- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

In July, the FBI drained a pond in Gambrill State Park near Frederick, Md., searching for materials that former military scientist Steven Hatfill may have used in whipping up the anthrax contained in letters sent to a tabloid in Florida, ABC, CBS and NBC news, the New York Post, and two U.S. senators.

In an earlier foray into the pond in December, FBI divers found a plastic box with two holes cut into it that some investigators speculated Mr. Hatfill could have used to fill envelopes with powdered anthrax while submerged.

Locals said it was a turtle trap. No traces of anthrax were found.

In September, a senior FBI official acknowledged that after two years of trying, the FBI and defense scientists have been unable to recreate the sophisticated, weaponized form of anthrax found in the letters sent to Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, making it all the more unlikely a lone rogue scientist was able to whip it up in a plastic box while under water in a Maryland pond.

By far the best short history of the anthrax attacks and their import is in Laurie Mylroie’s new book, “Bush vs. the Beltway.” Miss Mylroie is an Iraq expert who was an adviser to Bill Clinton in his 1992 run for president. She thinks Saddam Hussein was behind the anthrax letters. Let’s hope she’s right, because if she is, we may be a good deal safer than we were before Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

The letters to the news organizations and to the senators bore the same handwriting, and were mailed from the same place (Trenton, N.J.). But the anthrax in the letters sent to the senators was vastly more sophisticated.

Miss Mylroie explains:

“Ordinarily, anthrax spores contain an electrostatic charge that makes the microscopic spores stick together in clumps that are too big to be inhaled into the lungs. But these spores had been coated with a Teflon-like substance containing silica. … When U.S. Army experts tried to examine them, the spores refused to stay put on the glass microscope slide. … It behaved like no sample the Army scientists had ever seen. …

“The weightless, almost gaseous quality made this batch of anthrax particularly effective as a weapon. … The Army’s premier anthrax expert, John Ezzell, was especially worried. The evident level of expertise involved in the production of this weaponized anthrax powder suggested that the United States had been attacked by a sophisticated, ruthless and formidable foe.”

Had the anthrax in either of those envelopes been put into the ventilation system at the World Trade Center, it would have killed more people than the hijacked airliners did.

On Oct. 25, 2001, an article in The Washington Post said only the U.S., Russia and Iraq were capable of weaponizing anthrax in the form found in the letters to the senators. And as we have seen, the FBI has been unable to duplicate it.

The Washington Post’s editor Bob Woodward wrote in his book, “Bush at War,” that CIA Director George Tenet believed the anthrax attacks were made by al Qaeda, with the backing of a state. Vice President Dick Cheney agreed, but said it was important not to talk about state sponsorship, “because we’re not ready to do anything about it.”

Miss Mylroie deftly summarizes evidence linking 9/11 hijackers to the anthrax letters. Mr. Woodward quotes Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, in explaining why the administration did not acknowledge an al Qaeda link, even though it thought there was one: “If we say it’s al Qaeda, a state sponsor may feel safe and then hit us, thinking they will have a bye, because we’ll blame it on al Qaeda.”

The FBI’s bizarre focus on Mr. Hatfill — against whom not a shred of evidence has been found — may be less political correctness run amok than a deliberate deception, a means of calming Americans until the real source of the problem can be dealt with.

If al Qaeda could all by its lonesome have produced the anthrax in the letters to the senators, surely they would have attacked us again by now.

But if the anthrax were manufactured by Iraq, we apparently have yet to find evidence of where and how. If Saddam didn’t do it, we need — urgently — to find out who did.

Jack Kelly, a syndicated columnist, is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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