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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/4/21

The FBI's Strange Anthrax Investigation Sheds Light on COVID Lab-Leak Theory and Fauci's Emails

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Mainstream institutions doubted the FBI had solved the 2001 anthrax case. Either way, revelations that emerged about U.S. Government bio-labs have newfound relevance

Anthony Fauci, M.D.
Anthony Fauci, M.D.
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One of the most significant events of the last two decades has been largely memory-holed: the October, 2001 anthrax attacks in the U.S. Beginning just one week after 9/11 and extending for another three weeks, a highly weaponized and sophisticated strain of anthrax had been sent around the country through the U.S. Postal Service addressed to some of the country's most prominent political and media figures. As Americans were still reeling from the devastation of 9/11, the anthrax killed five Americans and sickened another 17.

As part of the extensive reporting I did on the subsequent FBI investigation to find the perpetrator(s), I documented how significant these attacks were in the public consciousness. ABC News, led by investigative reporter Brian Ross, spent a full week claiming that unnamed government sources told them that government tests demonstrated a high likelihood that the anthrax came from Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program. The Washington Post, in November, 2001, also raised "the possibility that [this weaponized strain of anthrax] may have slipped through an informal network of scientists to Iraq." Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) appeared on The David Letterman Show on October 18, 2001, and said: "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." Three days later, McCain appeared on Meet the Press with Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and said of the anthrax perpetrators: "perhaps this is an international organization and not one within the United States of America," while Lieberman said the anthrax was so finely weaponized that "there's either a significant amount of money behind this, or this is state-sponsored, or this is stuff that was stolen from the former Soviet program." (Lieberman added: "Dr. Fauci can tell you more detail on that").

In many ways, the prospect of a lethal, engineered biological agent randomly showing up in one's mailbox or contaminating local communities was more terrifying than the extraordinary 9/11 attack itself. All sorts of oddities shrouded the anthrax mailings, including this bizarre admission in 2008 by long-time Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen: "I had been told soon after Sept. 11 to secure Cipro, the antidote to anthrax. The tip had come in a roundabout way from a high government official. I was carrying Cipro way before most people had ever heard of it." At the very least, those anthrax attacks played a vital role in heightening fear levels and a foundational sense of uncertainty that shaped U.S. discourse and politics for years to come. It meant that not just Americans living near key power centers such as Manhattan and Washington were endangered, but all Americans everywhere were: even from their own mailboxes.

The FBI first falsely cast suspicion on a former government scientist, Dr. Steven Hatfill, who had conducted research on mailing deadly anthrax strains. Following the FBI's accusations, media outlets began dutifully implying that Hatfill was the culprit. A January, 2002, New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof began by declaring: "I think I know who sent out the anthrax last fall," then, without naming him, proceeded to perfectly describe Hatfill in a way that made him easily identifiable to everyone in that research community. Hatfill sued the U.S. Government, which eventually ended up paying him close to $6 million in damages before officially and explicitly exonerating him and apologizing. His lawsuit against the NYT and Kristof was dismissed since he was never named by the paper, but the columnist also apologized to him six years later.

A full seven years after the attack, the FBI once again claimed that it had found the perpetrator: this time, it was the microbiologist Bruce Ivins, a long-time "biodefense" researcher at the U.S. Army's infectious disease research lab in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Yet before he could be indicted, Ivins died, apparently by suicide, to avoid prosecution. As a result, the FBI was never required to prove its case in court. The agency insisted, however, that there was no doubt that Ivins was the anthrax killer, citing genetic analysis of the anthrax strain that they said conclusively matched the anthrax found in Ivins' U.S. Army lab, along with circumstantial evidence pointing to him.

But virtually every mainstream institution other than the FBI harbored doubts. The New York Times quoted Ivins' co-workers as calling into question the FBI's claims ("The investigators looked around, they decided they had to find somebody"), and the paper also cited "vocal skepticism from key members of Congress." Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), one of the targets of the anthrax letters, said explicitly he did not believe Ivins could have carried out the attacks alone. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and then-Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a physicist, said the same to me in interviews. The nation's three largest newspapers The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal all editorially called for independent investigations on the grounds that the FBI's evidence was inconclusive if not outright unconvincing. One of the country's most prestigious science journals, Nature, published an editorial under the headline "Case Not Closed," arguing, about the FBI's key claims, that "the jury is still out on those questions."

When an independent investigation was finally conducted in 2011 into the FBI's scientific claims against Ivins, much of that doubt conveted into full-blown skepticism. As The New York Times put it in a 2011 article headlined "Expert Panel Is Critical of F.B.I. Work in Investigating Anthrax Letters" the review "concludes that the bureau overstated the strength of genetic analysis linking the mailed anthrax to a supply kept by Bruce E. Ivins." AWashington Post article -- headlined: "Anthrax report casts doubt on scientific evidence in FBI case against Bruce Ivins" -- announced that "the report reignited a debate that has simmered among some scientists and others who have questioned the strength of the FBI's evidence against Ivins."

An in-depth joint investigation by ProPublica, PBS and McClatchy published under the headline "New Evidence Adds Doubt to FBI's Case Against Anthrax Suspect" concluded that "newly available documents and the accounts of Ivins' former colleagues shed fresh light on the evidence and, while they don't exonerate Ivins, are at odds with some of the science and circumstantial evidence that the government said would have convicted him of capital crimes." It added: "even some of the government's science consultants wonder whether the real killer is still at large." The report itself, issued by the National Research Council, concluded that while the components of the anthrax in Ivins' lab were "consistent" with the weaponized anthrax that had been sent, "the scientific link between the letter material and flask number RMR-1029 [found in Ivins' lab] is not as conclusive as stated in the DOJ Investigative Summary."

In short, these were serious and widespread mainstream doubts about the FBI's case against Ivins, and those have never been resolved. U.S. institutions seemingly agreed to simply move on without ever addressing lingering scientific and other evidentiary questions regarding whether Ivins was really involved in the anthrax attacks and, if so, how it was possible that he could have carried out this sophisticated attack within a top-secret U.S. Army lab acting alone. So whitewashed is this history that doubts about whether the FBI found the real perpetrator are now mocked by smug Smart People as a fringe conspiracy theory rather than what they d been: the consensus of mainstream institutions.

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[Subscribe to Glenn Greenwald] Glenn Greenwald is a journalist,former constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times bestselling books on politics and law. His most recent book, "No Place to Hide," is about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. His forthcoming book, to be published in April, 2021, is about Brazilian history and current politics, with a focus on his experience in reporting a series of expose's in 2019 and 2020 which exposed high-level corruption by powerful officials in the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, which subsequently attempted to prosecute him for that reporting.

Foreign Policy magazine named Greenwald one of the top 100 Global Thinkers for 2013. He was the debut winner, along with "Democracy Now's" Amy Goodman, of the Park Center I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism in 2008, and also received the 2010 Online Journalism Award for his investigative work breaking the story of the abusive (more...)
 

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