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Last Updated

22 Aug 2003

Source: BBC, August 18, 2002.

Anthrax killer 'is US defence insider'

An FBI forensic linguistics expert believes the US anthrax attacks were carried out by a senior scientist from within America's biological-defence community.

Professor Don Foster - who helped convict Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and unveiled Joe Klein as the author of the novel Primary Colors - says the evidence points to someone with high-ranking military and intelligence connections.

Speaking about the investigation for the first time, Prof Foster told the BBC he had identified two suspects who had both worked for the CIA, the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and other classified military operations.

Controversially, Prof Foster says the killer is likely to be highly patriotic individual who wanted to demonstrate that the US was badly prepared for an act of biological terrorism.

The weapons-grade anthrax was posted in letters just days after the 11 September terror attacks, leaving five people dead, 18 injured and 35,000 forced to take precautionary antibiotics.

The professor says he does not believe the killer will strike again as he has achieved his goal.

He explained: "To that end his misplaced patriotism has worked. Today millions of government dollars have gone into research and anthrax antibiotics are now available to the public."

Agency rivalry?

However, he fears the investigation is now being hampered in its gathering of vital documents that could lead to the killer.

Prof Foster says investigators need examples of the suspects writing to analyse their style and use of language - which the professor believes is as unique as DNA and could unveil the perpetrator.

He said: "It's very frustrating. Ordinarily with the FBI if there's some documents needed - known writings - boom, they're on my desk the next day.

"My two suspects both appear to have CIA connections. These two agencies, the CIA and the FBI, are sometimes seen as rivals.

"My anxiety is that the FBI agents assigned to this case are not getting full and complete co-operation from the US military, CIA and witnesses who might have information about this case."

Killer 'diverting suspicion'

Prof Foster was given four letters recovered by investigators to analyse for clues to the killer's identity.

"As I worked through these documents it became apparent that USAMRIID was ultimately the best place for the FBI to begin looking for a suspect," he said.

All of the letters contain the following messages "Death to America" and "Death to Israel". All were dated 11 September, a clear reference to the terror attacks.

But while investigators searched for links between the anthrax attacks and al-Qaeda, Prof Foster immediately suspected that dating the letters 11 September was merely a ruse to throw the authorities off the scent.

He says: "When an offender gives you some piece of information that's just completely unnecessary and that, in this case, is inaccurate, it becomes immediately suspect.

"It becomes a statement of 'Here's what I want you to believe about this document'."

Prof Foster also says the killer seems to have tried implicating two former USAMRIID scientists who had left the laboratory in unhappy circumstances by posting the letters from near their homes in New Jersey.

He says only someone in contact with a senior insider at USAMRIID would have known how the two scientists left the lab and that they would then be likely targets for the FBI investigation.

He says: "They are looking at someone who's a little bit higher up the food chain, who would have to have access to personnel information."

Deliberate mistakes

The professor also identified a number of mistakes and misspellings in the letters which he suspects are a deliberate ploy to confuse investigators.

The author of the anthrax letters tells his victims to take penicillin. Not only is penicillin the wrong antibiotic to take, the killer also misspells the word.

Prof Foster says: "You mean to tell me this guy is dealing with anthrax, a trillion spores a gram, and he thinks penicillin is going to be the antibiotic of choice?

"There's something very fishy about that misspelling there, that this particular word should be misspelled and it should be misspelled in such an unconvincing way.

"It looks like an attempt on the offender to say 'Hey, don't think I'm a scientist, don't think I know anything about antibiotics'."

The FBI have placed a number of scientists under intense scrutiny and recently questioned US scientist Dr Steven Hatfill in connection with the attacks.

Dr Hatfill strenuously denies any involvement in the attacks saying: "I have never worked with anthrax; I know nothing about this matter."

The FBI's investigation continues.