March 11, 2002
(last revised October 16, 2003)
There seems no doubt that the FBI has narrowed the search for the anthrax terrorist to a small number of suspects. But they probably canít name those suspects without generating a media feeding-frenzy. With all the pent-up interest in the anthrax case, when an arrest is finally made, the media will be there in force to a degree that will make the OJ trial look like a barking dog complaint tried before Judge Judy.
The anthrax case has not only been narrowed down to a "small number of suspects", but the actual case could very easily involve more than one scientist. The person who took the anthrax from the government lab is very likely not the same person who mailed the anthrax letters. Everything makes much more sense if a second scientist is added to the equation. If everything had been done by a single person, how many scientists with the specialized knowledge were in Trenton, New Jersey, on September 17 or 18 and October 8 or 9?
When there is more than one person involved in a crime, the complications explode and the case becomes vastly more difficult to prove.
It appears that someone obtained some Ames anthrax from a government lab, and it was almost certainly done prior to September 11, 2001. The FBI may have a suspect, but they haven't said so. There is ample evidence that items could easily be taken from some secure labs, and there is testimony that scientists have routinely given samples of lab materials to other scientists without keeping track - including anthrax of the Ames strain.
For the purposes of this speculation, I'm only going to suggest that the Supplier (i.e., the person who took the anthrax from a government lab) had some form of Ames anthrax available at some point in time before Sept. 11. And for some reason he turned it over to someone else. That second person is the anthrax Refiner/Mailer.
But why did the Supplier give the anthrax to the Refiner/Mailer? And when?
The FBI seems to believe that the Refiner/Mailer lives and works somewhere in central New Jersey. So do I. It just seems too unlikely that someone would travel very far to mail anthrax-laced letters on two different occasions. The letters had to have been mailed by someone who could get to Trenton and back without being missed and/or without much risk of being caught without any logical explanation for being in that area if some accident should occur or if he should be recorded on some security camera.
It seems unlikely that the Supplier would have turned the anthrax over to the Refiner/Mailer in the week between September 11th and September 18th. After the airliner attacks, the nation was jittery and on the alert. It was not the time for rash decisions that could be highly illegal. Plus, it seems ridiculously unlikely that the anthrax was stolen from the government lab after the heightened alerts that began immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
It is much more likely that the anthrax was both stolen and changed hands sometime prior to September 11th. It may have been stolen as much as a year or two earlier, but it probably didn't change hands until about a month before the attacks. Best guess: it happened between the collapse of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention in July and August of, 2001, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
It seems unlikely that the Supplier would give away live anthrax to another scientist without some very solid reason. And he would also have to have a reason to trust that the anthrax would not be misused. Anthrax just isnít something an intelligent scientist is likely to turn over to a casual acquaintance. There must have been at least some very firm meeting of the minds - and that meeting of the minds had to have been connected to the possible uses of that anthrax.
Because some very special processing was done to the anthrax, the supplier and the anthrax refiner may have originally come together to discuss the ways that such processing could be accomplished. Alone each may not have had to knowledge required to refine the anthrax, but together they may have figured out a way to do it that no one else in the field of bioweaponry was aware of.
Could the Supplier have simply sold the anthrax for money? Thatís definitely possible. But there would still be the very important element of trust. If someone is looking to buy anthrax, would the Supplier have any way of knowing it wasnít some kind of FBI sting? Would the Supplier know that the anthrax would never be traced back to him? Would a reputable scientist buy "black market anthrax"? And if heís not a reputable scientist, doesnít that add to the risks? And, perhaps most important, if one is selling anthrax to someone else, it seems very important to know for certain that the anthrax buyer wonít use it in a way that could cause the death of the seller.
It seems much more likely that the anthrax changed hands for reasons involving mutual concerns about bioterrorism or about "illegal" government bioweapons programs - rather than for purely monetary reasons. For people in the weapons and bioweapons fields - and people in related fields such as microbiology and medicine - the concerns about "illegal" government probrams and bioterrorism were very intense just prior to September 11, because of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention.
The motive, it appears, was most likely one of alerting the world to the dangers of allowing governments to develop bioweapons - and how easily those bioweapons could get out of control or get into the hands of terrorists. Nothing else makes much sense when one takes into account all the measures that were taken (in the failed attempt) to assure that no one was killed or harmed by the anthrax - and the fact that the Ames strain was used.
A meeting of the minds
The Supplier and the Refiner/Mailer had a meeting of the minds on the subject of the dangers of bioterrorism. The Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention had just ended in turmoil and indecision when the United States failed to agree to any plan that included international inspections of US government laboratories.
Such inspections would not stop bioterrorism. But they would reduce the risk that some lab techician would turn a bioweapon over to terrorists or release some unstoppable plague upon the world. The Bush Administration argued that leaders of rogue nations and terrorist groups do not adhere to treaties and regulations, so inspection of US government labs would do nothing to prevent attack from such people. But, to the two Scientists, it would go a long way toward reducing the amount of deadly material in use and the number of places where potential bioweapons were being developed.
When the Supplier gave the anthrax to the Refiner/Mailer, he must have known he was demonstrating just how easy it was for a rogue scientist to obtain anthrax. He knew the anthrax was dangerous and could be used as a weapon. He therefore knew that what he was doing was exactly as he feared some other "rogue scientist" might do - except that he was giving it to someone of like mind, someone he trusted to use it in the best interests of the world, and not against the world or the United States.
What did they plan to do with the anthrax?
It doesnít seem likely that the two scientists planned to send anthrax through the mails prior to September 11 - at least not in the same haphazard way it was done in the two mailings. But some kind of demonstration of the dangers of bioweaopons was probably behind the transfer of the anthrax. A demonstration of some kind was planned.
If I were to speculate (and thatís all Iím doing here), my best guess would be that the plan was to make a dramatic presentation at a scientific conference or convention - most likely the next meeting of the BTWC in Geneva in November of 2001.
Imagine the effect and world-wide alarm if some respected scientist at the podium of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention held up a vial of highly refined, powdered anthrax and declared that it was obtained on the "black market" and that the vial held enough anthrax to kill a million people! It would be almost like displaying an atomic bomb obtained on "the black market". It would make headlines all over the world. It would wake people up to the dangers of bioterrorism as never before.
And it would be a "harmless" demonstration - totally safe - but extremely effective. (Colin Powell did a very similar demontration at the U.N. to get his point across about going to war with Iraq because of the terrible weapons Iraq might have.)
But the Supplier couldnít be the one to do it, since he currently or once worked where anthrax was used and that would make him an immediate suspect. If that kind of dramatic demonstration was the goal, the Supplier may have picked the Refiner/Mailer because he could easily draw a large audience to the demonstration.
Or perhaps the Refiner/Mailer knew someone else (a "Speaker") who could draw such an audience.
The FBIís "loner" profile of the anthrax Refiner/Mailer doesnít fit the picture of a man accustomed to being invited to talk before large and distinguished audiences. So, itís quite possible that there is a third scientist, the Speaker, someone who would be invited to a major convention as a guest speaker. It would have to be someone who shared the same goals as the other two scientists, someone who would be willing to perform the demonstration, and, most importantly, someone who could be totally trusted to keep the secret and to not immediately notify the authorities. The Speaker may or may not have been contacted before there was a dramatic change of plans.
Any totally safe but dramatic demonstration planned for the BTWC in November would have been too little too late after the events of September 11. There was no longer any time for such benign tactics. Many in the scientific community fully expected that a biological attack would follow closely behind the airliner attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The entire world was holding its collective breath. Iraq was known to have had anthrax and they might use it.
It appears the Refiner/Mailer could no longer wait. Within a week of September 11, he conceived and implemented an different kind of "demonstration". And he was now clearly acting on his own, possibly forcing the Supplier to scramble to create an alibi to protect himself when told of the date of the first anthrax mailing.
Unable to wait until he was able to refine the anthrax to the degree needed by Plan A, the Refiner/Mailer impatiently sent out unrefined anthrax in the letters to the 5 media addresses.
But the hastily prepared Plan B demonstration failed to alert anyone!
And, to make matters worse, political infighting was still continuing in Washington. Newspapers were reporting on how Democratic Senators were fighting plans to implement the new, strong security measures of the "Anti-Terror Act" that Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed he needed in order to protect America against terrorism.
Because the first attack failed, and because he was angered by the actions of the Democrats, the Refiner/Mailer spent 3 weeks completing the refining of the anthrax and then prepared a second attack that would be aimed directly at the Democratic Senators. As things happen, the second anthrax mailing on October 9 was implemented shortly before the first mailing had its impact. The anthrax-laced letters to the Senators were mailed five days after it was discovered that a tabloid editor in Florida had contracted anthrax but four days before it became known that the anthrax was not from natural causes and had been deliberately sent through the mails.
The two hastily prepared demonstrations failed miserably in many ways. Most critical, of course, was that it killed unsuspecting postal workers and even innocent people like 94 year old Ottilie Lundgren who was totally unconnected in any way to the goal. But the attacks also failed to convince any but the most rabid Iraq-haters that foreign terrorists were behind the mailings. As soon as it was learned that the media and a couple Democratic senators had been the targets, most Americans immediately began assuming that the letters had been sent by some group of Right Wing extremists. And a sudden plague at that same time of hoax anthrax mailings from such extremists helped solidify and verify such conclusions. The evidence quickly piled up until virtually no one believed that Iraq or Al Qaeda was behind the mailings.
And the FBI manhunt began for the domestic terrorists behind the anthrax mailings.
Technically, the "demonstration" had worked, but it didnít work entirely in the way the Refiner/Mailer had hoped. America was definitely alerted to the dangers of bioterrorism, many Muslims were rounded up, and billions of dollars were soon being spent to implement new safety measures. But instead of shutting down bioweapons labs to reduce the danger that someone else might steal such a weapon, new labs were being proposed and funded. Instead of hunting for down foreign terrorists behind the mailings, the FBI was concentrating on hunting for a rogue American scientist with access to the Ames strain of anthrax and bioweapons expertise. The FBI was hunting for the murderer of 5 innocent Americans.
A Pending Manifesto?
When a plan fails, itís time for explanations and excuses.
The first targets were all in the media. The Refiner/Mailer wanted to alert the media - to make them demand that potential terrorists in our midsts be rounded up before they can strike. He probably wants to tell the media why he did what he did. He wants to make people understand that he did what he thought was best for America in a time of crisis - at a time when America was not aware of a true danger that could strike at any time. He woke America up to that danger. He accomplished his objective. Unfortunately, five people died - which he hadnít intended - but what is the death of five people when tens of thousands may have been saved by his "early warning"? He wants people to understand that. If he wasnít interested in making people understand, he wouldnít have done what he did.
Heís out there right now waiting to tell someone in the media why he did what he did. Heís ready to publish his manifesto. All he needs is the right moment. That moment may come when he sees heís about to be arrested, or it may come when he feels he can no longer stand the waiting.
The FBIís Case
Meanwhile, the FBI has the problem of trying to build a case where it cannot prove that the Refiner/Mailer ever possesed any anthrax and the Supplier probably has a perfect alibi. Without a confession or "smoking gun" evidence it will be a hard case to prove.
Even if the Supplier were to confess, it might still be difficult to convict anyone of anything. Prior to the anthrax mailings, it was an unofficial but accepted procedure for one scientist to share biological specimens with another - even lethal biologicals such as anthrax. Many scientists initially thought that hundreds of laboratories might have samples of the Ames anthrax distributed by these informal procedures. That number was narrowed down considerably, but the fact that there were very few controls on such things will make it difficult to convict a scientist who shared a biological sample with another scientist for reasons that did not involve harming anyone or doing anything patently illegal (Plan A). He did not disclose secrets. What he stole could be easily replaced and wasn't even missed. At best, he could be convicted as an accessory before the fact because he didn't notify the authorities as soon as he was informed that anthrax was about to be mailed.
And the Refiner/Mailer will certainly claim that he never received any anthrax, and that the Supplier is making up a story to escape blame for his own actions. And heíll talk only through his lawyers.
No doubt about it. It will be a difficult case. And the longer it takes, the more difficult it may become.
Thatís unfortunate, because there are probably scientists out there who know both scientists and know when and where they met. They may even know that the Supplier had obtained some anthrax. They may even know that the Refiner/Mailer was rabid on the subject of protecting the world against the dangers inherent in bioweapons developement. There may even have been hinting about an upcoming demonstration at an upcoming convention.
But they may not come forward because they cannot believe that their fellow scientists could be involved. And, too, many scientists believe that the person who stole the anthax must be the same person who mailed the letters even though there is absolutely no reason to believe that! And many scientists believe that the anthrax must have been refined in a government lab even though that is almost certainly another false assumption.
If the FBI names the suspects, the scientists who have evidence may come forward, but the media-frenzy may also jeopardize the case in some way. So, until they come forward, the FBI will have to make its case with what can be found elsewhere.
At least thatís how I see it.
© 2002 &
2003 by Ed Lake