The FBI investigation of the 2001 anthrax mailings may well be the most extensive criminal investigation in world history. According to FBI, this investigation has determined that the Mailer was U.S. Government scientist Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide this July. But the evidence FBI has adduced is so embarrassingly weak that skepticism runs rampant among scientists, other observers of the case, and the public at large.

Many observers find it impossible to believe that the Bureau could persuasively rule out the other 99 (or perhaps as many as 299) people who had potential access to the virulent strain of anthrax from the flask Ivins kept. No one doubts that the anthrax in at least some of the letters came originally from this flask, but critics charge that FBI has no valid reason to claim that Ivins was the one who prepared the anthrax and put it into the envelopes. In addition, FBI’s effort to show that Ivins drove to New Jersey to mail the letters relies on exceptionally flimsy circumstantial evidence.

FBI also has not responded to a congressional request for the percentage of silica found in the anthrax in the letters. While the Bureau argues that the silica came from the environment, an amount above 1 percent would presumably mean that the silica was deliberately added to the anthrax to enhance its effectiveness as a weapon.

The naming of a new FBI director by the Obama Administration would open the door to a reconsideration by FBI. And Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), himself a scientist and representing the district from which the letters were mailed, is proposing a commission to review all the evidence in the case. Such a commission or congressional hearings could prove fruitful, but the history of this case suggests that the American people may have to wait a very long time for a satisfactory account of the anthrax mailings and their investigation.

In the meanwhile, however, we can further the investigation, quite aside from whatever the U.S. Government does, simply by listing the various leading theories of the case as well as the also-rans. With such a list in hand, we can see more clearly in which direction to look.

The Leading Theories

Here is a list of the main theories of the case, in descending order of their popularity among careful observers of the case:

1. Battelle-Dugway. The favorite theory of quite a few scientists and other observers of the case is that someone at defense contractor Battelle Memorial Institute or at the Battelle-managed government Dugway Proving Ground in Utah mailed the letters, presumably with the aim of boosting biodefense spending. Proponents of this view note the U.S. Government origin of the anthrax in the letters and other circumstantial evidence pointing to Battelle. From this perspective, the investigation of the case has involved a cover-up of a clandestine biowarfare program. This theory receives occasional mention in the media, but in-depth investigative articles have been few.

2. Rogue U.S. Government (or former U.S. Government) Scientist (not Ivins). Proponents of this fairly popular theory point to individual researchers currently or formerly at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland or at other U.S. Government laboratories. This theory fits Steven Hatfill, whose case received a great deal of media attention even after it became clear that he was not the Mailer. The media seem to have found it safer to report voluminously on Hatfill than to investigate other angles of the case. Their excuse was that they couldn’t report anything that FBI had not confirmed. That argument was never strong, and now, given FBI’s performance in the Ivins case, it has lost all credibility.

3. Al Qaeda. A minority of observers argue that the attacks were perpetrated by an al Qaeda terrorist. They offer answers to various objections to an al Qaeda origin and point to several university and biotechnology company laboratories where al Qaeda sympathizers may readily have gained access to the anthrax in the lax security environment before the September 11, 2001 attacks. The leading independent investigator on this side of the case is attorney Ross Getman (see his Anthrax and al Qaeda). For a detailed discussion of the leading al Qaeda suspect and FBI’s investigation of him, see Was Abderraouf Jdey the Anthrax Mailer?. The news media have not reported on this theory of the case, aside from some articles on the putative possession of anthrax by the intending September 11, 2001 hijackers while they were in Florida.

4. Foreign Governments. Some observers have directed suspicion for the anthrax mailings on various foreign governments. Iraq, Russia, and Israel have been mentioned most often, but solid evidence has been lacking. The Iraq variant played a minor role in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

5. Domestic Terrorists or Mad Scientists. Some have speculated that a domestic terrorist group or a lone mad scientist could have prepared and mailed the anthrax, but the lack of any credible evidence has kept such theories from gaining a following.

6. Bruce Ivins. This is the theory of FBI and is accepted by various observers. It is also given credence by some media organizations, which seem content to accept this story because to do otherwise would require more initiative than they are used to showing. The Ivins theory has little merit and is listed here simply for the sake of completeness.

Farther Ahead

So where does this leave us? Certainly farther ahead than if we had not drawn up this list. Why? Because we now have a statement of the three main theories (the first three) and the three trailing theories (the last three). That at least provides a bit of clarity.

But more important, we can now see that the public is being kept in the dark. After an initial flurry of reports, the American media have only lightly covered the Battelle-Dugway theory, and they have utterly failed to report the heart of the al Qaeda theory of the case. Many news organizations know about the findings of researchers on the al Qaeda side of the case, but they aren’t telling the public what they know or conducting their own investigations and reporting on them.

FBI, too, is well aware of the al Qaeda theory of the case. The Bureau appears to have investigated Abderraouf Jdey very thoroughly in 2004, and it knows that an al Qaeda detainee claimed that Jdey was also the shoebomber who brought down American Airlines Flight #587 on November 12, 2001. However, it appears that, because Jdey’s activities were a terrific embarrassment to the Bush Administration, the White House induced FBI to drop its investigation of him. In other words, FBI did its job correctly, but its director proved susceptible to political pressure.

The traditional media are not breathing a word about any of this. With the honorable exception of Wikipedia, neither are other well-known Internet news services and blogs.

Fortunately, readers can rely on BNN.

[See also “The Anthrax Mailings Can’t Have Been al Qaeda”.]

Kenneth J. Dillon

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