traced back to him? Would a reputable scientist buy “black market anthrax”? And if he’s not a reputable scientist, doesn’t that add to the risks? And, perhaps most important, if one is selling anthrax to someone else, it seems very important to know for certain that the anthrax buyer won’t use it in a way that could cause the death of the seller.


    The motive, it appears, was most likely one of alerting the world to the dangers of allowing governments to develop bioweapons – and how easily those bioweapons could get out of control or get into the hands of terrorists. Nothing else makes much sense when one takes into account all the measures that were taken (in the failed attempt) to assure that no one was killed or harmed by the anthrax – and the fact that the Ames strain was used.

    A meeting of the minds


    When the Supplier gave the anthrax to the Refiner/Mailer, he must have known he was demonstrating just how easy it was for a rogue scientist to obtain anthrax. He knew the anthrax was dangerous and could be used as a weapon. He therefore knew that what he was doing was exactly as he feared some other “rogue scientist” might do – except that he was giving it to someone of like mind, someone he trusted to use it in the best interests of the world, and not against the world or the United States.

    What did they plan to do with the anthrax?

    It doesn’t seem likely that the two scientists planned to send anthrax through the mails prior to September 11 – at least not in the same haphazard way it was done in the two mailings. But some kind of demonstration of the dangers of bioweaopons was probably behind the transfer of the anthrax. A demonstration of some kind was planned.

    Plan A

    If I were to speculate (and that’s all I’m doing here), my best guess would be that the plan was to make a dramatic presentation at a scientific conference or convention – most likely the next meeting of the BTWC in Geneva in November of 2001.

    Imagine the effect and world-wide alarm if some respected scientist at the podium of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention held up a vial of highly refined, powdered anthrax and declared that it was obtained on the “black market” and that the vial held enough anthrax to kill a million people! It would be almost like displaying an atomic bomb obtained on “the black market”. It would make headlines all over the world. It would wake people up to the dangers of bioterrorism as never before.

    And it would be a “harmless” demonstration – totally safe – but extremely effective. (Colin Powell did a very similar demontration at the U.N. to get his point across about going to war with Iraq because of the terrible weapons Iraq might have.)

    But the Supplier couldn’t be the one to do it, since he currently or once worked where anthrax was used and that would make him an immediate suspect. If that kind of dramatic demonstration was the goal, the Supplier may have picked the Refiner/Mailer because he could easily draw a large audience to the demonstration.

    Or perhaps the Refiner/Mailer knew someone else (a “Speaker”) who could draw such an audience.

    The FBI’s “loner” profile of the anthrax Refiner/Mailer doesn’t fit the picture of a man accustomed to being invited to talk before large and distinguished audiences. So, it’s quite possible that there is a third scientist, the Speaker, someone who would be invited to a major convention as a guest speaker. It would have to be someone who shared the same goals as the other two scientists, someone who would be willing to perform the demonstration, and, most importantly, someone who could be totally trusted to keep the secret and to not immediately notify the authorities. The Speaker may or may not have been contacted before there was a dramatic change of plans.

    September 11

    Any totally safe but dramatic demonstration planned for the BTWC in November would have been too little too late after the events of September 11. There was no longer any time for such benign tactics. Many in the scientific community fully expected that a biological attack would follow closely behind the airliner attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The entire world was holding its collective breath. Iraq was known to have had anthrax and they might use it.

    It appears the Refiner/Mailer could no longer wait. Within a week of September 11, he conceived and implemented an different kind of “demonstration”. And he was now clearly acting on his own, possibly forcing the Supplier to scramble to create an alibi to protect himself when told of the date of the first anthrax mailing.

    Unable to wait until he was able to refine the anthrax to the degree needed by Plan A, the Refiner/Mailer impatiently sent out unrefined anthrax in the letters to the 5 media addresses.

    Plan B

    But the hastily prepared Plan B demonstration failed to alert anyone!

    And, to make matters worse, political infighting was still continuing in Washington. Newspapers were reporting on how Democratic Senators were fighting plans to implement the new, strong security measures of the “Anti-Terror Act” that Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed he needed in order to protect America against terrorism.

    Because the first attack failed, and because he was angered by the actions of the Democrats, the Refiner/Mailer spent 3 weeks completing the refining of the anthrax and then prepared a second attack that would be aimed directly at the Democratic Senators. As things happen, the second anthrax mailing on October 9 was implemented shortly before the first mailing had its impact. The anthrax-laced letters to the Senators were mailed five days after it was discovered that a tabloid editor in Florida had contracted anthrax but four days before it became known that the anthrax was not from natural causes and had been deliberately sent through the mails.


    The two hastily prepared demonstrations failed miserably in many ways. Most critical, of course, was that it killed unsuspecting postal workers and even innocent people like 94 year old Ottilie Lundgren who was totally unconnected in any way to the goal. But the attacks also failed to convince any but the most rabid Iraq-haters that foreign terrorists were behind the mailings. As soon as it was learned that the media and a couple Democratic senators had been the targets, most Americans immediately began assuming that the letters had been sent by some group of Right Wing extremists. And a sudden plague at that same time of hoax anthrax mailings from such extremists helped solidify and verify such conclusions. The evidence quickly piled up until virtually no one believed that Iraq or Al Qaeda was behind the mailings.

    And the FBI manhunt began for the domestic terrorists behind the anthrax mailings.

    Technically, the “demonstration” had worked, but it didn’t work entirely in the way the Refiner/Mailer had hoped. America was definitely alerted to the dangers of bioterrorism, many Muslims were rounded up, and billions of dollars were soon being spent to implement new safety measures. But instead of shutting down bioweapons labs to reduce the danger that someone else might steal such a weapon, new labs were being proposed and funded. Instead of hunting for down foreign terrorists behind the mailings, the FBI was concentrating on hunting for a rogue American scientist with access to the Ames strain of anthrax and bioweapons expertise. The FBI was hunting for the murderer of 5 innocent Americans.

    A Pending Manifesto?

    When a plan fails, it’s time for explanations and excuses.

    The first targets were all in the media. The Refiner/Mailer wanted to alert the media – to make them demand that potential terrorists in our midsts be rounded up before they can strike. He probably wants to tell the media why he did what he did. He wants to make people understand that he did what he thought was best for America in a time of crisis – at a time when America was not aware of a true danger that could strike at any time. He woke America up to that danger. He accomplished his objective. Unfortunately, five people died – which he hadn’t intended – but what is the death of five people when tens of thousands may have been saved by his “early warning”? He wants people to understand that. If he wasn’t interested in making people understand, he wouldn’t have done what he did.

    He’s out there right now waiting to tell someone in the media why he did what he did. He’s ready to publish his manifesto. All he needs is the right moment. That moment may come when he sees he’s about to be arrested, or it may come when he feels he can no longer stand the waiting.

    The FBI’s Case

    Meanwhile, the FBI has the problem of trying to build a case where it cannot prove that the Refiner/Mailer ever possesed any anthrax and the Supplier probably has aperfect alibi. Without a confession or “smoking gun” evidence it will be a hard case to prove.

    Even if the Supplier were to confess, it might still be difficult to convict anyone of anything. Prior to the anthrax mailings, it was an unofficial but accepted procedure for one scientist to share biological specimens with another – even lethal biologicals such as anthrax. Many scientists initially thought that hundreds of laboratories might have samples of the Ames anthrax distributed by these informal procedures. That number was narrowed down considerably, but the fact that there were very few controls on such things will make it difficult to convict a scientist who shared a biological sample with another scientist for reasons that did not involve harming anyone or doing anything patently illegal (Plan A). He did not disclose secrets. What he stole could be easily replaced and wasn’t even missed. At best, he could be convicted as an accessory before the fact because he didn’t notify the authorities as soon as he was informed that anthrax was about to be mailed.

    And the Refiner/Mailer will certainly claim that he never received any anthrax, and that the Supplier is making up a story to escape blame for his own actions. And he’ll talk only through his lawyers.

    No doubt about it. It will be a difficult case. And the longer it takes, the more difficult it may become.

    That’s unfortunate, because there are probably scientists out there who know both scientists and know when and where they met. They may even know that the Supplier had obtained some anthrax. They may even know that the Refiner/Mailer was rabid on the subject of protecting the world against the dangers inherent in bioweapons developement. There may even have been hinting about an upcoming demonstration at an upcoming convention.

    But they may not come forward because they cannot believe that their fellow scientists could be involved. And, too, many scientists believe that the person who stole the anthax must be the same person who mailed the letters even though there is absolutely no reason to believe that! And many scientists believe that the anthrax must have been refined in a government lab even though that is almost certainly another false assumption.

    If the FBI names the suspects, the scientists who have evidence may come forward, but the media-frenzy may also jeopardize the case in some way. So, until they come forward, the FBI will have to make its case with what can be found elsewhere.

    At least that’s how I see it.”

  2. DXer said

    Army biodefense lab completes germ inventory

    FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — The Army says workers at a military biodefense laboratory in Frederick have finished an inventory of dangerous germs and toxins.

    Spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden said Tuesday that a summary of the inventory findings will be released Wednesday.

    The Army ordered the action at Fort Detrick in February after a spot check found 20 samples of Venezuelan equine encephalitis in a box of vials listed as containing 16.

    The discovery came amid tightened security following the suicide of Bruce Ivins, the Fort Detrick scientist identified by the FBI as the mailer of anthrax-filled envelopes that killed five people in 2001.

    The inventory halted much of the laboratory research at Fort Detrick. Vander Linden says the work gradually resumed as the inventory of each laboratory suite was completed.

  3. Anonymous Scientist said

    Lew asks: “Which investigative reporter will break this story?”

    I think one problem here is that most investigative reporters have been burned and re-burned by the FBI leaks.

    Here’s a few examples:
    In January 2009, the NYT’s Scott Shane published what he called “the deepest look so far at the investigation”
    But in this article Scott Shane mis-reported the most significant piece of information in the entire article. Shane claimed, through an anonymous FBI source, that the FBI was able to rule out facilities at Battelle and Dugway as being the source of the mailed spores. The claim was that a “signature in the water” narrowed it to Detrick. In fact, this was complete misinformation from the anonymous FBI source. The Times later on had to add a postscript to this.
    This would make it difficult, I beleive, for Shane at the Times to continue reporting on this story. How can he believe anything his FBI sources tell him? He got duped once – how can he risk being duped again?

    A second example is Joby Warrick at the Washington Post.

    In April 2002 he published this:
    Whoever concocted the wispy white powder used in last fall’s anthrax attacks followed a recipe markedly different from the ones commonly used by scientists in the United States or any other country known to have biological weapons, law enforcement sources said yesterday.

    Extensive lab tests of the anthrax powder have revealed new details about how the powder was made, including the identity of a chemical used to coat the trillions of microscopic spores to keep them from clumping together. Sources close to the investigation declined to name the chemical but said its presence was something of a surprise.

    The powder’s formulation “was not routine,” said one law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Somebody had to have special knowledge and experience to do this,” the official said.


    But then in October 2008 he published this piece in which he did ZERO investigative reporting and in which he simply acted as a stenographer for the FBI’s official line:


    Meanwhile, the unknown Deborah Rudacille at the Baltimore Examiner actuallly went out and reported a story (kind of old fashioned – she actually found sources other than the official FBI line)


    Perhaps it will take an unkown and uncontaminated investigative reporter to get to the bottom of this and present it in the media.

    • Anonymous Scientist said

      Apparently David Willman, who has left the LA Times has a book deal with Publishers Lunch for a book on the anthrax attacks:


      But I think one has to be cautious with Willman. Willman was the investigative reporter “chosen” by the FBI to break the story that Ivins was dead – and that he was their main suspect and they were “just about to charge him”.

      Willman may have already decided Ivins was the cuplprit long ago – and perhaps nothing will change his mind.

      I wonder how close the FBI were to charging the other 2 Detrick persons? I assume if one of them had committed suicide before Ivins it would have been “——– did it, we were just about to charge him/her.”
      One of Ivins’ former colleagues was being aggressively pressured to confess to the crimes just two months before Ivins killed himself on July 29, he told The Post. And he identified at least one other employee who was under the same pressure.

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