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

* DXer reflects on Amerithrax … the FBI’s compartmentalized investigation led to investigative failure

Posted by DXer on October 15, 2009

CASE CLOSEDCASE CLOSED is a novel which answers the question “Why did the FBI fail to solve the 2001 anthrax case?” … click here to … buy CASE CLOSED by Lew Weinstein

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“CASE CLOSED reads fast and well. It could have happened just the way the author said. Full of intrigue mixed in with almost current events. The real people are just behind the fictional ones.”

“Author Lew Weinstein does a terrific job telling this fictionalized account of an inter agency post-mortem investigation of the (real) failed FBI investigation.”


DXer reflects on Amerithrax

… the FBI’s compartmentalized investigation

led to investigative failure


FBI announces - over 14 months ago - that Dr. ivins is the sole perpetrator and the case will soon be closed

FBI announces - over 14 months ago - that Dr. Ivins is the sole perpetrator and the Amerithrax case will soon be closed

  • Agent Lambert formally objected to Director Mueller’s decision to compartmentalize the three squads — which prevented even the two investigative squads from knowing what the other was doing.
  • As a result, the squad who knew that Bruce Ivins edited Wikipedia and had a crush on a young co-worker (and thus hides things from his wife) perhaps had no reason to know about, for example, the interception of samples from Rauf Ahmad’s luggage after attending a conference with all the USAMRIID folks.
  • Conversely, a supervisory female agent from THE THIRD SQUAD formally objected to the requirement that all leads and POIs be added to a central database. I’ll look for the memo and give it to Lew for posting.

There is a constant tension between the risk of leaks and the importance of sharing information necessary to permits others to do their job. Reasonable people can disagree. Certainly, independence of the science is important to its validation. Sequestration of consulting experts is to be expected and done as a matter of course.

Despite these reasonable differences in opinion and approach to whether the investigative squads are compartmentalized, an adjustment needs to be made when the end-product — the analysis — comes up with what is provably the wrong answer.

This is especially true when the process of arriving at the answer was dominated by people in key positions who had extraordinary conflicts of interest, including:

  • lead prosecutor Daniel Seikaly, whose daughter represented “anthrax weapons suspect” Al-Timimi pro bono;
  • lead scientist Dr. Bannan who was the collections scientist at the Bacteriology Division at ATCC which co-sponsored Al-Timimi’s program;
  • and lead genetics scientist Kimothy Smith, who provided the lab space to the former Zawahiri associate supplied virulent Ames by Bruce Ivins.

7 Responses to “* DXer reflects on Amerithrax … the FBI’s compartmentalized investigation led to investigative failure”

  1. DXer said

    FURTHER ORDERED that, within thirty days of the date of this Order, DOJ shall produce the thirty-eight requested IMCS pages to the Court for in camera review. If necessary, DOJ should produce both classified and unclassified versions of the excerpts.
    Dated: January 17, 2019 RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge

  2. DXer said

    U.S. response to terrorism is weakened by lapses in communication
    Garland, Texas, shooting scene

    By Richard A. Serrano contact the reporter


    “The commission concluded that a key failure in stopping the 9/11 hijackers was rooted in the resistance by intelligence and law enforcement agencies to trade crucial information. Weeks after the terrorist attacks, a communications lapse between federal and local agencies was blamed by some lawmakers for slowing the response to the 2001 anthrax attacks.

    “The biggest impediment,” the commission warned, “is the human or systemic resistance to sharing information.” Intelligence “should be processed, turned into reports and distributed according to the same quality standards, whether it is collected in Pakistan or in Texas.”

    In response to 9/11, officials created Joint Terrorism Task Forces around the country, where federal, county and city police work together to gather, analyze and act on intelligence.”

    Anthrax, Al Qaeda and Ayman Zawahiri: The Infiltration of US Biodefense

  3. DXer said

    Laurie Garrett:

    “A year after he likened the Hatfill investigation to those of Jewell and Lee, Judge Walton ordered the FBI’s lead Amerithrax investigator, Richard Lambert, to defend his agency’s actions on the stand. Lambert admitted that his team had not yet found the anthrax cullprit.”

  4. DXer said

    The NAS Report notes:

    S.10 A review should be conducted of the classified materials that are relevant to the FBI’s
    investigation of the 2001 Bacillus anthracis mailings, including all of the data and material
    pertaining to the overseas environmental sample collections. (Recommendation 3.1)
    The committee did not receive nor review classified material. In November 2010
    discussions with FBI and DOJ leadership regarding this report, we were made aware of
    additional information that would require review of classified material. Due to the lateness of
    this revelation, the importance placed on issuing a timely report, and the agreement between the
    NRC and the FBI that all materials we considered be publicly available, the committee did not
    undertake this additional review of classified material.


    100+ graphics –

  5. DXer said

    The lead investigator at the time, Agent Lambert, explained at deposition in the civil suit brought by Steve Hatfill that after recurring leaks, the Amerithrax investigation was compartmentalized into three squads over his strong objection to FBI Director Mueller. He was afraid that as the result of the compartmentalization, investigators would not be able to connect the dots. Agent Lambert was right and the result reached years later demonstrates his point well. FBI Director Mueller has said that the buck stops with him and he takes full responsibility for matters at the Department of Justice. Amerithrax will be Director Mueller’s legacy if he does not take steps to set things right. The Gary Cooper-esque Mueller, if living up to the “High Noon” movie, will meet the train at noon.

    In Northern Virginia, GMU microbiologist Ali Al-Timimi had been questioned by the FBI agent and Secret Service agent in connection with WTC 1993. Al-Timimi was a graduate student and employee in bioinformatics at George Mason University who shared a department fax with famed Russian bioweaponeer Ken Alibek and former USAMRIID deputy commander and anthrax researcher Charles Bailey. On February 26, 2003, authorities searched Ali Al-Timimi’s townhouse. The Washington Post later summarized: “The agents reached an alarming conclusion: ‘Timimi is an Islamist supporter of Bin Laden’ who was leading a group ‘training for jihad,’ the agent wrote in the affidavit. The FBI even came to speculate that Timimi, a doctoral candidate pursuing cancer gene research, might have been involved in the anthrax attacks.”

    That same morning, they arrested Sami al-Hussayen, who funnelled money from Saudi Arabia to the Islamic Assembly of North America and maintained websites for radical Saudi Sheiks who inspired Bin Laden. Sami al-Hussayen was in regular contact with Sheik al-Hawali. At the same time they searched Ali Al-Timimi’s townhouse, in Virginia and arrested Sami al-Hussayen in Moscow, Idaho, the FBI searched the home of two PhD level food production experts. One was in Moscow, Idaho and one was in Syracuse, New York.

    100 agents came to Syracuse, NY that day as part of “Operation Imminent Horizon” and simultaneously interviewed 150 people. The animal geneticist and food researcher in Syracuse, Ismail Diab, mixed with silica in making animal feedstuffs. Dr. Diab was not questioned. He had been in Syracuse in Fall 2001 but then returned to Pullman, Washington until the FBI began investigating there in August 2002. At the same time, the FBI interviewed and searched the apartment of Sami’s friend Nabil Al-Baloushi, a doctoral student in food engineering at the University of Idaho. His PhD thesis in 2003 on drying had 350 pages of drying coefficients.

    Authorities trumpeted checks years earlier exchanged between the Syracuse, NY charity with Global Relief Foundation and Benevolence International Foundation as if important evidence. Help The Needy was a dba and spin-off affiliated with the Ann Arbor-based Islamic Assembly of North America. Sami was President of the Muslim Student Association and Nabil Albaloushi was Vice-President. Nabil’s 350-page thesis was filled with charts relating to drying coefficients that may have made the FBI think that they had found someone who was cutting edge in drying technique. The fact that Battelle ran the nearby Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (”PNNL”), which granted access to facilities to Washington State University students and shared library facilities with WSU, may have made the FBI peevish about access to cutting-edge drying or aerosol technology.

    The Pakistan government, at a press conference, announced that Khalid Mohammed, Al Qaeda’s #3, was captured on March 1, 2003. According to the Pakistan government officals, Mohammed allegedly was hiding in the home of the Pakistani bacteriologist Dr. Abdul Qadoos Khan. The family of the bacteriologist claimed that KSM was not there at the home upon the early March raid but had been captured at a different location. That claim is also made by an informed Pakistani journalist, in the 2007 book Pakistan Frontline, and sourced to an unnamed Pakistan police officer involved in the capture. The author reports that KSM was actually picked up two weeks earlier but authorities wanted time to catch accomplices planning attacks.

    Handwritten notes and files on a laptop seized upon the capture of KSM, Al Qaeda’s #3, included a feasible anthrax production plan using a spray dryer and addressed the recruitment of necessary expertise. Although the details of the documents on Mohammed’s computer may (or may not) point to possible difficulties in aerial dispersal, they are consistent with the product used in the anthrax mailings. Al Qaeda had both the means and opportunity. Mohammed told his interrogators that Moussaoui was not going to be part of 9/11 but was to be part of a “second wave.” KSM explained that Moussaoui’s inquiries about crop dusters may have been related to the anthrax work being done by US-trained biochemist and Al Qaeda operative, Malaysian Yazid Sufaat. Zacarias Moussaoui once told the judge at his trial in a filing that he wants “anthrax for Jew sympathizer only.” Al-Timimi and Bin Laden’s sheik al-Hawali spoke by telephone about how they might help in connection with Moussaoui’s defense.

    In early March 2003, a man named Saud Memon, who was in the textiles business, was captured in South Africa. He had fled there after Daniel Pearl was killed on his property. Memon reportedly gave information on Al Qaeda’s anthrax work that he allegedly was helping to finance. After four years in detention at an undisclosed location, he was left in front of his home in Karachi on April 28, 2007 in very poor health. He died a couple weeks later. The cause of death was reported to be meningitis and tuberculosis. Memon’s lawyer said he had been in the custody of Pakistani intelligence officials. Memon’s name is not on the final official lists of Guantanamo captives issued on May 15, 2006. The Wall Street Journal also quoted an unnamed Pakistani official who said that Memon for a time was held in the American Bagram Theater detention facility.

    Bacteriologist Abdul Qadoos Khan was charged along with his son, Ahmed, for harboring the fugitives. As of March 28, 2003, he was in a hospital for a cardiac problem and had been granted “pre-arrest bail.”

    A man named Muklis Yunos, who reportedly received training on use of anthrax as a biological weapon in Afghanistan according to Philippine intelligence reports, was arrested on May 25, 2003, and cooperated with authorities over a bucket of spicy Kentucky Fried Chicken. Yunos had been Hambali’s right-hand man and was in charge of special operations of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (”MILF”).

    In early June 2003, a Central Intelligence Agency (”CIA”) report publicly concluded that the reason for Mohammed Atta’s and Zacarias Moussaoui’s inquiries into cropdusters was for the contemplated use in dispersing biological agents such as anthrax. It had long been known Osama Bin Laden was interested in using cropdusters to disperse biological agents (since the testimony of millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam). An early September 2003 Newsweek article included a rumor by a Taliban source that at a meeting in April 2003 Bin Laden was planning an “unbelievable” biological attack, the plans for which had suffered a setback upon the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He had been captured the previous month in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Tenet in his May 2007 At The Center Of The Storm wrote: “And in early 2003, al-Qaida canceled a planned cyanide attack on the New York City subway, Al-Zawahiri recalled the operatives in New York because ‘we have something better in mind.’” Tenet noted that the CIA still does not know what al-Zawahiri meant but adds that the cyanide attack ‘was not sufficiently inspiring’ for al-Qaida.”

    The attorney for White House staffer Scooter Libby revealed that Libby in July 2003 was preoccupied with many national security issues, including the possibility al-Qaida had brought anthrax into the United States. President Bush had first nicknamed him “Germ Boy” after his office in the Spring 2001 took charge of the issue of the possibility of an WMD attack using biological weapons.

    Anthrax lab coordinator Hambali was arrested was in touch with top Al Qaeda operational figures and was strongly linked to Al Qaeda chemical and biological efforts and had provided some funding for an Al Qaeda [biological weapons] lab,” one anonymous counterintelligence official was quoted in the press as saying. After dinner with a Professor at Lahore University, some men on the street approached him and asked him about his friend, before forcing him into a car. The men also arrested the Professor and another friend who had joined them for dinner. The men took them to the local station of the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence (”ISI”).

    In a statement issued June 16, 2004, the 9/11 Commission Staff concluded that “Al Qaeda had an ambitious biological weapons program and was making advances in its ability to produce anthrax prior to September 11. According to the 2004 statement by the Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet to the 911 Commission, al Qaeda’s ability to conduct an anthrax attack is one of the most immediate threats the United States is likely to face.” On August 9, 2004, it was announced that in the Spring of 2001, a man named El-Shukrijumah, also known as Jafar the Pilot, who was part of a “second wave,” had been casing New York City helicopters. Photographs from a seized computer disc included the controls and the locks on the door between the passengers and pilot. In a bulletin, the FBI noted that the surveillance might relate to a plot to disperse a chemical or biological weapon.

    The first inhalational anthrax victim in New York City, Kathy Nguyen, had died at Lenox Hill was deputy chief of operations for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. He led the CIA’s counterterrorism campaign in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2002.

    The hyped intentional leaks about Steve Hatfill distracted the world’s press attention. A federal district court judge hearing a civil rights claim against the Department of Justice stated there was not a “scintilla of evidence” against Hatfill. The CIA, however, continued to work quietly building a case that the anthrax mailings were an international plot. Some argued that a US-based Al Qaeda operative is behind the earlier Fall 2001 anthrax mailings in the US, and that the mailings served as a threat and warning — intended to deter invasion of Afghanistan. Princeton islamist scholar Bernard Lewis has explained that while islamists may disagree about whether killing innocents is sanctioned by the laws of jihad, extremists like Zawahiri agree that notice must be given before biochemical weapons are used. “The Prophet’s guidance,” says Michael Scheuer, an al-Qaeda analyst retired from the CIA who once headed its Bin Laden unit, “was always, Before you attack someone, warn them very clearly.”

    The anthrax mailings followed the pattern of letters they sent in January 1997 to newspaper branches in Washington, D.C. and New York City, as well as symbolic targets. The letter bombs were sent in connection with the detention of the blind sheik Abdel Rahman and those responsible for the earlier World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

  6. DXer said

    Let me describe a case study illustrating how difficult it is to strike the balance in sharing intel. It also illustrates how good (or bad) the United States government is at ferreting out moles or sympathizers who out of personal bias assisted terror suspects under investigation by the FBI.

    Let’s consider the example of the Fairfax, VA police sergeant with jurisdiction over GMU who tipped off a terror suspect.

    Weiss Rasool, age 30, a Sergeant with the Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Department, was sentenced to two years of supervised probation after pleading guilty to a criminal information charging him with unauthorized computer access. In June 2005, he accessed the federal database at the request of a friend from his local mosque. He checked his own name and the names of others to determine if those names were registered within the Violent Crime and Terrorist Offender File. The target was arrested and deported in November 2005.

    The Washington Post reports: “Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeanine Linehan said that the target and his family were already dressed and destroying evidence at 6 a.m. when agents arrived to make the arrest, indicating that they had been tipped off. The target’s name and the charges against him have not been disclosed.” “His acquaintance had asked him to run some license plates to see if the cars were part of FBI surveillance. Sergeant Rasool told his acquaintance on the phone he could only tell him if the three license plates traced back to an individual or not. If they didn’t, that was a tip-off they related to government surveillance. Mohammad Weiss Rasool is from Afghanistan, having immigrated in 1983. The man and the target were not good friends. The transcript of the conversation reads: “This is Weiss. You spoke to me after the Juma prayer today; I’m the police officer. Umm, as I told you, I can only tell you if it comes back to a person or not a person and all three vehicles did not come back to an individual person. So, I just wanted to give you that much. Uhh, okay. Hope things work out for you. Enshullah!”

    Rasool wept upon sentencing, saying: “If I could turn back time, I would maybe do things different,” he said. “It was an error in judgment. I never intended for things to turn out this way. I don’t know what to say to you or anyone. . . . I admit I made errors of judgment. But I never intended to put anybody’s life at risk.” When confronted in October 2007, Rasool denied knowing the man. He confessed only when they played a recording of him agreeing to check the databases. Rasool’s supervisor says his unauthorized database was not as bad as the unauthorized access by other police officers.

    Dr. Leitner, who taught at GMU and is an expert in threat assessment, wrote in a letter to the Fairfax County Police Department:

    “Now we see that Sergeant Rasool was the subject of a several-year long investigation – in fact, he was under investigation at the time he lodged his complaints against us — and was recently convicted of a very serious security breach involving misusing FBI databases to assist another person under FBI investigation for Federal terrorism charges.”

    He supervised a PhD thesis that detailed the vulnerability of GMU’s Discovery Hall to infiltration.

    Rasool had sought to stop the training work being done by Dr. Leitner, who taught biosecurity work at George Mason University’s Center for Biodefense.

    People, it’s time to stop playing Ayman Zawahiri’s fool and show him to be the geek who can’t handle an operation competently that he is.

    It’s time to not have the scientists push the intelligence analysts out of the room when it comes to setting biosecurity policy. Michael Ragsdale may not know what an exosporium looks like any more than Paul Kotula does — but he at least has the job of knowing when a person has high security clearance is a friend of one of the three members of Al Qaeda’s WMD Committee.

    Dr. Al-Sharif, Zawahiri’s former mentor, is right. Putting Zawahiri in charge was a grievous mistake that has led to futile deaths and needless suffering — by both the jihadis and innocents. He is just bent by his own personal issues of rage relating to his betrayal of Qamari. No man’s personal issues should cause such suffering when Obama offers the world the prospect of peace and justice.

    It’s time for the intelligence analysts to do their f—— job without fear or favor.

  7. DXer said

    On conflicts of interest, I forgot to mention FBI’s lead anthrax expert (from its hazardous materials unit) John E. who made the anthrax closest to the attack anthrax using Ames at the request of DARPA. (He tells me that testing showed that gamma irradiation had been successful and rendered it inactive).

    But turning back to information sharing, on December 7, 2001, Supervisory Special Agent Jennifer Gant of the Washington Field Office wrote a memo to the Washington Field Office and Amerithrax colleagues objecting to information sharing. The memo objected to a memo written by Agent Roth about entering Amerithrax leads into a central database and classifying the priority of leads. Now fast-forward 8 years and she is at George Mason University (home of the DARPA Center for Biodefense and alum “anthrax weapons suspect” Ali Al-Timimi) making a presentation with intelligence analyst Michael Ragsdale on the importance of information sharing.

    Now it is not my intent to second-guess Agent Gant’s December 7, 2001 memo. Not in the slightest. In fact, I definitely would have — and as a private citizen did — urge the same thing. Playing things close to the vest to get the drop through electronic surveillance was a great strategy in Amerithrax 8 years ago. But, hey … guess what. Although the details are still murky as to how and why, the pooch was screwed. Not once, but many times. Publicly. And she liked it.

    Now is the time to bring the ball across the finish line and slam the ball down in a victory bounce. No one is going to second-guess success. Now that US Attorney Jeff Taylor is gone, someone has to prevail upon Agent Montooth and Mr. Persichini that it is never too late to be right or to insist on all the information you need to do your job. Historically, many US DOJ officials have been concerned that the FBI is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I predict that Lew will be the FBI’s biggest cheerleader — like I’ve always been — once the FBI announces a solution of Amerithrax that squares with the intelligence analysis and evidence.

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