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Friday, August 01, 2008
Death by Anthrax
If you believe the Federal Bureau of Investigation, this is the anthrax killer, the man who, a month after 9/11, mailed anthrax-laced letters, first to the building that houses the Sun and National Enquirer tabloids in Boca Raton, then to Democrat Tom Daschle, the then Senate Majority Leader and and Democrat Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and to both NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and ABC News, killing five people including postal workers and a Sun photo editor, causing widespread fear of the mail, and nearly shutting down the U.S. Postal service in several cities. The anthrax attacks spooked a country already rattled by the terror attacks, and were used by the Bush administration and their allies to push for "the next phase" -- a war with Iraq. "Countdown" tonight played some interesting video of a certain Senator from Arizona, who was a close ally of Ahmad Chalabi and a leading promoter of an Iraq invasion dating back to the 1990s. More on that later.

Back to the anthrax killer, who the FBI has now identified as 62-year-old Bruce E. Ivins, a government scientist who worked for an "elite" biodefense facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and who actually had been called on to analyze the anthrax samples from the attack. Oh, and he's also dead:
(Los Angeles Times) Detrick, Md., had been informed of his impending prosecution, said people familiar with Ivins, his suspicious death and the FBI investigation.

Ivins, whose name had not been disclosed publicly as a suspect in the case, played a central role in research to improve anthrax vaccines by preparing anthrax formulations used in experiments on animals.

Regarded as a skilled microbiologist, Ivins also helped the FBI analyze the powdery material recovered from one of the anthrax-tainted envelopes sent to a U.S. senator's office in Washinghttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifton.

Ivins died Tuesday at Frederick Memorial Hospital after ingesting a massive dose of prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine, said a friend and colleague, who declined to be identified out of concern that he would be harassed by the FBI.
Curiously, the death comes two months after the government settled with the previous anthrax suspect, former government scientist Steven Hatfill, for $5.82 million for wrongly accusing him.

The FBI is claiming that the breakthrough came because of ... science!
The FBI's new top investigators -- Vincent B. Lisi and Edward W. Montooth -- instructed agents to reexamine leads or potential suspects that may have received insufficient attention. Moreover, significant progress was made in analyzing genetic properties of the anthrax powder recovered from letters addressed to two senators.

The renewed efforts led the FBI back to USAMRIID, where agents first questioned scientists in December 2001, a few weeks after the fatal mailings.

By spring of this year, FBI agents were still contacting Ivins' present and former colleagues. At USAMRIID and elsewhere, scientists acquainted with Ivins were asked to sign confidentiality agreements in order to prevent leaks of new investigative details.

Ivins, employed as a civilian at Ft. Detrick, earlier had attracted the attention of Army officials because of anthrax contaminations that Ivins failed to report for five months. In sworn oral and written statements to an Army investigator, Ivins said that he had erred by keeping the episodes secret -- from December 2001 to late April 2002. He said he had swabbed and bleached more than 20 areas that he suspected were contaminated by a sloppy lab technician.
The whole thing is just odd. Suddenly, the FBI has a suspect, and on the same day we hear his name, he's DOA.

Ivins had apparently been depressed ever since the Hatfill settlement, was running out of money for his defense, and was contemplating suicidal, and was even committed to a mental facility for a time. He was described by his own brother as considering himself to be "omnipotent," and on "Countdown" tonight, the LAT reporter who broke the story said Ivins' former therapist thought him to be homicidal, and so dangerous that she took out a restraining order against him.certainly the kind of guy you could see secreting some anthrax from the lab and mailing it out to people he perceived as political enemies (another winger on a bender...)

But ...

There is that settlement, and the question of why the government wasted so much time and effort on Hatfill. And there is the timing of the attacks themselves, and the targets: Democratic Senators, a member of the "liberal media," and for some reason, a tabloid. And there's the timeline, compiled from various sources including the Baltimore Sun, Palm Beach Post, Los Angeles Times and Salon.com.

2001 -

Sept. 19: National Enquirer photo editor Robert Stevens opens a mysterious letter that came through the mail. He begins feeling ill Sept. 27.

Oct. 2: Stevens is admitted to JFK Hospital, five days after first feeling ill. He is diagnosed with anthrax Oct. 4 and dies Oct. 5.

Oct. 7-10: Investigators discover anthrax spores on Robert Stevens' work keyboard. The Boca Raton building is sealed. Mailroom worker Ernesto Blanco, and a third employee are diagnosed.

Oct. 15: The U.S. Congress, ABC News and NBC all find evidence they've been mailed anthrax:

The letter to Daschle was dated "09-11-01."

"We have this anthrax. You die now," it said. "Allah is great."

President Bush said the letters might have been sent by accomplices of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born terrorist who launched the Sept. 11 attacks, although he admitted that he had no direct evidence.

Glenn Greenwald reveals the contents of the others, including a pic of the Brokaw letter, which read: "This is next. Take penacilin now. Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great." Clearly, the perpetrator wanted the public to believe the attacks originated among foreign Muslims, maybe even Muslims in Iraq. Which brings us to this:

Oct. 18 - Sen. John McCain appears on "The David Letterman Show" and drops this interesting non-sequitor:

LETTERMAN: How are things going in Afghanistan now?

MCCAIN: I think we’re doing fine …. I think we’ll do fine. The second phase — if I could just make one, very quickly — the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may — and I emphasize may — have come from Iraq.

LETTERMAN: Oh is that right?

MCCAIN: If that should be the case, that’s when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made. (video here)

This was a ful year before the Congressional authorization for war, and well before Bush was even admitting that the administration was considering invading Iraq. Why did McCain go there so soon after 9/11 if it wasn't in discussion on Capitol Hill?

Oct. 21: The Mac and Joe show... John McCain and Joe Lieberman appear on "Meet the Press" and McCain has a very interesting verbal slip ... again...

RUSSERT: Senator McCain, let me pick up on your point about a post-Taliban regime in Afghanistan. There is a lot of discussion, concern on the ground whether that's feasible. And some are suggesting our military campaign is being limited until we get a post-Taliban regime in place. How do you see it?

MCCAIN: I think that might be partially the case from the reports that we have that there has not been the kind of air attacks in the areas where the Northern Alliance are fighting the Taliban forces.

I'd be a little reluctant to not to pursue this conflict as vigorously as possible.

MCCAIN: We were worried about the departure of Saddam Hussein that there might be chaos might ensue. I think most of us, in retrospect, would have liked to have seen Saddam Hussein gone. So I think we ought to overthrow them as quickly as possible.

I don't believe there's any such thing as a moderate Taliban, although I would be interested to hear from one.

Them? Recall that the question was about Afghanistan, and the prior discussion was about Osama bin Laden. Unbelievably, Russert didn't pick up on the switch from Afghanistan to Iraq. Later in the discussion, the Senators get right to the point, calling for an invasion of Iraq:

RUSSERT: Senator Lieberman, should we include Iraq as a military target in this war against terrorism?

LIEBERMAN: Well, of course, I feel that so long as Saddam Hussein is in power in Iraq, the United States is in danger. And I think if you look at the words of the president's statement to Congress, again, the war against terrorism, it says, we're not going to be safe until we rid the world of people who have the capacity and the intention to strike at civilians to achieve political ends.

There is some evidence to suggest that Saddam Hussein may have had contact with bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network, perhaps even involved in the September 11 attack. That raises my suspicions.

But the more important point is, we know that Saddam would like to do us the worst kind of ill. We know that he has worked on chemical and biological weapons and, in fact, has used them against his own people and against the Iranians. In my opinion, therefore, Saddam is a terrorist.

And, therefore, we should--it should be a centerpiece of our policy after we finish the business in Afghanistan and bin Laden to end that regime. It begins for me by supporting the Iraqi opposition, the people within Iraq that want to get rid of him. But then, ultimately there has to be an American and, I hope, allied military component to that. Because as long as Saddam is there, our lives are threatened.

RUSSERT: Would you have any problem expanding President Bush's orders to the CIA to go after Osama bin Laden to include Saddam Hussein?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I leave that to the president. But as a matter of principle and morality, of course not.

RUSSERT: Senator McCain?

MCCAIN: I think Joe's right.

And a bit later:

RUSSERT: But after Afghanistan, you'd have no problem going after Saddam Hussein?

MCCAIN: If Saddam Hussein continues to develop weapons of mass destruction, the means to deliver them, there are ties to terrorist organizations, then we have to give him his choice. We have to give the Syrians a choice. We have to give other countries a choice. Because we've got to--if anyone thinks that, just by taking care of bin Laden, we've taken care of the problem, they obviously are not aware of the extent of the challenge we have.

RUSSERT: If Saddam refuses to allow inspectors into his country, is that enough for us to say, either give us inspectors or face military action?

MCCAIN: I can't know those kind of details, and there are other ways, diplomatic, economic, many other ways, we can put pressure on the Iraqis. So it would depend on the situation and the time. But I think we're going to be steadfast.

You start to see why Lieberman is backing McCain for the presidency. The two have been partners in the neocon cause for a long, long time... Back to the timeline, which picks up on the same Sunday...

Oct. 21-22: Two postal workers die and two others are hospitalized from anthrax exposure. Thirty are exposed in Florida, New Jersey, New York and Washington, DC. The anthrax-laced mail targeted then-Senate President Tom Daschle; D-S.D. and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt. as well as the New York Post, NBC, ABC and American Media.

The following week, a reporter at one of those victimized news outlets, ABC, gets some "hot tips" on the anthrax case, which Glenn Greenwald recalls today:

By design, those attacks put the American population into a state of intense fear of Islamic terrorism, far more than the 9/11 attacks alone could have accomplished.

Much more important than the general attempt to link the anthrax to Islamic terrorists, there was a specific intent -- indispensably aided by ABC News -- to link the anthrax attacks to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. In my view, and I've written about this several times and in great detail to no avail, the role played by ABC News in this episode is the single greatest, unresolved media scandal of this decade. News of Ivins' suicide, which means (presumably) that the anthrax attacks originated from Ft. Detrick, adds critical new facts and heightens how scandalous ABC News' conduct continues to be in this matter.

During the last week of October, 2001, ABC News, led by Brian Ross, continuously trumpeted the claim as their top news story that government tests conducted on the anthrax -- tests conducted at Ft. Detrick -- revealed that the anthrax sent to Daschele contained the chemical additive known as bentonite. ABC News, including Peter Jennings, repeatedly claimed that the presence of bentonite in the anthrax was compelling evidence that Iraq was responsible for the attacks, since -- as ABC variously claimed -- bentonite "is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program" and "only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons."

ABC News' claim -- which they said came at first from "three well-placed but separate sources," followed by "four well-placed and separate sources" -- was completely false from the beginning. There never was any bentonite detected in the anthrax (a fact ABC News acknowledged for the first time in 2007 only as a result of my badgering them about this issue). It's critical to note that it isn't the case that preliminary tests really did detect bentonite and then subsequent tests found there was none. No tests ever found or even suggested the presence of bentonite. The claim was just concocted from the start. It just never happened.

That means that ABC News' "four well-placed and separate sources" fed them information that was completely false -- false information that created a very significant link in the public mind between the anthrax attacks and Saddam Hussein. And look where -- according to Brian Ross' report on October 28, 2001 -- these tests were conducted:

And despite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.

In other words, Ross' "well placed sources" may well have had intimate knowledge of the investigation into the attacks. Hell, one of them may well have been Ivins. And the perpetrator clearly shared with those "sources" the goal of making Americans believe the attacks were perpetrated by foreign Muslims, and specifically, by Iraq. This after President Bush initially told the public that the attacks could have been a continuation of Bin Laden's attack. He quickly discarded that line, and by mid October...

Oct. 29: ABC News runs this story (h/t to Atrios)

MORE INVESTIGATIVE NEWS: • Atta Met Iraqi Official in Prague

Four well-placed and separate sources told ABCNEWS that initial tests detected bentonite, though the White House initially said the chemical was not found.

The first battery of tests, conducted at Ft. Detrick, Md., and elsewhere, discovered the anthrax spores were treated with the substance, which keeps the tiny particles floating in the air by preventing them from sticking together — making it more likely that they could be inhaled.

The inhaled form on anthrax is far more deadly than the skin form.

As far as is known, only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons, but officials caution that the presence of the chemical alone does not constitute firm evidence of Iraqi involvement.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer had denied that bentonite was found on the letters, but another senior White House official backed off Fleischer's comments, saying "at this point" there does not appear to be bentonite.

The official said the Ft. Detrick findings represented an "opinionated analysis," that three other labs are conducting tests, and that one of those labs had contradicted the bentonite finding. But, the official added, "tests continue."

Fleischer added that no test or analysis has concluded that bentonite is present in the Daschle anthrax, and "no other finding contradicts or calls into question" that conclusion.

Reading from what he said was a sentence from the report prepared by scientists at Fort Detrick, he told ABCNEWS, "It is interesting to note there is no evidence of aluminum in the sample." Aluminum, Fleischer said, would also be present if bentonite was.

Oct. 31: Kathy T. Nguyen dies of inhalational anthrax three days after falling ill.

Nov. 21: Ottilie W. Lundgren dies from inhalational anthrax.

Dec. 9: Dick Cheney appears on "Meet the Press," and says this:

Russert: Do you still believe there's no evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11?

Cheney: Well, what we now have that's developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that--it's been pretty well confirmed that he [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack. Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don't know at this point, but that's clearly an avenue that we want to pursue.

Cheney would repeat that allegation again, and again, in the lead up to the Iraq war. And the ABC report became the basis of repeated neoconservative rants goading America to attack Iraq, as Greenwald also points out:

The Weekly Standard published two lengthy articles attacking the FBI for focusing on a domestic culprit and -- relying almost exclusively on the ABC/Ross report -- insisted that Saddam was one of the most likely sources for those attacks. In November, 2001, they published an article (via Lexis) which began:

On the critical issue of who sent the anthrax, it's time to give credit to the ABC website, ABCNews.com, for reporting rings around most other news organizations. Here's a bit from a comprehensive story filed late last week by Gary Matsumoto, lending further credence to the commonsensical theory (resisted by the White House) that al Qaeda or Iraq -- and not some domestic Ted Kaczynski type -- is behind the germ warfare.

2002 -

January: Hart Senate Office Building reopens after the federal government spends $27 million to decontaminate the building.

Jan. 2: President Bush gives his state of the union speech, declaring Iraq, Iran and North Korea to be part of an "axis of evil," and mentioning the following about Iraq:

The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade.

Bush made no other references to the anthrax attacks that had happened just months before.

July 23: The Downing Street Memo is written, in which British intelligence said "C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD."

August: Law enforcement officials and Attorney General John Ashcroft call Steven J. Hatfill, a biowarfare expert, a "person of interest" in the investigation. The White House Iraq Group formed.

June: FBI is scrutinizing 20 to 30 scientists who might have had the knowledge and opportunity to send the anthrax letters, a U.S. official says.

August: Law enforcement officials and Attorney General John Ashcroft call Steven J. Hatfill, a biowarfare expert, a "person of interest" in the investigation.

September: The WHIG strategy shifts from scaring Americans with bioweapons claims to nuclear threats. From Wikipedia:

  • September 7-8: Bush and nearly all his top advisers blanketed the airways, talking about the dangers posed by Iraq:
    • On NBC's "Meet the Press," Vice President Dick Cheney accused Saddam of moving aggressively to develop nuclear weapons over the past 14 months to add to his stockpile of chemical and biological arms.
    • On CNN, Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that "there will always be some uncertainty" in determining how close Iraq may be to obtaining a nuclear weapon but said, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
    • On CBS, Bush said U.N. weapons inspectors, before they were denied access to Iraq in 1998, concluded that Saddam was "six months away from developing a weapon." He also cited satellite photos released by a U.N. agency Friday that show unexplained construction at Iraq sites that weapons inspectors once visited to search for evidence Saddam was trying to develop nuclear arms. "I don't know what more evidence we need," Bush said.
  • September 7, 2002: Judith Miller of The New York Times reports Bush administration officials said "In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium."

October 2: Congress passes a joint resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The resolution is authored by Joe Lieberman.

October 14: Bush says of Saddam "This is a man that we know has had connections with al Qaeda. This is a man who, in my judgment, would like to use al Qaeda as a forward army."

2003

Jan. 21: Bush says of Saddam "He has weapons of mass destruction -- the world's deadliest weapons -- which pose a direct threat to the United States, our citizens and our friends and allies."

Feb 5: Colin Powell addresses the United Nations, asserting that there was "no doubt in my mind" that Saddam was working to obtain key components to produce nuclear weapons.

March 20: The US invades Iraq

June: FBI drains pond in Frederick, Md., in search of anthrax-related evidence. Frederick is the home of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, one of the nation's main anthrax research centers. Nothing suspicious is found.

August: Hatfill sues Ashcroft and other government officials, accusing them of using him as a scapegoat and demanding that they clear his name.

December: Postal workers begin moving back into Washington's main mail center, almost two years after anthrax-laced letters killed two employees. The Brentwood facility underwent more than $130 million worth of decontamination and renovation.

2004

February: A white powder determined to be the deadly poison ricin is found in an office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. No one is hurt and no arrests are made.

August: FBI searches homes of Dr. Kenneth M. Berry, who founded a group to train medical staff to respond to biological disasters, as part of anthrax investigation. No charges are filed.

July 11: BioONE, a company founded by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, begins fumigating the former headquarters of The Sun, the Florida supermarket tabloid that was the first target in the anthrax attacks.

July 12: Testing determines The Sun's former headquarters is free of anthrax.

July 13: Hatfill sues The New York Times for defamation, claiming the newspaper ruined his reputation after it published a series of columns pointing to him as the culprit.

And fast forward:

2008

June 27: The federal government awards Hatfill $5.8 million to settle his violation of privacy lawsuit against the Justice Department.

July 31: Bruce E. Ivins, 62, dies of an apparent suicide at a hospital in Frederick, Md., the Los Angeles Times reported, after being informed by the FBI that charges likely were being brought against him in connection with the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Greenwald, who I think has the definitive piece on this story today, comes to some damning conclusions, including about ABC:

We now know -- we knew even before news of Ivins' suicide last night, and know especially in light of it -- that the anthrax attacks didn't come from Iraq or any foreign government at all. It came from our own Government's scientist, from the top Army bioweapons research laboratory. More significantly, the false reports linking anthrax to Iraq also came from the U.S. Government -- from people with some type of significant links to the same facility responsible for the attacks themselves.

Surely the question of who generated those false Iraq-anthrax reports is one of the most significant and explosive stories of the last decade. The motive to fabricate reports of bentonite and a link to Saddam is glaring. Those fabrications played some significant role -- I'd argue a very major role -- in propagandizing the American public to perceive of Saddam as a threat, and further, propagandized the public to believe that our country was sufficiently threatened by foreign elements that a whole series of radical policies that the neoconservatives both within and outside of the Bush administration wanted to pursue -- including an attack an Iraq and a whole array of assaults on our basic constitutional framework -- were justified and even necessary in order to survive.

ABC News already knows the answers to these questions. They know who concocted the false bentonite story and who passed it on to them with the specific intent of having them broadcast those false claims to the world, in order to link Saddam to the anthrax attacks and -- as importantly -- to conceal the real culprit(s) (apparently within the U.S. government) who were behind the attacks. And yet, unbelievably, they are keeping the story to themselves, refusing to disclose who did all of this. They're allegedly a news organization, in possession of one of the most significant news stories of the last decade, and they are concealing it from the public, even years later.

He's right, and ABC has some explaining to do, as do four "highly placed sources" in the Bush administration.

One last piece of the time line, which I left out above but which is, in light of Greenwald's reporting, and ABC News' curious dealings, more than a little relevant:

2006

March 27: The Supreme Court declines to block Hatfill's suit against the Times.

April 11: It's reported that Hatfill's lawyers have questioned at least two journalists and are subpoenaeing other reporters, seeking the identities of their confidential government sources.

Oct. 23: A federal judge orders The New York Times to disclose a columnist's confidential sources as part of a libel lawsuit filed over the newspaper's coverage of the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Dec. 2: The New York Times asks a federal judge to dismiss Hatfill's lawsuit.

2007

Jan. 12: A federal judge dismisses libel lawsuit filed against The New York Times by Hatfill.

Feb. 2: Explaining his ruling, the judge says a New York Times columnist did not act with malice when writing about whether a Hatfill was responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Aug. 13: A federal judge says five journalists must identify the government officials who leaked them details about Hatfill.

Oct. 2: Hatfill asks a federal judge to hold two journalists in contempt for refusing to identify the government officials who leaked details about the investigation into the attacks.

2008

March 7: A federal judge holds a former USA Today reporter in contempt and orders her to pay up to $5,000 a day if she refuses to identify her sources for stories about Hatfill.

March 11: A federal appeals court blocks the fines.

June 27: The federal government awards Hatfill $5.8 million to settle his violation of privacy lawsuit against the Justice Department.

That payoff looks a lot more interesting now, no?


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