Accuracy in Media

A new government report predicts that al Qaeda may try to launch a chemical, biological or nuclear attack on shopping malls or supermarkets. Meanwhile, the U.S. can’t find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and is draining a Maryland pond in a desperate attempt to find some evidence concerning the post-9/11 anthrax attacks that killed five people here. You don’t have to be a Bush-basher to question whether U.S. intelligence agencies know what they’re doing.

CBS Evening News correspondent Jim Stewart reported that the FBI is draining the pond, miles away from where former government scientist Dr. Steven Hatfill once lived, because it has no other leads in the case. Stewart showed a computer-generated design of something that “looks like” what the FBI is said to have already recovered from the pond. It also “looks like” a sweater box with a hole cut in the side of it. Some think it was a turtle trap made by a kid. Others say it’s a minnow trap or live-bait dispenser. An initial report finding anthrax on a rope from the pond has proven to be false.

Toni Locy in USA Today reported that a law enforcement source said investigators “sometimes wonder whether they focused on Hatfill too soon, and ignored someone who deserved more attention.” But so much has gone into investigating Hatfill, a source said, that abandoning the focus on him “would be like starting all over.” Locy also reported, “So far, investigators cannot rebut Hatfill’s claims that he has never been to Trenton or Princeton, New Jersey, where the anthrax letters were mailed.”

The attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 was also launched from New Jersey. Trenton, Paterson and Jersey City have significant populations of Arab militants. Of the 762 illegal immigrants jailed in the weeks and months after 9/11, nearly three out of four were from New York City or New Jersey.

Reporting from New York City on October 20, 2001, Edward Helmore of the London Guardian said that, “The FBI was scouring Arab-American neighborhoods in New Jersey yesterday for the sender of anthrax-laced letters that could reveal the first definite link between the September 11 attacks and the anthrax outbreaks?In another significant development, it was revealed that the FBI overlooked clues which suggested that two New Jersey men suspected of plotting to hijack a fifth airliner may have been involved in bioterrorism. Tipped off by reporters from the Wall Street Journal who found articles relating to bioterrorism, the agency again searched a flat in Jersey City belonging to Ayub Ali Khan and Mohammed Azmath, two men suspected of having links with al Qaeda and the terrorists cells that launched the World Trade Center attacks. On the morning of September 11 both men had boarded a flight from nearby Newark airport to San Antonio, Texas, but the plane was forced to land in St Louis after the four hijackings halted all air traffic in the U.S. Both were arrested the next day on an Amtrak train from St Louis to Austin, Texas?”

According to published reports, their luggage contained an assortment of passports, cash and box-cutting knives. But the FBI came to the conclusion that none of this was related to the terrorist attacks on America. The two men, Indian Muslims, were convicted of credit-card fraud and released by the FBI after months in detention. They left the U.S.

It’s important to remember that the CBS 60 Minutes program did a story about “The Man Who Got Away,” Abdul Rahman Yasin, a participant in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who was picked up by the FBI at a New Jersey apartment but convinced the Bureau that he wasn’t involved in the attack. The FBI released him and even drove him home. Then he fled to Baghdad. Today, he’s on the FBI’s list of “Most Wanted Terrorists” and a reward of up to $25 million is being offered for his apprehension.

The only FBI car involved in the Hatfill case is the one that drove over his foot. The FBI follows him 24 hours a day.

Meanwhile, Scott Shane of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) rejected a request by Hatfill to speak at its recent Washington conference about how the FBI-media axis has ruined his life and career in the anthrax probe. On the other hand, FBI agent Brad Garrett, who has participated in the anthrax investigation, was scheduled to be part of an IRE panel called “Art of the Criminal Investigation.” This would be laughable were the matter not so deadly serious.

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