We are all familiar with the term ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’, hindsight is after all 20/20. This phenomena though is not just for couch potatoes gathered around the water cooler at work on Monday mornings, even big media gets involved. A prime example is the tone coming out of ABC and The Wall Street Journal concerning the governments out of court settlement with Steven Hatfill over the 2001 Anthrax attacks.
The anthrax laced letters, killed 5 and infected 17 others. Targeted were two Senators, and the offices of several publications. A Capitol Hill office building was so contaminated that it took months to clean up. Anthrax spores, dispersed by mail sorting machines, turned up at the Supreme Court, as well as in locations in Florida, New Jersey and Missouri.
Steven Hatfill as you may recall was claimed â€œto be a person of interestâ€ in the case, he fitted the profile, he had the knowledge and the access. Hatfill sued claiming that the FBI action has ruined his career and is now over $5 million richer.
Both news organizations talk of how the FBI dropped the ball by not extending their net wider, and now, almost 7 years later the trail has gone cold. They also lay charges that the FBI became fixated on this high profile case, and micro managed the investigation from every level, thereby hog tieing the street level investigators who could have solved it.
As ABC puts it….
agents were fixated on a “lone wolf” theory that Director Robert Mueller’s FBI, for all intents and purposes, now admits was wrong
When it comes to â€œlone wolfâ€ terrorist experts there is none better than Terry Turchie. Terry was the lead investigator for the FBI in the Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski), and the Olympic Bomber (Eric Rudolf). Now retired from the FBI Terry has turned his hand to writing, with one book under his belt â€œHunting the American Terroristâ€ and another about to hit the shelves â€œHomeland Insecurityâ€. I can think of no better qualified person to ask about the Anthrax case, and the FBI involvement.
I have read several viewpoints on the likely suspects, Al Qaeda, Iraq, or the home grown lone wolf. As I recall both you and your co-author Kathleen Puckett (a retired FBI profiler) like the lone wolf theory, why is that?
There has never been any substantive evidence (either made public by those working the case or through analysis of information available to the public) pointing to the involvement of Iraq, al-Qaeda or any other international terrorist sponsoring group or country in the anthrax attacks of September, 2001. Any case (from the most simple to the massively complex) depends upon the ability (and the capability) of the investigators to follow the trail of evidence to see where it takes them. In any case there is an assortment of fact, fiction, and theory. The key to the solution to a case is to collect and analyze the facts, eliminate the fiction, and be knowledgeable (but not driven by) all the potential working theories. At some point the facts of the case will collide with one of the working theories and the case will start to come together. The type of evidence potentially available includes, but is not limited to forensics, eyewitnesses, documentary, and the results of interviews and interrogations. Behavioral analysis is important as a complement to other â€œmaterial and relevantâ€ evidence as it contributes to providing a foundation to â€œconnect the dots,â€ maximizes the use of psychology in identifying the types of offenders who commit specific types of crimes, and aids in eliminating suspects who do not fit a reasonable â€œprofileâ€ of the offender. Conducting investigations is a combination of art and science, patience and emotional detachment. Unfortunately, there are no â€œuser manualsâ€ that explain precisely how to work a case every time so that a successful conclusion can be reached every time within a certain timeframe. Every case is different and often the â€œexpertsâ€ who are called upon to consult with and advise the investigative teams are not always correct in their assessments. For example, in the Unabom investigation, the FBI, ATF, and Postal Inspection Labs insisted to the Unabom Task Force that the Unabomber had to have access to a foundry to build his bombs because of the quality of the metal work. He did not. He melted metals in a large earthen pit that he dug himself. In the anthrax cases, the targets were specific and surgical, no one claimed credit for the attacks, the use of hand printed letters to mail the anthrax mimicked the technique used by the Unabomber, and the forensics do not eliminate the possibility of a â€œlonerâ€ with access. Conversely, after invading Iraq and Afghanistan and arresting or detaining thousands of al-Qaeda and would be al-Qaeda members around the world, not one piece of evidence has surfaced pointing to the involvement of international terrorism in the attacks. Even more curious, no international terrorist group or sponsoring country has claimed any credit for the attacks. Itâ€™s key to remember that â€œloneâ€ terrorist criminals do not want to be identified and connected to their crimes. International terrorists seek recognition for what they have done. So, at this point, the anthrax investigation must continue to follow the evidence trail, being mindful of all the potential theories. Right now, that trail points more in the direction of a â€œlone offenderâ€ than towards international terrorists. There is always the possibility that the anthrax killer is a hybrid of sorts (as was the Unabomber) – a loner from the USA or another country, with sympathies to international terrorism. But only time and following the trail will tell.
The tone of the articles paints a bleak picture, but this case occurred right after the 9/11 atrocity, and there were some big changes being made to all of the security and law enforcement agencies. I think it could be argued that it was not so much the FBI micromanaging the case, but that the FBI themselves were being micromanaged.
Following the 9/11 attacks, itâ€™s now apparent that some former and current government officials (and certainly high level members of the Bush administration) desired to find any justification to invade Iraq. Former CIA Director James Woolsey, for example, spent a great deal of time telling the country that Iraq might be responsible for the anthrax attacks. Others echoed his feelings. There were others within the intelligence community who â€œanalyzedâ€ their way to the same conclusion. In Congress and even the Department of Justice, loyalists to the President and Vice-President repeated the same assertions and put pressure on the FBI to answer the question immediately. Immediacy doesnâ€™t usually result in justice and impartiality. This is the problem created with mixing intelligence, politics, and law enforcement- and today in one area after another the United States is paying a heavy price for the flawed strategy pursued by the President in his overall â€œwar on terror.â€ Unfortunately, he and his intelligence community have fought the asymmetric war with the shotgun approach. In hindsight, itâ€™s easy to see what was going on. The President wanted to invade Iraq. The first attempt to find justification was anthrax. It didnâ€™t work. The next attempt involved developing the â€œrelationshipâ€ between al-Qaeda and Iraqi intelligence. It didnâ€™t work. Finally, Saddam Hussein possessed and was preparing to use against the United States weapons of mass destruction. It held the day. The invasion happened. There were no weapons and our intelligence analysis was simply wrong. And, when one person with integrity tried to influence the outcome by drawing a different conclusion for the Bush administration, his wifeâ€™s identity as a CIA employee was leaked to the media. Of course, the FBI conducted the leak investigation- none of which sits well with the same politicians looking for advantage. Thus, the pressures are on and the FBI is micro-managed so that it will change its positions. This is the way it works in Washington, D.C. when an agency of individual incurs the wrath of the powerful.
While I mostly disagree with ABC and the WSJ they do bring up one salient thought. Being labeled ‘A person of interest’ is taken to mean ‘suspect’ in the common vernacular. Was it wise to name Hatfill, surely if someone is of interest making the fact public does nothing more than alert him and permit time for him to take precautions?
Steven Hatfill should never have been named a â€œperson of interestâ€ in the anthrax case by the Attorney General. This is an example of politics and emotion trumping law enforcement. It always results in a disaster and interferes with the dynamics of the investigation. The Unabom Task Force conducted thousands of suspect investigations and never named anyone as a â€œperson of interest.â€ In fact, on several occasions when the media named former Weather Underground fugitives or others as â€œsuspectsâ€ the task force issued press releases denying the claims.
Based on your experience with the Unabomber and Eric Rudolf cases would you have tackled the Anthrax case differently?
The Unabom and Eric Robert Rudolph investigations were worked at a different time and place. The FBI still had the independence to pursue the facts without interference from the Department of Justice, political parties and Presidents and their loyalists. They were worked from the perspective of law enforcement and the rule of law and not a blend of intelligence analysis covered by secrecy and lack of transparency. They were managed locally at the field office level by experienced and veteran investigators and worked by agents and support personnel who consistently and patiently stayed on the trail without having to worry that FBI Headquarters managers at numerous levels would micromanage them (although they repeatedly tried) The local managers of the case knew full well they were also accountable for the investigative results, as well as the morale and well being of the people working tirelessly on the case. Then FBI Director Louis Freeh vigorously supported the decisions taken by the field office managers of the two cases, agreeing with many â€œout of the boxâ€ changes made including those to restructure the task forces, alter investigative strategies, and merge behavioral and forensic aspects of the cases with the investigation on the scene to sort through fact, fiction and theory. Because of this, the 16 year long Unabom case was solved in two years after the changes became effective. And Eric Rudolph was identified two years after his bombing spree started and finally arrested five years later. Of significance, both Theodore Kaczynski and Rudolph pleaded guilty to all of their crimes before their trials- a testimony to the â€œsilentâ€ role played by all of the agent and support personnel involved in the investigations to end these terrorist bombing sprees. And most important, both cases depended upon cooperative efforts with local, state and other federal law enforcement agencies and the help and vigilance of a supportive and engaged public. All of this is lacking in the post 9/11 era, due in large part to the flawed strategy adopted to deal with terrorism.
Terry, I want to thank you for talking with us, and I am sure that our readers will join me in wishing your wife a speedy recovery from her surgery.
Authors note – Steven Hatfill may have scored a hat full of loot, but if you read the official statement carefully it does not exonerate him. The term ‘lack of evidence’ springs to mind.