- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee wants Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to explain why the FBI has not made an arrest in its anthrax investigation, citing five years of “dead-ends and a lack of progress.”

“There are numerous and serious questions that need to be answered about both the investigation itself and how the FBI has handled it,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said in a letter yesterday to Mr. Gonzales.

“The FBI’s refusal to brief Congress over the last several years is an outrageous response to reasonable requests at getting to the bottom of the attacks.”

The FBI’s anthrax investigation began in October 2001 after Congress became one of the targets in the first bioterrorist attack on the United States. A letter laced with the deadly bacterium was addressed to Tom Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat serving as Senate majority leader.

Anthrax-tainted letters ultimately killed five persons in the U.S. and infected 17 others.

The FBI took primary responsibility for investigating the attacks and has described its “Amerithrax” probe as one of the largest and most complex in the history of law enforcement. The FBI said recently that it was determined to solve the case, had conducted 9,000 interviews and had issued 6,000 subpoenas.

Nearly 20 FBI agents, working with inspectors from the U.S. Postal Service, continue to pursue the case.

FBI Assistant Director Joseph Persichini Jr., who heads the Washington field office, said last month that FBI and U.S. Postal Service investigators were “fully committed to bringing the perpetrators of these murderous attacks to justice.”

Mr. Persichini said the scientific advances gained from the investigation were unprecedented and had strengthened the government’s ability to prepare for and prevent biological attacks.

Mr. Grassley said a detailed examination of the probe may reveal the FBI’s “institutional resistance to criticism and dissent.”

Mr. Grassley, who also serves as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said many of the resources devoted to the anthrax probe since 2001 were aimed at attempting to prove that former Army scientist Steven Hatfill, once identified as a “person of interest” in the investigation, was involved in the attacks.

The Justice Department has since said that the strain of anthrax used in the attacks was available to a wider circle of people than initially thought.

Mr. Grassley called “outrageous” the FBI’s prohibition of further anthrax briefings to Congress and the suggestion that lawmakers were leaking sensitive information.

“Given the allegations about FBI leaks related to [Steven] Hatfill and its similar leaks related to Richard Jewell in the Centennial Park Bombing Case, for the FBI to withhold information from Congress for fear of leaks seems a bit hypocritical, to say the least,” he said.

Mr. Grassley asked, among other things, whether the FBI has been able to narrow the number of “persons of interest” and labs.

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