- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2003

Anthrax terror

The CIA has been quietly building a case that the anthrax attacks of 2001 were in fact the result of an international terrorist plot.

U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports tell us the information showing a terrorist link to the anthrax-filled letters sent by mail in the weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks is not conclusive. But it is persuasive.

Asked to comment, a U.S. official said, “There is no evidence at this point to suggest a foreign terrorist link or connection. But the matter is still under investigation and we’re not ruling anything out.”

Some officials think the intelligence is at least as valid as the FBI’s “mad scientist” theory, which has produced dead ends so far for the G-men after more than two years of investigation. This theory says a U.S. biological weapons scientist with access to highly refined anthrax powder stole some and used it to awaken the U.S. government to the threat of deadly anthrax.

Former weapons scientist Stephen Hatfill was identified by the Justice Department as a “person of interest” in the probe. Mr. Hatfill has stated repeatedly that he had nothing to do with the anthrax mailings. He is suing the federal government for investigating him.

The deadly letters were sent to two U.S. senators and several news outlets in October and November 2001. They ended with the phrases, “death to America, death to Israel, Allah is great.” Five persons were killed after inhaling anthrax spores and 22 others were sickened but survived.

The spores were analyzed and found to be a virulent form known as the Ames strain. Also, the spores were milled into extremely fine powder, making it easier to disperse in the air.

Investigators were hoping the Iraq Survey Group would come up with documents or evidence indicating that Iraq might have acquired the Ames strain. But U.S. officials said so far there are no signs of Ames-type anthrax in Iraq, either from samples or documents recovered from the Iraqi intelligence service. The service was in charge of weapons of mass destruction development.

A report last month to the U.N. Security Council by its Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission concluded that traces of anthrax recovered from a bomb in early 2003 were of the same strain Iraq declared in 1991 it had weaponized. Those were not the Ames strain, U.S. officials said.

Iraq threat

Security officials for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq are warning Americans to be alert for attacks during the holiday season.

“Coalition members are cautioned to be especially alert over the next 10 days and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness,” one warning notice sent out Christmas Eve states. “We are seeing continuing indications following the capture of Saddam Hussein that elements are planning actions against CPA and Iraqi interests in order to demonstrate that they are still a significant force.”

To deal with the threat, military patrols and overall security have been beefed up. The authority is urging “only essential travel” during the holiday weekend.

Tales from the pump

Getting gasoline in Baghdad is a game of waiting and conniving. And once again, it’s up to the American soldier to maintain order as thousands of Iraqis stand or sit in line at various pumps. A couple of anecdotes we received from the field.

• At one station this week, hundreds of Iraqis lined up for fuel in one of the gas shortage’s worst days. Everyone carried some kind of container. A soldier observed one guy cutting in line and motioned for him to go to the back. The man retreated, only to re-emerge at another point and jump in front again. The soldier intercepted him and he walked away. When it happened a third time, in this instance in front of elderly people, the soldier took away his 5-gallon can and drove his bayonet through it several times. The crowd loved it.

• At another station, a soldier was seen pushing a car from the pump to help jump-start it. Nothing happened. Soldiers looked under the hood. No engine. The Iraqi owner was using it to store gasoline, probably for the black market.

Charles Heatley, a British Foreign Service spokesman working in Baghdad, told reporters on Wednesday that fuel shortages are caused by “supply issues and distribution issues.”

“On the supply side, we are ensuring that the supply that is generated locally from the local refineries gets to the gas stations, to the petrol stations. Military assets are being used to ensure that,” Mr. Heatley said. “And indeed the military is interdicting those tankers which are not being taken to the correct distribution centers, to the gas stations, but are being stolen by the tanker drivers and by other forces. And in fact, I think yesterday I read 37 or so tankers were interdicted in theater.

“So we are making sure that those people who are trying to steal the Iraqis’ petrol and are trying to make money on the expense of those people who are standing in line are unable to do so.”

Iraq’s future

A Defense Department briefing, called Iraq Security Forces Status Report, lays out a schedule to get Iraq’s total security force up to 221,700, possibly by the end of 2004. The numbers:

• The police force: 60,000 today to 71,000 by August.

• The Facilities Protective Service: 36,000 to 50,000 by September.

• Iraqi Border Police: 11,600 to 25,700, possibly by the end of the year.

• Iraqi Civil Defense Corps: 7,000 to 40,000 by April.

• New Iraqi army: 635 to 35,000 by July.

There are roughly 130,000 American troops in Iraq. The number could slide to about 120,000 next spring as the Pentagon executes a massive exchange, pulling out three Army divisions and replacing them at the same time.

Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Mr. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at bgertz@washingtontimes.com. Mr. Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide