ANTHRAX: A POLITICAL WHODUNIT



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Last Updated

21 Nov 2002

Source: ABC Radio National, Australia, November 17, 2002.

PART TWO (Click here for PART ONE)

BACKGROUND BRIEFING (continued)

Anthrax: a Political Whodunit (continued)

Produced by Brigid Glanville

Brigid Glanville: Barbara Hatch Rosenberg completely dismisses the accusation that she has named Hatfill as a suspect in the anthrax letters, because of his stance that America should not sign the convention. She says the two issues are completely unconnected.

Barbara Hatch Rosenberg: Hatfill has said that he thinks that I have been after him because we donít agree on the Biological Weapons Convention protocol thatís been under negotiation. Of course thatís laughable, because I never knew or cared where he stood on that. Heís not important in that respect; itís where President Bush stands that matters, and I donít think heís been a prime influence on the Administration. I donít really think this is a point worth making on your program either. I mean itís stupid, itís ridiculous.

Brigid Glanville: But how ridiculous is it?

This is the possible scenario: you are a top defence scientist who thinks the US should sign the Biological Weapons Convention and should spend more money on research. You put anthrax out to draw attention to this important cause. But you donít want to get caught. So first of all you try to make it sound as if the anthrax has been sent out by an Islamic fanatic. Then when that doesnít work, you point the finger at a hotheaded, slightly suss scientist of a fairly low rank. And who also happens to think the US should not sign the Convention, the perfect person to throw everyone off the scent.

Itís rather convoluted, but typical of the possibilities being discussed in America.

Barbara Rosenberg says sheís only sure of one thing: itís someone from inside the system.

Barbara Hatch Rosenberg: I donít really care who a perpetrator is, I think he heeds to be apprehended and brought to justice wherever he may come from, because thatís going to send the right message to other bioterrorists that they canít get away with it. We have not done that yet, and I think this is extremely dangerous. I do believe that all the evidence has pointed to its coming out of the US Biodefence Program and that there was no evidence, only speculation, that the source could have been elsewhere.

Brigid Glanville: Since the press conference he gave in June, Stephen Hatfill has declined all media interviews on advice of his solicitors. Heís now employed a spokesperson, Pat Clawson, to comment. Clawson, a journalist, claims Hatfill has been an easy target for the FBI to name someone and to take pressure of their year-long lack of success.

Pat Clawson: The government has said that theyíve got roughly 30 so-called persons of interest, again that weird term thatís been used by Attorney-General, John Ashcroft.

Brigid Glanville: And theyíve said a person of interest is not a suspect.

Pat Clawson: Well thatís correct, a person of interest is not a suspect, but you know, itís pretty darned funny that Steve Hatfill is the only person who has been publicly identified on national television by the Attorney-General of the United States, as being a person of interest. Who are these other 29? Weíve never heard, we donít know who they are.

Brigid Glanville: Why has then the FBI released his name?

Pat Clawson: Thatís a darn good question. You know, Iíve been a reporter here in the United States, an investigative reporter covering the FBI and covering the criminal justice system for over a quarter of a century, and it has been my experience that when the FBI goes public on an investigation, in the way they have done on the Hatfill case, itís because their overall investigation has hit a dead end, and theyíre in serious trouble. So what they do is, they go public to some extent, with some of the findings of their investigation as a way of 1) putting pressure on an individual that they suspect might be involved in some kind of a crime, and 2) frankly as a propaganda ploy to convince the American people that the FBI is on the job and actually doing something, when in fact their investigationís hit a dead end. Itís most often when these kinds of things happen, itís a red herring, itís just a propaganda ploy.

Brigid Glanville: Other circumstantial evidence thatís been found that could incriminate Hatfill is that he posed for a magazine article dressed in a bioterrrorism suit, pretending to make anthrax in his kitchen to warn officials of its danger. This has been explained as a mere bit of fun, a favour he did for his friend who was writing the particular article.

When the FBI conducted a search on Hatfillís home, they found a working novel on the hard drive of his computer.

The story was centred around how man conducted a bioterrorist attack in America, and how he got away with it.

Pat Clawson says it was years ago and itís purely coincidental.

Pat Clawson: Yes and that again came up from one our dinner conversations years ago, as an offshoot of the magazine articles, or the newspaper articles that you referred to just a few moments ago. After Steve had co-operated with Fred Reid of The Washington Times, and Insight magazine, on the magazine and the newspaper articles, we began discussing the idea, Gee this would make a great Tom Clancy style novel, a bioterrorism attack on the United States.

Brigid Glanville: And how the perpetrator covered his tracks.

Pat Clawson: And how the perpetrator covered his tracks. So he went through, we kicked it around over drinks and over dinner one night, and right, you know, ĎGee this would be kind of a cool subject for a novelí. I mean some of the people I hang out with here in Washington, some of the people that Steve knows, are journalists, and believe me, every journalist in this townís working on a book on some subject at some time. And the conversation to the direction that ĎWell, you know the thing that really makes the Tom Clancy novels interesting are all the technical detail that are in them, and we donít have that kind of technical knowledge, but Gee, Steve, you do; why donít you do the book?í So thatís how it came about. And indeed the book is not about anthrax, itís about a bubonic plague attack on Washington, D.C., anthrax is not involved at all, and it has nothing to do with sending anything through the mail. In this case the book is about a terrorist who goes into the White House in a wheelchair that was equipped to spray bubonic plague germs, and that was the basis of the novel.

Brigid Glanville: In the endless tangled web of possibilities, the fact that an American couple contracted bubonic plague last week now has the authorities scurrying again. While the couple did contract it from a rat on their farm in New Mexico, authorities were still put on full alert of a bioterrorism threat.

The theory that the anthrax situation is connected to whether America will or wonít sign the Biological Weapons Convention this month is one of plausible political possibilities. Another is money. Somebody may have wanted a lot more money spent in the science side of biological weapons and thought this was a good way to get the governmentís attention. It seems astonishing that anyone would risk the lives of tens of thousands of Americans to raise awareness of research funding, but no-one says we live in a particularly sane world.

Fort Detrick has faced funding cuts in the last few years, and possibly anthrax research that hasnít been a threat for some years bore the brunt of it. Raising awareness of how lethal the product can be is a sure way to get more money spent on bioterrorism.

In a private home in Delaware, expert in anthrax, Dr Meryl Nass.

Meryl Nass: These anthrax attacks were designed to seek publicity because they attacked the media, and I think they chose the National Inquirer first because they knew that was one media outlet that was unlikely to be muzzled and was going to write about how it itself has been attacked.

Brigid Glanville: Theyíre like a tabloid, arenít they?

Meryl Nass: Yes, theyíre a tabloid newspaper. And then they chose some very high profile Senators to attack so that Congress would probably be scared by the possibility of having their own buildings, their own person attacked, and they are the ones who vote funding for bioterrorism preparations and responses. And sure enough, within a few weeks, Congress had voted billions of dollars for bioterrorism.

Brigid Glanville: Who have been the beneficiaries of this bioterrorism scare? Who has received money?

Meryl Nass: Well basically everybody, except myself, in the bioterrorism field has received money, I mean any researcher who has had a good idea about responses to anthrax has gotten money and as a result we are seeing an enormous number of new treatments for anthrax, and thatís going to be very helpful. But you know, the money could have been spent a year or two ago and we would have had an enormous number of treatments for anthrax. Weíve got new anthrax vaccines, new smallpox vaccines, the country has spent $850-million for new smallpox vaccines, $1-billion has been given to the States to improve bioterrorism preparations, there are almost $6-billion in the budget this year for bioterrorism. So the money has been spread widely.

Brigid Glanville: Dr Nass strongly believes itís been done by someone very high up in the US intelligence community.

Meryl Nass: I think first of all thereís probably certain people that are just not going to be found. If it was somebody who was really high up, letís say William Patrick for example, the country is not going to identify William Patrick as a perpetrator because he used to run the offensive program and it would be too embarrassing to say somebody like, I donít think William Patrick did it, by the way, but it would be too embarrassing to say that somebody on that level could have done something like this.

Brigid Glanville: Do you think it is someone on that level?

Meryl Nass: Well I think itís possible. Certainly it seems that the FBI investigation has had a lot of fumbles and it may be that somebody at a high level has managed to keep the FBI fumbling.

Brigid Glanville: And if the government did know who did it, they would never admit to it when they could jeopardise the public opinion on the stance theyíve taken on the Biological Weapons Convention.

Meryl Nass: Well whatís the government? I mean the government, thereís CIA, thereís FBI, thereís Fort Detrick, there is Dugway; I think that there are almost certainly groups within the branches of government who know more than theyíre letting on. Whether FBI has all this information is not clear, certainly evidence has come out for instance that Dugway or Battel were producing powdered weaponised anthrax in the United States. Apparently it took several months for the FBI to learn that, and they should have known it the day after the attacks.

Brigid Glanville: Dugway and Battel are biological weapons testing sites.

Background Briefing was not granted an interview with anyone from the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, USAMRID at Fort Detrick. But we were able to speak to Dr Richard Spertzel who worked in conjunction with them as a chief weapons inspector for the United Nations Special Commission from 1994 to 1998. And he thinks the anthrax letters were sent by someone from Iraq.

He says itís unlikely to be an American scientist, because contrary to what Professor Rosenberg says, only four or five people in America are capable of making this quality anthrax. Dr Spertzel came into the ABC studios in Washington to speak to Background Briefing.

Richard Spertzel: Very few would have the knowledge and even less would have the capability or opportunity to make it. I contended from the beginning that that quality product could not be made without the complicity of the government in the country in which it was made, because otherwise too many people would have to know about what was going on, and it wouldnít remain a secret where there is an open press.

Brigid Glanville: Dr Spertzel also argues that Iraq had the perfect motive: that they could shut down the US government and put Iraq in a much stronger position of power.

The FBI disagrees and have said Iraq is not capable of making the anthrax, but Dr Spertzel says Iraq does have the expertise.

Richard Spertzel: Iraq had the full capability and the full knowledge. They knew exactly what to do in order to get this. And one other important feature about that material, that material has been described that the spores were individually coded with the product and the only way I know you can get that is to add the material to the liquid spores before theyíre dried, and then you use a spray dryer, a certain type of spray dryer. We know that Iraq knew how to do this and that they had the right kind of spray dryer.

Brigid Glanville: What other evidence since then has led you to believe that Iraqís involved?

Richard Spertzel: My feeling on Iraq is involved really relates to having all the capability, everything thatís necessary to do it, as well as quite honestly, the motive. Now in addition to that, the al Qaeda contacts with Iraq dates back perhaps as early as 1993, according to defectors. Thereís another indication, and I think the evidence is too strong that there has been a steady and continued relationship between the two, and that would have provided Iraq with the opportunity to have what I call delivery boys, that is the al Qaeda. Just because the al Qaeda organisation and the Iraqi State may be at separate ends of the spectrum, or in Islamic religion, it doesnít mean that necessity doesnít make strange bedfellows.

Brigid Glanville: Strange bedfellows indeed. During the interview with Background Briefing, the FBI Domestic Terrorism Chief, Tom Carey, wouldnít elaborate on Dr Spertzelís views. But he did say that FBI investigations showed that Iraq could not be involved and that people have wrong information about what Iraq possesses.

Tom Carey: What I would say is the information that came out there that led weapons inspectors and others to suspect the Iraq connection was wrong information. Now it doesnít say we still wouldnít look for any potential connection to Iraq, or rather any other States sponsored terrorist, but what they specifically referred to didnít exist, and it was misinformation.

Brigid Glanville: Many scientists, anthrax experts and journalists have heavily criticised the FBI, particularly for the number of leaks that have come out about the investigation. The FBI is not considered a reliable investigator, nor a reliable source of information.

All of them have said the leak to the media about the search on Hatfillís home only 24 hours before it happened, was inexcusable. Professor Rosenberg was working closely in the beginning of the investigations with the FBI providing information she had learnt from the Biodefence community. And even Rosenberg is critical of the FBIís work in solving the mystery.

Barbara Hatch Rosenberg: It appears to me and I have said so on several occasions in the past, that the FBI was carrying out highly publicised activities just to provide evidence to the public that they were doing something, but that these activities were essentially meaningless. One of them was to send letters to 43,000 microbiologists in the country when they had to know that the possible perpetrators were among a very small number of roughly 30 people connected to biodefence. Another one was passing out samples of handwriting by the thousands to see if anyone recognised it, when it was obvious that the handwriting had been disguised. And I think that the publicised search of suspects apartments, several searches recently, may or may not have fallen into that category. I donít think it was necessary for them to make that personís name public and I think it was unfortunate it was unfair, because they have done similar searches of other peopleís apartments and homes and those names have not become public.

Brigid Glanville: The issue of whether or not the FBI are involved in a cover-up and whether they are manipulating public opinion by leaking misinformation crops up time and again.

When Background Briefing interviewed FBI Section Chief Tom Carey, we asked him to talk about, for one thing, the leaks about Steven Hatfill and whether or not they were set up by the FBI as to get every possible publicity advantage out of their investigations on him. Tom Carey says the FBI is not responsible for the leaks.

Tom Carey: Weíre not taking any responsibility for that. As far as Iím concerned, if a person goes before the media himself and discusses what he views his concerns with an investigation, then thatís all on him, and Iíve watched Hatfill as Iíve watched other people get up and make media presentations and point the finger at the FBI, and as attorneys say, Weíve done this, and weíve done that, weíve done the next thing, you have not seen the FBI come back and respond to that, nor have you see anybody from the US Attorneyís Office respond to that. And weíre not going to respond that way. When we respond, we will respond in court.

Brigid Glanville: While the FBI wonít claim responsibility for leaks to the media, the analysis of evidence coming from top scientists seems to indicate it was someone or some people high up in the United States military or science community that sent the letters. Whoever it was had the knowledge to produce anthrax and did it well, because the FBI only has circumstantial evidence, with no witnesses, no fingerprints, or DNA to charge someone.

And as Tom Carey says, without this, murder is hard to prove.

Tom Carey: While circumstantial evidence helps build a case, but at the end of the day you want to have what we call direct evidence, and a significant amount of direct evidence, along with circumstantial evidence in which youíre going to bring somebody to trial.

Brigid Glanville: So what would be an example of circumstantial evidence?

Tom Carey: Well circumstantial evidence could be testimony from other individuals that an individual had access say to a room where anthrax was stored. Or the records would indicate that the person had access, versus real evidence would be their fingerprint on the letter. On the letter that was inside one of the envelopes, that would be the real direct physical evidence.

Brigid Glanville: And there obviously was no fingerprints, there wasnít much of that kind of direct evidence?

Tom Carey: No, there was next to no physical evidence, nothing that we could use.

Brigid Glanville: No matter who the experts, weapons inspectors or reporters believe who did it, and whether or not it was done by a top military scientist and the government wonít admit to it, the simple fact is, for whatever reason we may never know the truth.

The FBI have admitted thereís possibly only about 20 people who had the knowledge or expertise to conduct these attacks. Given that, you canít help but wonder what the real reason is why they havenít found someone.

Tom Carey: I wish I could say that somebody was going to be arrested this afternoon and arraigned tomorrow, and I donít know when thatís going to be. The only thing I can tell you is that weíre still working it very aggressively. Itís not just the FBI, the US Postal Service, State and local police from a number of jurisdictions, our foreign friends and allies, have provided assistance and continue to provide assistance. This is still a very aggressive investigation and a lot of work is ongoing.

Brigid Glanville: Can you see why people are asking the question, Why havenít they found anyone? You know, the FBI, the worldís top intelligence.

Tom Carey: Weíre the FBI, the worldís top investigative agency, not intelligence agency. Thereís a slight difference there, but the bottom line is that at the end of the day no matter how good you are, you have to work with the evidence that you can develop, and there is very scant evidence and this a long road to hoe. Itís been months and months and months. Just on the science part of the investigation, and again not being a scientist there were things that I presume naively we would have answers to in three or four months that might be something we could use to help our criminal investigators. There are tests and science experiments going on now that will still be months from resolution, that may or may not help move the investigation forward.

Brigid Glanville: If youíd like the move the investigation forward, go to the Background Briefing website and have a look at the letters and other links to evidence.

The programís Co-ordinating producer is Linda McGinness; Research by Paul Bolger; Technical producer, David Bates and Executive Producer, Kirsten Garrett.

Youíve been listening to Background Briefing on ABC Radio National. Now back from America, Iím Brigid Glanville.

Click here for Part One.