Congress Asks: Who Misled the Anthrax Investigation by Pointing at Iraq?

Friday, 12 September 2008 11:39 By Bill Simpich, t r u t h o u t | Report | name.

Congress Asks: Who Misled the Anthrax Investigation by Pointing at Iraq?
Following five anthrax-related deaths in 2001, a bioterrorism team held a news conference at the Capitol to demonstrate anthrax cleanup procedures. (Photo: Kenneth Lambert / AP)

    On September 16, the House Judiciary Committee will hold oversight hearings to review the FBI's role in investigating the 2001 anthrax attacks, followed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the 17th. (Glenn Greenwald, August 20 interview with Charles Grassley).

    Chairmen Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman John Conyers have asked FBI Director Robert Mueller to attend. Conyers has specifically asked Mueller to address whether White House officials initially pressed the FBI to show the attacks were linked to Iraq, why Steven Hatfill was a key suspect in the investigation and why Bruce Ivins kept his security clearance for so many years.

    If these committees hope to uncover the truth, they have to order several journalists and scientists to provide the basis for their claims that Iraq was a prime suspect in these attacks. No shield law protects journalists or their sources who plant phony evidence in a terror investigation.

    Journalist Gary Matsumoto, other journalists and their sources have repeatedly provided false information about the contents of the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks. These sources claimed the anthrax was milled, that it was coated and that it had additives. Any of these telltale factors would be critical evidence that would indicate the need of several specialists working as a team - hence, "state sponsorship" and possible Iraqi involvement. Every one of these claims was wrong, but played a key role in leading the US into war. Later, these same claims were used to justify the war.

    The FBI resisted the pressure to focus on Iraq - it had sole custody of the evidence and quickly knew that these sources had it wrong. After genetic analysis showed the anthrax was derived from the Ames strain used in the US military biodefense program, the FBI released a profile on November 9, 2001, indicating a domestic terrorist was responsible. The early finding of one trillion spores per gram was compelling proof that the anthrax came from the US program - no other country can attain anything near that level of purity. (William Broad, New York Times, Terror Anthrax Linked to Type Made By U.S., 12/13/01,

    In November 2002, during the build-up to war with Iraq, FBI counterterrorism chief Tom Carey told ABC "the information that came out there that led weapons inspectors and others to suspect the Iraq connection was wrong information." Just three weeks ago, the FBI confirmed their anthrax findings in a transcribed scientific briefing.

    Despite the FBI's knowledge of this misinformation, it appears that professor Barbara Hatch Rosenberg's sources succeeded in misleading the FBI into a four-year wild goose chase - looking at virologist Stephen Hatfill - until a new team of agents was appointed to re-examine the evidence in 2006.

    Did the FBI Investigate Those Who Were Misleading the Investigation?

    Did the FBI try to determine who planted phony evidence designed to finger Iraq as the state sponsor of the anthrax attacks? From 2001 to the present, this investigation has been surrounded with misleading claims about the nature of the anthrax. The initial goal was to push the US into a war with Iraq. Then, the goal became to justify the US occupation.

    The FBI knew this case was being used by the Bush administration for political gain. Terry Turchie, a chief of the FBI's counterterrorism division in the 1990s, has spoken candidly on this subject:

In hindsight, it's easy to see what was going on. The president wanted to invade Iraq. The first attempt to find justification was anthrax. It didn't work. The next attempt involved developing the "relationship" between al-Qaeda and Iraqi intelligence. It didn't work. Finally, Saddam Hussein possessed and was preparing to use against the United States weapons of mass destruction. It held the day.

    Turchie adds, "When one person with integrity (Joseph Wilson) tried to influence the outcome by drawing a different conclusion for the Bush administration, his wife's identity as a CIA employee was leaked to the media." (Simon Barrett, "The WSJ and ABC Blow Hot (Anthrax Laced) Air Over Hatfill and the FBI," 7/1/08.

    After Judith Miller of The New York Times used that leak, she spent several months in jail until she admitted that Scooter Libby repeatedly talked to her about Valerie Plame, a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) expert, before Robert Novak's column publicly identified Plame as a covert CIA operative.

    The "Iraq-Did-It" Lobby of Matsumoto, Ross, Jacobsen and Spertzel Beat the Drums of War

    During the height of the terror surrounding the attacks, Gary Matsumoto (with the aid of Brian Ross of ABC News and others) claimed the anthrax contained bentonite, an aluminum-based clay that is a trademark of the Iraqi anthrax weapons arsenal.

    Although the bentonite story quickly collapsed, Matsumoto has been joined over the years by certain ideologically driven right-wing scientists who support the "Iraq-Did-It" theory. His primary sources, who are not anonymous, are Stuart Jacobsen, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) research chemist and Free Republic blogger (see his "Technical Intelligence" article on the anthrax attacks), and Richard Spertzel, an ex-Iraq WMD inspector, who is a virulent right-winger and a favorite source of The Wall Street Journal. (See Spertzel's August 5 Wall Street Journal editorial, which states, "Ivins is innocent - look at state sponsored terrorism."). Spertzel's editorial didn't include any hint of his comment in a letter he wrote last year: "I have believed all along that Iraqi intelligence had their dirty hands on this event." Spertzel was the weapons inspector, who FBI counterterrorism chief Tom Carey said was working with "misinformation."

    Matsumoto, Jacobsen and Spertzel have been the public face of the stories over the years, claiming that 1) the anthrax was finely milled, 2) that it had a coating, with 3) an additive - silica, polyglass, or (in Matsumoto's case) bentonite. If any of these three claims were true, it would point to a state sponsor such as Iraq. The committee needs to call these men as witnesses and ask, "Are you the source of these lies, or who is feeding you these lies?"

    The FBI had sole custody of all the evidence, and has known the nature of the anthrax all along: It was not milled. It had no coating. It contained no additive - no silica, polyglass or bentonite. These factors are why the key suspects were those with access to the anthrax at Fort Detrick, rather than Iraq. This case took seven years to reach this point because of these lies.

    The Initial Suspect, Steven Hatfill, Was Singled Out by the FBI Precisely Because of His Role in the "Iraq-Did-It" Lobby

    Dr. Stephen Hatfill, a virologist and lecturer on the medical effects of biological agents, hated the FBI's theory of domestic origin. In the first months of the investigation, he offered to serve as a consultant to ABC's Brian Ross, telling him and his staff they were "wasting their time looking at American scientists" and boasting "he could prove" that "Saddam Hussein and Iraq" were behind the attacks. (Ross Deposition in the Hatfill case, 3/23/06)

    Hatfill's belief that "Iraq did it" was central to the belief of many in the FBI that Hatfill was the prime suspect. One FBI agent testified that for several years Hatfill was "one spore away from indictment." Again, all the evidence in the FBI's hands pointed to US origin, not Iraqi origin. There was a long chain of corroborating evidence based on Hatfill's unique expertise in working with anthrax.

    Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a professor affiliated with the Federation of American Scientists, talked to Ross about Hatfill's reputation. Hatfill worked with a white supremacist group in South Africa known as the "Selous Scouts," who allegedly had used anthrax against a black tribe in the 1978 to 1980 period. Hatfill claimed to have a PhD from Rhodes University, which was later found to be false, and he forged signatures to support that claim. Judge Claude Hilton, in a recent court ruling, described how Hatfill gave classified lectures to the CIA on bioweapons production and once delivered a lecture on how to weaponize anthrax . Although the Justice Department (DOJ) has now exonerated Hatfill of any role in the anthrax case, Hatfill is no choir boy.

    Who Convinced Barbara Hatch Rosenberg That Hatfill Was the Prime Suspect?

    In December 2001, Rosenberg wrote a memo stating that she believed "the perpetrator is an American microbiologist who has access to recently-weaponized anthrax or to the expertise or materials for making it." The recently deceased Bruce Ivins, who only recently became the FBI's chief suspect, was a microbiologist who had such access at Fort Detrick. There is solid evidence Ivins had stalked members of a certain sorority since college days and had harbored homicidal tendencies for a number of years. The FBI should have at least carefully scrutinized Ivins throughout their investigation. But that didn't happen - in fact, Ivins himself analyzed the Daschle anthrax and came to the scene of one of the Hatfill searches.

    In February 2002, Rosenberg wrote a second memo, changing the description of her prime suspect to "an insider in US biodefense, doctoral degree in a relevant branch of biology [Hatfill was a virologist] ... experienced and skilled in working with hazardous pathogens, including anthrax, and avoiding contamination, works for a CIA contractor in Washington, DC area."

    The FBI obtained its first search warrant of Hatfill's property in June 2002, commencing a futile four-year wild goose chase. Hatfill proceeded to subpoena virtually every reporter involved in the case and obtained orders that forced them to reveal sources - with Matsumoto as a glaring exception. Matsumoto interviewed Hatfill just a few days before he wrote a major anthrax article for The Washington Post during October 2002, and promised to go to jail before revealing Hatfill was a source. (Hatfill v. Ashcroft, Docket #235-4, Exhibit 38)

    So another big question is: Who got to Barbara Hatch Rosenberg between December 2001 and February 2002? As a personal adviser to President Clinton on bioweapons in 1998, she was a mighty force in keeping the heat on the FBI to quickly find a domestic culprit. She has indicated willingness to correspond by email, and queries have been posed to her. In our email exchange to date, she said she "learned more," but "she can't discuss her discussions with Brian Ross." The answers might be a key factor in solving this case.

    We do know that one of her sources appears to have been Gary Matsumoto. Rosenberg writes that a "reporter who writes on the anthrax vaccine" unsuccessfully tried to convince her in late 2001 that "four labs have told him that under the electron microscope the sample looks just like material obtained by UNSCOM in Iraq." Are these "four labs" related to the "four former and present Fort Detrick scientists" that Brian Ross claimed as his bentonite source?

    The most well-known reporter on the dangers of the anthrax vaccine was Matsumoto. His 2004 book, "Vaccine-A: The Covert Government Experiment That's Killing Our Soldiers," accuses Dr. Bruce Ivins as the inventor of an experimental anthrax vaccine that Matsumoto claims caused the spread of Gulf War Syndrome throughout the US armed forces from 1991 to the present. The DOJ's theory of the case is that "by launching these attacks, [Ivins] creates a situation, a scenario, where people all of a sudden realize the need to have this vaccine," and that Ivins mailed the anthrax to justify the need for an effective anthrax vaccine. (Eric Lipton, The New York Times, August 9, 2008)

    The only reporter mentioned in the FBI's search warrant affidavits for Bruce Ivins is Matsumoto. The warrant states that Matsumoto filed Freedom of Information Act requests just three weeks before 9/11, demanding that Ivins provide numerous notebooks regarding his vaccine research. Ivins's response was, "We've got better things to do than shine his shoes and pee on command." Matsumoto subsequently complained in his book that Ivins refused to give him an interview.

    After 9/11, a Disinformation Campaign Tried to Blame the Anthrax Attacks on Iraq

    After 9/11 and the ensuing anthrax attacks, the focus of Matsumoto and certain media colleagues turned to a peculiar kind of terrorist - one who warned his potential victims and tried to limit the loss of life.

    One week after the 9/11 attacks, the first wave of anthrax letters were sent to the media. Notes inside said, "This is anthrax. Take Penacilin [sic]." That sure didn't sound like al-Qaeda. Some of the envelopes' seams were even taped, to keep the anthrax spores inside. The perpetrator became known in some circles as the "bioevangelist."

    Experts suggested the perpetrator's plan may have been to give a shot in the arm to the vaccine industry. With a handful of Fort Detrick scientists at the center of the FBI's list of approximately 20 to 50 suspects, there was the potential for a quick break in the case.

    Meanwhile, Democratic majority leader Tom Daschle and Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy were two of the main opponents of President Bush's attempt to get the PATRIOT bill passed despite its numerous threats to fundamental civil rights. Bush was insisting that he wanted the bill passed "in 24 hours."

    On October 12, New York Times reporter Judith Miller opened an envelope, only to find white powder on her face, sweater and hands. She was wrapping up a book on bioterror, later released as "Germs." She thought that the odds were high that it was a copycat crime, but admits "her calm evaporated" when she found out that NBC had a confirmed report of anthrax earlier that day.

    ABC also took a hit with the real anthrax - one of its staffers wound up in the hospital. So did CBS, The New York Post, and The National Enquirer. One reporter died.

    Then, on October 15, one of the staffers of Democrat majority leader Tom Daschle opened an envelope filled with anthrax. Leahy's envelope did not reach him or his staff, due to a quarantine placed on the Senate mail. Twenty-eight Daschle staffers went to the hospital. The Hart Senate Office Building was shut down, causing the biggest exodus from Congress since the War of 1812. Panic ensued in Washington, DC, and throughout the country. The PATRIOT Act zipped through Congress and became law in less than two weeks.

    The next day, October 16, Gary Matsumoto, of ABC, floated a trial balloon, musing what would happen if it appeared the anthrax was made in Iraq, based on aluminum-tainted clay - commonly known as bentonite - as the telltale sign of Iraqi manufacture.

    On October 17, Judith Miller co-wrote a news analysis citing government sources reporting that the anthrax was "finely milled so that it would float a considerable distance" and would be easier to reach a victim's lungs - one of the aforementioned three telltale signs of state sponsorship pointing to Iraq. (She reversed her position in an article two months later.)

    On October 18, ex-CIA chief James Woolsey wrote a feature for The Wall Street Journal that noted the "professionally prepared" anthrax and compared Bush's decision about war on Iraq with whether Churchill should have kept fighting Hitler when things looked tough during World War II.

    On October 21, Spertzel was featured on "Face the Nation," charging that the anthrax "most likely" came "from some other country" and calling for an attack on Iraq. Following Spertzel, Washington Post foreign correspondent Jim Hoagland went so far as to say that even though the evidence of Iraqi involvement might not yet exist, it "should bring home to us the danger of having a regime in place" that might be motivated to attack the US.

    On October 24, two Fort Detrick scientists were stunned to find what they mistakenly believed to be "probably" an additive of silica in the Daschle anthrax sample, in a pattern that suggested Iraqi manufacture. When they reported their finding to the White House, the White House considered a declaration of war on Iraq on the spot. (Richard Preston, "Demon in the Freezer")

    On October 26, in this tense atmosphere, Matsumoto, Brian Ross, and two other ABC reporters put together a groundbreaking story alleging that bentonite was contained in the Daschle anthrax. According to Ross, this story was based on four unnamed "former and present scientists" at Fort Detrick, and their information had led Ross to believe the bentonite was a "brown substance" inside the anthrax. A similar story about a "brown ring" around the spores was reported by Amanda Ripley of Time Magazine.

    The Iraqi-bentonite story was repeatedly hurtled into the media stratosphere for the next 72 hours, until Fort Detrick's Maj. Gen. John S. Parker announced that bentonite could be ruled out. "If I can't find aluminum, I can't say it's bentonite." (US State Department briefing, 10/29/01)

    Matsumoto countered with a final ABC story of November 1, suggesting there might be such a thing as "aluminum-free bentonite," so "mineralogists suggest the matter of the bentonite may not be closed."

    On the anniversaries of the anthrax attacks in 2002 and 2003, Matsumoto amplified his story about the anthrax's probable Iraqi origin, focusing on the "coating of silica" and the presence of polyglass. He repeatedly referred to his favorite sources, Jacobsen and Spertzel, as well as unidentified sources. As mentioned above, he interviewed Hatfill just a few days before The Post article, but it is not known if he cited Hatfill in the article.

    Daschle and Leahy were deeply shaken by Matsumoto's 2002 Washington Post story, and asked for an immediate briefing by the head of the FBI Investigation (Hatfill Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Vol. 11, Ex. 131). This recurring anthrax story aided the Bush administration's public relations campaign to convince Americans that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

    Did the FBI investigate the sources of Matsumoto's yarns of silica and polyglass? Two of them were the aforementioned right-wing scientists Jacobsen and Spretzel. Have these three men been making up these stories, or have they been set up to play the fool?

    Did the FBI investigate the source of Miller's report that the anthrax was "finely milled"?

    Did the FBI investigate the bentonite story, which could have caused an immediate war?

    The FBI went so far as to have one of their hazardous materials specialists, who was at the crime scene, publish an article in a scientific journal in 2006 that singled out Matsumoto's articles as the reason for the confusion as to the state of the evidence ("no milling, no coating, no additives").

    Politically-Motivated Leaks Continue to Disrupt the Investigation and Justify the War

    In the wake of Ivins's death, knowing that the FBI had custody of the evidence and was under close scrutiny, Matsumoto claimed that the agency had failed to "connect the dots" and falsely said that Hatfill "had not worked with anthrax at all." (Time Magazine, 8/15/08; "As It Happens," audio interview, 8/1/08,) But Matsumoto pointedly refrained from returning to his earlier arguments regarding the presence of "coatings of silica" and polyglass, realizing this would go nowhere.

    Apparently, Matsumoto's colleagues Spertzel and Jacobsen have not got the word. Spertzel wrote an editorial in the August 5 Wall Street Journal that continues to claim "the spores were coated with a polyglass" that bound silica to each particle, based on a supposed FBI leak. Similarly, Jacobsen continues to write articles blaming Iraq for the anthrax attacks based on this phony evidence.

    The FBI is not immune to stories about leaks, in the face of pressure to solve the case. Both the FBI and the DOJ were forced to admit to dozens of leaks in the Hatfill case. Leakers included case agents, public information officers and even the US attorney himself. These leaks caused Director Mueller to issue an order saying that the investigation would be compartmentalized, with many of the case agents not allowed to talk to each other.

    Between this compartmentalization caused by leaks and the misinformation created by reporters who say they relied on "leaks," is it any wonder it took seven years to start cracking the case? In 2004, tests pointed to Fort Detrick as the source of the spores. But the match between Ivins's flask and the Daschle anthrax was not made until two years ago, with a new FBI investigative team re-examining all the evidence in the case. It turned out that the FBI had obtained the key flask sample that was critical in moving the case forward from Ivins back in early 2002.

    Rosenberg and Judith Miller should be asked to come forward with their full stories about what they know. The Judiciary Committee has the power to call Matsumoto, Ross, Spertzel and Jacobsen and force them to either tell the truth or go to jail for refusing to provide the malevolent sources that led the US toward war.

Bill Simpich

Bill Simpich is a civil rights attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be contacted at [email protected].
Last modified on Friday, 12 September 2008 21:00