The Largely Forgotten—And Still-Highly Suspect—2001 Anthrax Attacks That Enabled the Iraq War & Shine Light COVID's Origins
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Good evening. It's Monday, May 22. Welcome to a new episode – a special episode –- of System Update, our live nightly show that airs every Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern, exclusively here on Rumble, the free speech alternative to YouTube.
Tonight, we devote the entire show to one of the most significant events in American history over the last 40 years that happens to also be one of the most forgotten, namely, the 2001 anthrax attacks. Just seven days after 9/11, while rubble from the World Trade Center still lay on the streets of New York City with thousands of corpses underneath it, news outlets began reporting that envelopes containing what was said at the time to be extremely sophisticated and highly weaponized strains of anthrax were dropped in the U.S. Postal Service and addressed to some of the nation's most prominent journalists, including NBC News anchor, Tom Brokaw, the newsrooms of ABC, NBC, CBS and the New York Post, as well as top political officials, including then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Those anthrax spores ended up killing five people, including a photojournalist with The Sun and two postal workers and 17 others were infected, with 11 of them being seriously ill. One could very easily argue that the anthrax attacks were at least as important in ratcheting up fear levels in the United States as the 9/11 attack itself was. And one could even plausibly argue that they were more effective in generating widespread fear and panic. The fear enabled the U.S. government to do everything from enacting the Patriot Act and imposing a pervasive domestic surveillance state to invading Iraq and bombing nine different countries over the next 15 years.
While the 9/11 attacks were aimed at key centers in symbols of American corporate, political and military power – two planes hit the World Trade Center in Manhattan, another crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, while the fourth plane either crashed or was shot down by Dick Cheney was reportedly headed for the U.S. Capitol – the anthrax attacks, though, were delivered by mail. As a result, it convinced Americans far away from the nation's most important cities, in the suburbs, in rural areas, in small towns, everywhere, that they, too, were severely endangered, that Bond-like terrorist villains could get at them with terrifying biological weapons that could materialize right in their front lawn, in their mailbox, long an American symbol of friendly neighborhoods and an implicit sense of safety.
That such a dastardly plot was carried out just a week after the spectacularly frightening and traumatizing 9/11 attack created a perception that everything had become destabilized, that nothing was safe, that our enemies were simultaneously highly sophisticated and serious, yet had no limits of any kind, a completely new enemy, unlike anything we had seen before, even during the five-decade Cold War with the Soviet Union. Looking back, there is no question that this widespread fear and panic was deliberately fostered and opportunistically exploited. While the 2003 invasion of Iraq was largely justified based on the dangers revealed by the 9/11 attack, there was a very influential camp of neocons and militarists in the United States who were eager to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam for years prior to the September 11 attacks. They included Joe Biden; neocons led by Bill Kristol and David Frum, who would go on to write George W. Bush's post-9/11 speeches, John McCain and Dick Cheney. And many of them wasted little time encouraging Americans to blame Iraq for the anthrax attacks, inventing outright lies in the days and weeks after the 9/11 attack that they wandered through America's most influential news outlets that wasted no time in priming Americans to believe that their safety depended on overthrowing the Iraqi leader, long one of America's closest allies in the region, but who now was said to be both a close ally of al-Qaida and the likely perpetrator of these anthrax attacks.
It took the FBI more than seven full years to claim, in 2008, that they had finally solved the case and found the perpetrator of the attacks. After first trying to pin the blame on an American bioweapons expert named Steven Hatfill, only to pay him almost $6 million in a lawsuit after admitting he had no role whatsoever, the FBI announced in 2008 they had finally found the perpetrator: an American microbiologist who worked at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland, named Bruce Ivins. Unfortunately, said the FBI, Dr. Ivins had just committed suicide as they were just about to arrest him, meaning the FBI would never have to prove their allegations in a court of law against him, and would never have to have their case and the evidence on which it was based that they found the real attacker subjected to the rigors of cross-examination, judicial scrutiny, or public examination. Almost instantly, serious doubts emerged about the FBI's evidence and their claim to have found the real killer, both circumstantial and scientific. And those doubts emerged not from obscure or marginalized venues, but from the nation's most mainstream newspapers and scientific journals. When the FBI finally made its scientific evidence available to a body of independent scientific investigators, that body concluded – in 2011 – that the FBI’s scientific evidence was far weaker than the FBI had claimed and raised more questions than it answered.
That a crime of this magnitude – one whose effects included radical changes in how the U.S. government operates, the powers they claim, and the wars and regime change operations they will end up launching and executing for the next 15 years – that a crime of that magnitude is still unsolved by itself justifies its revisiting, especially given that each year there are more and more Americans who have either forgotten this incident or have never lived through it in the first place.
But the relevance of this event and the need to revisit it extends far beyond what is of historical interest. That the FBI itself claims that the worst bioweapons attack in American history came from a U.S. Army lab perpetrated by a U.S. Army scientist sheds significant light on the type of research the U.S. government does into bioweapons and that shed significant light onto the ongoing competing claims regarding the origins of the COVID pandemic.
I spent years reporting on this anthrax case, and as I did, I became more and more convinced that, from the very start, lies and deliberate deceit drove the narrative about it from the start. There's no question about that. And every year that went by, I believe that more and more, and now I believe it more than ever. We'll walk you through the key event, surely the most central evidence, and examine the vital questions all of this raises so that you can recall everything that happened as part of this now deliberately forgotten episode and draw your own conclusions from it.
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For now, welcome to a new episode of System Update starting right now.
The most important ingredient for state propaganda is historical ignorance. The observation is typically attributed to the philosopher George Santayana. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is based exactly on that recognition. The more history is forgotten, the easier it is to use the same exact methods of deception, falsehoods and propaganda to manipulate the public. One of the realizations you have as you get older is that every year the number of people who never live through the events that you lived through and that you remember vividly increases. And even for those who did live through those events, the confluence of our rushed lives, our need to focus on our work and family, the deliberate memory holding of those events and the memory erosion fostered by social media ensured that many simply have forgotten that which they learned and that which they lived through. And I can think of no major political event of the last 40 years for which this is more true than the anthrax attacks of 2001. There is no question that the so-called War on Terror launched by the United States after 9/11 is, along with the 2008 financial collapse, the most consequential political event in our lifetime. It radically transformed how the U.S. government functions and its relationship with the U.S. citizenry, enabling it to seize previously unthinkable powers of detention and surveillance that endured to this very day. It led to endless wars, occupations, bombing campaigns, drone warfare, a torture regime, mass domestic spying, due process, free imprisonment, and all sorts of atrocities all around the globe, and few events fueled and enabled this multiheaded War on Terror like the September 2001 anthrax attacks. And yet, few people remember much about it at all. That's because once it served its purpose it was rarely discussed, especially when the FBI claimed it had solved the case by heaping blame for it on a dead man who would never have to stand trial and thus would ensure that the FBI's evidence never received real scrutiny. That's why we decided to devote a special episode tonight to reviewing this long-forgotten yet indescribably important event.
The facts of the anthrax attacks, as they were presented to us at the time, were quite simple. Starting on September 18, just seven days after the 9/11 attack, when obviously Americans were already in a state of fear and heightened concern when things seemed like they were unraveling in terms of our public security – a mass casualty attack by a foreign power on American soil that took down the World Trade Center, crashed a plane into the Pentagon and killed 3000 Americans. Just seven days after that, we were all still reeling from that, media outlets began reporting that what they claimed was a highly sophisticated and extremely weaponized version of anthrax had been dropped in the mail and sent to numerous news outlets and American politicians. And over the next six weeks, anthrax continued to appear. New letters continued to emerge, and they were accompanied by a very alarming statement that was clearly designed to link it to the 9/11 attack through which we had all just lived.
Here you see one of the letters.
This is the letter that was sent to the NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, along with the anthrax that we were told was highly sophisticated, that only extremely advanced parties, very few on the planet, would be capable of producing. It says:
This is next
Take penicillin now
Death to America
Death to Israel
Allah is great
So, the letter was clearly intended to suggest that this was an extension of the 9/11 attack carried out by the same people and that it was going to be not just a one-day cataclysmic event, but a series of new events. “This is next,” it said, as though this was just the next terror in a long line of what was to come.
To remind you of how alarmist the reporting was around this anthrax attack – and justifiably so. It was supposedly this never-before-seen, extremely sophisticated version that was highly fatal and that could just be sent to you through your mailbox and all you had to do was open a letter and you would be killed when the spores dispersed. Let's show you just a few real-time network news reporting and cable news reports about this event, just to give you a sense of how this was talked about.
(Video. Various cuts from NBC News.)
- Welcome back, everybody. It certainly has been a tough day and days for all of us at NBC News, because, of course, the press conference that announced yesterday that an NBC News staff member actually had been tested positive for anthrax.
- The Florida man has contracted a very rare and potentially deadly form of anthrax […]
- […] a rare, inhaled form of anthrax. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson calls it an isolated case and says there was no threat of terrorism […]
- In Boca Raton, Florida, today, a memorial service for Bob Stevens. He is almost certainly the first American to be killed in a deliberate anthrax attack […]
- Now to the home front and those concerns over anthrax in Florida after one man died from the illness and his coworker was contaminated. The FBI has taken over the investigation.
- America strikes back. Anthrax, another infection, this time at NBC News in Rockefeller Plaza.
Good evening. Tonight, we find ourselves in the unusual and unhappy position of reporting on one of our beloved colleagues, a member of my personal staff who has contracted a cutaneous anthrax infection. That's an infection of the skin that is responding favorably to treatment and her full recovery is expected.
- There were two letters that were suspicious that both arrived on the same day. One contained a white talcum powder-like substance. The other contained a brownish, granular, almost sandy-like substance.
- In just two weeks’ time, we have had four confirmed cases of anthrax, all with media connections and a number of anthrax scares as well.
ABC News in Nevada / New Jersey / Tonight, the U.S. House of Representatives is closing offices today until Tuesday to allow a complete sweep for traces of anthrax. And 29 staffers for Senator Tom Daschle's office have tested positive for exposure to anthrax. / The letter sent to NBC and The New York Post was the same. This is next. Take penicillin now. Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great. The letter sent to Senator Tom Daschle had similar wording. / You cannot stop us. We have this anthrax. You die now. Are you afraid? Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great. All carried the date 9/11 at the top. All were sent from Trenton, New Jersey. / I don't have anthrax and / Good morning. President Bush tries reassuring the nation after anthrax is found at a facility that handles mail going to the White House. / President Bush is calling those people who are mailing these anthrax letters “evildoers” and he says any attempt to terrorize this nation is going to fail.
So, you see how it unfolded over the course of six weeks. It began with one person, one case, and then, over the course of six weeks, more and more letters appeared so that by the end, President Bush was saying this was done by evildoers. It was called germ warfare. It was said to be the greatest, worst attack of bioweapons attacks ever carried out on American soil. You can imagine how much of a role this played in escalating the fear that Americans already felt as a result of the 9/11 attack.
By the end of October, when these multiple attacks had already manifested, there was almost literally nothing the government could demand that the American public didn't immediately acquiesce to as long as these new powers were described as necessary to keep us all safe. That's how terrorized overnight the population become, not only because of the 9/11 attack, but also because of these anthrax attacks, and they had no idea who perpetrated them, they said.
But very quickly, the media started claiming, as a result of sources high up inside the government, that they began to learn who they thought the most likely suspect was of these attacks. It turned out, according to these media reports, that the government had revealed that, through analysis of the anthrax strains, they discovered bentonite.
Bentonite sounds like a very terrorizing and highly sophisticated substance, in reality, it's basically the clay that holds together kitty litter because the challenge with weaponizing anthrax is it's extremely light and is likely to disperse, therefore, to weaponize it, you have to find a way to clump it together so that it only disperses when it's touched or moved, such as when opening an envelope. And according to these reports, the use of bentonite in weaponized anthrax was done only by one person on the entire planet. It just so happened to be the hallmark, they said, of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who many of the same people claiming this had been wanting to go to war with and topple his government years before 9/11 and the anthrax attack became the perfect attack to pin on him by laundering anonymous claims to the media that he was to blame. It's hard to overstate how frequently this was done and with how much certainty.
Probably the worst offender at first was ABC News. Repeatedly, the investigative reporter Brian Ross went on the network news show of probably the most trusted television anchor of the time, Peter Jennings, and continuously pin the blame on Iraq. Let's look at one example.
(Video. ABC World News Tonight. Oct 26, 2001)
Peter Jennings: […] ABC News has been told that initial tests on anthrax sent to Senator Daschle have found a telltale chemical additive whose name means a lot to weapons experts. It is called bentonite, a substance that helps keep the tiny anthrax particles floating in the air by preventing them from sticking together. Other countries may be using it, too, but it is a trademark of Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program.
“It does mean for me that Iraq becomes the prime suspect as the source for the anthrax used in these letters.”
So here you have a major television network, and at the time, cable was nowhere near as influential as it became – it's not very influential now, but it was nowhere near its peak. The network news way is really where everything mattered, where everything happened. And arguably the most trusted show began laundering this claim over and over, “Iraq was the most likely suspect”, “this was a hallmark and a telltale sign of the Iraqi weapons program”, and the fact that this was done when Americans had very little defenses up, when we were in a state of great fear, desperately wanting to find out who was attacking our country in these very dastardly ways, obviously meant that claims of this sort were instantly accepted.
After 9/11, David Letterman, who at the time was the highest rated late night comedy show, went on a hiatus because he thought it inappropriate to have a comedy show and be making jokes in the wake of the 9/11 attack and the anthrax attack. When he came back, one of his very first guests was Senator John McCain of Arizona. It had huge ratings because it was David Letterman coming back – it wasn't the very first show, but it was one of the first shows and, obviously, this is what Americans were interested in. John McCain was heralded as one of the most knowledgeable and important foreign policy experts. And let's show you what he said to David Letterman about the anthrax attacks.
(Video. D. Letterman Show. Oct. 2001)
John McCain: The second phase is Iraq. There is some indication and I don't have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax, may I say, may have come in from come from Iraq.
D. Letterman: Is that right?
John McCain: Yes.
So, there you see John McCain. He's not being definitive about it, but he's certainly saying that Iraq is the most likely or one of the leading culprits to continuously put into the ether that, when we think about the anthrax attacks, it's almost certainly Saddam Hussein who did it. And that's based on a very “technical, complex analysis” conducted at the highest levels of the U.S. government that revealed the telltale sign of Iraqi bioweapons and the use of anthrax, which is bentonite. That was the claim made over and over. In October, John McCain appeared with his then sidekick, the Democratic neocon senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman, who just nine months earlier had been the vice-presidential candidate running with Al Gore on the ticket that lost to George Bush and Dick Cheney in that extremely closely contested race. And here you see Joe Lieberman right at John McCain's side, agreeing with everything John McCain had to say. Joe Lieberman, like John McCain, were two of the people, along with Joe Biden, who had long advocated overthrowing Saddam Hussein way before the 9/11 attack. They went on “Meet the Press.” Obviously, lots of Americans were watching that program at the time. This is just six or five weeks after the 9/11 attack. And listen to what they said.
McCain: Recently, in Rio, I believe, an envelope was received, which gives me the idea that perhaps this is an international organization and not one within the United States of America.
Lieberman: I've got mixed reports, but I'll tell you what I've concluded. And this is consistent with every report I've been given. The stuff that is being sent out, most of it, including the stuff that went to Tom Daschle's office, is significantly refined anthrax. In other words, when we hear the stories that there's anthrax in labs all over this country, that's basically bacteria in a lab tube. Dr. Fauci [Dr. Anthony Fauci] can tell you more detail on that.
To take it from that, to make it into the stuff that's being sent in envelopes, that requires a real effort and, frankly, more than a couple of guys in somebody's kitchen stirring things up.
So, it says to me that there's either a significant amount of money behind this, or this is state-sponsored, or this is stuff that was stolen from the former Soviet program.
(The Washington Post. Oct. 21, 2001)
On October 14, 2001, there is a headline in The Guardian: “Iraq ‘Behind U.S. Anthrax Outbreaks,’” no caveating, no uncertainty, a bold statement quoting some unknown person that we should just blame Iraq. We should assume this is Saddam Hussein attacking the United States in memos in dastardly and ethically limitless ways.
American investigators probing anthrax outbreaks in Florida and New York believe they have all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack – and have named Iraq as prime suspect as the source of the deadly spores. Their inquiries are adding to what U.S. hawks say is a growing mass of evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved, possibly indirectly, with the September 11th hijackers. (The Guardian. Oct.14, 2001)
So, you see, they weren't using the anthrax attacks only to claim Saddam did it. They were using it to claim Saddam was in an alliance with al-Qaida, which, of course, was necessary to convince Americans to go and invade Iraq.
A poll at the time, six months after the invasion, in fact, showed that 70% of Americans – 70% – believed that Saddam Hussein had personally participated in the planning of the 9/11 attacks. You had Jeffrey Goldberg, who has since been promoted to one of the most important and prestigious positions in journalism, at the time he was a New Yorker correspondent writing articles claiming Saddam Hussein was in an alliance with al-Qaida. Jeffrey Goldberg, of course, is part of the neocon camp that long wanted to overthrow Iraq. Do you see how they were exploiting these events to advance an agenda they had long craved to execute?
U.S. intelligence believes Iraq has the technology and supplies of anthrax suitable for terrorist use. ‘They aren't making this stuff in caves in Afghanistan,’ the CIA source said. ‘This is prima facie evidence of the involvement of a state intelligence agency. Maybe Iran has the capability, but it doesn't look likely politically. That leaves Iraq. (The Guardian. Oct.14, 2001)
That is as definitive as it gets.
As it turns out, this CIA source and all these sources laundered through The Guardian and other sources turned out to be right: there was a government involved, a very sophisticated government involved. And when you factor in this weaponized anthrax, just turns out it wasn't Iraq or Iran, but the United States.
On June 1, 2002, as we're building up to the question of whether we need to go and invade Iraq, there's an article in The Atlantic by Jonathan Rauch entitled “Does al-Qaeda Have Anthrax? Better Assume So.”
The operatives and allies of al-Qaeda have something in mind for the United States of which there can be little doubt. Something nasty. Vice President Dick Cheney said in May it is “almost certain” that the terrorists will strike again. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that terrorists inevitably will get their hands on weapons of mass destruction and “they would not hesitate one minute to use them.”
QUESTION What if they already did use them and are preparing to do so again? Were last year's anthrax attacks, which caused five fatalities, a preview?
in November, the FBI issued a suspect profile identifying the likely anthrax attacker as a single adult male, probably an American with a scientific background, lab experience, poor social skills and a grudge. Some people – I was one of them – viewed this interpretation with skepticism. What would be the motive? Why the timing so close to September 11?
A number of analysts, including David Tell a useful article in The Weekly Standard on April 29, have subsequently cast doubt on the disgruntled-scientist hypothesis, and an FBI spokesman said in May that the bureau, far from being “convinced” that the attacks were carried out by an American loner, had “not precluded any category of suspect, motive or theory.” If anything, hints that anthrax and al-Qaida may be linked have grown harder to dismiss. (The Atlantic. June 1, 2002)
All of this was significantly elevated from very influential media outlets like ABC News, Meet the Press, The Guardian, John McCain, Joe Lieberman into a presidential pronouncement when, at the start of 2002, George Bush in January of that year gave his State of the Union address that was notoriously written by the neocon David Frum, that was the speech that notoriously proclaimed that we were fighting an “axis of evil” that was composed of Iraq, Iran and North Korea because these neocons were not content with only getting to Iraq and overthrowing Iraq. They also wanted to overthrow the government of Iran in the name of 9/11 and anthrax. And here you see George Bush take this same claim and elevate it to a State of the Union address.
(Video. G. Bush State of the Union. Jan 2, 2002)
President Bush: Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children.
So that was David Frum's work: circulating absolute lies designed to put into Americans’ minds that the state responsible for these anthrax attacks was Iraq and Saddam Hussein as part of the already well-underway effort just weeks after September 11. This was barely three months after September 11 to prime Americans to blame September 11 on a state that had no involvement of any kind either in the 9/11 attacks or in the anthrax attacks, which was Iraq. Do you see this barrage of lies – How it was laundered by the very media outlets that still claim that they're the only ones that can be trusted, manufactured by the very people who ended up constantly being promoted and elevated? David Frum is also at The Atlantic with Jeffrey Goldberg. Bill Kristol is one of the favorite guests of CNN and MSNBC, a hero of American liberalism. George Bush has been completely rehabilitated, as is Dick Cheney, thanks to the liberal worship of his daughter, Liz Cheney. And the CIA continues to be a highly trusted source for American media outlets who just leak to them anonymously, as they did over and over here, and are just constantly believed.
At the time, there were all kinds of reasons to believe that this was a lie. To begin with, It isn't just that bentonite is an extremely common substance – as I said, it's the thing that is used to produce cat litter. The idea that it's some specialized ingredient that only the sophisticated Iraqi scientists could possibly use to weaponize anthrax was a joke from the start. But the much more important point is that there was never any government analysis, as ABC News ended up admitting, that detected the presence of bentonite. A totally false story from the start.
The sources that went to ABC News and told ABC News that bentonite was detected in government analysis completely lied. If you go to journalism school or read journalistic ethics books, one of the things you will read is that the only taboo in journalism is revealing who your sources are, if you promise them anonymity. You may remember during Russiagate that was supposed to be a sacred principle, so sacred, in fact, that American journalists are supposed to go to jail for not revealing their sources, even if they’re ordered by a court to reveal it. And American journalists have gone to prison before for defying court orders. That's how sacred this principle is during Russiagate. An obviously unwell blogger named Marcy Wheeler had promised anonymity to a source of hers, but she became convinced – because she's unwell – that this source was some sort of smoking gun, some critical part proving collusion between Trump and Russia in 2016, and, without even being asked to do so, let alone subpoenaed or ordered to turn over the identity of her secret source, she begged the Mueller team and the FBI to give her a few minutes. She fantasized that she was part of the Mueller team and that she had in her hands, the smoking gun proof of collusion, and she, on her own, voluntarily went to snitch on her own source to whom she had promised anonymity – the greatest taboo in all of journalism – and an American journalist applauded her. People like Margaret Sullivan, the then media reporter for The Washington Post, and CNN, wrote articles glorifying what this woman had done, this obviously unhinged woman. It turns out she snitched on her source. He wasn't even mentioned in the Mueller report. He was not involved in any of this. It was all a sick fantasy that she had concocted in her head. She wanted to be part of the Mueller team and so, they applauded her. They did. The American media applauded somebody who voluntarily, without being asked, let alone subpoenaed, turned over her own source. And to this day, she's like a favorite of the dead end or Russiagators. But usually, that has always been a very sacred ethical precept – you don't ever reveal the identity of your sources to whom you prove anonymity except in one case when it not only becomes permissible but required, ethically obligatory, to reveal the identity of your anonymous sources and that's when they deliberately lie to you, when they use you to disseminate to the public lies that they know are lies at the time. And there is no question that the three or four high-level sources that Brian Ross claimed went to him to tell him that government tests had detected bentonite, deliberately lied to him as a way of trying to get the American public to blame Saddam Hussein in Iraq for the anthrax attacks, because those are the very people in the government who were so eager long before 9/11 to invade Iraq.
I spent two years badgering ABC and Brian Ross about this. How is it that you continue to protect the identity of these high-level government officials who on one of the most crucial issues of our time lied to ABC News and all these other sources? You had Joe Lieberman and John McCain and The Guardian and then finally George Bush through David Frum’s speechwriting disseminating the same lie that led to the Iraq war. How can you possibly protect the identity of these people? ABC finally, as a result of that badgering, admitted the stories were false, admitted there was never any government that revealed the presence of bentonite and they finally retracted them. But to this day, they refuse to reveal their own sources who lied to them. High-level government sources. That's the reason people in the CIA and the FBI and Homeland Security know that they can lie to the media on purpose without any accountability because they do so while hiding behind this shield of anonymity. So even if you know they lied, the media will protect these liars, people who are deceiving the public on purpose through the use of their media platforms – even though it is journalistic Ethics 101 that you not only have the right, but the duty to expose sources who do that. They never do this because they don't want to lose their sources, even if they know that those sources are feeding them false information, they’re still at least somebody giving them stories.
Beyond the fact that this whole thing was a lie from the start, the whole basis of blaming Iraq that all these people just did, the reality is everything we knew about the anthrax strain would have led us to believe that it was a government involved, but not Iraq or Iran or al-Qaida, but the United States government, because the report suggested that the strain that was sent was the Ames strain and the reality was that was a telltale sign of a government weaponizing anthrax. It was a telltale sign of the United States. The Ames strain was a strain the United States government at Army labs had developed. In 2011, Frontline on PBS did a documentary revisiting the anthrax attacks. They interviewed one of the nation's most prestigious microbiologists and he talked about what he realized in 2001 about the likely source of this anthrax. Listen to him and what he said.
(Video. PBS Frontline. 2011)
Off: When they looked at the FBI's spores, they were stunned. All of them came from a single strain of anthrax, the Ames strain.
Speaker 2: We were surprised it was the Ames strain, and it was chilling at the same time.
Speaker 3 Because it was so virulent. The Ames strain was the anthrax of choice for the U.S. Army's bioweapon vaccine program.
Off: Once you heard it was the Ames strain, you began to think to yourself, Ah, this doesn't sound like a job from the outside, it sounds much more like an inside job.
The home of the Ames strain was the Heart Suites back in Maryland at USAMRIID.
So just think about what this means. The public was flooded with outright lies about these anthrax attacks based on not a mistake, not a good faith misinterpretation of data, but an outright fabrication, that bentonite was detected in these strains, something that never happened and that caused the top levels of government and the most influential mainstream outlets to disseminate a very devastating, destructive and toxic lie to the public linking Saddam Hussein to these anthrax attacks. And not only was it based on lies, not only was it completely false, but as the scientist just explained, there was every reason in the world to know in 2001 for those analyzing the strains of anthrax, that by far the most likely culprit, no, it's not just the United States government, but the specific microbiology lab in Fort Detrick, Maryland, the U.S. Army lab, which eight years later the FBI ended up blaming and saying was, in fact, the source of these attacks to get to.
The other part about this is that what this means, what he just said, what the FBI now claims is that the U.S. Army, the U.S. government, was developing extremely virulent, sophisticated strains of highly fatal anthrax. Why would it do that? We heard the United States government over the last three years during the COVID pandemic insist that it doesn't do any kind of research like that. When Victoria Nuland accidentally went to the U.S. Senate and admitted there were very dangerous and sophisticated Biolabs in Ukraine they were very worried would fall into Russian hands, which meant they couldn't just be old Soviet labs because the Russians would already have them. It would mean that they were very dangerous new kinds of biological strains in Ukraine. The response came when people like me noticed what she said was, “Oh, this is a crazy conspiracy theory. We don't do offensive biological weapons research. We're banned by conventions. We sign from doing it. That's something China does. That's something Iran does and Russia does – we don't do that”. And yet one of the things the anthrax episode revealed, and it's one of the reasons why they've worked so hard to make sure you don't know about it and have forgotten it is it was proof that there were very virulent fatal strains of anthrax being researched and developed and stored in U.S. Army labs. That's the version of events from the FBI itself. Now they justify it by saying, okay, fine, we do this research, but we don't do it because we intend to use it offensively against anybody. We do it just because we must manipulate these strains and make them more fatal so we can research defenses to them in case one of the bad countries breaks the convention and does it. But who knows what their intention was?
What we know for sure is they're developing these kinds of bioweapons and making them more fatal and more dangerous – exactly what Anthony Fauci denied when it came time to discuss the origins of the COVID pandemic. He said we would never do gain-of-function research. We would never take dangerous agents and make them more fatal, even though we learned that's exactly the kind of research that was being done in the Wuhan lab with U.S. funding. But the anthrax attack sheds a lot of weight onto those questions, and it's one of the main reasons they've wanted you to forget that.
Just to show you a couple of examples of how dangerous these guys ended up being about anthrax and the lies about where they came from. Let me just show you an article from Maureen Dowd, on September 26, 2001, where she talks about how panicky everyone she knew in Washington was as a result of these anthrax attacks. This is all about the anthrax attacks, not about 9/11,
After all these finicky years of fighting everyday germs and inevitable mortality with fancy products, Americans are now confronted with the specter of terrorists in crop dusters and hazardous-waste trucks spreading really terrifying, deadly toxins like plague, smallpox, blister agents, nerve gas and botulism. Women I know in New York and Washington debate whether to order Israeli versus Marine Corps gas masks and half-our lightweight gas masks versus $400, eight-hour gas masks, baby gas masks and pet gas masks with the same meticulous attention they gave to ordering no foam-no-fat-no-whip lattes in more innocent days. They share information on which pharmacies still have Cipro, Zithromax and Doxycycline, all antibiotics that can be used for anthrax, the way they once traded tips on designer shoe bargains. They talk more now about real botulism than the trendy cosmetic derivative Botox. Judy Miller, a Times reporter who is one of the authors of the surprise new bestseller “Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War,” said she had been deluged with calls from people asking how they can protect themselves. “It's the ultimate freak out,” she said. (The New York Times. Sept. 26, 2001)
So here you have a real-time article in 2001 about the intense level of mania and panic these anthrax attacks generated and you can only imagine the effects of linking those attacks to Saddam Hussein in Iraq based on absolute lies when, in fact, they came from the U.S. government itself – while you had people in the U.S. government very aggressively and effectively exploiting these anthrax attacks for their own ends, namely, to advance their long-stated goal of invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
Here is a similar article from The Washington Post’s longtime columnist, liberal columnist, Richard Cohen. He wrote a column in 2004 entitled “Our Forgotten Panic,” where he tries to justify why he supported the war in Iraq and he's trying to say: it's 2004, let's go back to 2001 and remember how scary everything was. And just to you to do that, he focused not on the 9/11 attacks, but on the anthrax attacks. This is what he said.
At the time, Stevens’s death and those that followed appeared somehow linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11. That seemed to make sense because the first letters containing anthrax spores were mailed around that time and, maybe more to the point, the authorities at first said so. “There is a suspicion that this is connected to international terrorists,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt echoed him: “I don't think there's a way to prove that, but I think we all suspect that.” Iraq was among the suspects. It was thought to have a storehouse of biological weapons.
I mention anthrax for the simple reason that no one does anymore. It's a curious silence since, along with the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, it all but dominated the news. Some of us did not get mail deliveries and, when they resumed, we went into secure rooms where we donned latex gloves and face masks before opening letters. On a tip, I asked my doctor early on to prescribe Cipro for me, only to find out that, insider though I thought I was, nearly everyone had been asking for the same thing. People made anthrax-safe rooms and one woman I know of had a mask made for her small dog.
My point is that we were panicked. Yet that panic never gets mentioned. Last month, The New Republic published a “special issue” in which a bevy of very good writers wondered whether they had been wrong to support the war in Iraq. Most of them admitted to having erred about this or that detail, or in failing to appreciate how badly George Bush will administer the war in the occupation. But none confessed to being seized by the Zeitgeist. I read the magazine cover to cover, and unless I somehow missed it, the word anthrax never appeared. Imagine! Not once! Not a single one of these writers admitted to panicking over anthrax.
Well, I did. I'm not sure if panic is quite the right word, but it is close enough. Anthrax played a role in my decision to support the Bush administration's desire to take out Saddam Hussein. I linked him to anthrax, which I linked to September 11. I was not going to stand by and simply wait for another attack – more attacks. I was going to go to the source, Hussein, and get him before he could get us. As time went on, I became more and more questioning, but I had a hard time backing down from my initial whoop and holler for war. (Richard Cohen.The Washington Post. July 24, 2004)
Here you have one of the longest-term and most influential liberal columnists in any newspaper in the United States, The Washington Post, acknowledging that the reason he encouraged his liberal readers to support the war in Iraq was in part because of the panic – in large part because the panic – spread by these anthrax attacks. You see him talking about people with obsessive gas masks, just like Maureen Dowd was talking about, people petrified they were going to be killed in their own homes. And the perception that was deliberately cultivated, the false perception by the same people, the same institutions, the same media outlets that lied to us constantly now that this came from Iraq.
As I mentioned, there was a huge faction in Washington that had long wanted to invade Iraq and take out Saddam Hussein way before 9/11 – years before 9/11. And while we often talk about neocons as the people who are the ones who wanted that, one of the people who wanted that is named Joe Biden. Here is a hearing in 1998. So, more than three years before the 9/11 attacks, where he is questioning Scott Ritter, who was a weapons inspector on the ground in Iraq. And Joe Biden talks about – in 1998 – how important he thinks it is to take out Saddam.
(Video. C-SPAN. 1998)
Chairman: The ranking minority member on the Committee on Foreign Relations in the opening statement he would like to make.
J. Biden: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me begin by saying, I think Major, you provided have provided and are providing a very, very, very valuable service to your country by coming forward as you have, because, quite frankly, I think what you've done is you've forced us to come to our milk here, all of us in the United States Congress. I think you and I believe and many of us believe here, as long as Saddam's at the helm, there is no reasonable prospect you or any other inspector is ever going to be able to guarantee that we have rooted out, root and branch the entirety of Saddam's program relative to weapons of mass destruction. And you and I both know and all of us here really know, and it's the thing we have to face that the only way, the only way, we're going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we're going to end up having started alone – started alone – and it's going to require guys like you in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking the son of – taking Saddam down. You know it and I know it. So, I think we should not kid ourselves here. There are stark, stark choices.
There you have it. It was the official position in the Clinton administration before 9/11. The United States should invade Iraq and do everything possible to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Joe Biden was one of the most vocal advocates of that during the Clinton administration. We just showed you that 1988 video of him doing exactly that. And Biden, of course, became probably the key senator in 2000 to generate enough support in the United States Senate, as the Democratic head of the Foreign Relations Committee, where he became, along with Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, very vocal advocates for taking down Saddam. And the anthrax attacks were a major reason why they were able to convince so much of the public that that needed to be done.
The neoconservatives in Washington – Bill Kristol, David Frum and we'll show you the names on this list, which was called the PNAC. It was the leading neocon think tank or organization at the time – wrote a letter in January 1988 to President Clinton urging President Clinton to invade Iraq and take out Saddam Hussein. These were exactly the same people. Three years later, we're behind the lies blaming Iraq for the anthrax attacks. Here's the letter to Bill Clinton.
Dear Mr. President,
we are writing to you because we are convinced that current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War. In your upcoming State of the Union address, you have an opportunity to chart a clear and determined course for meeting this threat. We urge you to seize that opportunity and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the United States and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power. We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor.
The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction in the near term. This means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy. We urge you to articulate this aim and to turn your administration's attention to implementing a strategy of removing Saddam's regime from power. (PNAC. Jan 26, 1998)
And there you see the leading neocons – including Elliott Abrams and William Bennett and John Bolton, and Robert Kagan, who is the husband of Victoria Nuland, Bill Kristol, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, James Woosley, the former CIA director – the standard group in Washington that had been going around essentially badgering everybody about regime change in Iraq for many years before 9/11, and then became the leaders of this lie, blaming the anthrax attacks on the exact country that they wanted to invade.
As I mentioned, I had begun reporting on this story a year before, at least, the FBI announced they had finally captured the real attacker, who they said was a bioweapons researcher at Fort Dietrich, Bruce Ivins, as we're about to show you. And the reason I began reporting on it was because when I went back and began looking at the anthrax attack and realized how aggressive the narrative was that they had the proof linking this to Saddam Hussein's government and how central ABC News in particular was to spread that lie.
Honestly, as somebody who was basically starting my journalism career – this was 2007 – so a year or so after I began writing about politics, a year and a half, I was indignant about it. This was part of my awakening about how radically corrupted these institutions really are. I couldn't believe, I hadn't remembered. I really wasn't paying a lot of attention at the time to the details, the grand details of all of this. I was working as a lawyer; I wasn't a journalist. I couldn't believe how often and definitively ABC News spread this lie. And what I couldn't believe was that they weren't willing to tell us who in the government spread this lie and used ABC News to spread this lie. So, here's one of the first stories I ever wrote about it. It was entitled “The Unresolved Story of ABC News is False Saddam-Anthrax Reports” and the sub-headline was “In October 2001, ABC News broadcast highly inflammatory and false reports linking Saddam to the anthrax attacks. Who was behind those claims and why has ABC not retracted its stories?” And here you see the article:
ABC aggressively promoted it as its top story for days on end during that highly provocative period of time. That and these are all quotes:
“the anthrax in the tainted letters sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was laced with bentonite”
bentonite is a “troubling chemical additive that authorities considered their first significant clue yet”
“Only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons”
bentonite is “a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program”; and
“The anthrax found in a letter to Senator Daschle is nearly identical to samples they recovered in Iraq in 1994 and the anthrax spores found in the letter to Senator Daschle are almost identical in appearance to those they recovered in Iraq in 1994 when viewed under an electron microscope”.
At different times, Ross attributed these claims to three well-placed but separate sources and alternatively to “at least four well-placed sources.” All of these factual claims – each and every one of them, separately – were completely false, demonstrably and unquestionably so.
Ross claimed at the time, and there is no reason to doubt it, that these false reports – clearly designed to blame Iraq for the anthrax attacks in the eyes of Americans – were fed to him by “at least four well-placed sources.”
Who were the well-placed multiple sources feeding ABC News completely fictitious claims linking Saddam Hussein to the anthrax attacks, including false claims about the results the government has? What possible justification is there for concealing the identity of those who manipulated ABC to disseminate these fictitious claims? Peter Jennings, the highly trusted ABC News anchor, then added the end of the story. Remember, this is October 2001.
This news about bentonite as the additive being a trademark of the Iraqi biological weapons program is very significant, partly because there's been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration inside and out to go after Saddam Hussein. And some are going to be quick to pick up on this as a smoking gun. There's a battle about Iraq that's been raging in the administration. (G. Greenwald. April 9, 2007)
I just want you to take a step back and think about the fact that all this time when this anthrax attack was being used to frighten Americans and put them into a state of panic beyond what 9/11 could accomplish, and that the claim was being circulated at the highest levels of politics and media, that totally fictitious test had suggested strongly, if not proven, that Iraq was behind it, the country they wanted to invade four years before 9/11, all along – at least according to what the FBI now says – this anthrax actually came from a U.S. Army lab where it was developed, maintained and stored. It was sent by a U.S. Army bioweapons expert, a microbiologist who – unfortunately for everybody – the FBI was about to arrest, killed himself, alleviating the FBI of ever having to present those claims in court. Those are pretty striking events. And again, I'm not citing at any point any obscure media outlets, any conspiratorial media outlets – but I am citing conspiratorial media outlets, just not ones known for being that, I'm citing the most mainstream ones – again, the highest levels of establishment – government and politics – are behind all these lies.
Here's something that has kind of gotten lost to history that I think is just worth noting. In 2008, Richard Cohen, the Washington Post columnist whom I quoted earlier as saying that anthrax played a vital role in the panic that led him to support the Iraq war, went to Slate as part of a symposium where a bunch of advocates in the media and government who were advocating for the Iraq war back in 2002 and 2003, went to confront what they got wrong.
Here you see Richard Cohen’s article: “How did they get Iraq wrong?” The subtitle is “I thought we had a chance to stabilize an unstable region, and – I admit it – I wanted to strike back. And here's what Richard Cohen says about why he got Iraq wrong.
Anthrax. Remember anthrax? It seems no one does anymore – at least it's never mentioned.
The attacks were not entirely unexpected. I have been told soon after September 11 to secure Cipro, the antidote to anthrax. The tip had come in a roundabout way from a high government official, and I immediately acted on it. I was carrying Cipro way before most people had ever heard of it. (Slate. March 18, 2008)
Think about that. This is a long-time columnist in The Washington Post. He's been around the Washington establishment forever. He has all sorts of contacts in the highest levels of the U.S. government because they've used him to disseminate propaganda in The Washington Post for as long as anyone can remember. And according to him, he was told by a high-level government official, as a friendly tip, he should start carrying Cipro, the antidote to tainted anthrax, way before the anthrax attacks had happened, before anybody had even heard of Cipro. Who told them that and why did they tell him that? Specifically, not just a range of antibiotics, but the specific one most used for anthrax.
It's kind of a note to history that Richard Cohen himself has said that no one has ever pressured him other than me that I know of to tell us who told them that and how they knew to tell him that. But someone had a strong suspicion in Washington at the highest levels of the U.S. government, according to Richard Cohen, that the anthrax attacks are coming now.
For a while, of course, there was still in the air the question of who did this. It couldn't just be left unsolved forever. It killed five people. It severely injured 11 others. It was, as I said, something that was constantly reported. No attempt to make it forgotten could possibly make us content with the fact that we would never know who did it. The FBI had to give us some explanation for several years. They not only obsessively focused on but leaked to the media the fact that an army bioweapons expert, a physicist named Steven Hatfill, was the prime suspect they leaked to Nick Kristof, to others, The New York Times and his reputation was destroyed. Everywhere he went, people assumed he was the anthrax attacker. He sued the FBI and in 2008, they had to pay him close to $6 million and admit he had no role. So once that happened, once the prime suspect that they leaked to the media was removed, was exonerated, the question then became who actually did it.
Here you see from The Los Angeles Times when Steven Hatfill was paid, “Anthrax as Suspect Receives Payout,”
The former Army scientist who was the prime suspect in the deadly 2001 anthrax mailings, agreed Friday to take a $5.82 million from the government to settle his claim that the Justice Department and the FBI invaded his privacy and ruined his career.
Dr. Steven Hatfill, 54, who was called “a person of interest” in the case by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2002, said that label and repeated leaks of investigative details to the media damaged his reputation.
For months in the anxious atmosphere after September 11, Hatfill was subjected to 24-hour surveillance and was widely identified as the leading suspect in the nation's first bioterrorism attack. However, he was never arrested or charged and a federal judge presiding over his lawsuit recently said that there “is not a scintilla of evidence linking him to the mailings.” (Los Angeles Times. June 28, 2008)
So, the person they tried to feed us for years ended up totally exonerated, leaving the question of who did it. It was just about five weeks after that – that the U.S. government paid Steven Hatfill – that they came back and said, this time we really got the real perpetrator. But unfortunately, he killed himself.
Here from the L.A. Times, you see the headline “Apparent Suicide in Anthrax Case.” This is August 1, 2008, just five weeks after that last article we showed you about the government paying off Steven Hatfill for having erroneously accused him for years.
Top government scientist who helped the FBI analyze samples the 2001 anthrax attacks has died in Maryland from an apparent suicide, just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him for the attacks, The L.A. Times has learned. Bruce E. Ivins, 62, who, for the last 18 years worked at the government's elite biodefense research laboratories at Fort Detrick, Maryland, had been informed of his impending prosecution, said people familiar with Ivins, his suspicious that and the FBI investigation.
Ivins, whose name had not been publicly 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 has helped the FBI analyze the powdery material recovered from one of the anthrax-tainted envelopes sent to a U.S. senator's office in Washington. Ivans died Tuesday at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland 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. Federal investigators moved away from Hatfill – for years, the only publicly identified “person of interest “and ultimately concluded that Ivins was the culprit after FBI Director Robert Mueller changed the leadership of the investigation in late 2006. (Los Angeles Times. Aug. 1, 2008)
That's another interesting fact. This investigation was led by Robert Mueller. He was, as you may remember, George Bush's FBI director after 9/11. He was the one who presided over the FBI when it falsely blamed Steven Hatfill and then took seven years – seven years – to claim to find the real killer, the real attacker. It would just so happen they say, worked right under their noses in the most sophisticated U.S. Army lab in Fort Detrick where he was working with anthrax spores and was able to attack the country using them as a result.
As I said, the FBI did not have to present its case in court because the person was dead. And so, the FBI explained how this happened, that it took seven years to find the perpetrator and explain their reasons for believing that he did it through a series of press conferences and leaks to the media. And right away – right away – there is extraordinary doubt. Again, not from people branded conspiracy theorists or from people who are accustomed to doubting the FBI, but from the most mainstream political and scientific sources in the United States. Serious doubt about the FBI's case. Circumstantially, the evidence made little sense, and scientifically there were gigantic holes in what the FBI was claiming.
Here's an article I wrote in 2009 entitled “Remembering the Anthrax Attack” where I summarized how much doubt had been expressed by the types of institutions rarely willing to question the FBI's veracity.
Ideologically diverse sources have expressed serious doubts about the FBI's anthrax case. That leads a key congressman to demand an independent commission to investigate. One of the two Senate targets of the attacks, Senator Pat Leahy flatly stated at a Senate hearing last September that he does not believe the FBI's case against Ivins and emphatically does not believe that Ivins acted alone. Republican Senator Arlen Specter, at the same hearing, told the FBI they could never have obtained a conviction against Ivins in court based on their case – riddled as it is, with so much doubt – and he also demanded an independent evaluation of the FBI's evidence. Republican Senator Charles Grassley has been a long-time skeptic of the FBI's anthrax investigation and has expressed serious doubt about the case against Ivins. (See this interview I did with Senator Grassley last year.) The ultimate establishment organ, The Washington Post Editorial Page, issued numerous editorials expressing serious doubts about the FBI's case against Ivins and called for an independent investigation. The New York Times Editorial Page echoed those views. Even The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, citing the FBI's “So long and so many missteps,” argued that “independent parties need to review all the evidence, especially the scientific forensics,” and concluded, “that is an opportunity for Congress to conduct legitimate oversight.”
In the wake of the FBI's accusations against Ivins, the science journal Nature flatly declared in its editorial headline “Case not closed” – and demanded an independent investigation into the FBI's case. After the FBI publicly disclosed some of its evidence against Ivins, The New York Times reported “growing doubts from scientists about the strength of the government's case.” The Baltimore Sun detailed that “scientists and legal experts criticized the strength of the case and cast doubt on whether it could have succeeded.” Dr. Alan Pierson, director of the Biological and Chemical Weapons Control Program at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, representative of numerous experts in the field, expressed many of those same scientific doubts and demanded a full investigation.
So, it took the FBI seven years and when they claim that they found the person, who happened to act alone, in this extremely politically valuable attack on U.S. soil and presented their evidence, about the person who just happened to kill himself, alleviating them and the need to take it to court, everyone said the same thing and I mean by everyone the institutions that normally revere the FBI and write down whatever they tell them to say.
From “Nature”, the prestigious scientific journal, comes the headline “Case not closed” and here's what it said.
Was Bruce Ivins, a scientist-gone-wrong who single-handedly orchestrated the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States? Or was the 62-year-old anthrax-vaccine researcher at Fort Detrick, Maryland, an emotionally unstable innocent whose profile made him a convenient fall guy for the FBI? The jury is still out on those questions – or rather, it would be if one had ever a chance to hear the evidence. Ivins’s apparent suicide last month means there will not be a trial, which makes it all the more important that the government releases the evidence it planned to use to accuse him in full. Now.
On August 6, the FBI’s parent agency, the U.S. Department of Justice released what it described as hundreds of pages of evidence against Ivins and declared it would close the case because it was satisfied it had its man. But Ivins's attorney, Paul Kemp, has described those documents as “heaps of innuendo and a staggering lack of real evidence.” He has a point.
For example, many of the documents are just search warrants – a reminder that despite extensive searches of Ivins’s house and cars, the FBI failed to come up with any physical evidence directly implicating him in the attacks. Similarly, the bureau has no evidence to place Ivins at the post boxes in Princeton, New Jersey, from which the anthrax-laden letters were sent.
The core of the case against Ivins, as released so far, is contained in just a couple of dozen pages of affidavits – only four paragraphs of which discuss what the FBI says is the smoking gun: the genetic analysis of the anthrax powder from the letters. The FBI says it found four distinctive genetic mutations in the anthrax used in the attacks. It tested for those mutations and isolates of the Ames anthrax strain from 16 domestic, government and university laboratories, alongside ones from labs in Canada, Sweden and the U.K. In all, more than 1,000 samples were collected, only eight of which had the four mutations, according to the affidavit. Each of these isolates, it says, was directly related to a strain batch named RMR-1029, which was created in 1997 and held in a flask at the U.S. Army research facility in Fort Detrick. The affidavits described Ivins as “the sole custodian of that batch.” Many other researchers had access to it. [Turns out over 100 people had access to that flask.] But the FBI claims to have eliminated all of them as suspects. The genetic analysis itself seems quite solid. The FBI has collaborated with some of the best outside scientists on anthrax, and on August 18 convened many of them to answer journalists’ questions about the science.
The researchers on the panel explained that none of the analysis techniques used in this case knew just the application to anthrax forensics. Several peer-reviewed papers on forensic work have already been published and another dozen or so anticipated. Although this openness about the techniques is commendable, neither the conclusions drawn from the scientific analysis nor such crucial legal elements as the veracity of the provenance and handling of the samples have been tested in court. So far, one side of the story has been heard: that of the prosecution. (Nature. Aug. 20, 2008)
The New York Times on August 8 had an editorial that was entitled “Identifying the Anthrax Killer,” and it expressed very similar doubts. The New York Times not exactly renowned for questioning the U.S. security state.
The FBI seems convinced that has finally solved the long-festering case of who mailed the anthrax letters that killed five people in 2001. Yet its description of the evidence pointing to a mentally disturbed Army bioweapons expert as the sole culprit leaves us uncertain about whether investigators have pulled off a brilliant coup after a bumbling start or prematurely declaring victory, despite a lack of hard, incontrovertible proof. Federal agents relied on sophisticated scientific tests and laborious investigative work to conclude that only Dr. Bruce Ivins, who killed himself last week, could have made and mailed the anthrax used in the letters. They say that recently developed tests enabled them to identify telltale genetic mutations […] (The New York Times. Aug. 7, 2008)
Does that phrase sound familiar? “Telltale genetic mutations” –that phrase was used to blame it on Iraq at the highest levels of media in government seven years before. Now, the FBI says they developed tests that enabled them to identify telltale genetic mutations in the anthrax and to show it came not from Iraq or al-Qaida, but from a “flask kept by Dr. Ivins at the Army laboratories at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland.”
More than a hundred people might have had access to that deadly substance, but over a four-year period, investigators gradually eliminated suspects until only Dr. Ivans was left. None of the investigators’ major assertions, however, have been tested in cross-examination or evaluated by outside specialists. It is imperative that federal officials make public all of their data so independent experts can judge whether the mailed anthrax was indeed identical to Dr. Ivins’s supply and only that supply.
It is also critical for officials to explain more fully how they eliminated the many other people with access to the material. There is no direct evidence of his guilt. No witness saw him pouring powdered anthrax into envelopes. No anthrax spores in his house or cars. No confession to a colleague or any suicide note. No physical evidence tying him to the site in Princeton, New Jersey, from which the letters are believed to have been mailed.
Because Dr. Ivins killed himself before he could be indicted, there will be no opportunity for adversarial testing of the FBI's conclusions. The bureau, unfortunately, has a history of building circumstantial cases that seem compelling at first but ultimately fall apart. (The New York Times. Aug. 7, 2008)
In response to all of this pressure, the FBI voluntarily, meaning they pick and choose which scientific evidence to make available to an expert panel that had been convened – that was an FBI expert panel, one that they had actually approved of – and when this expert panel finally got to see the FBI has long touted scientific evidence, they concluded that it was nowhere near as compelling, let alone conclusive, as the FBI had spent years claiming.
This is from 2011. From The New York Times. The headline “Expert Panel is Critical of FBI's Work in Investigating Anthrax Letters”.
A review of the FBI's scientific work on the investigation of the anthrax letters of 2001 concludes that the bureau overstated the strength of genetic analysis linking the mailed anthrax to a supply kept by Bruce Ivins, the Army microbiologist, whom the investigators blamed for the attacks. The review, by a panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences, said the genetic analysis “did not definitively demonstrate” that the mailed anthrax spores were grown from a sample taken by Dr. Ivins lab at Fort Detrick. It does add, however, that the evidence is ‘consistent with and supports an association” between Dr. Ivins flask and the attack anthrax.
The Academy's report faults the FBI as failing to take advantage of scientific methods developed between the mailings in 2001 and its conclusion after Dr. Ivins’s suicide in 2008 that he was the sole perpetrator… Dr. Ivan's guilt has been adamantly denied by many of his colleagues at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where he was seen as an eccentric but popular character. The Academy's report is likely to renew claims by the FBI's critics that the bureau merely took advantage of Dr. Ivins’s suicide to close the case. (The New York Times. Feb. 15, 2011)
The Washington Post reported as well on the criticism from this expert panel approved by the FBI. There you see the headline from February of 2011: “Anthrax report Casts Doubt on Scientific Evidence in FBI Case against Bruce Ivins.”
For the FBI, the case of the anthrax killer is an investigation that never seems to end. Agents thought they had solved the puzzle last year when they pinned the 2001 attacks on a deceased Fort Detrick scientist. But yet another new wrinkle emerged Tuesday, with a panel of prominent scientists casting doubt on key FBI scientific evidence. A report from the National Research Council questioned the strength of genetic testing that the government said conclusively linked the anthrax-infected letters that killed five people to a flask of lethal bacteria belonging to Bruce Ivins. Tuesday's report questioned a critical piece of evidence: the link between the anthrax spores in a flask labeled RMR-1029 stored in Ivins lab at Fort Detrick and anthrax from the attacks. The Justice Department report concluded that Ivins collection of anthrax spores, which he had called his “ultimate creation” was the “parent material” for the anthrax used in the mailings. “The scientific link between the letter material and the flask number RMR 1029 is not as conclusive as stated in the DOJ Investigative Summary,” said the $1.1 million report, which was commissioned by the FBI. The document did add that “Genetic evidence is consistent with and supports an association between the flask and the anthrax used in the attack.” The 190-page document by the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences praised the FBI's energetic pursuit of emerging science. But it offered another possible explanation for the apparent link between the letters and the Ivins flask, namely, that some of the mutations identified in the letters could have arisen independently through a process known as parallel evolution. The report said this possibility “was not rigorously explored” by the FBI.
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