FBI DIRECTOR DEFENDS PACE OF ANTHRAX INVESTIGATION 



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Last Updated

01 Feb 2003

Source: Washington Post, March 2, 2002.

FBI Director Defends Pace of Anthrax Investigation

By Dan Eggen, Washington Post Staff Writer

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III yesterday vigorously defended his agency's investigation of last fall's anthrax attacks, saying allegations from some scientists that the FBI is fumbling the case are "totally inaccurate."

While acknowledging that the bureau had not identified specific suspects or sources for the anthrax, Mueller said in a meeting with reporters in Washington that FBI investigators are working "in a number of different directions" to solve the case.

"I don't think in any way, shape or form that we have been dragging our feet," Mueller said. "Because of the unique nature and form [of the anthrax probe], it takes some time."

More than five months after the first envelope containing anthrax bacteria was postmarked in Trenton, N.J., FBI investigators say they have no firm suspects in the case and are still analyzing anthrax spores that were mailed with a letter to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.).

The FBI began issuing new subpoenas this week to laboratories seeking anthrax samples and records related to them. It will seek to compare the spores with those recovered from the Leahy letter and others.

Mueller said the pace of the investigation has been slowed in part by the need to set up scientific protocols for dealing with the anthrax samples.

"We are going to have to come into the court and explain to the jury the process we went through to identify this individual and, if there is a match, the scientific procedure to make that match," he said.

Mueller also said the investigation was not focused on any group of biodefense laboratories. He also said there is no way to rule out a terrorist connection to the case.

Other bureau officials, however, have said that investigators have a special interest in fewer than 20 labs in North America and Europe that have been identified as having live cultures of the same general strain of anthrax used in the attacks. FBI profilers also believe the culprit is not connected to international terrorists.

The short list of labs was among the targets of the latest round of subpoenas, officials said. The labs have been asked to detail where and when they got their anthrax samples, and to identify labs to which they sent samples.

Tests have shown a match between spores used in the attacks and a strain of anthrax used in U.S. biodefense research since the mid-1980s.

Without naming her, Mueller dismissed recent comments by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a prominent bioterrorism expert, who contended that the FBI likely knows the identity of the suspected terrorist but is "dragging its feet."

Mueller began his FBI tenure just a week before the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington. He said the Bush administration's war on terrorism since Sept. 11 has been "exceptionally successful" in disrupting the al Qaeda terrorist network and thwarting further attacks.

But Mueller reiterated warnings that the United States is "still at a high level of risk of terrorist attack" and that al Qaeda operatives may be hiding in the United States.

He revealed that U.S. officials received "some threats" during the recently completed Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, although he said they were never considered "imminent, substantial, credible" dangers.