Anthrax probe ignoring foreign links?

By WND Staff

Editor’s note: This report, the second of a two-part series, explores the government’s probe into the post-9/11 anthrax attacks, pointing out seemingly ignored evidence suggesting a foreign connection. Yesterday’s installment looked at a mysterious anthrax outbreak in 1957 that coincided with government vaccine testing.

Despite growing evidence that the post-9/11 anthrax attacks were the work of foreign entities and perhaps even persons closely tied to the Sept. 11 terrorists themselves, federal investigators continue to pursue the theory that an American scientist was behind the crimes – an approach not all critics are buying.

The cornerstone of this evidence, according to many knowledgeable observers and scientists, is “the fact that during the 1980s the United States government allowed biological pathogens to be sold to the Iraqi government.” Indeed, export records provided by the American Type Culture Collection lists several pages of biological substances sent to Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education. Included on the list for May 1986 is a shipment of “Bacillus Anthracis (ATCC 14185) V770-NP1-R. Bovine Anthrax, Class III pathogen (3 each).” Listed in the information line covering the shipment is also: “G.G. Wright (Fort Detrick) Batch #01-14-80 (3 each).”

“G.G. Wright” is Dr. George G. Wright of the Army’s Fort Detrick research facility, the physician who in the 1950s was so instrumental in producing the vaccine for the Arms Textile Mill tests.

Another crucial piece of evidence cited by those who argue that investigators are not taking the possibility of foreign terrorist-sponsored anthrax attacks seriously enough is the meeting hijacker Mohamed Atta held with a high-ranking Iraqi intelligence operative in Prague. The meeting took place months before the 9/11 attacks, and, according to Czech U.N. Ambassador Hynek Kmonicek, Atta met with Iraqi intelligence official Ahmed Khalil Sar al-Ani on “at least one occasion, perhaps more.” Other sources have claimed that Atta and al-Ani met on “at least four occasions.” Just weeks after the alleged meetings, al-Ani was expelled from the Czech Republic, on April 22, 2001. These reported meetings are important because there is circumstantial evidence, according to foreign intelligence sources, that al-Ani may have given Atta “a sealed flask containing anthrax spores” at one of their Prague encounters.

European newspapers reported several times in October and November 2001 that “special FBI teams were dispatched to Europe” to investigate the Prague reports. An unnamed “Western intelligence official” told The London Times, “If it can be shown that Atta was given a flask of anthrax, then the link will have been made with Osama bin Laden and Iraq.”

Two months ago, the German newspaper Bild claimed that, according to Israeli security sources, Atta was given anthrax by al-Ani, “which he took back to the U.S. on a flight to Newark, N.J.” In New Jersey, according to other intelligence sources affiliated with Israel’s Mossad, letters laced with anthrax were expertly prepared and handed off to other underground terrorist cells that were charged with mailing them to selected addresses.

According to “at least five experts” interviewed by ABC News in October and November 2001, a substance called bentonite was used to upgrade the anthrax found in the letter sent to Sen. Tom Daschle’s Washington, D.C., office. Bentonite is an unusual mineral that after processing is used in many common products, including cat litter. ABC’s experts, as well as former U.N. inspectors that worked in Iraq, claimed that bentonite “was a trademark of the Iraqi germ warfare program.”

Following the ABC report, the Wall Street Journal also claimed that bentonite was detected in the anthrax mailings, but the White House was surprisingly quick and adamant to deny that bentonite was discovered in any of the letters. Many observers were surprised that anyone at the White House even spoke out on the subject.

White House press spokesman Ari Fleischer made the unusual move of taking exception with the findings of ABC’s experts. Some experts fired back that Fleischer was wrong. Said one expert, who declined to be quoted by name, “I said that traces of bentonite were in the letter’s anthrax. Nobody said that it was Halliburton produced bentonite.” The remark was an allusion to the fact that a large bentonite manufacturer is a subsidiary of the company Halliburton, Vice President Richard Cheney’s former employer. After ABC News again reported its bentonite claims, another unnamed “senior White House official” made a statement backing away from Fleischer’s earlier claim.

Another central piece of evidence in the argument that foreign terrorists were behind the mailings is the report that Dr. Christos Tsonas at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., treated Ahmed al-Haznawi, one of the 9/11 hijackers for a lesion that he thought “was consistent with cutaneous anthrax.”

The way the FBI handled the story of Tsonas’ encounter with al-Haznawi, which was related to the agency in several interviews, appears perplexing, as does its handling of another related incident examined below. A spokeswoman for Holy Cross Hospital said in response to a request for information about the incident, “We cooperated with the FBI and other authorities. At their request, we will not discuss the matter. … We have nothing to say.”

According to law-enforcement sources in Washington, D.C., a group of microbiologists and experts in weapons-grade anthrax at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Civilian Biodefense also interviewed Tsonas. At the time of the interview, many observers were skeptical about the Center’s motivations, because the university over the past 50 years has been the major recipient of millions of dollars in intelligence community and defense department funding for projects, many still classified. However, the group that interviewed Tsonas concluded that the doctor’s diagnosis made sound medical sense. They said that their conclusion “of course raises the possibility that the hijackers were handling anthrax and were the perpetrators of the anthrax letter attacks.”

The diagnosis of Tsonas is also very intriguing when one considers that hijacker al-Haznawi lived near the headquarters of American Media International in Boca Raton, Fla. AMI photo editor Robert Stevens was the first fatality in the anthrax letter attacks. According to informed sources, al-Haznawi “hated the kind of sensational reporting” that AMI publications featured. Also worth considering is that other 9/11 hijackers rented apartments in Florida from a real estate agent who was married to an AMI corporate official.

If all this isn’t enough, there is the report of a pharmacist in Delray Beach, Fla., who was also interviewed by the FDA and FBI. The pharmacist, Gregg Chatterton, told investigators that two of the 9/11 hijackers came into his store, Huber Drugs, looking for medication to treat irritations on Mohamed Atta’s hands. Chatterton, whose pharmacy is not far from AMI headquarters, recalled that Atta said, “My hands – my hands burn; they are itching.”

The FBI seems skeptical about many of the reports connected to Florida. In March, John Collingwood, an FBI spokesman, said, “Exhaustive testing did not support that anthrax was present anywhere the hijackers had been.”

Without question, and without knowing what the FBI knows from its own investigation, the evidence that the deadly mailings are somehow directly linked to foreign terrorists appears far stronger than any other theory advanced thus far. Nearly one year past the first anthrax death the case remains unsolved.

‘He knows too much’

Other experts believe the anthrax perpetrator is a former government researcher whose identity is being kept secret.

In recent months, former Army researchers have speculated that “the anthrax mailer may never be identified or arrested” because “he knows too much” about surreptitious government experiments conducted during the 1950s and later. Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a professor of environmental science at the State University of New York and the chairperson of the Working Group on Biological Weapons at the American Federation of Scientists, has aggressively advanced the same hypothesis. According to her “Analysis of the Anthrax Attacks” released on Feb. 5, 2002, and prominently posted on the Internet, “the FBI has known that the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks is American” for over three months, but, speculates Rosenberg, the perpetrator may be “untouchable to the FBI” because he may “know something that he believes to be significantly damaging to the United States.” In early February of this year, Rosenberg told Salon reporter Laura Rozen, “This guy knows too much, and knows things the U.S. isn’t very anxious to publicize.”

To date, Rosenberg has not said what specifically the perpetrator may know that would be damaging, but she has continued to widely imply that she does know the perpetrator’s name and that so does the FBI, CIA and the White House. In January, she told National Public Radio, “I think they [the FBI] have known pretty much who it is for at least two months. The problem may be either they’re having trouble getting specific, hard evidence to convict a specific person, or there may be some reluctance to pursue this publicly because of the embarrassment to the United States and because of the possibility that it might be difficult to avoid having some classified material come out if he were prosecuted.”

In a commentary, NPR reporter David Kestenbaum said, “Rosenberg and other scientists have the strong feeling they may have met or seen the person behind the attacks. Maybe he attended their scientific meetings, stood in back of the room during lectures.”

According to several published reports, Rosenberg, who has never identified publicly the person she thinks is the anthrax killer, “reportedly named him as being Dr. Steven Hatfill” in a private meeting with aides of Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, both targets of the post-9/11 mailings.

How details of that meeting were obtained by the media is unknown. But, according to Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Shane, in mid-June, two weeks before the first search of Hatfill’s apartment, “Barbara Hatch Rosenberg sent biodefense experts and reporters an account of a ‘likely suspect’ who ‘had access to a conveniently located but remote location where activities could have been conducted without risk of observation.'” That bit of information seemed to neatly fit with the fact that Hatfill, in the past, had visited a “country house” in the Virginia mountains. The house is reportedly owned by George R. Borsari Jr., a lawyer. Borsari told Shane that Hatfill and Pat Clawson, a former CNN reporter and broadcasting executive “who has known Hatfill socially for six years” visited Borsari’s country house for weekends of skeet shooting and socializing with friends with Hatfill calling for directions at least once.

On Aug. 11, Hatfill fired back at Rosenberg when he charged in a public statement that, according to a June 27 Frederick, Md., News-Post article, “a woman named Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, who affiliates herself with the Federation of American Scientists, saw fit to discuss me as a suspect in the anthrax case in a meeting with FBI agents and Senate staffers.”

Continued Hatfill: “I don’t know Dr. Rosenberg. I have never met her. I have never spoken or corresponded with this woman. And to my knowledge, she is ignorant of my work and background except in the very broadest terms. … I am at a complete loss to explain her reported hostility and accusations.”

Rosenberg, who in January told Sun reporter Shane that prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, “There have been a number of occasions when we’ve said in frustration, ‘What we need is a biological weapons attack to wake the country up,'” reportedly is now maintaining a very low profile regarding Hatfill and the anthrax attacks. The Federation of American Scientists in recent days has gone out of its way to put distance between itself and Rosenberg.

Henry C. Kelly, president of FAS, said, “I would like to make clear that Rosenberg’s remarks on this topic do not represent the views of the Federation of American Scientists. FAS opposes any effort to publicly identify possible suspects or ‘persons of interest’ in the anthrax investigation outside of a formal law-enforcement proceeding.”

In a Sept. 16 article by David Tell published in The Weekly Standard, Rosenberg is quoted as saying, “No question, it was the FBI who outed [Hatfill]. I have never said or written anything that pointed only to one specific person. If anyone sees parallels, that’s their opinion.”

Rosenberg has been aided and abetted in her campaign against Hatfill by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize and George Polk Award winner for his reporting, wrote five columns for the Times that appeared solely constructed out of Rosenberg’s speculations. Media watchdog groups maintain that Rosenberg and Kristof, both said to be “left-wing activists,” have problems with “Hatfill’s military background and his belief in a strong national defense against bioterrorism.” In an August interview on NPR, Kristof said he wrote about Hatfill “to light a fire under the FBI” because he thought the bureau was not doing a good job. Said Kristof, “It’s a very awkward position – this is a crucial public-policy issue and a fundamental matter of avoiding terrorism in the future as well, and so we have to investigate.”

Read Part 1: “Did Army cause anthrax outbreak in mill?

Related stories:

The secret history of anthrax

Feds’ involvement in anthrax experiments

H.P. Albarelli Jr. is an investigative reporter and writer who lives in Florida. Jack D. Livingston contributed research assistance for this article.