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

* Laurie Garrett in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: Reporting on Biosecurity from America to Zaire (January / February 2012) (subscription required) … Ms. Garrett Calls For Thorough Investigation Of Attacks Comparable to The 9/11 Commission Report

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 16, 2012

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10 Responses to “* Laurie Garrett in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: Reporting on Biosecurity from America to Zaire (January / February 2012) (subscription required) … Ms. Garrett Calls For Thorough Investigation Of Attacks Comparable to The 9/11 Commission Report”

  1. DXer said

    What should the US national biodefense strategy look like?, Nov 8, 2017

    Laura H. Kahn

    https://thebulletin.org/what-should-us-national-biodefense-strategy-look11268

    “Third, even the most secure laboratories are fallible, meaning that they pose risks stemming from accidents and lab-acquired infections. A US Army biodefense lab mistakenly shipped live anthrax to other labs for more than a decade.”

  2. DXer said

    Dr. Ayman planned to move the anthrax lab every 3 months and wipe the walls with insecticide.

    As for this report that Ames was detected, it brings us back to the question:

    GAO: What lab did Abdur Rauf, who was working for Dr. Ayman, visit in his mission to acquire virulent anthrax? If in the authorized biography of MI5 the agency allows it to be reported that money and equipment was found in his luggage upon leaving one of the Porton Down conferences, certainly it now can be disclosed what lab he visited. Was it Porton Down? Was the FBI’s failure to give the documents to NAS related to its desire not to embarrass Porton Down? Everyone can get over the awkwardness in the name of government accountability.

    The Pakistan government had agreed to allow the Washington Post correspondent to interview but then backpedaled.
    For the article that was written by Joby Warrick, see

    Suspect and A Setback In Al-Qaeda Anthrax Case
    By Joby Warrick
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, October 31, 2006
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/30/AR2006103001250.html

    -I believe I have corresponded him on two different occasions some years ago. I wrote the email listed on the resume I believe to be his (that no longer works). Each time, he replied, would draw me out as to the reason for my interest over a number of emails, and then suggested that a sabbatical in the US. He would ask if there was any money available and then would lose contact when I explained there was no money.

    Here are some related resources:

    what BL-3 lab did Abdur Rauf visit?
    Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 29, 2009
    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2009/06/29/what-bl-3-lab-did-abdur-rauf-visit/

    Tracing the path of Abdur Rauf … did al-Qaeda acquire anthrax capabilities? when? where?
    Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 2, 2009
    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2009/07/02/tracing-the-path-of-abdur-rauf-did-al-qaeda-acquire-anthrax-capabilities-when-where/

    Abdur Rauf’s “I have successfully achieved” letter to Ayman al-Zawahiri
    Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 4, 2009
    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/abdur-raufs-i-have-successfully-achieved-letter-to-ayman-al-zawahiri-what-justification-is-there-for-not-removing-the-redactions/

    an earlier hand-written note from Abdur Rauf to Ayman al-Zawahiri: “Unfortunately, I did not find the required culture of B. anthrax …”
    Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 4, 2009
    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/hand-written-note-from-abdur-rauf-to-ayman-al-zawahiri-unfortunately-i-did-not-find-the-required-culture-of-b-anthrax/

    Abdur Rauf’s notes … as he went about his mission of obtaining anthrax spores and weaponing technology for al-Qaeda prior to the 2001 anthrax attacks.
    Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 4, 2009
    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/abdur-raufs-notes/

    from DXer … infiltration of U.S. Biodefense? … Zawahiri’s Correspondence With Infiltrating Scientist Was Part of Parallel Compartmentalized Cell Operation
    Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 20, 2010
    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2010/02/20/from-dxer-infiltration-of-u-s-biodefense-zawahiris-correspondence-with-infiltrating-scientist-was-part-of-parallel-compartmentalized-cell-operation/

    from DXer … email from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Muhammed Atef … April 15, 1999
    Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 8, 2010
    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2010/03/08/from-dxer-email-from-ayman-al-zawahiri-to-muhammed-atef-april-15-1999/

    Peter Turnbull, working with Ames at Porton Down, came to advise Amerithrax and had organized the UK conferences infiltrated by Rauf Ahmad
    Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 22, 2011
    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/peter-turnbull-working-with-ames-at-porton-down-came-to-advise-amerithrax-and-had-organized-the-uk-conferences-infiltrated-by-rauf-ahmad/

    The FBI did not provide the list of attendees at the June 2001 Annapolis International Anthrax Conference pursuant to FOIA even though a Zawahiri infiltrator Rauf Ahmad attended the conferences for Zawahiri in 1999 and 2000.

    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/the-fbi-did-not-provide-the-list-of-attendees-at-the-june-2001-annapolis-international-anthrax-conference-pursuant-to-foia-even-though-a-zawahiri-infiltrator-rauf-ahmad-attended-the-conferences-for/

    • DXer said

      Zawahiri’s Plan To Obtain Virulent Anthrax

      Ayman Zawahiri had a scientist named Rauf attending conferences sponsored by Porton Down, UK’s biodefense facility, for the purpose of obtaining the virulent anthrax. The scientist’s handwritten notes reportiing on his efforts are available through the Freedom of Information Act. On November 1, 2001, not long after the anthrax mailings, an article ran in the Chicago Times called “Pakistan’s scientists under scrutiny.” With a dateline Islamabad, Pakistan, the story began: “The day after Pakistan handed over Yemeni microbiologist Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed to U.S. agents, authorities stepped up their search for other scientists and students who may have maintained links to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network, Pakistani intelligence sources said this week.”

      Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed was a Yemeni microbiology PhD student in his final year who had been flown out of the country on a private jet operated by the CIA in late October 2001. He had assisted Malaysian anthrax lab tech Yazid Sufaat in setting up a lab that was intended to manufacture anthrax.

      Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed was indicted along with Boston cab driver Hijazi and others in connection with the earlier Cole bombing.

      Al Qaeda anthrax lab technician Yazid Sufaat was arrested in December 2001 when he tried to sneak back into Malaysia.

      Then, in December 2002, Jang publication “The News” (in English), in reporting on a raid of a compound of doctors in Lahore, Pakistan let drop a remarkable sentence about the microbiologist who actually played a central role in seeking to obtain the Ames anthrax strain for Ayman Zawahiri. The article noted, as reported by the CIA’s Foreign Broadcasting Information Service, that “Well-placed sources pointed out the Manawan arrests were also part of the chain of events which started from the arrest of PCSIR’s Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research microbiologist of Dr. Abdur Rauf and interrogations of Dr. Amer Aziz.”

      In December 2003, a journal called “Science” pictured excerpts from handwritten letters by Dr. Rauf, without naming him, that had been obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. One of the handwritten letters was on the letterhead of the Society for Applied Microbiology (sfam). (Dr. A. Rauf was merely one of hundreds of members of the society, and was not an employee.) It turns out that the scientist had traveled from Pakistan once a year to the UK to attend conferences about anthrax and dangerous pathogens.

      The Sunday at the start of the Organisation of the Dangerous Pathogens meeting in September 2000 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. Many thorny issues regarding who could attend had needed to be addressed. Among the scientists in attendance was a Dr. A. Rauf. Les Ballie the head of the biodefense technologies group at Porton Down ran the scientific program. Many of the delegates took an evening cruise round Plymouth harbour – 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 included 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 influence, typhoid and cholera. The conference was co-sponsored by DERA, the UK Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.

      Les Ballie 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, Ballie “presented a comprehensive overview of this model pathogen, describing its unique biology and specialised 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.”

      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.

      As described by Dr. Peter Turnbull’s Conference report on “the First European Dangerous Pathogens Conference” (held in Winchester, 27-29 September 1999) , the September 1999 conference had been less successful. 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 haemorrhagic 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. Dr. Turnbull would later tell the Washington Post that he had given the Ames strain to a “very few” private researchers who he declined to name. (I assume Dr. Rauf was not one of those researchers, but Dr. Turnbull has not responded to my inquiry about Dr. Rauf to him.)

      The latest dates from the handwritten notes are reportedly July and September 1999. The only excerpts that have been published in the Science magazine article state:

      “(6) Unfortunately, I did not find the required culture of B. anthrax, i.e., pathogenic. The culture available in [REDACTED] is non-pathogenic. *”

      “(8) Therefore, keeping in view to above circumstances, a visit to [REDACTED] can be arranged for 10 days in the 1st week of [REDACTED]. (FN) This requires at least the air ticket expenses.”

      “For this visit, I should be informed as early as possible.

      Yours sincerely,
      [REDACTED]”

      “FN (9) The money with me is only for the purpose to buy strains or vaccines.”

      A pdf of these excerpts from the handwritten letter is available at 12 December 2003 Vol. 302 SCIENCE http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/302/5652/1898/DC1

      All 10 pages of the handwritten material are available through the Freedom of Information Act.

      In 1999, a different Porton Down scientist had reported to sfam members on a conference in Taos, New Mexico in August 1999 that included a talk 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 maiilings, but not to motivated sfam members or Ayman Zawahiri. If Al Qaeda is responsible for the anthrax mailings, he would know that he was using the weapon of his enemies as counseled by the koran – because that is where he got the strain.

      The year before, the 3rd International Conference on Anthrax was held at the University of Plymouth on September 7 – 10, 1998 and was organized along six themes: The natural ecology and global incidence of anthrax, the detection, identification and classification of B anthracis, structure and function of both spore and vegetative components, the molecular biology of B anthracis, Pathogenesis – the toxins, and the possibility of vaccines. The Conference again was jointly organised by the Society for Applied Microbiology and DERA, CBD Porton Down. At the 1998 conference, Martin Hugh-Jones of LSU, Les Ballie and Peter Turnbull, then of Porton Down, A.M. Friedlander of Ft. Detrick, each coauthored multiple papers available for purchase online.

      Other papers were submitted by equally familiar names, such as Koehler, Hanna, and Mock.

      The Conference proceedings are available on Video. Did Dr. Rauf ever obtain virulent Ames? In any event, there would certainly be a major question of who weaponized it and who mailed it. Although Khalid Mohammed was allegedly arrested in the home of an elderly bacteriologist, Abdul Qadoos Khan — and KSM’s laptop with undated anthrax spraydrying production instructions on it was allegedly found in the home — I’ve never heard it suggested that Dr. Khan had the relevant skills to weaponize the product used in the second batch of mailings in the US. The family stridently denies even that KSM was arrested in the home.

      But imagine, if you will, Ayman in his armchair watching some Porton Down scientist lecture on anthrax. Compare the capability Ayman was showing on gathering intelligence on the Ames strain and the anthrax work at Porton Down and elsewhere to the US understanding of Ayman’s program to weaponize anthrax pre-9/11. Compare his unfolding plan with DIA’s vetting of former Zawahiri associates worked alongside Bruce Ivins in the BL-3 or the Salafist-Jihadi sharing a suite with the leading DARPA-funded Ames anthrax researchers.

      Ali Al-TImimi had a classified clearance for work on the Navy. He got a letter of commendation from the White House.

      What did the aerosol tests involving ships in Spring 2001 involve?

      Sources

      Uli Schmetzer, “Pakistan’s scientists under scrutiny,” Chicago Tribune, November 1, 2001

      http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/showcase/chi
      -0111010253nov01,0,1848591.s tory?coll=chi-newsspecials-hed

      “When is a dangerous pathogen not a dangerous pathogen?” by Dr. Peter Turnbull [Report on September 1999 sfam conference]

      http://web.archive.org/web/20010406071443/http://www.sfam.org.uk/

      Report on Dangerous Pathogens Conference at University of Plymouth 4-7 September 2000.

      http://web.archive.org/web/20010406071443/http://www.sfam.org.uk/

      “3rd International Conference on Anthrax, University of Plymouth, 710 September 1998,” Journal of Applied Microbiology, August 1999, vol. 87, no. 2, pp. 187-321.

      http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bsc/jam/1999/00000087/00000002

      “Doctor Arrested for Alleged Links With Al-Qa’ida,” The News (Internet
      version.www) in English 22 December 2002 (CIA’s FBIS Transcribed Text),
      accessible through World News Connection (Dialog)

  3. DXer said

    Ms. Garrett is mistaken that the 8,000 figure comes from studies years earlier. It comes from a 2001 Battelle study. We uploaded the study some months ago. Dr. Ivins had a copy in his office files.

    Here is the report:

    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/october-2001-battelle-report-to-dia-on-lethal-inhalation-dose-provided-to-dxer-today-under-foia/

    And was the machine that Syed Athar Abbas had a lyophilizer as LG says or was it a food mixer as I believe either David Tell or Rocco P. (of Newsday) reported. (Rocco’s sources were local law enforcement and Mr. Tell was relying on Rocco in his very lucidly written article).

    (I don’t know though a member of the blog did try repeatedly to reach Syed and ask — but it turns out to have been at a time he was in jail).

    The name of the enterprise was cards.com but his business was computer accessories. Based in Karachi.

    I interviewed various tenants in the commercial building and she is pointing to an absolutely tantalizing lead the more you study it — even more tantalizing when you pull up his court docket and learn he had three passports but only turned in two. There was no ongoing business in the business as such. Just a vacant space and stuff there. As I recall, the mixer (I believe) was delivered to the address which was 1 mile from where a key senior hijacker lived (Nawaf) … who had been at the planning meeting with Sufaat.

    Given Mr. Abbas spent a substantial period in jail, authorities had plenty of opportunity to put an undercover with him in prison. At last report .. years ago… he would not say what the machine was for. There is no reason not to conduct an interview with him personally. I understand that his wife is very gracious. He was never in, but as I said, I believe it was because he was in jail and she just didn’t want to say. Swingset, suburban life. There’s just no reason not to politely ask for an interview. That’s what reporters are supposed to do.

    The key to the mystery was in the matter of his identity. Newsweek was hot on the trail (reporter Mark) but then they promptly were given the story about the anthrax smelling bloodhounds — and ran with that instead. It’s as easy to throw reporters off the trail as it is a bloodhound.

    The key to understanding the issue was that the NJ Abbas had roots in Texas and California. The third passport would have been mighty interesting indeed. In other words, after months of inquiry, there was no basis at all to determine that there were two men in computer peripherals based in Karachi living in the US named Syed Athar Abbas whose business both went defunct during the time that the NJ SA was in NJ. The Syed in Texas, near Richardson, appears to have been the same person.

    Of course, a reporter can confirm Laurie’s lead or not simply by picking up the phone, pulling up the PACER docket etc. Newsweek had pulled up his background report and noticed the discrepant social security numbers but then the barking bloodhounds barged in the door.

    • DXer said

      Here is Mr. Tell’s article.

      Who Is Syed Athar Abbas?
      And what was he doing with a $100,000 “fine particulate mixer” last summer?

      http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/001/470lfsdb.asp

      • DXer said

        The journalist who first published the fascinating news about the equipment was

        Rocco Parscandola
        http://www.nydailynews.com/topics/Rocco%20Parascandola

        If contacted, he might have an update. He might be able to identify the make and model and advise whether law enforcement ever learned how the equipment was to be used.

        • DXer said

          WHO IS SYED ATHAR ABBAS?
          The Scrapbook’s colleague David Tell raised this interesting question last week in an online piece for The Daily Standard, discussing developments in the anthrax investigation.

          As was reported by Newsday’s Rocco Parascandola on July 15, Abbas is a Pakistani national formerly of Fort Lee, N.J., who scammed more than $100,000 from a couple of banks last summer in a check-kiting scheme. According to Parascandola’s report, “less than a week after the World Trade Center was attacked, the FBI came looking for Abbas and his friends, only to learn from the landlord that they had disappeared a month earlier.” And what had they spent their money on? A sophisticated food-mixing machine, the whereabouts of which are still unknown.

          Abbas in June signed a plea agreement admitting guilt in the bank fraud. But according to Parascandola’s police sources, he hasn’t given up the names of his associates or told authorities where the mixing machine is. Which of course raises the question of what precisely they wanted to mix.

          As Tell noted, “The $100,000 particulate mixer Parascandola describes . . . is the exact same technology commonly employed by major food and pharmaceutical manufacturers to process fluid-form organic and inorganic compounds into powder: first to dry those compounds; next to grind the resulting mixture into tiny specks of dust, as small as a single micron in diameter; then to coat those dust specks with a chemical additive, if necessary, to maximize their motility or ‘floatiness’; and finally to aerate the stuff for end-use packaging. In other words, this is how you’d put Aunt Jemima pancake mix in its box. Or place concentrations of individual anthrax spores into letters addressed to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. . . .”
          Let’s be clear: There’s no evidence linking Abbas to the anthrax attacks. But one does wish that Abbas had been compelled to disclose the location of the mixing machine as part of his plea agreement.

          As things stand, he has promised restitution to the banks, will serve a few months in jail, and then probably will be deported. Meanwhile, the anthrax investigation remains focused on individuals fitting the FBI’s profile of an American loner with access to labs and a scientific background.

    • DXer said

      An August 18, 2002 Augusta Chronicle editorial asked:

      “Tell reports that when the FBI checked him out, it discovered that he had purchased a “fine food particulate mixer” (the sort that might be used for making biological weapons) for about $100,000 in cash. Was the FBI interested, or was it too busy chasing Hatfill?

      TO READ Hatfill’s statement is to suspect very strongly that the man is innocent. If I were wrongly accused, I think I’d write a statement like his.”

      In answering this question, one now has the benefit of the lead investigator and his colleagues in 2008 who said that Director Mueller and his senior advisers were solely (and the investigators thought inappropriately) focused on Hatfill.

      It was the lead prosecutor, whose family is very active on Palestinian matters, and whose daughter represented Ali Al-Timimi for free, who leaked the bloodhound story to Newsweek. He came over from the CIA on September 18, 2001 to take over the Amerithrax investigation.

      • DXer said

        The quickest way to find out what the particular food mixer was for, though, is simply to ask Syed. One always needs to give a person the chance to correct any misapprehension. It may turn out that it was for a brother-in-law’s pancake business.

        Or it may have been for an infant formula business such as run by the blind sheik’s paralegal and chief spokesperson… from the circle of friends that included a subtilis expert whose phone records connect him to Ramzi Yousef right up to the moment of the blind sheik’s arrest.

        The PhD I spoke with here briefly who was arrested as a material witness the day and minute when Ali Al-Timimi’s townhouse was searched was a food researcher. His mentor and close friend tells me that he was expert with mixing with silica in making dried foodstuffs. His mentor advised on a Army funded device MICROBIAL VAC that increased the concentration of anthrax ten times by repeated centrifugation and sequential filtration.

        Do documents show Syed Athar Abbas to have the same or related charity connections?

  4. DXer said

    Some brief excerpts:

    Laurie Garrett is the only writer to have won all three of the big Ps of journalism: the Peabody Award in broadcast journalism for her “Science Story” series on KPFA-FM in Northern California; the Polk Award for her reporting on the collapse of global public health and the rise of HIV, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and other diseases in the former Soviet countries; and the Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the Ebola virus epidemic in Zaire.

    ***

    In 2011, Garrett published her third book, I Heard the Sirens Scream: How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks, as an e-book.1 Based on more than seven years of research and writing, it takes a much more personal approach than her earlier books.
    ***

    The second part details how government institutions responded to the terrorist attacks. Garrett reveals the errors and bad calls made by public health officials, evidence that Al Qaeda may have been behind the anthrax mailings that killed five people and terrorized Congress, and the implications of labeling the anthrax found in the letters as “weapons-grade.”

    The US government blamed bioweapons scientist Bruce Ivins for the anthrax attacks, but never charged him before his suicide in 2008. Justice Department attorneys recently claimed, in court filings defending the government against a wrongful-death suit, that Ivins’s lab did not have the specialized equipment necessary to turn liquid anthrax into powder. And a February 2011 report from the National Academy of Sciences raised doubts about the genetic analysis that linked the anthrax mailings to a flask of anthrax stored in Ivins’s office.

    ***

    BAS: What did you learn about the anthrax attacks when you viewed them in conjunction with 9/11?

    ***

    Most people don’t know that Rudolph Giuliani received a tip from the White House just two days after 9/11 that there was a likely bioterrorist assault planned for New York City. He called a secret meeting and summoned the commissioners of the fire department, the health department, the police department, a few of his inner staff, and a top team of scientists led by Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg. At that meeting, the mayor asked the scientists to advise the police commissioner and fire commissioner what to look for, what kind of defenses should be purchased, and what should be stockpiled. The commissioners were told to watch for everything, to listen to every single doctor in the city, and that, no, there weren’t a lot of things you could stockpile. This was not the kind of response they wanted, and it was very disturbing. So the city officials that were responsible for watching for bioterrorism were completely exhausted by the time there actually was bioterrorism.

    BAS: In retrospect, which mistakes did you find the most surprising or outrageous?

    .

    ***

    BAS: Now that the government has invested more than $2 trillion on homeland security, has all of that spending and restructuring left the United States better prepared for bioterrorism?

    When anthrax happened, it was less than 90 days after an exercise called “Dark Winter” had been carried out. This role-playing exercise— organized by D. A. Henderson and his group, which was then based at Johns Hopkins but now is at the University of Pittsburgh—imagined that terrorists had infected themselves with smallpox and started an epidemic that quickly became a pandemic. The response to it by the role-playing federal officials—all of whom were either seated officials playing themselves or officials who formerly had such roles—reflected, almost immediately, tremendous competition and political anger regarding which countries and individuals were going to get access to dwindling supplies of smallpox vaccines. Dark Winter showed more than a million people dead in a relatively short period of time, and an out-of-control political and pharmaceutical situation. It came to the attention of Vice President Cheney, and he was very moved by it. Even before anthrax happened, the vice president’s office was already putting pressure on Tommy Thompson as secretary of health and human services to speed up vaccine production, who was then putting pressure further down the pipeline to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC].

    BAS: Anthrax is in the news again, with three scientists writing in the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense that the presence of tin in the 2001 anthrax mailings suggests that special processing and expertise were required. Will that lead to formation of a national commission to reopen the case?

    ***
    Garrett: ***. The more likely incentive to speed up the previously called-for investigations at the congressional level and at the Government Accountability Office are the revelations that have come out of the joint investigative reporting effort by ProPublica, the McClatchy newspaper chain, and “Frontline,” which show absolutely enormous flaws previously unrecognized or underappreciated in the FBI investigation of Ivins. The 9/11 Commission Report remains one of the great landmark reports of its kind ever done by a US government advisory agency in our nation’s history. There has never been any equivalent done for anthrax. The only thing we’ve had that comes close is the National Academy of Sciences analysis of the FBI investigation and its use of microbial forensics. That’s a very teeny subcomponent of what happened, and it is focused on a single agency.

    BAS: What do you see as the most convincing evidence that Al Qaeda, rather than Ivins, was behind the anthrax mailings?

    Garrett: Most of the evidence regarding Ivins has to be viewed as circumstantial. The sum total of that circumstantial evidence is weaker than the sum total of circumstantial evidence pointing at Al Qaeda. And that evidence includes the following: Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, and unbeknownst to most of the public, the investigators were able to identify the bodies of the hijackers and test them for anthrax, and at least one of them came up positive. That individual is the same one who went to an emergency room in Florida, when they were all down there for flight training, seeking help for a black sore on his hand. Retrospectively, the physician concluded that it could very well have been cutaneous anthrax. Two other individuals involved in the Florida training group sought pharmaceutical assistance for pain on their hands and skin rashes. And Mohamed Atta attempted to purchase a custom-made crop duster with all but the pilot’s seat removed for a double-size tank. Fortunately, he was not able to obtain a bank loan to purchase this custom-made plane. There was an individual who appears to have been connected with the group in New Jersey and had an online greeting-card company; through his office, he ordered a giant spore lyophilizer [freeze dryer]. I interviewed folks, who spoke to me off the record, who had been involved in the Special Forces team that tried to capture Osama bin Laden in December 2001. They captured a complex of caves in Tora Bora, one of which was described as a laboratory. Back in 2002, my source in that team told me this was a real lab and that—if I had seen it—I would have been astonished. It was scoured and swabbed for spores on four occasions: twice by an unnamed agency, but I believe it to be the Special Forces team and the CIA, in 2001 and 2002; and then several years later, on two occasions, by the FBI. The first two scourings of this cave came up positive not only for anthrax but for the Ames strain, which would be highly unlikely as a natural occurrence in Afghanistan. The second two scourings by the FBI came up negative.

    BAS: In your book, you say that there was no weapons-grade anthrax found in the letters. What implication does that have for public policy?

    Garrett: It makes a huge difference, because if you believed that this was weaponized anthrax, and you also believed that only an established military laboratory could make weaponized anthrax, then it lent strong support to: “We need to go to war with Iraq.” As somebody who was in the middle of this as it was all unfolding, I came to the feeling that this whole notion of what constituted weaponized anthrax was as bogus as the notion that a level of 10,000 spores was necessary to cause an infection. It was all based on hocus-pocus, old-fashioned science from the days of the biowarfare programs, when many of the scientists had been trained before the discovery of the DNA theory.

    The other thing that was apparent from the get-go was that CDC had been in the American Media building in Florida and had seen what those spores looked like. CDC civilian investigators, who took the lead when the first anthrax cases appeared in Florida and New York, had recovered one set of spores in New York, and they were seeing something that was sort of damp, chunky, and gray. But USAMRIID, the Pentagon-controlled lab that analyzed the materials subsequently seized in Washington, was claiming that everything they saw was white, fluffy, flew all over the place, and seemed to be deliberately made to cause maximum-possible contamination. Never, during the course of the fall of 2001, did the CDC get to actually handle the samples USAMRIID had, because the FBI refused to allow them to see it. Everything was shrouded in so much secrecy and secondhand information that turned out to be wrong that, frankly, every reporter on the beat reached a point where we just had no idea who to trust.

    ***

    But I think we have far too many BSL-4 labs now in the world, and probably too many BSL-3 labs.2 It’s really hard to keep track of who has what pathogens and what they’re working on, and who’s trying to do the genetic analysis that could result in manipulation of a microbe in dangerous ways, intended or unintended. We’ve had far too many leaks from laboratories, infections within laboratories, even individuals who have died as a result. We’ve had far too many incidents of incorrect pathogens mailed for lab research. If you look at it the way you nuclear side, you would say, in a BSL-4 lab, it’s amazing that the response to an incident of that scale was to create more BSL-4 labs with more guys that could go nuts.

    .

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