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

* Lew’s CASE CLOSED interview with Bill Becker on US1Radio

Posted by DXer on June 24, 2009

Lew Weinstein

Lew Weinstein

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Bill Becker

Bill Becker

Lew Weinstein was heard this morning in an interview by Bill Becker that was available to a national audience on http://www.us1radio.com.

The interview ranged over many aspects of the real anthrax case as well as the fictional scenario Lew has imagined in CASE CLOSED to explain why the FBI did not solve the case.

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Lew’s interview with Bill Becker

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2 Responses to “* Lew’s CASE CLOSED interview with Bill Becker on US1Radio”

  1. DXer said

    AS,

    In an e-mail obtained by FOX News written by Bruce Ivins to Patricia Fellows titled “HOT News”, Ivins reported to his former Fort Detrick colleague a colleague’s report that the anthrax powder they were asked to analyze after the attacks was nearly identical to that made by one of their colleagues.

    “Then he said he had to look at a lot of samples that the FBI had prepared … to duplicate the letter material.” “Then the bombshell. He said that the best duplication of the material was the stuff made by [name redacted]. He said that it was almost exactly the same — his knees got shaky and he sputtered, ‘But I told the General we didn’t make spore powder!’”

    FOX News reports:

    “The FBI has narrowed its focus to ‘about four’ suspects in the 6 1/2-year investigation of the deadly anthrax attacks of 2001, and at least three of those suspects are linked to the Army’s bioweapons research facility at Fort Detrick in Maryland, FOX News has learned.

    Among the pool of suspects are three scientists — a former deputy commander, a leading anthrax scientist and a microbiologist — linked to the research facility, known as USAMRIID.”

    I submit to you that regardless of the reports last year about sorority panty raids and the like, the FBI knows that it was more than a happy coincidence for Ayman Zawahiri and Mohammed Islambouli that an active supporter of the Taliban and supporter of jihad was a US biodefense insider.

    Al-Timimi worked in the same building as famed Russian bioweapons scientist Ken Alibek and former USAMRIID Deputy Commander and Acting Commander Charles Bailey, who would publish a lot of research with the “Ames strain” of anthrax.

    Al-Timimi was a current associate and former student of Bin Laden’s spiritual advisor, dissident Saudi Sheik al-Hawali. Ali would speak along with the blind sheik’s son at charity conferences — the blind sheik’s son served on Al Qaeda’s WMD committee. Al-Timimi’s mentor Bilal Philips was known for recruiting members of the military to jihad. The first week after 9/11, FBI agents questioned Al-Timimi. He was a microbiology graduate student in a program jointly run by George Mason University and the American Type Culture Collection (”ATCC”). Ali, according to his lawyer, had been questioned by an FBI agent and Secret Service agent in 1994 after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He had a high security clearance for work for the Navy in he late 1990s and in 1996 for two months had worked for the White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. As time off from his university studies permitted, Ali was an active speaker with the charity Islamic Assembly of North America.

    Folks who assume that Al-Timimi and his colleagues would have claimed responsibility are not taking into account that Bin Laden denied responsibility for 911 initially until it became beyond denying. Zawahiri thinks that war is deception. US Attorney Jeff Taylor, who formerly advised on national security issues at the US DOJ, may also think that. (Alternatively, he may have just not mastered the facts because of his wide range of responsibilities and heavy workload; politicization of justice at the US DOJ is hard work).

    Al-Timimi was interviewed 7 or 8 times before indictment. He was indicted a few days before the FBI’s self-imposed deadline of October 1, 2004 for bringing an indictment in Amerithrax passed. Mueller announced in July 2004.

    What is being argued in the pending ex parte, highly classified briefings, in which neither Al-Timimi’s defense counsel nor the District Court’s clerk is allowed to see?

    The briefings relate to the alleged warrantless NSA wiretapping that began on or about October 7, 2001. How does it square with the defendant’s right to counsel, who has a high compartmentalized clearance, not to be privy to the briefing?

    What did the White House Chief of Staff, Ali’s former boss in 1996, know about Ali that we didn’t? Did he give Ali a reference for his job at SRA in 1999 for which he had a high security clearance for work on the Navy?

    Did he give him a reference in his application to be a student in the building housing the DARPA-funded Center for Biodefense, that led him to sharing a fax and maildrop and suite with the leading anthrax scientist in the world and former deputy USAMRIID Commander?

    My friend, the head of the Air Force lab, has done controlled experiments using a siliconizing solution in the slurry. He says that the Microdroplet Cell Culture patent filed March 14, 2001 is a “wow!” patent and serves to increase the viability of a wide variety of pathogens. The FBI WMD Chief at the Science Briefing says that the Silicon Signature could have resulted from silica in the culture medium. That is what the patent involves — silica in the culture medium for the purpose of concentrating the anthrax.
    While the prudent thing to do is to see what light is shed by the Emerging Infectious Disease articles due out next month, the FBI WMD’s Chief is the best guide to the FBI’s thinking as to the source of the Silicon Signature (whether you agree with the FBI or not).

    As Ken Alibek has always said, a sophisticated product can result from a relatively unsophisticated method.

    Your suggestion that some uber-sophisticated secret US Army program to weaponize anthrax would then be stupid enough to send the US Army strain is logically flawed. Instead, it was Ayman Zawahiri and his followers who were compelled by the koran and hadiths to use the weapon of their enemy.

  2. DXer said

    Lew, you mention an undercover operative. Let’s consider what the documents show about one undercover operative working for Ayman Zawahiri. “I Successfully Achieved The Targets, ” Pakistan Scientist Rauf Ahmad wrote Ayman Zawahiri in 1999 and 2000. The Defense Intelligence Agency gave me the documents under FOIA.

    Whose lab did he visit? Was it the lab at LSU — which is known to have had virulent Ames — led at the time by the scientist who would become FBI’s genetics consultant? Until the lab is identified, we won’t know.

    George Tenet in his May 2007 In the Center of the Storm says: “Al-Qa’ida spared no effort in its attempt to obtain biological weapons. In 1999, al-Zawahiri recruited Pakistani national Rauf Ahmad, to set up a small lab in Khandahar, Afghanistan, to house the biological weapons effort. In December 2001, a sharp WMD analyst at CIA found the initial lead on which we would pull and, ultimately, unravel the al-Qa’ida anthrax networks. We were able to identify Rauf Ahmad from letters he had written to Ayman al-Zawahiri. … We located Rauf Ahmad’s lab in Afghanistan. We identified the building in Khandahar where Sufaat claimed he isolated anthrax. We mounted operations that resulted in the arrests and detentions of anthrax operatives in several countries.”

    Delivering the James Smart Lecture, entitled “Global Terrorism: are we meeting the challenge?” at the headquarters of the City of London Police, Ms. Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, said: “Western security services have uncovered networks of individuals, sympathetic to the aims of al-Qa’ida, that blend into society, individuals who live normal, routine lives until called upon for specific tasks by another part of the network.” She concluded: “The threats of chemical, biological and radiological and suicide attacks require new responses and the Government alone will not achieve all of it; industry and even the public must take greater responsibility for their own security.”

    Milton Leitenberg wrote in a chapter on evolving threats in Wenger and Wollenmann’s 2007 Bioterrorism: Confronting A Complex Threat:

    “The first significant and meaningful information on what Al-Qaida may at some point have hoped to achieve in the area of bioweapons appeared on a single page in the journal SCIENCE in mid-December 2003, and then in declassified documents that were obtained in the last week of March 2004.

    Appended to the single page in SCIENCE via the internet address was a list of thirty-two items: eleven books and twenty-one professional journal papers nearly all dating from the 1950s and 1960s dealing with pathogens or bioweapons.”

    He explained: “They were found in Al Qaida training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December 2001. Half of the books dealt with historic or general aspects of bioweapons and would be of little practical use in an effort to produce bioweapons agents. However, at least some of the journal papers and the remaining half of the books might have been useful in such an effort. They were found only a few kilometers from the site near the Kandahar airport that confirmed the rudimentary equipment also procured by Al-Qaida.”Most important of all, the documents indicated that “al-Qaida’s BW initiative included recruitment of individuals with PhD-level expertise who supported planning and acquisition efforts by their familiarity with the scientific community.”

    Mr. Leitenberg concludes: “If it should turn out, as is currently assumed, that the Amerithrax perpetrator came from within the US government’s own biodefense program, with access to strains, laboratories, people and knowledge, then all previous conceptions about the significance of the events would be substantially altered.” He observes that “Al-Qaeda has actively recruited educated college graduates and … specifically sought individuals with particular knowledge and training. … Such recruiting patterns do not automatically translate into either an interest or capability in bioweapons, but they would be a key advantage should the interests of such a group turn in that direction, as Al-Zawahiri’s [1999] memorandum quoted above suggests they may.”

    In 1999, a scientist from Porton Down had reported to sfam members on a conference in Taos, New Mexico in August that included a talk by Tim Read (TIGR, Rockville, USA) and concerned the whole genome sequencing of the Bacillus anthracis Ames strain. The Ames strain may have been a mystery to many after the Fall 2001 mailings, but not to motivated Society for Applied Microbiology (“SFAM”) members, one of whom was part of Ayman Zawahiri’s “Project Zabadi.” Another paper coming out of the Second International Workshop on the Molecular Biology of Bacillus cereus, Bacillus anthracis and Bacillus thuringensis, Taos, New Mexico, August 11-13, 1999 was Price, L.B., Klevytska, A.M., Smith, K.L., Hugh-Jones, M., et al. “Molecular diversity in B. anthracis.” Second International Workshop on the Molecular Biology of Bacillus cereus, Bacillus anthracis and Bacillus thuringensis, Taos, New Mexico, August 11-13, 1999. Hugh-Jones and Kimothy Smith had a BL-3 lab at LSU and had thousands of pathogens.

    As described by Dr. Peter Turnbull’s Conference report for SFAM on “the First European Dangerous Pathogens Conference” (held in Winchester), at the September 1999 conference, the lecture theater only averaged about 75 at peak times by his head count. There had been a problem of defining “dangerous pathogen” and a “disappointing representation from important institutions in the world of hazard levels 3 and 4 organisms.” Papers included a summary of plague in Madagascar and another on the outbreak management of hemorrhagic fevers. Dr Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University presented a paper on multilocus VNTR typing, for example, of Bacillus anthracis and Yersinia pestis. There were more than the usual no-show presenters and fill-in speakers. In his report, Dr. Turnbull looked forward to a second, fully international conference in 2000 focused on the ever increasing problems surrounding hazard levels 3 and 4 organisms and aimed at international agreement on the related issues. University of Maryland researcher Milton Leitenberg reports that the conferences described in the correspondence had been in July and September 1999.

    The Sunday at the start of the Dangerous Pathogens meeting in September 2000, which the SFAM director confirmed to me that Rauf Ahmad also attended, was gloomy. Planning had proved even more difficult than the International Conference on anthrax also held at the University of Plymouth, in September 1998. The overseas delegates included a sizable contingent from Russia. The organizers needed to address many thorny issues regarding who could attend. One of the scientists in attendance was Rauf Ahmad. The Washington Post reports: “The tall, thin and bespectacled scientist held a doctorate in microbiology but specialized in food production, according to U.S. officials familiar with the case.” Les Baillie the head of the biodefense technologies group at Porton Down ran the scientific program. Many of the delegates took an evening cruise round Plymouth harbor. The cold kept most from staying out on the deck. Later attendees visited the National Marine Aquarium — with a reception in view of a large tankful of sharks. Addresses include presentations on plagues of antiquity, showing how dangerous infectious diseases had a profound that they changed the course of history. Titles include “Magna pestilencia – Black Breath, Black Rats, Black Death”, “From Flanders to Glanders,” as well as talks on influenza, typhoid and cholera. The conference was co-sponsored by DERA, the UK Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.

    Les Baillie of Porton Down gave a presentation titled, “Bacillus anthracis: a bug with attitude!” He argued that anthrax was a likely pathogen to be used by terrorists. As described at the time by Phil Hanna of University of Michigan Medical School on the SFAM webpage, Baillie “presented a comprehensive overview of this model pathogen, describing its unique biology and specialized molecular mechanisms for pathogenesis and high virulence. He went on to describe modern approaches to exploit new bioinformatics for the development of potential medical counter measures to this deadly pathogen.” Bioinformatics was the field that Ali Al-Timimi, who had a security clearance for some government work and who had done work for the Navy, would enter by 2000 at George Mason University in Virginia. Despite the cold and the sharks, amidst all the camaraderie and bonhomie no one suspected that despite the best efforts, a predator was on board — on a coldly calculated mission to obtain a pathogenic anthrax strain. The conference organizer Peter Turnbull had received funding from the British defense ministry but not from public health authorities, who thought anthrax too obscure to warrant the funding. By 2001, sponsorship of the conference was assumed by USAMRIID. USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins had started planning the conference held in Annapolis, Maryland in June 2001 three years earlier, immediately upon his return from the September 1998 conference.

    According to the Pakistan press, a scientist named Rauf Ahmad was picked up in December 2001 by the CIA in Karachi. The most recent of the correspondence reportedly dates back to the summer and fall of 1999. Even if Rauf Ahmad cooperated with the CIA, he apparently could only confirm the depth of Zawahiri’s interest in weaponizing anthrax and provided no “smoking gun” concerning the identity of those responsible for the anthrax mailings in the Fall 2001. His only connection with SFAM was a member of the society — he was not an employee. The Pakistan ISI, according to the Washington Post article in October 2006, stopped cooperating in regard to Rauf Ahmad in 2003.

    In the past, I have uploaded scanned copies of some 1999 documents seized in Afghanistan by US forces describing the author’s visit to the special confidential room at the BL-3 facility where 1000s of pathogenic cultures were kept; his consultation with other scientists on some of technical problems associated with weaponizing anthrax; the bioreactor and laminar flows to be used in Al Qaeda’s anthrax lab; and the need for vaccination and containment. He explained that the lab director noted that he would have to take a short training course at the BL-3 lab for handling dangerous pathogens. Who was the lab director? Rauf Ahmad noted to Zawahiri that his employer’s offer of pay during a 12-month post-doc sabbatical was wholly inadequate and was looking to Ayman to make up the difference. After an unacceptably low pay for the first 8 months, there would be no pay for last 4 months and there would be a service break. He had noted that he only had a limited time to avail himself of the post-doc sabbatical. I also uploaded a handwritten copy of earlier correspondence from before the lab visit described in the typed memo. The Defense Intelligence Agency provided the documents to me, along with 100+ pages more, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”). 90 of the 100 pages are the photocopies of journal articles and disease handbook excerpts.

    The Post, in an exclusive groundbreaking investigative report linked by Lew above, recounts that the FBI’s New York office took the lead U.S. role — and its agents worked closely with the CIA and bureau officials in Pakistan in interrogating Rauf. Though not formally charged with any crimes, Rauf agreed to questioning. While the US media focused on the spectacle of bloodhounds alerting to Dr. Steve Hatfill and the draining of Maryland ponds, this former Al Qaeda anthrax operative provided useful leads. But problems began when the U.S. officials sought to pursue criminal charges, including possible indictment and prosecution in the United States. In earlier cases, such as the othopedic surgeon Dr. Amer Aziz who treated Bin Laden in the Fall of 2001, the Pakistani government angered the Pakistani public when it sought to prosecute professionals for alleged ties to al-Qaeda. In the case of Amer Aziz, hundreds of doctors, engineers and lawyers took to the streets to demand his release. In 2003, the Pakistanis shut off U.S. access to Rauf. By then, I had noticed the reporting of his arrest in a press article about the raid of a compound of doctors named Khawaja and published it on my website. According to Pakistani officials, there was not enough evidence showing that he actually succeeded in providing al-Qaeda with something useful. Since then, the Post reports, Rauf has been allowed to return to his normal life. Attempts by the Post to contact Rauf in Lahore were unsuccessful. Initially the government agency had said an interview would be possible but then backpedaled.

    “He was detained for questioning, and later the courts determined there was not sufficient evidence to continue detaining him,” Pakistan’s information minister told the Post. “If there was evidence that proved his role beyond a shadow of a doubt, we would have acted on it. But that kind of evidence was not available.” Yazid Sufaat got the job handling things at the lab instead of Rauf Ahmad. More importantly, Zawahiri, if keeping with his past experience, would have kept things strictly compartmentalized — leaving the Amerithrax Task Force much to do.

    Unfortunately, the Amerithrax Task Force was equally strictly compartmentalized — leaving many investigators focused on college sororities and finding it suspicious that some fellow uses a screen name in posting about sororities.

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