For months the FBI has fixated on Dr. Steven Hatfill as the prime suspect in last year’s unsolved anthrax killings. Federal authorities recently told ABC News that they were building a “growing circumstantial evidence case” against him. On October 28, however, the Washington Post reported that a “significant number of scientists and biological warfare experts” now dispute the basis of the Bureau’s focus on Hatfill or any other lone, insider-type U.S. scientist.
One expert, cited by the Post, calculated the costs of making the anthrax spores contained in the letters sent to Senators Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to be “millions of dollars.” The Post’s sources say that the “sophistication and virulence” of the anthrax was probably far beyond the capabilities of a single person. They said that the anthrax spores sent to Daschle and Leahy were 50 times finer than anything produced in the U.S. bio-warfare program and 10 times finer than the former Soviet Union’s highest grade spores. Richard Spertzel, a former United Nations’ weapons inspector in Iraq, said that he was one of four or five people in the U.S. capable of producing spores like the ones sent to the two senators. He told the Post that even with a good lab and staff it might take him a year to produce such a product.
The spores were coated with “fumed silica,” which requires a chemist, a material scientist, and mechanical engineers plus “some containment people if you don’t want to kill anybody” to produce. That is according to Steven Lancos of Niro, Inc., a company that makes the spray dryers that are said to be “the likeliest tool” for coating the spores with fumed silica. The cheapest spray dryer costs about $50,000. Electron microscopes, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, would also be important for checking the quality of the finished product. All of this seems far beyond the capability of a lone scientist with no experience with anthrax.
The FBI continues to hound Dr. Hatfill despite this evidence that points in a radically different direction. The Post says that the Bureau’s “profile” has led agents to look for an angry loner with “some” science expertise who would be capable of weaponizing anthrax in a basement lab for as little as $2,500. A retired senior FBI agent, however, told AIM that the Bureau has little or no experience in profiling terrorists, either of the DC sniper type or the lone scientist variety. He says the Bureau has developed its profiles of serial killers through extensive interviews and the creation of a database that supports “informed” guesses then assembled into a “profile.” But it lacks any such databases on terrorism.
It is possible, according to the Post, for someone to have stolen or been provided small quantities of the potential anthrax. But the Post has been unable to determine whether the U.S. has ever produced anthrax like that sent in the letters; the Defense Department would neither confirm nor deny in response to the Post’s inquiries.
The Post says that the FBI quickly discarded the possibility that terrorists, state-sponsored or otherwise, were responsible for the anthrax attacks. The Bureau, according to the Post, gave too much weight to a single-source report regarding Iraq’s preference in dispersal agents in its bio-warfare program. The Post says that it reviewed numerous other reports from both U.N. inspectors and U.S. intelligence agencies that cited Iraqi procurement and testing of fumed silica, like that found in the Daschle/Leahy letters, in its weaponization of its anthrax. Spertzel, the UN weapons inspector, said that Iraq still has at least one Niro spray dryer of the three it was known to have purchased in the 1990s.
This implies yet another FBI intelligence failure on top of those revealed in recent congressional hearings on the Bureau’s performance prior to 9/11. The same retired senior FBI agent confirms that the Bureau’s “intelligence analysis capability was destroyed” during the Clinton years, but thinks that the CIA must have been involved in the analysis in support of this case. Whatever the case, the Post makes a compelling argument for Iraq as a potential source of the anthrax. Given the Bush administration’s exertions to build a case for Iraq sharing its weapons of mass destruction with terrorists, the Bureau’s continued focus on Hatfill instead of looking to Iraq is curious.