Accuracy in Media

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) deserve enormous credit and thanks for leading the congressional effort to hold the FBI accountable over its bungling of the investigation into the post-9/11 anthrax attacks that killed five Americans. The FBI has officially “closed” the case and conveniently blames a dead man, who committed suicide under FBI pressure, for the anthrax murders.

The FBI blames “the late Dr. Bruce Ivins” and claims that he “acted alone in planning and executing these attacks.” But the “evidence” is unconvincing and the case should still be considered unsolved. Ivins, like another suspect in the case, Dr. Stephen Hatfill, had been harassed and hounded by federal agents. The difference is that Hatfill stood up to the pressure and, with the help of Accuracy in Media, eventually collected a financial settlement from the federal government for the damage to his career and reputation.

But the FBI wouldn’t have been able to try to frame Hatfill without the cooperation of the major media, including the New York Times and ABC News.

The “progressive” community, which was anxious to find a domestic source of the anthrax attacks, defended the FBI.

The Holt/Bartlett Congressional amendment (House Amendment 581), which passed by voice vote, directs the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community “to review available intelligence, including raw and unfinished intelligence, to determine if there is any credible evidence of a connection between a foreign entity and the attacks on the United States in 2001 involving anthrax.” The Holt-Bartlett amendment was to the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Bill, which also comes up for a vote in the House before being acted upon by the Senate.

It’s also important to hold the media accountable for publishing distortions and lies provided by the FBI and other interested parties determined to absolve Al Qaeda of responsibility for the attacks. 

From the start of the FBI’s inquiry, as we noted in a September 30, 2002, column, the Bureau seemed determined to eliminate Al Qaeda as a source of the attacks and that the FBI’s misconduct was only exceeded by the reporters who ignored or excused it.

Holt, chair of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel and a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, notes, “Given that samples of the strain of anthrax that was used in the attacks may have been supplied to foreign laboratories, it is important to examine whether or not evidence of a potential foreign connection to the attacks was overlooked, ignored, or simply not passed along to the FBI.”

Holt and Bartlett had written a “Dear Colleague” letter asking for the new investigation of the FBI and declaring, “We already know that the FBI too quickly jumped to conclusions about the nature and profile of the culprit or culprits and hastily identified two individuals. One later received a multimillion dollar settlement and apology for mistaken accusations. Indeed, this investigation was mishandled at multiple points, which is why a thorough, independent re-examination is so important.”

“The FBI botched this case from the very beginning, and now they have arbitrarily closed the investigation because they are sure they have their man–just as they were sure they had their first man, who they had to pay $6 million for false arrest,” said Holt. The letters with the anthrax were mailed from Holt’s central New Jersey congressional district. They featured the phrase “Death to America,” “Death to Israel,” and “Allah is God,” which were sure signs that an Islamic extremist had written them. But the FBI dismissed these obvious leads as a diversion intended to falsely blame radical Islam and focus attention away from the real perpetrator, supposedly a right-winger with a military background.

Actually, former government scientist Dr. Stephen Hatfill, who supposedly fit the profile, was never arrested for the anthrax murders. But he was termed a “person of interest” by then- Attorney General John Ashcroft and his career was destroyed by the FBI as they sought to frame him for the attacks.

After paying Hatfill, the FBI picked on another alleged villain, Dr. Bruce Ivins, and hounded him until he committed suicide. Ivins worked at Fort Detrick in Bartlett’s congressional district in Frederick, Maryland. 

Bartlett commented, “His colleagues say that he would not have done it and the FBI said early on that he could not have done it because the spores were weaponized and he had no ability to do that.”

While the major media have regurgitated the FBI’s line on Ivins, Megan Epstein of the Frederick News Post noted that the FBI’s conclusions are a subject of much dispute by those who worked with and supervised him.

She noted that Jeffrey Adamovicz, former chief of bacteriology who supervised Ivins’ work at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, had said that “The evidence is still very circumstantial and unconvincing as a whole. I’m curious as to why they closed the case while the (National Academy of Science) review is still ongoing. Is it because the review is going unfavorable for the FBI?”

Bartlett noted these comments on the House floor and remarked that “They would not let the current scientists at Fort Detrick talk to me.” So the cover-up continues.

The still unsolved case makes a mockery of claims that President George W. Bush “kept us safe” after the 9/11 attacks. The anthrax murders came after 9/11. Unfortunately, the premature closing of the case under the Obama Administration means that the FBI hasn’t learned any lessons from its handling of the case and that corrupt practices continue at the agency.

It also means that the U.S. is still unprepared for a biological terrorist attack.

Accuracy in Media immediately came to the defense of Hatfill and understood early on that the FBI had the wrong man. The FBI went after Hatfill because of a flawed psychological profile and pressure from left-wingers who wanted to pin the anthrax murders on a conservative with military and scientific credentials.

The likely culprits, we argued, were Al-Qaeda operatives who were part of a second wave of attacks on the U.S. homeland. But because the FBI went on a media-generated wild goose chase after Hatfill, precious time, leads and evidence were lost.

The perpetrators fled the country, were deported for immigration law violations, or are still here.

Some of those with black eyes from the scandal include, in addition to the FBI:

  • The “progressive” ACLU, supposedly devoted to the rights of innocent people, never went to Hatfill’s defense. However, it is quick to go to the defense of suspected foreign terrorists in U.S. custody who claim to have been mistreated.
  • New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote five columns and thousands of words urging more FBI scrutiny of the scientist. He portrayed Hatfill as a despicable character with an unsavory past. Kristof has not apologized to Hatfill.
  • Brian Ross of ABC News aired several false allegations, based on anonymous sources, against Hatfill, trying to link him to the attacks.
  • Liberal Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, the recipients of two of the anthrax letters, encouraged the pursuit of Hatfill. They figured that since they were liberals, the anthrax letters must have come from someone with a vendetta against them. In other words, a right-winger. Hatfill, a bioweapons researcher at Fort Detrick with conservative views, was determined to fit the bill.

Now comes the FBI, closing the “Amerithrax” investigation on February 19 and blaming another former government scientist, Bruce Ivins, who had killed himself after harassment and hounding from the same FBI. The scandal never ends.

Our only hope of getting to the bottom of this on-going travesty is the Holt/Bartlett amendment.

Ironically, on the same day the FBI closed the case, former Attorney General Ashcroft was given the “Defender of the Constitution” award at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The evidence shows that Ashcroft and his Justice Department trampled on Hatfill’s constitutional rights. Conservatives should never forget or ignore these facts. 

AIM has also argued that the media coverage of the Hatfill case constitutes a significant reason why a federal media shield bill must not pass Congress. Such a bill would give journalists the right to conceal sources, even in national security cases.

We noted in a column that Hatfill correctly argued that the leaks from the government violated his right to privacy and that he wanted to identify through litigation the government agents who fingered him. In order to do that, however, he had to have the ability to force reporters to identify sources who provided them information about the Justice Department’s investigation. That was the only way to root out these corrupt government officials.

A federal media shield law gives added protection to corrupt government officials and their media mouthpieces to avoid scrutiny and accountability.

“Like many Americans I trusted that the news that would be presented to me on television and in the newspapers would be filtered and have some degree of accuracy,” Hatfill declared at an Accuracy in Media conference in 2002. He quickly found out that the opposite was the case.

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