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

* “911 imam” Anwar Awlaki spoke alongside “anthrax weapons suspect” Ali Al-Timimi in England in August 2001

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 2, 2012

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15 Responses to “* “911 imam” Anwar Awlaki spoke alongside “anthrax weapons suspect” Ali Al-Timimi in England in August 2001”

  1. DXer said

    Daughter of Anwar Al-Awlaki reported killed in Yemen raid
    By Ryan Browne
    Updated 5:41 PM ET, Wed February 1, 2017
    http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/31/politics/yemen-raid-daughter-al-qaeda-leader/index.html

    Jihadis are obsessed with American al Qaeda leader’s old sermon
    By News.com.au
    January 31, 2017
    http://nypost.com/2017/01/31/american-born-al-qaeda-leader-predicted-west-would-turn-on-muslims/

    The future of fake news is real-time video manipulation
    Boing Boing-Jan 31, 2017
    http://boingboing.net/2017/01/31/the-future-of-fake-news-is-rea.html

    Anthrax, Al Qaeda and Ayman Zawahiri: The Infiltration of US Biodefense
    http://nypost.com/2017/01/31/american-born-al-qaeda-leader-predicted-west-would-turn-on-muslims/

  2. DXer said

    Bomb suspect praised Osama bin Laden, Anwar al Awlaki in notebook

    BY THOMAS JOSCELYN | September 21, 2016
    http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/09/bomb-suspect-praised-osama-bin-laden-anwar-al-awlaki-in-notebook.php

    “Regardless, the Complaint makes it clear that Rahami was drawn to the jihadist ideology. A social media account with the user name Yaafghankid78, which is connected to Rahami, favorited jihadi anthems”.

  3. DXer said

    Just the procedural history in the US v. Al-Timimi is substantial reading. But Scott Shane has a magnus opus out about Aulaqi called OPERATION TROY.

    Again for the umpteenth time: Do you think FBI Special Agent Wade Ammerman and FBI Special John Wyman developed the same hypothesis back in early 2003? Go find the Wash Po’s “Hardball Tactics.” Just because they then were told to keep quiet, are we going to get dumb about what they suspected? Only once you know what they suspected, you can get at this question of Professor Turley’s focus — whether they suspected it before early 2003. Then only by understanding of the context can you understand why DOJ and FBI has been motivated to keep it on the down-low and send Dr. Al-TImimi to jail for activities that need to be balanced against his First Amendment rights. Those First Amendment rights are ably-defended by Professor Turley, the famed First Amendment scholar and MSNBC commentator.

    DXer’s Current Hypothesis
    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2015/11/02/dxers-current-amerithrax-hypothesis/

    • DXer said

      Reporters like Catherine Herridge and NYT’s Scott Shane do not have an easy job summarizing these detailed legal filings. I don’t envy them. It is far easier to cut and paste passages as I read them — with my understanding evolving in real time as I read them.

      AUSA Kromberg, in his November 5, 2015 Opposition to the Motion to Compel explains:

      “In the course of preparing this pleading, undersigned counsel came across a discovery letter to Timimi’s second counsel (Mr. Edward McMahon) that enclosed what had apparently been forgotten by all parties for over a decade: the FBI FD-302 report of the interview of a witness who was present for the entire meeting between Timimi and Aulaqi, and who described what happened in it.

      Indeed, on November 3, 2004, the government provided to the defense in pre-trial discovery the report of the interview of a witness who was present for the entire meeting. FD-302, Report of Interview 6/24/2004, included with Discovery Letter #2 from AUSA Gordon D. Kromberg to Edward B. MacMahon, November 3, 2004 (hereinafter “Discovery Letter #2”, and a redacted version of which is attached as an exhibit to this pleading).

      8 At that same hearing, undersigned counsel told this Court that “we” did not learn of the meeting between Aulaqi and Timimi until after Nabil Gharbieh became a cooperator after his house was searched in February 2003. Transcript of Hearing, October 4, 2013, at p. 8. That statement reflected a failure of recollection in 2013, because – – with hindsight – – it is now obvious that the government learned of the meeting earlier than that. The fact remains, however, that as undersigned counsel accurately stated in 2013, “we didn’t know about it at the time it happened.” “

      • DXer said

        The government brief continues:

        “The witness who told the FBI on June 24, 2004, about the meeting between Timimi and Aulaqi did so in the presence of Martin MacMahon and two other attorneys for Timimi. In fact, the witness was Timimi himself.

        In light of the fact that Timimi provided the government in June 2004 with Timimi’s own description of his 2002 conversation with Aulaqi, the government’s knowledge of the existence of the Timimi/Aulaqi meeting was hardly a fact that needed to be disclosed to Timimi in pre-trial discovery. United States v. Valenzuela-Bernal, 458 U.S. 858, 871 (1982) (“No one knew better than he what the deported witnesses actually said to him.”).

        In retrospect, we wish that in 2013 we had remembered Timimi’s statements from 2004 about his meeting with Aulaqi in October 2002, so that we could have included a reference to them in our opposition to his 2013 discovery motion for information about that meeting. For that matter, we wish that we had remembered those statements in late 2004, so that we could have included a reference to them in our opposition to his initial motion for discovery about that meeting then.

        That we failed to remember them is regrettable. It is possible, however, that Timimi’s statements regarding his meeting with Aulaqi were easily forgotten because they were so obviously immaterial to any issue connected to Timimi’s guilt or innocence. Indeed, while SA Wyman testified at length at trial about the statements that Timimi made in the course of his interviews with the FBI, he made no reference to what Timimi said about his meeting with Aulaqi; after all, on the basis of what Timimi said happened at that meeting, it was irrelevant.”

      • DXer said

        The November 5, 2015 brief continues:

        “Further, on August 21, 2003, Timimi told the FBI that he had “done more than any other English speaking Muslim lecturer to speak against terrorism.” FD-302, reflecting interview on 8/21/03, at p.1. He said that it was a result of his speech at Purdue in 1993 that the FBI pitched him to become an informant in 1994; he said that he refused because he associated with non- violent circles, and would not be in a position to provide useful information. Id. During that same interview, Timimi explained how he spent three days in Singapore in 1999 trying to talk an individual out of wanting to participate in jihad, id., and how he spent three weeks convincing another individual out of the same desire after a conference in Leicester, England. Id. at 2.”

    • DXer said

      The government brief continues:

      “A. SA Ammerman’s Testimony Was Not Disputed at Trial

      Timimi harps on the harm he allegedly suffered as a result of his inability to cross-examine SA Ammerman about Aulaqi and the start of the investigation of Timimi. In fact, however, nothing said at trial by SA Ammerman was disputed. Indeed, his testimony was virtually all of a custodial nature. As a result, impeaching his credibility on the basis of his interaction with Aulaqi (or the date of the inception of the investigation) would not have affected the jury’s findings.

      SA Ammerman’s trial testimony can be divided into five topics. They include (a) the authentication of items seized from Timimi’s residence; (b) the authentication of items seized from the residence of Masaud Khan; (c) the circumstances of the FBI’s initial contacts with Yong Kwon; (d) the arrangements that the FBI undertook for Kwon to contact Royer and Timimi in early 2003; and (e) summary charts of telephone calls made between Kwon and others.

      Nothing that SA Ammerman said at trial was disputed. See Transcript of Trial, 4/11/05, at pp. 1336 – 1394 (direct exam); 1394 – 1403 (cross exam); and 4/12/05 at pp. 1410 – 1436 (cross exam); 1436-1446 (redirect). Indeed, the Government did not even mention his name during closing arguments.10 In light of the uncontested nature of the facts to which he testified, the idea that impeaching his credibility would have made a difference to the trial is fanciful.

      B. All Parties Knew Pre-Trial that the Investigation Pre-Dated 2003 Notwithstanding the fact that SA Ammerman’s testimony was not contested at trial, it also

      was accurate. The portion of his testimony that is the focus of Timimi’s arguments now is set forth below:

      Q. And as part of your duties with the FBI, were you involved in the investigation of Ali Al-Timimi and others here in Northern Virginia?

      A. Yes, sir.

      Q. When did that investigation start?

      A. February of 2003.

      Q. And how did that investigation begin?

      A. Initially with a round of search warrants that were conducted
      at numerous residences, one of which belonged to a Mr. Timimi.

      Transcript of Trial, April 11, 2005, at p. 1337.

      The transcript set forth above reflects at least two significant points. First, SA Ammerman did not testify that his investigation of Timimi began in February 2003; he testified that the investigation of Timimi “and others here in Northern Virginia” started at that time. To the extent that the investigation of “others here in Northern Virginia” (where such “others” were eventually connected to the investigation of Timimi but not originally connected to it) began in February 2003, there is no inconsistency between SA Ammerman’s testimony and the fact that Timimi was investigated by the FBI earlier than 2003.

      Second, Timimi indisputably knew before trial that the investigation of him (and the others in Northern Virginia) started before 2003. After all, Timimi received in pre-trial discovery SA Ammerman=s affidavit in support of the application that was used to support the search of Timimi’s residence in February 2003 – – and that affidavit detailed information that was provided to the FBI about Timimi by confidential informants in 2002. Docket #300, Exhibit J.

      As this Court properly found in April 2014:

      A criminal investigation of defendant began in early 2003 after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) received an anonymous tip from someone at Dar al-Arqam. This was not the first time defendant had come to the attention of federal authorities. His name appears in internal FBI memoranda as far back as 2000. The FBI had also contacted him directly in 2001 to arrange multiple interviews a week after the September 11 attacks. Defendant even complained a month later that the FBI had started harassing his brother because of their relationship.

      Docket 350, at p. 2.

      ***

      Indeed, as the government established at trial through Government Exhibit 10H1a, Timimi commented in an internet chat session in October 2001 that his brother had been harassed by the FBI because of his relationship to Timimi.

      ***

      In light of the arguments that Timimi made pre- trial and at his own sentencing, it is ludicrous for him to argue 10 years later that he did not know that he was under investigation before 2003.11

      ***

      In short, all parties knew before Timimi=s trial that an investigation of Timimi pre-dated February 2003. But with the passage of time, the parties may have forgotten why SA Ammerman phrased his testimony the way he did. As best can be reconstructed with the passage of a decade, he phrased his testimony the way he did to minimize the risk of injecting unfairly prejudicial evidence into his testimony. After all, by that time, Timimi had repeatedly argued that he would be unfairly prejudiced by references to the 9/11 investigation. See Appellant’s Motion for Remand, or, in the Alternative, An Order Allowing the Inclusion of the FBI Document, filed June 29, 2015, at p. 7 (Docket #51 in the Fourth Circuit) (“in pre-trial hearings, defense objected to the continued effort to bring the Al-Qaeda allegation into trial”). “

  4. DXer said

    http://terrordocumentary.org/

  5. DXer said

    “Remember, they tried to recruit Anwar al-Awlaki.” — former member of Alec Station

    The Former FBI Agent Who Believes He Could Have Prevented 9/11
    September 11, 2015
    by John Surico
    http://www.vice.com/read/the-man-who-thinks-he-could-have-prevented-911

    “Remember, they tried to recruit Anwar al-Awlaki. So it stands to reason that there is a recruitment op in place to try to get into that cell. And logically, how can we find out what’s going with these guys? Let’s get in. Let’s find out what’s going on. Who’s the most logical to recruit? Well, one of the two guys we obviously know has visas… So I can’t prove it, but I will always try to prove it, that there was a recruitment op in place.”

    ***

    “This is really what the victims and the world needs to know. I don’t want anyone to go to jail or anything—I’m not asking for that. But the truth cannot come out, because the truth is tied to the 28 pages left out of the Commission report.”

    ***

    “What was the US protecting then? Why wouldn’t we want to let that recruitment opportunity be known?
    There is no way in God’s good Earth that the Saudis wanted this to happen. Nobody wanted this to happen. The overarching thing is to not embarrass the kingdom. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is our greatest ally in the Middle East for several reasons. First, because of the black ooze that’s coming out of the ground there. And more over, we have airbases there; we see them as stable, and they see us as stable. The Chinese don’t care about their religion, and the Russians are backing Alawites and Shiites through Assad in Syria. We’re the only game in town that respects them and will protect them.”

    ***

    “t the end of the day, that’s what everyone wants: the truth, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. Let the truth come out, let the chips fall where they may. The chips aren’t gonna be a bad hand; we know what happened. If you just say, “We ran a recruitment op, and it failed. We should’ve told the Bureau about these individuals in America. ”

    ***

    No one is a terror expert except the terrorist. Actions work faster than reactions, and we’re only reacting. We’re not doing anything; we’re just trying to figure out the next chess move. No one is an expert here. Read it, live it, study it, conduct a logical investigation, look at your suspects and the money flow. All investigations are the same, whether you’re investigating the Mafia or al Qaeda or Bernie Madoff. Like you, doing your job as a reporter; you’re asking logical questions, demanding logical answers, and following up. That’s what an FBI agent does. Reporters have been asking questions for years now, and no one has ever given that answer.

  6. DXer said

    Catherine Herridge: The answer to your question is simple: Amerithrax. FBI Agent Wade Ammerman was working anthrax. See “Hardball Tactics” in Wash Post.

    http://www.amerithrax.wordpress.com

    7/2

    Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/07/02/why-did-fbi-allow-awlaki-to-roam-in-us/#ixzz2XwRhBZl1

    Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller was more deeply involved in the post-9/11 handling of cleric Anwar al-Awlaki — the first American targeted for death by the CIA — than previously known, according to newly released documents reviewed exclusively by Fox News.

    The documents, released after Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request and then sued the FBI, show a memo from Mueller to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft on Oct. 3, 2002. It is marked “Secret” and titled “Anwar Aulaqi: IT-UBL/AL-QAEDA.”
    While the substance of the memo is redacted in full, with the FBI citing classified material, the memo is one of at least three FBI reports — whose primary subject is the cleric — in the nine days leading up to Awlaki’s sudden return to the U.S. in October 2002.

    The documents suggest the FBI was well aware of Awlaki’s movements, raising questions about why more wasn’t done to detain him.

    As part of its ongoing investigation into the cleric, Fox News previously reported that after arriving at JFK airport from Yemen via Saudi Arabia and being detained by customs officers on Oct. 10, 2002, the cleric was allowed into the U.S. under the orders of FBI Agent Wade Ammerman from the bureau’s Washington office — despite an active warrant for Awlaki’s arrest. The cleric later appeared with a government witness at the home of Ali al-Timimi, who was the target of Ammerman’s counterterrorism investigation. Al-Timimi, who was convicted on non-terrorism charges in 2005, is appealing the conviction which includes a life sentence.

    Another FBI memo, also marked “Secret,” on Oct. 22, 2002, 12 days after the cleric’s return, includes the subject line “Anwar Nasser Aulaqi” and “Synopsis: Asset reporting.”

    National security defense attorney Edward MacMahon Jr., who represented al-Timimi, told Fox News, after reviewing the documents, that they “certainly” indicate that either Awlaki “was an asset or was put in touch with an asset.”

    “It (the document) was requested and I was told it didn’t exist,” MacMahon said, adding the defense team believed Awlaki’s statements would have shown al-Timimi turned down the cleric’s requests to recruit young Muslim men for violent jihad. “Rather than admit that they messed up with Anwar Awlaki, they would rather put Ali al-Timimi in jail for rest of life and withhold all this information from him.”

    Fox News in 2010 reported that the Justice Department suddenly pulled the arrest warrant for the cleric, the same week he returned to the U.S. from overseas. The arrest warrant, initiated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force or JTTF in San Diego, was a “holding charge” so that Awlaki could be pressed by federal investigators on his direct ties to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar.

    The Justice Department, in explaining why it had the warrant pulled, claimed Awlaki had corrected lies about his place of birth on his Social Security card application, in turn making a passport fraud case against him weak. However, Fox News obtained, through FOIA, Awlaki’s Social Security records showing there was no correction – Awlaki only applied for a replacement card using his true place of birth, New Mexico.

    The Judicial Watch records also indicate that on Oct. 1, 2002 – before he returned to the U.S. — a memo marked “Secret” and “Priority” was faxed from the FBI’s Washington Field Office to FBI headquarters. On Oct. 3, the FBI director’s memo was sent to Ashcroft. And on Oct. 10, the day Awlaki entered the U.S., there was a heavily redacted fax from the FBI at JFK airport including the cleric’s plane ticket, customs form, passport and Social Security card.

    Based on the new documents, there are at least three possible explanations for the cleric’s return and the FBI’s considerable involvement. The bureau was attempting to recruit the cleric as an asset, he was already considered a friendly contact or the bureau wanted to track him for intelligence purposes once he returned to the U.S. The FBI’s involvement in the cleric’s case, and the actions of the FBI director, raise new questions about the secret decision to place the cleric on the CIA targeting list years later.

    “Why would al-Awlaki get the attention of the FBI Director? … Why would a warrant for his arrest be pulled when he’s trying to reenter the country” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said. “All of that, you know, put two and two together. It seems like he was protected. … And it’s about time this administration and the government generally come clean about their relationship with al-Awlaki. It’s screaming for further clarification.”

    Former Sen. Bob Graham, who led the first investigation into 9/11, known as the Joint Congressional Inquiry, told Fox News in 2011 that he wanted access to al-Awlaki but was told the cleric was out of the country and unavailable. The new documents make clear the FBI was aware of the cleric’s travel to the U.S. before the Joint Congressional Inquiry was complete in late 2002.

    Graham asked Mueller for access to an FBI asset, Abdussattar Shaikh, who briefly lived with two of the 9/11 hijackers in San Diego. Hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar were known associates of al-Awlaki, and Graham concluded Mueller was very protective of the asset program.
    Fox News asked the bureau about the substance of Mueller’s memo, why the bureau was tracking the cleric’s movements, whether Awlaki was an FBI asset and if the FBI sent Awlaki to al-Timimi’s home in Virginia as part of a counterterrorism investigation. The FBI has not provided comment.

    Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/07/02/why-did-fbi-allow-awlaki-to-roam-in-us/#ixzz2XwRD71Rj

  7. DXer said

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/04/16/al-qaeda-magazine-pressure-cooker-bomb-directions/2088109/

    Pressure-cooker bomb instructions in al-Qaeda magazine
    Ray Locker, USA TODAY

    Instructions to make bombs out of pressure cookers similar to those believed the source of two explosions in Boston on Monday were published two years ago in Inspire, an online magazine tied to al-Qaeda and the late U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an analysis of the magazine shows.

    The article, “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” by “the AQ Chef” instructed would-be bombers to glue shrapnel to the inside of a pressure cooker and then “fill in the cooker with the inflammable material.”

    Would-be bombers, the article said, should use gloves to prevent their fingerprints from being found on the bomb fragments and to “put you [sic] faith in Allah and pray for the success of your operation.”

  8. DXer said

    Do not forward or repeat the FoxNews report below without also adding J.M. Berger’s incisive rebuttal based on his examination of the same documents.

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/01/03/did_awlaki_really_help_the_911_hijackers

    Mr. Berger persuasively writes:

    ” There are only two problems with this story.

    First, there’s a paragraph of type redacted in between the mention of Awlaki and the mention of the hijackers.

    Plenty of room there to start another heading.
    Second, all three tickets are attributed to known debit cards held by the hijackers that do not match the card number given for Awlaki in Judicial Watch’s bombshell-smoking-gun-gate FOIA document.

    The attributions appear in an FBI chronology of the hijackers’ activities also obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, by this reporter, as part of a collection of 9/11 documents posted online years ago and featured by Fox News itself in a special on 9/11 a while back.

    That chronology was assembled long after the Sept. 26, 2001, document obtained by Judicial Watch. So even if the document says Awlaki bought the tickets — and it’s by no means clear that it does — it would still represent a very early lead, compared to the 2003 chronology, by which time mistakes would have been weeded out.

    Awlaki’s links to Sept. 11 certainly bear further investigation, but when you investigate, you have to be prepared for the possibility that the truth will be a big letdown.

  9. DXer said

    The FBI suspected within days of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that the American Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki may have purchased tickets for some of the hijackers for air travel in advance of the attacks, according to newly released documents reviewed exclusively by Fox News.

    The purpose of these flights remains unclear, but the 9/11 Commission report later noted that the hijackers had used flights in the lead-up to the attacks to test security and surveillance.

    The heavily redacted records – obtained by Judicial Watch through a Freedom of information Act request – suggest the FBI held evidence tying the American-born cleric to the hijackers just 16 days after the attack that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.

    “We have FBI documents showing that the FBI knew that al-Awlaki had bought three tickets for three of the hijackers to fly into Florida and into Las Vegas, including the lead hijacker, Mohammad Atta,” Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, told Fox News.

    He added that the records show the cleric, killed in September 2011 by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, “was a central focus of the FBI’s investigation of 9/11. They show he wasn’t cooperative. And they show that he was under surveillance.”

    ***

    One FBI investigative report known as a 302 summarizes the bureau’s investigation of Al-Awlaki’s Visa transactions. While heavily redacted, the document indicates a credit transaction for “Atta, Mohammed — American West Airlines, 08/13/2001, Washington, DC to Las Vegas to Miami,” the document says.

    ***
    Fox News asked the FBI for comment on the documents, specifically how the Awlaki lead was pursued in September 2001. Bureau spokeswoman Kathleen Wright responded by saying, “The FBI cautions against drawing conclusions from redacted FOIA documents. The FBI and investigating bodies have not found evidence connecting Anwar al-Awlaki and the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. The document referenced does not link Anwar al-Awlaki with any purchase of airline tickets for the hijackers.”

    In response, Judicial Watch said, “the document speaks for itself.” The organization “encouraged the FBI to release the document in its entirety, without redactions, for full transparency.”

    Wright said she was not aware of any plans by the FBI to do so at this time.

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/01/03/exclusive-al-awlaki-booked-pre-11-air-travel-for-hijackers-fbi-documents-show/

  10. DXer said

    Shelby County Health Department tests medicine delivery to prepare for bioterrorism attack
    http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2012/oct/30/shelby-county-health-department-tests-medicine/?CID=happeningnow

    Health Department takes bioterrorism test door-to-door

    • By Sara Patterson
    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:20 p.m.
    ***

    After a volunteer crew of about 60 completed the test in Lakeland, SCHD Emergency Response Director Kasia Smith-Alexander said the group made “phenomenal” time delivering the faux medicine, first-aid kits and questionnaires to more than a thousand residences.

    And residents, who were told of the drill via postcard last week, were asked to fill out the questionnaire to help the department evaluate the exercise and citizens’ comfort level with door-to-door delivery.

    “It will give us an idea of whether or not this is something people would like us to do,” said Smith-Alexander. “Do they trust us to come to the door? Stuff like that.”

    Comment: “Those damn revenooers are at the door again, Milly.” I wouldn’t think there would be trust issues any more than there is with the daily delivery of the mail. But I guess it only takes one angry man with a shotgun — and there seem to be enough of them to go around. (Though they may not tend to be the survey filling-out type)

  11. DXer said

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528825.300-detecting-a-subway-bioterror-attack.html

    IT’S 3 am, and the subway station has long since shut for the night. As I watch, a small group of people move along the platform in the eerie quiet, their anticipation palpable as they prepare to release a cloud of bacteria into the tunnels beneath the densely populated Boston area.

    Among them is a woman holding an array of translucent green nozzles, ready to release the agent. Her radio crackles to life: “The train has just left; we’re a go.”

    Anne Hultgren isn’t a terrorist: in her hands she holds a batch of dead Bacillus subtilis bacteria which, when dispersed, will form nothing more than a harmless cloud. It’s all part of an experiment by Hultgren’s employer, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Her team is testing whether its new detection equipment could work as an early warning system if a deadly agent like anthrax was released into a city’s metro network.

    The faint rumble of the inbound train gets louder, and Hultgren starts spraying. Almost immediately, the cloud begins to waft through the tunnel towards downtown Boston, pushed by a column of air in front of the train.

    As the train pulls in to the station we watch and wait to see if the sensors at the next stop down the line will detect the bacteria.

    At our station, several bulky grey sensor boxes called triggers are slung on metal racks at four points along the platform. The triggers were installed around a year ago and since then have been measuring background levels of biological material – one of the keys to avoiding the false positives that have dogged previous biosensing systems. Hultgren can’t go into detail about the technology inside, but similar commercially available systems count biological particles as they pass through a beam of light inside the box.

    Anything over the background level will send a signal that activates a bright red box at the end of the station. Hultgren calls it a confirmer, and says it is the real novel technology in this test.

    Hultgren and her team were brought in to improve the beleaguered BioWatch programme (see “Crying wolf on terrorism”), and the confirmer is the result. She says that her team has miniaturised the equipment needed for a process commonly used to identify DNA, called the polymerase chain reaction.

    “Previous biodetection programs relied on continuous daily testing,” Hultgren says. “Air filters would be collected every day by hand, and brought to a lab for analysis.”

    That lab analysis has now been engineered into a suitcase-sized box, and happens on site whenever the triggers detect unusual quantities of a biological agent. “We are aiming to do in 20 minutes what used to take two days,” Hultgren says.

    A few days after the test, Hultgren tells me the system worked as planned, both detecting and identifying the bacteria. “The confirmer collected a sample and about 30 minutes after the release we had a positive detection of the material at a station over a mile away down the track,” she says.

    The tests will continue for five months, helping the DHS understand how biological agents move around the subway when the weather is colder, for instance.

    Janet-Martha Blatny, who runs a similar biosensing project for the European Commission, says that tests like this are crucial to improving biodetection systems.

    “Trials resembling real-life conditions have been lacking and are one of the major causes explaining the high rate of false alarms of current biodetectors,” Blatny says.

    Crying wolf on terrorism

    In the wake of 9/11, letters laced with anthrax bacteria began showing up, delivered through the US postal system. Five people died in the attacks. In response, the government launched an anti-bioterror programme in 2003 called BioWatch.

    BioWatch has sensing systems in major cities across the country. Since its deployment, it has been plagued by false alarms and has never spotted an instance of terrorism. Lawmakers have grown critical that the $1-billion programme risks desensitising officials, who may not react if the system detects a real attack.

    Congress is currently deciding whether to spend an extra $3.1 billion over the next five years to keep the programme going.

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