Anthrax Killer Still At Large
They "dropped the ball" or "didn’t connect the dots." These are some of the clichés used by the media in describing criticism of the intelligence community in a "sweeping report" by a congressional panel that studied the 9/11 intelligence failure. But what about the failure to find the perpetrators of the anthrax letters attacks?
Five people were killed in those attacks. And Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, recently appointed as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a homeland security conference that the letters "almost shut down the U.S. Postal system." She added, "It wouldn't take many more (such) letters to really create an enormous catastrophe. Our best defense is to find the (perpetrator of the) first (anthrax) case." She pointed out the still unsolved anthrax attacks continue to highlight the nation's vulnerability to bioterorism.
According to USA Today, Sen. Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said lawmakers had to "pry" some information from the FBI and the CIA about terrorist activities. He said, "We currently have 13 requests to the FBI alone for additional information, which have not been honored." This is the same FBI that has persecuted and scapegoated Dr. Steven Hatfill in the anthrax case. But Dr. Gerberding let the FBI off the hook, saying the bureau faced a "huge challenge" in finding the culprit. She said "it's (like) looking for a needle in a haystack." On the other hand, she said she believed that whoever launched the anthrax attacks possesses "incredible, sophisticated knowledge about what they are dealing with."
She added, "They had to protect not only themselves, but the people in their environs from exposure to the powders, which basically function as a gas." That would suggest a government or an organized terrorist group, rather than a single individual. The needle could be Iraq or Al Qaeda.
The FBI’s dramatic failure in this case should be highlighted by the media. Interestingly, it didn’t get any attention in Bob Woodward’s new book on the Bush administration and the war on terrorism. New York Times columnist Frank Rich was correct when he wrote, "The book often minimizes administration failings that should worry us as we prepare to march on to Iraq." He explains, "The truly sensitive issues for the Bush administration are those that are given short shrift in the book or are left out entirely. We hear no inside accounts of its failure to track down the anthrax terrorists." The stories about the 9/11 report appeared on the same day the Washington Post said that Iraq may have given al Qaeda a chemical weapon to use against the U.S.
Barton Gellman of the Post said, "In general, al Qaeda's pursuit of chemical and biological weapons is well known to U.S. intelligence. A central player in the effort has been Midhat al Mursi, an Egyptian who is among the most-wanted al Qaeda operatives but who remains at large. He ran a development and testing facility for lethal chemicals in a camp…in…Afghanistan…" Despite this, the FBI still refuses to link al Qaeda to the anthrax attacks.
Reed Irvine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org