Would Obama Issue First Veto to Protect Anthrax Whitewash?

Bloomberg is reporting that Office of Management and Budget head Peter Orszag has told the intelligence committees Obama will veto the intelligence authorization because–among other reasons–it calls for re-examining the FBI’s conspiracy theory-as-investigation summary finding that Bruce Ivins acted alone. (h/t fatster)

President Barack Obama probably would veto legislation authorizing the next budget for U.S. intelligence agencies if it calls for a new investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks, an administration official said.A proposed probe by the intelligence agencies’ inspector general “would undermine public confidence” in an FBI probe of the attacks “and unfairly cast doubt on its conclusions,” Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence committees.


To sustain its claim that Ivins, rather than an accomplice, mailed the anthrax from Princeton, FBI engaged in addled speculation worthy of the Kennedy assassination. And now Obama is worried about “public confidence” in those addled speculations?

And shouldn’t there be an investigation of the investigation, at the least, because of the way FBI botched the investigation and framed Steven Hatfill?

If the investigation can’t bear any scrutiny, then I’d say there’s probably a good reason, and therefore a good reason to do an Inspector General investigation.

But I guess the President who advocates transparency is against that.

RawStory has a good summary of both this issue and the other targets of Obama’s veto threat: Congressional notification and GAO oversight of intelligence.

Nadler: FBI’s Not Done on Amerithrax

I know that Rush Holt has already called for further investigation in the anthrax case, but having a Sub-Committee Chair at HJC make the same call might carry different weight.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, reiterated his call for an independent investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks which killed five people and sickened 17.  He issued the following statement:

“Despite the FBI’s assertion that the case of the anthrax attacks is closed, there are still many troubling questions.  For example, in a 2008 Judiciary Committee hearing, I asked FBI Director Robert Mueller whether Bruce Ivins was capable of producing the weaponized anthrax that was used in the attacks.  To this day, it is still far from clear that Mr. Ivins had either the know-how or access to the equipment needed to produce the material.  Because the FBI has not sufficiently answered such questions, I join Congressman Holt in urging an independent investigation of the case.”

DOJ Anthrax Report Working Thread

DOJ has posted its Anthrax Report and related documents.

The Justice Department, FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service today announced that the investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks, which killed five individuals and sickened 17 others, has formally concluded.

Earlier today, representatives of the FBI and Justice Department provided a 92-page investigative summary along with attachments to victims of the attacks, relatives of the victims and appropriate committees of Congress. This document sets forth a summary of the evidence developed in the “Amerithrax” investigation, the largest investigation into a bio-weapons attack in U.S. history. As disclosed previously, the Amerithrax investigation found that the late Dr. Bruce Ivins acted alone in planning and executing these attacks.

The investigative summary and the attachments are now accessible to the public and have been posted to the Justice Department Web site at www.usdoj.gov/amerithrax under the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, roughly 2,700 pages of FBI documents related to the Amerithrax case are now accessible to the public and have been posted to the FBI website at http://foia.fbi.gov/foiaindex/amerithrax.htm under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Amerithrax Task Force, which was comprised of roughly 25 to 30 full-time investigators from the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and other law enforcement agencies, as well as federal prosecutors from the District of Columbia and the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Section, expended hundreds of thousands of investigator work hours on this case. Their investigative efforts involved more than 10,000 witness interviews on six different continents, the execution of 80 searches and the recovery of more than 6,000 items of potential evidence during the course of the investigation. The case involved the issuance of more than 5,750 grand jury subpoenas and the collection of 5,730 environmental samples from 60 site locations.

Use this as a working thread.

Update: Ah jeebus. Here’s half of what they say about Hatfill:

B. The Elimination of Dr. Steven J. Hatfill as a Suspect

In August 2002, it became widely known that Dr. Steven J. Hatfill was a person of interest to the Task Force. Early in the investigation, numerous individuals who suspected that he might be involved in the letter attacks contacted the FBI. While working as a researcher at USAMRIID from 1997 to 1999, Dr. Hatfill had virtually unrestricted access to the Ames strain of anthrax, the same strain used in the 2001 mailings. Dr. Hatfill also appeared to know the intricacies of conducting a successful anthrax dissemination by mail, although it was not uncommon for those in the bio-defense community to develop such scenarios for training exercises. In addition, he had filled multiple prescriptions for the antibiotic Cipro® in 2001, which was the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of inhalational anthrax; however, its use also was consistent with treatment for a persistent infection from which Dr. Hatfill was suffering at the time.

Ultimately, the FBI’s genetic analysis of the organism used in the attacks led investigators to exclude him conclusively as a suspect. Early in the investigation, it was assumed that isolates of the Ames strain were accessible to any individual at USAMRIID with access to the biocontainment labs. Later in the investigation, when scientific breakthroughs led investigators to conclude that RMR-1029 was the parent material to the anthrax powder used in the mailings, it was determined that Dr. Hatfill could not have been the mailer because he never had access to the particular bio-containment suites at USAMRIID that held the RMR-1029. In other words, although Dr. Hatfill had access to Ames strain anthrax while at USAMRIID, he never had access to the particular spore-batch used in the mailings.

No apologies, not excuses in this.

Update: I’d love to see this explained in more detail–particularly how leaks tying this to Iraq got to the press.

For example, Task Force agents vigorously pursued the possibility that the letters were the result of a state-sponsored attack, and specifically focused on those governments known to have, or have had, an offensive biological weapons program.

Short of explaining the leaks, you’ve not dismissed possible other motives.

Update: On victimology:

A victimology assessment revealed few themes of commonality among the targeted victims. Three of the five known targeted victims were media/press entities: Tom Brokaw/NBC, the New York Post, and the National Enquirer/AMI. The remaining two targeted victims were United States Senators. Senators Daschle and Leahy and Tom Brokaw all were middle-aged white males who held positions of leadership in their respective fields at the time of the attacks.

That’s it?!?!?! That’s the best they can do with this crowd? And no mention of the fake attack to Judy Miller, which–it seems to me–might be as much a clue to motive as anything else.

Ah well, I guess that has been disappeared down the memory hole.

Update: How much is 220 ml?

According to this review, there was approximately 220 ml of RMR-1029 that was unaccounted for on Dr. Ivins’s Reference Material Receipt record prior to the mailings in 2001.

Update: This is kind of a weird throwaway:

However, within a few months of the anthrax attacks, the FDA fast-tracked the approval process and approved the Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed (“AVA”), even though it didn’t meet the original potency standards. This was a significant development for the anthrax researchers.

It would seem to take away from their explanation for motive. But it also obscures the whole political pressure driving this, coming straight from the top.

Unsolved Anthrax Case to be Closed Today

Though DOJ will presumably insist that Ivins did it.

The FBI is expected to issue a final report today on its six-year investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, according to the attorney representing former Frederick resident Bruce Ivins, a Fort Detrick scientist accused of planning and carrying out the attacks that killed five people and sickened 17.
“The U.S. Attorney called me and said they would close the case today,” said Rockville attorney Paul Kemp.
The report will close an investigation in which Ivins, a senior researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, was eventually identified as the only person suspected of mailing the deadly letters to the offices of U.S. senators and media companies.
Well, I guess this eliminates one of the excuses Robert Mueller has used to avoid an inquiry into FBI’s conduct during this investigation.

Fake Anthrax Attacks in Two States

Someone launched a Judy Miller-type (that is, fake) anthrax attack on a bunch of Republicans in AL–and two academics in CA. (h/t TPMM)

Envelopes containing white powder set off anthrax scares in five Alabama cities, shutting down two federal courthouses Monday and trapping a congressman in his office as authorities tested the substance.

No one was injured, and investigators said at least five of the letters — all sent to the offices of senators or congressmen — were believed to be from the same source.

Recipients include:

  • US Rep Jo Bonner (2 offices)
  • US Rep Mike Rogers (2 offices)
  • Senator Richard Shelby
  • Senator Jeff Sessions
  • Federal Courthouse (Anniston)
  • Federal Courthouse (Birmingham)
  • UC Irvine professor Cynthia Feliciano
  • UC Irvine professor Nancy Da Silva

TPMM notes the coincidence between this and the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day. Me, I’m more concerned by general anxiety in the US.

We’re Still Following Germ Boy’s Biodefense Strategy

Wired’s Danger Room reports that the US is still following the biodefense strategy of the Bush Administration (and, since that policy was largely formulated by Scooter “Germ Boy” Libby, the strategy of Dick Cheney).

On Tuesday, Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher was in Geneva at the Biological Weapons Convention talks. Her primary purpose was to announce President Obama’s long-expected “National Security for Countering Biological Threats.”


The first clue that something was wrong was when Ms. Tauscher … decided to use language that most people associated with bioterrorist alarmists such as Dr. Tara O’Toole and former Senators Graham and Talent. “President Obama fully recognizes that a major biological weapons attack on one of the world’s major cities could cause as much death and economic and psychological damage as a nuclear attack could,” she said. Wow! Holey overstatement, Batman! Then she told the convention attendees that the U.S. government “would not seek to revive negotiations on a verification protocol to the Convention.”

Now, Danger Room attributes the hawkish statement to folks at NSC, burrowed in from the Bush Administration, who took over the speech drafting process.

Sources tell this reporter that the National Security Council had some Bush administration holdovers in charge of editing the National Strategy and preparing Ms. Tauscher’s script, and these individuals basically bulldozed the final draft through Defense and State officials with very little interagency input and with a very short suspense. There were no significant changes in her speech, either, despite attempts to soften the heavy Bush administration-type language.

But I wonder.

I’m not so much bugged that Ellen Tauscher, formerly one of the Blue Dogs from the most liberal districts saying this. Maybe she is as hawkish as all this.

I do wonder, as always, whether John Brennan–himself a repurposed Bush Administration flunkie–had a hand in this.

But it always comes back to questions of staffing with Obama. And to suggest that he has simply mistakenly failed to clean out NSC of Cheney’s moles doesn’t cut it, almost a year into Obama’s Administration. This is NSC after all, not a giant bureaucracy across the Potomac. And yet these anonymous speechwriters-turned-policy-setters still managed to put these very hawkish words into Tauscher’s mouth.

Anthrax Attack Used to Justify the Iraq War

Glenn Greenwald notes this detail from the British Iraq inquiry.

Yesterday, the British Ambassador to the U.S. in 2002 and 2003, Sir Christopher Meyer (who favored the war), testified before the investigative tribunal and said this:

Meyer said attitudes towards Iraq were influenced to an extent not appreciated by him at the time by the anthrax scare in the US soon after 9/11. US senators and others were sent anthrax spores in the post, a crime that led to the death of five people, prompting policymakers to claim links to Saddam Hussein. . . .

On 9/11 Condoleezza Rice, then the US national security adviser, told Meyer she was in “no doubt: it was an al-Qaida operation” . . . It seemed that Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy, argued for retaliation to include Iraq, Meyer said. . . .

But the anthrax scare had “steamed up” policy makers in Bush’s administration and helped swing attitudes against Saddam, who the administration believed had been the last person to use anthrax.

I’ve written many times before about how the anthrax attack played at least as large of a role as the 9/11 attack itself, if not larger, in creating the general climate of fear that prevailed for years in the U.S. and specifically how the anthrax episode was exploited by leading media and political figures to gin up intense hostility towards Iraq (a few others have argued the same).  That’s why it’s so striking how we’ve collectively flushed this terrorist attack down the memory hole as though it doesn’t exist.

As I pointed out earlier this month, the attack and the FBI’s investigation of it is not entirely forgotten. Chuck Grassley asked Robert Mueller about the investigation this spring. But Mueller invented a totally bullshit answer to dismiss the possibility of investigating the FBI’s investigation.

Grassley then goes on to ask about the National Academy of Sciences review of the FBI’s scientific analysis of the FBI’s anthrax case. After Mueller reviews that, Grassley asks whether the FBI would be willing to have an independent review of its “detective work” in the case. Mueller basically says, “no.”

Grassley: Are you opposed to an independent review of the FBI’s detective work, in addition to a review of the scientific evidence?

Read more

Mueller ALREADY Reviewing Shortcomings of Hasan Investigation

Here’s an interesting detail. Robert Mueller is already launching a review into shortcomings of earlier investigations into Nidal Hasan.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has ordered a review of what might have been done differently in the case.

Mind you, it’s not that I think the FBI shouldn’t review what they did to make sure they didn’t ignore any warning signs that Hasan might represent a danger to Americans. I think such a review is necessary.

It’s just that–a week ago–I wrote a post reporting Mueller’s continued refusal to review the Anthrax investigation. As a reminder, here’s the excuse he gave for not welcoming an outside investigation.

There is also ongoing criminal and civil litigation concerning the Amerithrax investigation and information derived therefrom, and an independent review of the FBI’s “detective work” at this time could adversely affect those proceedings.

So, two unexpected attacks, both raising questions about the FBI’s diligence. Both with multiple murders and further injuries. Both exposing vulnerabilities in our military infrastructure. Both with ongoing investigations (purportedly, in the case of the Anthrax case).

But Mueller’s only willing to review the FBI’s detective work in one case.

FBI’s Robert Mueller Still Engaging in an Anthrax Cover-Up

photo: hqhwtr via Flickr

photo: hqhwtr via Flickr

Steven Aftergood has just published Robert Mueller’s responses to questions for the record he received from the Senate Judiciary Committee this spring. Chuck Grassley asked Mueller several questions about the anthrax investigation. (The questions start on page 42 of these QFRs.) Mueller’s answers make it clear the FBI was–and is still–trying to cover up details about its investigation of the anthrax attack.

Delaying the Exoneration of Stephen Hatfill

Grassley starts by asking why it took the FBI two years to publicly clear Stephen Hatfill after it had eliminated him as a suspect.

[In a reply to an earlier inquiry I made] the Justice Department said that Dr. Stephen Hatfill was conclusively eliminated as a potential suspect in the Spring of 2006. That’s four years after the government publicly branded him a “person of interest” and instructed his federally funded employer to fire him in 2002. Yet, two more years passed after the FBI knew he was innocent before anyone bothered to inform Dr. Hatfill in 2008 that he had been cleared.

After Mueller basically concedes the point, Grassley asks whether the delay had anything to do with Hatfill’s lawsuit. Mueller indirectly concedes that the FBI did not inform Hatfill because they were still litigating Hatfill’s Privacy Act suit.

Grassley: Is it a coincidence that Dr. Hatfill’s lawyer was informed of the FBI’s findings only after he had settled the case against the government for nearly $6 million?

Mueller: The settlement of Hatfill v. Mukasey, et al. (DDC), resolved complex litigation that had been pending since 2003. The lawsuit included constitutional tort claims against Federal officials in their personal capacity and Privacy Act claims against DOJ and the FBI. THe constitutional tort claims were dismissed in 2005 (including the claim against former AG Ashcroft based on his having publicly referred to Dr. Hatfill as a “person of interest”). The Privacy Act claims (which alleged improper leaks, among other things) remained pending at the time of the settlement.

Mueller’s non-answer basically confirms that the FBI let Hatfill hang out there, virtually unemployable, for two years so that they could settle his suit before admitting to him they had already confirmed he wasn’t the anthrax killer.

Refusing to Investigate FBI’s “Detective Work”

Grassley then goes on to ask about the National Academy of Sciences review of the FBI’s scientific analysis of the FBI’s anthrax case. After Mueller reviews that, Grassley asks whether the FBI would be willing to have an independent review of its “detective work” in the case. Mueller basically says, “no.”

Grassley: Are you opposed to an independent review of the FBI’s detective work, in addition to a review of the scientific evidence?

Read more

Rush Holt: Investigate the Anthrax Attacks

Now here’s a investigative commission I can support (h/t Glenn):

Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) today introduced the Anthrax Attacks Investigation Act of 2009, legislation that would establish a Congressional commission to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks and the federal government’s response to and investigation of the attacks. The bipartisan commission would make recommendations to the President and Congress on how the country can best prevent and respond to any future bioterrorism attack.  The attacks evidently originated from a postal box in Holt’s Central New Jersey congressional district, disrupting the lives and livelihoods of many of his constituents. Holt has consistently raised questions about the federal investigation into the attacks.

All of us – but especially the families of the victims of the anthrax attacks – deserve credible answers about how the attacks happened and whether the case really is closed,” Holt said. “The Commission, like the 9/11 Commission, would do that, and it would help American families know that the government is better prepared to protect them and their children from future bioterrorism attacks.”

Under Holt’s legislation, the commission would be comprised of no more than six members of from the same political party. The commission would hold public hearings, except in situations where classified information would be discussed. The commission would have to consult the National Academies of Sciences for recommendations on scientific staff to serve on the Commission. The Commission’s final report would be due 18 months after the Commission begins operations.

“Myriad questions remain about the anthrax attacks and the government’s bungled response to the attacks,” Holt said. “One of the most effective oversight mechanisms we can employ to get answers to those questions is a 9/11 style Commission.” [my emphasis]

The FBI’s claim to have solved the anthrax case gets increasingly discredited every week, even as FBI struggles to set up a narrowly scoped scientific review to try to bolster their argument. 

It’s high time we looked into the gaping holes in the FBI’s story and figure out whether we still have domestic bioterrorists running free amongst us.