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

* Prof Les Baillie presented on “The Misuse of Biology” last month in this slide presentation at the Global Trends and Implications for British Security Conference

Posted by DXer on November 16, 2014

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5 Responses to “* Prof Les Baillie presented on “The Misuse of Biology” last month in this slide presentation at the Global Trends and Implications for British Security Conference”

  1. DXer said

    Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had consulted al Qaeda’s Shura Council. He was concerned that an attack in New York would be used to claim that Saddam Hussein had given al Qaeda weapons of mass destruction so that the Americans could legitimize the invasion of Iraq, however ridiculous the link.

    “It’s not going to happen,” Akhil told me when we next met. “Zawahiri has cancelled the operation.”

    I tried to appear desperately disappointed despite the relief coursing through my veins. “So what are Zawahiri’s instructions?” I asked.

    “To keep knowledge about the mubtakkar under tight control,” Akhil replied.


    What am I missing or not understanding? It was this gentleman, the MI6 operative, who developed or helped invent and test the mubtakkar? Is that right?

    Might the MI6 have avoided the threat by not having its operative share his invention with the Al Qaeda members who could not read his notes?

    It would be tantamount, say, to British Ames anthrax scientists Baillie and Turnbull sharing their know-how with Ayman Zawahiri’s infiltrating scientist, Rauf Ahmad. And then come to the US in 2001 and consult with the Amerithrax investigation.

    When my intelligence reached the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney was perplexed and worried that something bigger was in the works. For British intelligence, the priority was to prevent the mubtakkar blueprint from finding a wider audience.

    On February 13, 2003, as a result of intelligence I provided to the British, Bahraini police stopped a group of men as they drove across the King Fahd Causeway. One of those detained was Bassam Bokhowa, an IT technician in his mid-30s. On his laptop they found blueprints for the mubtakkar.

    Within hours of Bokhowa’s arrest, MI6 and the CIA were poring over the blueprints. Any remaining skepticism that a real plot had been in the works was banished. The CIA arranged for a prototype of the device to be built and estimated that a coordinated attack involving multiple mubtakkars would undoubtedly be lethal. The agency was so disturbed by the outcome that they took the device to the Oval Office.

    President Bush is said to have picked it up, saying quietly: “Thing’s a nightmare.”

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

  2. DXer said

    If Les Baillie hosted Rauf Ahmad at the Porton Down conference, did it make sense to allow him to reject the CIA’s detection of Ames anthrax at Rauf Ahmad’s lab?

    Tom Ridge on Fox News says that Al Qaeda was experimenting with anthrax in animals.

    The CIA detected Ames in the Afghan lab but the FBI disregarded the finding.

    Through no fault of his own, wasn’t Dr. Baillie’s conflict of interest as massive as the conflict that John Ezzell and Terry Abshire had when they threw out Dr. Ivins’ submitted sample?

    The only thing worse than the massive conflicts of interest that existed in Amerithrax?

    The continuing lack of transparency and accountability.

    Meanwhile the same cast of characters cranks the money machine as if there are no questions that still need to be answered — all by falsely flying the flag of transparency.

  3. DXer said

    Revealed: 100 safety breaches at UK labs handling potentially deadly diseases
    Blunders led to live anthrax being posted from one lab …


    Some of the most worrisome incidents happened at the Surrey-based Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), renamed the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in October. In one case, scientists were handling anthrax when something went badly wrong. They meant to send harmless samples, killed by heat, to nearby AHVLA labs and others in York and Belfast. But somehow the tubes got mixed up. Instead of sending out dead material, the anthrax they sent was live and dangerous.

    The staff who made the mistake were safe enough. They worked in a high-security lab built to contain lethal agents. But some of those who received the bugs did not. In Belfast, the anthrax was handled in a higher containment lab, meaning those staff were safe. In York, the samples were never opened. But at another AHVLA site, scientists opened the tubes in a less secure lab and got to work on the open bench. The incident at the AHVLA is one of the more serious biological accidents that has happened in the UK in recent years. But it was far from being the only one.

    Human error

    The HSE documents cast light on the endless ways that safety can be undermined at UK high-containment labs, where crucial research takes place into dangerous infections. Poor management, inadequate training, inappropriate procedures, equipment failures, human error and plain bad luck all come into play. Some incidents cannot be avoided. Humans will always make mistakes. Equipment will always break. But others are more troubling and result from multiple safety breaches, rather than single mistakes.

    The anthrax incident at the AHVLA happened in May 2012 and drew an immediate CPN. That shut the lab so no more live anthrax could be sent out. The timing was ironic. The government had spent months stockpiling anthrax vaccines in case terrorists released the bug at the London Olympics. Now one of their own labs had put people at risk.

    The HSE investigation found that two unsuspecting staff at the AHVLA were exposed to the deadly bug, though both had been vaccinated and neither fell ill. The incident received little attention. In the agency’s 2012-13 annual report, one line refers to the clampdown. It states: “CPN – labelling and tracking of biological materials inadequate – now resolved”.

    American blunder

    Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the Atlanta security lapse was a wakeup call. Photograph: Johnny Clark/AP
    The AHVLA incident bears a close similarity to a blunder in June that received global attention. Scientists in a high-security lab at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, failed to kill batches of anthrax bacteria properly and sent them to other labs. Tom Frieden, the head of the CDC, told a House oversight committee that the incident was a “wake-up call”. Tim Murphy, the Republican chair, was unimpressed: “It was a potentially very dangerous failure,” he said.

    The AHVLA has made dangerous slips before. Last year, the lab received a crown censure for nine safety lapses that exposed staff to live Mycobacterium bovis, an organism that causes TB in cattle but can cause serious illness and even death in humans.

    Over a two-year period, from 2009 to 2011, 3,700 samples were sent from one AHVLA lab to another without managers knowing the organisms were still viable.

    Minutes of the crown censure hearing reveal an alarming picture. Staff had been given the wrong equipment to destroy the bacteria and were not trained in the right procedure. Management had failed to act when staff raised concerns. One person later tested positive for the infection.

    Expert analysis
    Ebright, who testified to the House committee over the CDC anthrax incident, was struck by the similar failings at labs in the UK and the US. “The incidents at the AHVLA should really not occur. They involved not one error, but a whole chain of errors, and they are all essentially unforgiveable,” he said. “They reflect the most elementary lapses and they are potentially very serious. To see them happening like that suggests there is a deep problem.”

    Prof Brian Spratt, an infectious disease specialist at Imperial College, London, echoed Ebright’s concerns. Sending out bovine TB, an organism that can infect people, posed a clear risk of infection, he said. “Sending anthrax to other labs incorrectly, believing it to be inactivated, is also clearly very serious with a real possibility of infection of recipient laboratory workers,” he told the Guardian. “What strikes me is that accidents do happen even in the best facilities, often due to operator error, or unrecognised breakdowns in containment measures.”


    British labs
    Britain has about 600 CL3 labs. Nine sites, all in south-east England, are home to CL4 labs, including the National Institute for Medical Research, which studies pandemic and avian flu, and the Ministry of Defence’s Porton Down lab, which studies Ebola and other pathogens that could be used as biological weapons.

    The HSE documents reveal that one high-security lab, the Pirbright Institute (formerly the Institute for Animal Health), has been handed eight enforcement letters since April 2010. The Surrey lab is a world-class centre for animal virus surveillance. It studies foot and mouth disease, bluetongue, rinderpest and other infections. But it has a tainted reputation: the 2007 foot and mouth outbreak was traced to a leak from Pirbright’s drains. Scientists at the lab worked on the outbreak strain, but the virus was made in huge volumes by Merial, a vaccine manufacturer at the site.


    “As long as the management remains, the same problems will recur,” Ebright said. “You either close the facility, redirect it or rebuild it, starting with new management. It’s not the managers who send out putatively inactivated anthrax, but they have allowed that to happen. There has to be accountability all the way to the top.”

    Labs that report the most incidents may not be the most lax. One factor that affects the number of reports – and investigations – is how professional staff are at reporting near-misses. A culture of blame makes people hide their mistakes and crucial lessons go unlearned.

    Comment: Decades ago there was a wonderful Boys Life article revealing Dr. Richard Ebright to be both exceptionally smart and representing the ideals of a Boy Scout. You may have read it as a kid.

    Part of preparedness is being able to unravel a knot that someone else has made and then tying it right. I’m counting on Richard to use his influence to press for the public identification of the second lab in UK — with the contact made at the Porton Down-sponsored conference — that Al Qaeda’s infiltrating scientist Rauf Ahmad visited. We can’t learn from history if it is kept secret to cover up someone’s mistake and avoid embarrassment.

    Are you 3DayOK?

  4. DXer said

    Les Baillie played a notable role in determine the entire genetic code of the Ames strain. The Ames strain of the bacterium Bacillus anthracis been deciphered by scientists at The Institute for Genomic Research, Rockville, Maryland, Dr Les Baillie of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down, Wilts, and colleagues.
    Anthrax genome deciphered
    By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
    12:01AM BST 05 May 2003

    “Scientists working on new drugs or vaccines to combat anthrax have been helped by the publication of the first complete genetic sequence and analysis of a strain of the bacterium.

    The effort focused on a particularly virulent strain, Ames, which is virtually identical to the one used in postal terrorist attacks that killed five people in America in 2001.”

    Given that Al Qaeda’s anthrax scientist was hobnobbing with the Ames anthrax researchers — and MI5 knew this — should it have been such a surprise that the Ames strain of anthrax was used? Didn’t MI5 share with the CIA? Didn’t the CIA then share with the FBI? Shucks. Compartmentalization of information can sure lead to problems.

    Dr. Baillie has explained recently to the press:

    “The so-called “Ames Stream” of Bacillus anthracis, which is very dangerous and which had been used as biological weapon, was originally isolated from a cow in Florida. [sic]”

    Les Baillie knew that MI5 had seized the samples from Rauf’s luggage in 2000. Right? And he worked on the Amerithrax investigation, he reports, with the FBI.

    Over the years, my emails to Professor Baillie have drawn no response. But I am nonetheless hopeful that after some (continued) soul-searching he will provide a copy of Rauf Ahmad’s 1999/2000 papers).

    Dr. Ayman Zawahiri is the bad guy — not these well-meaning biodefense researchers. Dr. Zawahiri framed Western biodefense. Dr. Ayman feels the koran/hadiths command that he use the weapons of his enemy. He was successful only because of the CYA instincts of Western biodefense scientists and US officials, combined with the desire of some neocons in Administration wanting to attack Iraq. Qutb, whose thinking is more important than Dr. Ayman’s to many senior operatives, would be laughing in his grave at the mess that the FBI has made of Amerithrax.

    In addition to the continued withholding and suppression of information about Rauf Ahmad’s infiltration of Western biodefense, the FBI continues to withhold the documents about Atta-accomplice Adnan El-Shukrijumah. Shukrijumah entered the country after 911, having left KSM, Sufaat and the anthrax lab in Kandahar.

    Vahid Majidi’s claim that the FBI could eliminate all of Atta’s accomplices is total bullshit — the FBI couldn’t even locate Shukrijumah and didn’t know where he entered the country when he came post-September 1, 2001.

    Dr. Ayman is an immoral murderer of innocents who is going to hell under his belief system. If only these CYA-minded taxpayer funded bureaucrats would stop withholding documents that Dr. Ayman’s crimes against humanity — to include the innocent elderly — would become known to the world.

    Instead, by Les’ estimate, the mailings cost a cool billion. The disrepute brought to US biodefense was an added bonus for Dr. Ayman.

    As the former WTC 1993 prosecutor once said, imagine the liability … here, faced only by someone who does not take a forthright approach moving forward.

    It always makes sense to produce documents you have reason to think are going to come out anyway — or that the other party has already long since had.

  5. DXer said

    GAO in its forthcoming report should pick up where this blog has now left off and chronicle Rauf Ahmad’s participation at the 1999 and 2000 conferences, to include producing the full copies of Rauf Ahmad’s authored presentations and video of the presentations.

    In 2000, MI5 stopped Rauf Ahmad leaving the Dangerous Pathogens 2000 conference with samples.

    But in 1999, Rauf Ahmad had already visited a lab with thousands of samples, and was given B3 training before being permitted access.

    Abdur Rauf’s “I have successfully achieved” letter to Ayman al-Zawahiri
    Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 4, 2009

    A sharp female CIA analyst in December 2001 noticed the Rauf Ahmad correspondence with Zawahiri that had been seized in Afghanistan.

    By December 2001, the FBI knew that after the second lab visit in 1999, Rauf Ahmad wrote Ayman Zawahiri that the targets had been achieved. Rauf Ahmad had arranged the second visit (described in the typed letter) after the first lab did not have the pathogenic strain he sought. (The FBI had Rauf Ahmad’s research on killing the mice with anthrax, which was uploaded by DTIC in 2000.)

    And so the question is: What strains did Rauf Ahmad obtain in 1999? He was stopped by MI5 with the samples in his luggage only in 2000 — he had already succeeded in 1999 upon his visit to the second lab.

    If the FBI were to disclose who gave Rauf Ahmad the samples in 2000, we might learn the identity of the lab he visited in 1999 for the purpose of getting samples.

    And then consider whether that lab had virulent Ames.

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