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2001 Anthrax Attacks

Iraq

Project: 2001 Anthrax Attacks
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, paxvector

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Experts report that Iraq has failed to adequately account for 500 mustard-gas shells, 25 “special warheads,” 150 aerial bombs, 2 Scud missiles [Christian Science Monitor, 8/29/2002] , 520 kilograms of yeast extract growth medium specifically for anthrax [NewsMax, 9/4/2002] , 15,000 122 mm artillery shells, 25,000 rockets and several hundred tons of chemicals for the nerve agent VX. [Cirincione, Wolfsthal, and Rajkumar, 6/2002; BBC, 9/11/2002]
25 Special Warheads - Iraq failed to account for 25 special warheads. Former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter will tell the Christian Science Monitor in mid-2002, “Even if he hid some warheads, they would have degenerated by now.” [Christian Science Monitor, 8/29/2002]
Scud Missiles - Iraq has accounted for or destroyed 817 of its 819 Scud missiles. [United Nations Special Commission, 1/29/1998] It is later suggested by experts, such as former UN inspector Scott Ritter and Charles Duelfer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, that Iraq could possibly salvage and manufacture enough components to build up a store of between five and 25 missiles. [BBC, 9/11/2002] But as the San Francisco Chronicle later notes, citing unnamed weapons experts, “there is no evidence that these have been tested or that Iraq has any functional launchers.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002]
8,5000 liters of anthrax - Iraq maintains that these remaining stores of anthrax were unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991; however, they offer no evidence of this. [Scotsman, 2/24/2003] Scott Ritter, a former Marine intelligence officer and chief weapons inspector, will later say that evidence indicates that Iraq’s liquid bulk anthrax has not been produced by Iraq since 1991. Furthermore, he adds, the factory where Iraq had produced the pathogen was destroyed in 1996. He says that any anthrax produced before then is no longer a threat to anyone because after three years liquid bulk anthrax becomes “useless sludge.” [Reuters, 2/8/2002]
Several hundred tons of chemicals for the nerve agent VX - UNSCOM is unable to account for several hundred tons of chemicals for the nerve agent VX. Iraq maintains that these remaining stocks were unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991. [Scotsman, 2/24/2003] In March 2003, UNMOVIC, the successor to UNSCOM, will report that Iraq’s production method created nerve agent that lasted only six to eight weeks. [Independent, 6/1/2003] Critics believe that most of these stocks were destroyed during the First Gulf War. Scott Ritter, a former chief weapons inspector, speaking at the Suffolk Law School building in downtown Boston, will say on July of 2002: “The research and development factory is destroyed [a Gulf War bomb destroyed the production facility on January 23, 1991]. The product of that factory is destroyed. The weapons they loaded up have been destroyed. More importantly, the equipment procured from Europe that was going to be used for their large-scale VX nerve agent factory was identified by the special commission—still packed in its crates in 1997—and destroyed. Is there a VX nerve agent factory in Iraq today? Not on your life.” [Truthout (.org), 7/24/2002]

Entity Tags: Charles Duelfer, Scott Ritter, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraq

Former CIA Director James Woolsey makes a secret trip to Europe to find evidence that could link the Iraqi government to various terrorist attacks. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz funds and supports his trip. He visits Wales in a fruitless search for evidence to link Iraq to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see Late September 2001). But he also looks for evidence tying Iraq to 9/11 and the anthrax attacks once they become publicly known in early October (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The Village Voice will later report, “Woolsey was also asked to make contact with Iraqi exiles and others who might be able to beef up the case that hijacker Mohamed Atta was working with Iraqi intelligence to plan the September 11 attacks, as well as the subsequent anthrax mailings.” [Village Voice, 11/21/2001] In late October, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the exile group opposed to Saddam Hussein, says it recently held meetings in London with him. [Daily Telegraph, 10/26/2001] Woolsey is a prominent neoconservative and already has extensive links with the INC (see 2000). It is unknown exactly what Woolsey does in Europe, but his trip has an apparent effect on the media. In addition to numerous articles about Atta’s alleged Prague visit, some articles appear attempting to tie Atta and the Iraqi government to the anthrax attacks as well. For instance, on October 14, 2001, The Observer will report, “According to sources in the Bush administration, investigators are talking to Egyptian authorities who say members of the al-Qaeda network, detained and interrogated in Cairo, had obtained phials of anthrax in the Czech Republic.” [Observer, 10/14/2001] And in late October, the London Times will not only report that Atta was given a vial of anthrax in Prague, but that he met with Iraqi agents numerous times all over Europe (see October 27, 2001). But no hard evidence will emerge supporting any of these allegations pushed by Woolsey.

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Iraqi National Congress, Saddam Hussein, James Woolsey, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Iraq

At the behest of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, former CIA Director James Woolsey and a team of Justice and Defense Department officials fly to London on a US government plane to look for evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Woolsey’s trip is in part the idea of neoconservative author Laurie Mylroie (see Late July or Early August 2001). It is the second such mission undertaken by Woolsey this year, as he made a similar trip in February (see February 2001). Woolsey is looking for evidence to support the theory (see Late July or Early August 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001) that Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 WTC bombing, was actually an Iraqi agent who had assumed the identity of a Pakistani student named Abdul Basit. Woolsey visits the Swansea Institute, where Basit studied, to see if Basit’s fingerprints match those of Yousef, who is now serving a life sentence in a Colorado prison. Matching fingerprints would discredit the theory. [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001; Observer, 10/14/2001; Daily Telegraph, 10/26/2001; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] While in Europe, Woolsey also attempts to link the Iraqi government to 9/11 and the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). But according to Knight Ridder, “Several of those with knowledge of the trips said they failed to produce any new evidence that Iraq was behind the attacks.” [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001] Newsweek will similarly report in 2004 that “the results of the Woolsey mission were exactly what the FBI had predicted: that the fingerprints were in fact identical.” [Newsweek, 4/21/2004] The local police in Swansea are curious about Woolsey’s visit and they call the US embassy in London to clarify if Woolsey is visiting in an official capacity. This alerts the State Department and CIA of Woolsey’s trip for the first time, and apparently both agencies are upset. One intelligence consultant familiar with the trip will say, “It was a stupid, stupid, and just plain wrong thing to do.” [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001; Village Voice, 11/21/2001] It is through this contact that Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet learn of Woolsey’s mission (see September 19-20, 2001). [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, George J. Tenet, James Woolsey, Abdul Basit, Colin Powell, Saddam Hussein, Paul Wolfowitz, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Iraq

Four prominent Republican officials make alarming comments about terrorism and especially the use of WMDs against the US:
bullet Attorney General John Ashcroft says on CNN: “We believe there are substantial risks of terrorism still in the United States of America. As we as a nation respond to what has happened to us, those risks may in fact go up.”
bullet White House chief of staff Andrew Card says on Fox News, “I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but we know that these terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, run by Osama bin Laden and others, have probably found the means to use biological or chemical warfare.”
bullet Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says on NBC’s Meet the Press, “There’s always been terrorism, but there’s never really been worldwide terrorism at a time when the weapons have been as powerful as they are today, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons spreading to countries that harbor terrorists.” He suggests several countries supporting terrorists either have WMDs or are trying to get them. “It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to expect that at some point those nations will work with those terrorist networks and assist them in achieving and obtaining those kinds of capabilities.” He does not name these countries, but the New York Times notes the next day that the US military had recently identified the WMD programs in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan as cause for concern.
bullet Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also says on Meet the Press that biological weapons “scare” him more than nuclear weapons because they can be brought into the country “rather easily.”
The New York Times reports that there is no new intelligence behind these alarming comments. By contrast, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says it is unlikely terrorists are capable of making extremely deadly biological weapons. He says that terrorists might have access to weapons that use anthrax or smallpox, but while “There are those serious things… we can deal with them.” [New York Times, 10/1/2001] Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe: “Even the Cheney-driven White House effort to provide all Americans with the smallpox vaccine that was being pushed publicly in the latter weeks of 2002 played into the environment of fear about the Iraq WMD threat. It seems to me a little cynical to suggest that its timing was calculated, but it did not hurt the broader campaign to sell the war.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Joseph Biden, Henry Hyde, Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda, Iraq

The Observer reports that investigators of the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) believe Iraq is the prime suspect. One CIA source says, “They aren’t making this stuff in caves in Afghanistan. ‘This is prima facie evidence of the involvement of a state intelligence agency. Maybe Iran has the capability. But it doesn’t look likely politically. That leaves Iraq.” [Observer, 10/14/2001] However, this theory only remains the predominant one for a few days. On October 19, the New York Times is dismissive of the Iraq theory and suggests al-Qaeda or a disgruntled American loner could be behind the attacks instead (see October 19, 2001). In November, the American loner theory will become predominant (see November 10, 2001). But in late 2002, with war against Iraq growing increasingly likely, the Iraq theory appears to make a comeback (see October 28, 2002).

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraq, Other Entries

The envelope to the New York Post anthrax letter.The envelope to the New York Post anthrax letter. [Source: FBI]The 2006 book Hubris by Michael Isikoff and David Corn will reveal that, at some point in October 2001, “[Counterterrorism “tsar” Wayne] Downing, [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz, and other proponents of a war with Iraq thought they had yet more ammunition for the case against Saddam” Hussein in the form of the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Author Laurie Mylroie, who had long suggested Iraq was behind numerous terrorist attacks against the US and whose ideas are influential with Wolfowitz and other Bush administration officials (see October 2000 and Late July or Early August 2001), quickly asserts that Iraq is behind the anthrax attacks as well. “An early forensic test of the anthrax letters (which was later disputed) appeared to show that the anthrax spores were highly refined and ‘weaponized.’ To the Iraq hawks, the news was electric. ‘This is definitely Saddam!’ Downing shouted to several White House aides. One of these aides later recalled overhearing Downing excitedly sharing the news over the phone with Wolfowitz and [Douglas] Feith. ‘I had the feeling they were high-five-ing each other,’ the White House official said.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006]

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Laurie Mylroie, Douglas Feith, Wayne Downing

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Iraq

Vice President Cheney chairs a National Security Council meeting because President Bush is overseas. According to journalist Bob Woodward, who later interviews many participants in the meeting, the topic of the recent anthrax attacks is discussed (see October 5-November 21, 2001). CIA Director George Tenet suggests that al-Qaeda is behind the attacks. He also adds, “I think there’s a state sponsor involved. It’s too well thought out, the powder’s too well refined. It might be Iraq, it might be Russia, it might be a renegade scientist,” perhaps from Iraq or Russia. Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby also suggests the anthrax attacks were state sponsored. “We’ve got to be careful on what we say. If we say it’s al-Qaeda, a state sponsor may feel safe and then hit us thinking they will have a bye because we’ll blame it on al-Qaeda.” Tenet replies, “I’m not going to talk about a state sponsor.” Vice President Cheney comments, “It’s good that we don’t, because we’re not ready to do anything about it.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 244] No strong evidence will emerge tying the attacks to al-Qaeda or any state sponsor. The anthrax attacks still remain completely unsolved.

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Bob Woodward, National Security Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraq, Al-Qaeda

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) appears on the Late Show with David Letterman. Asked on how the recent US invasion of Afghanistan is progressing, McCain says, “I think we’re doing fine… The second phase… the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may—and I emphasize may—have come from Iraq.… If that should be the case, that’s when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made.” [Think Progress, 8/1/2008]

Entity Tags: John McCain

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraq

Former US soldier and UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter decries efforts to blame the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) on the Iraqi government. Ritter was a UN weapons inspector in Iraq until 1998, when inspections stopped. He points out that during these inspections, Iraq’s biological weapons programs were completely dismantled. For instance, al Hakum, Iraq’s biological weapons production facility where all its anthrax was produced, was blown up and all its equipment was destroyed (see 1998). He also says that when Iraq did have an anthrax program, it exclusively used the Vollum strain of anthrax, whereas evidence already points to the likelihood that the anthrax attacks used the US-based Ames strain. Ritter concludes: “Those who have suggested that Iraq is the source of the anthrax used in the current attacks—including Richard Butler, a former chairman of the UN weapons inspection effort—merely fan the flames of fear and panic. There is no verifiable link whatever and it is irresponsible for someone of Mr Butler’s stature to be involved in unsubstantiated speculation.” [Guardian, 10/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Scott Ritter, Richard Butler

Category Tags: Iraq

The contents of the anthrax letter to the New York Post.The contents of the anthrax letter to the New York Post. [Source: FBI]The New York Times suggests there could be a link between the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and the 9/11 hijackers. The Times reports that investigators “say they suspect that the rash of contaminated letters is related to the Sept. 11 attacks and are investigating the possibility that al-Qaeda confederates of the hijackers are behind the incidents.… Senior government officials said investigators were focusing on the ability of the hijackers or their accomplices to obtain highly refined anthrax from a foreign or domestic supplier. While they have not ruled out the possibility that another criminal could be behind the anthrax attacks, investigators are looking intensely at evidentiary threads linking the letters to the hijackers.”
Little to No Evidence behind this Theory - FBI agents are said to have recently searched the Jersey City home of three men arrested on suspicion of links to the 9/11 attacks after learning they kept some magazines and newspaper articles about biological warfare there. These men include Ayub Ali Khan and Mohammed Azmath. Both men will later be cleared of having any al-Qaeda ties (see October 20, 2001). The hijackers did show some interest in crop dusters, which could be used in a biological attack, but a senior government official says no actual evidence has appeared linking any of the hijackers to the anthrax attacks in any way.
Domestic Loner Theory - The article notes that the FBI is also pursuing a competing theory, “that a disgruntled employee of a domestic laboratory that uses anthrax carried out the attacks.” However, no evidence has emerged yet to support this.
Iraq Not Likely - The article is dismissive of theories that Iraq or another foreign government was behind the attacks. It notes that the anthrax letters used the Ames strain of anthrax, and experts say the Iraqi government never obtained that strain. For instance, former UN weapons inspector Richard Spertzel says, “The Iraqis tried to get it but didn’t succeed.” [New York Times, 10/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard Spertzel, Mohammed Azmath, Syed Gul Mohammad Shah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda, Iraq, FBI Investigation

A Reuters/Zogby poll indicates that 74 percent of US registered voters want to attack Iraq as well as Afghanistan. When asked if the “war on terrorism” should be expanded to include Iraq, 56 percent of respondents say they “strongly agree” and 18 percent “somewhat agree”, while 10 percent said they “strongly disagree” and 12 percent said they “somewhat disagree” with the idea. [Washington Times, 10/26/2001]

Category Tags: Iraq

On October 26, 2001, Peter Jennings starts ABC News’s World News Tonight evening news broadcast with the comment: “We’re going to begin this evening with what we believe is a meaningful lead in the most sensitive anthrax case so far, despite a very recent denial by the White House. ABC News has learned what made the anthrax so dangerous in the letter to Senator Tom Daschle was a particular additive which only one country, as far as we know, that’s a very important caveat, only one country as far as we know, has used to produce biological weapons.”
Bentonite - ABC News reporter Brian Ross then adds: “The discovery of bentonite came in an urgent series of tests conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and elsewhere. [Bentonite is] a substance which helps keep the tiny anthrax particles floating in the air by preventing them from sticking together. It’s possible other countries may be using it, too, but it is a trademark of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program.”
Significance - Jennings ends the story by commenting: “This news about bentonite as the additive is being a trademark of the Iraqi biological weapons program is very significant. Partly because there’s been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration inside and out to go after Saddam Hussein. And some are going to be quick to pick up on this as a smoking gun. There is a battle about Iraq that’s been raging in the administration.”
Repeated - The story is repeated by ABC over the next several days, especially by Ross. Qualifications in the initial story are dropped over the next few days as Ross definitely claims that the anthrax “was laced with bentonite” and “the anthrax found in a letter to Senator Daschle is nearly identical to samples they recovered in Iraq in 1994.” On October 28, Ross claims, “[D]espite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.” [ABC News, 10/29/2001; Salon, 4/9/2007; Salon, 8/1/2008]
ABC News Keeps Promoting Story despite White House Denial - On October 29, ABC News notes that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has denied that bentonite was found on the letters. Fleischer says that no test or analysis has shown the presence of bentonite, and “no other finding contradicts or calls into question” that conclusion. But ABC News continues to push the story and quotes former UN weapons inspector Tim Trevan, who says that bentonite “means to me that Iraq becomes the prime suspect as the source of the anthrax used in these letters.” ABC News even brings up the alleged meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi spy in Prague, and quotes former UN weapons inspector Richard Butler: “There are reports that one of the things that may have happened at that meeting was that [Atta] was given by the Iraqi some sample of anthrax.… We do not know if that is true. I believe it is something that should be investigated.” [ABC News, 10/29/2001]
Dropped, Sort Of - ABC News finally drops the story on November 1, when Ross reports: “The White House said that despite initial test results which we reported suggesting the presence of a chemical called bentonite, a trademark of the Iraqi weapons program, a further chemical analysis has ruled that out. The White House says there are chemical additives in that anthrax including one called silica.” Yet this account is not entirely correct, because the White House denied the story from the very beginning, as ABC News made clear in their first stories on the subject, and their quoting of White House Press Secretary Fleischer. [TVNewser, 8/6/2008] But an ABC News article the same day by Gary Matsumoto continues to push the bentonite theory, despite acknowledging that lab results do not show signs of bentonite. He argues that perhaps a different form of bentonite was used that did not show the usual signs. He also argues that perhaps the anthrax was coated with silica, which would be another sign of high sophistication and possible government involvement in the attacks. This is the theory the White House is pushing (see October 25-29, 2001), although it too will eventually be discredited by the FBI (see August 2006). [ABC News, 11/1/2001]
Iraq's Link to Bentonite Questioned - In October 2002, the Washington Post will reveal that early in the anthrax investigation, “US authorities dismissed the possibility that Iraq could have sponsored the attacks because investigators determined that the spores had been coated with silica to make them disperse quickly, rather than the mineral bentonite, regarded by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command as Iraq’s additive of choice.” Furthermore, “Iraq’s alleged preference for bentonite appears to be based on a single sample of a common pesticide collected by UN authorities from Iraq’s Al Hakam biological weapons facility in the mid-1990s.” [Washington Post, 10/28/2002]
Common Clay - Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald will later note: “The very idea that bentonite is ‘a troubling chemical additive,’ let alone that it is some sort of unique Iraqi hallmark, is inane. Bentonite is merely a common clay that is produced all over the world, including from volcanic eruptions.” A geology professor comments: “It is not ‘a chemical additive’ and it is not unique to Iraq. It is widespread and common, and readily available wherever you can get ‘drilling mud.’” [Salon, 4/9/2007]
No Correction - But even though it emerges that bentonite was never actually detected in the anthrax samples, ABC News will not correct its story until after it is heavily pressured to do so in late 2008 (see August 6, 2008).

Entity Tags: Tim Trevan, Richard Butler, Glenn Greenwald, Gary Matsumoto, Peter Jennings, Ari Fleischer, ABC News, Brian Ross

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Iraq

A London Times article by Daniel McGrory claims that not only did Mohamed Atta meet with an Iraqi agent in Prague, but that “a special FBI team” is studying “a report from Prague that anthrax spores were given to Atta” during the meeting. Furthermore, “Saddam’s agents were spotted at various times this year with Atta in Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic,” and that Atta met with the agent in Prague at least four times. Additionally, an Iraqi intelligence agent in Rome was seen with Atta in Prague and Hamburg and then disappeared shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The article also alleges numerous meetings between Iraqi agents and Osama bin Laden, as well as a meeting between al-Qaeda second-in command Ayman Zawahiri and Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan. Furthermore, al-Qaeda operatives were supposedly given advanced weapons training in Iraq supervised by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday Hussein. The article mentions no sources at all for these stunning allegations, except to refer to some other recent articles in a couple of cases. However, the article does mention former CIA Director James Woolsey, and it seems probable that Woolsey is a force behind the article, since he is in London at the time attempting to find evidence supporting the Prague meeting and Iraqi involvement in the anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). [London Times, 10/27/2001] This article represents the height of the propaganda effort attempting to link al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government together. Many of the allegations in the article are never mentioned in any other newspaper article, and all of them will eventually be debunked.

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mohamed Atta, Osama bin Laden, Taha Yasin Ramadan, Uday Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda, Iraq

Robert Bartley, conservative editor of The Wall Street Journal, writes an editorial in his newspaper strongly suggesting that Iraq is behind the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). He cites former CIA Director James Woolsey, who says the possibility should be considered that “the attacks—whether perpetrated by bin Laden and his associates or by others—were sponsored, supported, and perhaps even ordered by Saddam Hussein.” He also draws on the controversial and eventually discredited theories of Laurie Mylroie, for instance claiming that Iraq was behind the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993), and the controversial and eventually discredited reports that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi spy in Prague. He concludes, “Saddam Hussein has the motive, means and opportunity to mount terrorism, and the anthrax attacks fit his modus operandi. There is plenty of reason to presume he’s behind the current attacks, with bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network as a front or ally. In any event, given his capabilities and intentions, he remains a threat to American lives as long as he’s at large.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Laurie Mylroie, Robert Bartley, James Woolsey

Category Tags: Iraq

Th Los Angeles Times reports, “The FBI is increasingly convinced that the person behind the recent anthrax attacks is a lone wolf within the United States who has no links to terrorist groups but is an opportunist using the Sept. 11 hijackings to vent his rage…” The FBI is said to base this conclusion on “case studies, handwriting and linguistic analysis, forensic data and other evidence.” FBI investigators say they are looking for “an adult male with at least limited scientific expertise who was able to use laboratory equipment easily obtained for as little as $2,500 to produce high-quality anthrax.” They believe he is an “anti-social loner” who “has little contact with the public and carries deep-seated resentments but does not like direct confrontation.” However, these investigators admit that psychological profiling is a rough science, especially since they have little more than a small number of words written on the anthrax-laced letters. The letters appear to have tried to frame Muslims for the attacks. For instance, each letter contains the phrase “Allah is great.” Investigators say they are not completely ruling out an overseas connection to the letters, such as an Iraqi or Russian connection, but they consider it very unlikely. Investigators have not explained why they are so confident the attacks were caused by only one person. [Los Angeles Times, 11/10/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Iraq, Al-Qaeda, FBI Investigation

The Washington Post publishes an article suggesting a possible link between the anthrax attacks and the Iraqi government. But despite the title “Anthrax Type That Killed May Have Reached Iraq,” the evidence of a link presented in the article is not very strong. It is generally believed that Iraq was unable to acquire the Ames strain of anthrax. But the article says that two Iraqi officials attended a scientific conference in Britain in 1988 and were attempting to obtain various strains of anthrax, including the Ames strain. Shortly after the visit, Iraq’s trade ministry attempted to order some anthrax samples from the British government, including the Ames strain. At the time, Iraq has good relations with the US and other Western countries, but the order was nonetheless rejected over fears the Iraqis might want to use the anthrax in a bioweapons program. Former UN weapons inspector Richard Spertzel says, “We know that Iraq was very keen on obtaining that specific strain as well as others, and they were contacting many countries of the world.… But we simply don’t know [if Iraq was successful.]” However, from 1991 to 1998, UN inspectors monitored Iraq with on-site searches and never saw any evidence that Iraq was using the Ames strain. [Washington Post, 11/25/2001] One month later, it will be reported that all efforts to link the anthrax attacks to Iraq have been unsuccessful (see December 22, 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard Spertzel

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Iraq

The New York Times reports, “Shortly after the first anthrax victim died in October, the Bush administration began an intense effort to explore any possible link between Iraq and the attacks and continued to do so even after scientists determined that the lethal germ was an American strain, scientists and government officials said.” However, the effort eventually fizzled out when no evidence was found to back up the claim. A top federal scientist involved in the investigation says, “I know there are a number of people who would love an excuse to get after Iraq.” An unnamed senior intelligence official says: “We looked for any shred of evidence that would bear on this [Iraq connection], or any foreign source. It’s just not there.” As a result of this Iraq focus, only recently have FBI investigators concentrated on suspects within the US. The anthrax used in the attacks was from the Ames strain, which is a strain most commonly used in US bioweapons programs. Initial evidence strongly suggested that the Iraqi government was never able to obtain the Ames strain, but investigators nonetheless spent a considerable amount of time looking into the issue. Investigators promoted the idea that the anthrax spores were coated with bentonite, an additive supposedly used by Iraqi scientists. But the anthrax used in the attacks actually did not have bentonite coating. The Times notes that investigators say they are not close to identifying any suspect, and, “Some senior Bush administration officials have begun to worry privately that the case might take decades to solve…” [New York Times, 12/22/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Iraq, FBI Investigation

A Washington Post front page article about the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) states, “Bush administration officials have acknowledged that the anthrax attacks were an important motivator in the US decision to confront Iraq, and several senior administration officials say today that they still strongly suspect a foreign source—perhaps Iraq—even though no one has publicly said so.” The rest of the article focuses on the theory that the attacks were so sophisticated that a state such as Iraq was likely responsible (see October 28, 2002). [Washington Post, 10/28/2002] The Bush administration initially suggested there could be a link between the anthrax attacks and Iraq (see October 14, 2001 and October 17, 2001), but in November 2001 the FBI began focusing on the theory that a loner American was the sole culprit (see November 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraq

The Washington Post reports in a front-page story, “A significant number of scientists and biological warfare experts are expressing skepticism about the FBI’s view that a single disgruntled American scientist prepared the spores and mailed the deadly anthrax letters that killed five people last year.” More than a dozen experts suggest investigators should “reexamine the possibility of state-sponsored terrorism, or try to determine whether weaponized spores may have been stolen by the attacker from an existing, but secret, biodefense program or perhaps given to the attacker by an accomplice.” These experts suggest that making the type of anthrax used could take a team of experts and millions of dollars. The article focuses on the possibility that Iraq could be to blame, and mentions that unnamed senior Bush administration officials believe Iraq was behind the attacks (see October 28, 2002). However, even though the Post claims “a consensus has emerged in recent months among experts,” only one expert, Richard Spertzel, is named who supports the Iraq theory. Spertzel was the chief biological inspector for the UN Special Commission from 1994 to 1998. He says: “In my opinion, there are maybe four or five people in the whole country who might be able to make this stuff, and I’m one of them. And even with a good lab and staff to help run it, it might take me a year to come up with a product as good.” [Washington Post, 10/28/2002] Although the article doesn’t mention it, the other scientists Spertzel say could make the anthrax are renowned bioterrorism expert William Patrick and several unnamed scientists at Dugway Proving Ground, the US Army’s bioweapons laboratory in Utah, that Patrick trained in anthrax production in 1998. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] This renewed focus on an Iraq-anthrax link coincides with the US push to go to war with Iraq, and will fade after the Iraq war starts.

Entity Tags: Richard Spertzel, Federal Bureau of Investigation, William C. Patrick III

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill, Iraq, FBI Investigation, Dugway Proving Ground

In the face of pressure after the death of anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins, ABC News responds to criticism of its false stories in October 2001 linking the anthrax attacks to Iraq (see October 26-November 1, 2001). ABC News, particularly its reporter Brian Ross, repeatedly pushed a story claiming that initial analysis of the anthrax used in the attacks showed that it contained bentonite, and that this was a signature of anthrax used by the Iraqi government. In fact, no tests ever showed any signs of bentonite in the anthrax, and bentonite was not a signature of Iraqi anthrax in any case (see October 26-November 1, 2001). Ross responds to questions about his reporting, but to the obscure media outlet TVNewser instead of on ABC News itself. He says: “In the end, you’re only as good as your sources. My sources were good, we just got information that became outdated before they could update. My point of view is viewers of World News knew early that week we had been wrong to say bentonite.” In 2001, Ross claimed his story was backed by four independent sources. Now, he reveals, “Our sources were current and former government scientists who were all involved in analyzing the substance in the letter.” But he says that anthrax suspect Ivins was not one of those sources: “No he was not. If it was Ivins, I would report that in a second.” He continues to maintain that ABC News was not lied to and initial tests had simply given a mistaken result, confusing bentonite for silica. [TVNewser, 8/6/2008]

Entity Tags: ABC News, Bruce Ivins, Brian Ross

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Iraq

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