The Scientist That Got Away With Too Much: Revisiting the 2001 Anthrax Attacks

I recently watched Robbie Martin’s “American Anthrax v1.5” about the 2001 U.S. anthrax attacks and it was remarkable how many memories, more like feelings, came flooding back. I didn’t remember most of the details that Martin reported on, only that I was terrified after 9/11 and a bioweapon attack was just the icing on the cake. His documentary piqued my interest and I decided to do a little more digging into the story because of my familiarity with one of the individuals tied to it: Kazakh scientist, Ken Alibek, who defected to the United States from Russia in 1992.

During my research, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that former Mint Press News staff writer, Whitney Webb, had published a series of articles throughout last year via Unlimited Hangout with Whitney Webb that focused on the anthrax attacks, bioterrorism, bio-alarmism, corruption and cronyism within the vaccine industry, and much, much more. Webb is like the Stephen King of investigative journalism and her series will leave you terrified about the state of the multi-billion dollar biodefense and vaccine industry. This article is fairly tame in comparison.

The focus is on a niche story from the 2001 anthrax attacks that includes Alibek, a group of congressmen who formed a research group called the “Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare,” a Ukrainian bio- and pharmaceutical facility directed by a former senior strategic trade advisor to the U.S. Office of Defense, and Kazakhstan, the former Soviet republic that went on to become the epicenter of the Clinton-uranium scandal.

.  .  .

In 1989, Russian germ warfare expert, Vladimir Pasechnik, defected from the Soviet Union to the United Kingdom, leaving behind a top position as director of the country’s biowarfare agency, Biopreparat, a sprawling network of laboratories focused on developing deadly bio-agents and weapons. U.K. scientists David Kelly and Christopher Davis debriefed Pasechnik on behalf of M16 during which time he revealed that the Soviet’s program “employed several thousand scientists and technicians to develop potential biological weapons that could spread diseases like anthrax, ebola, Marburg virus, plague, Q fever and smallpox.” He added that they had developed the capacity “to make 200kg of super plagues every week, enough to kill 500,000 people.” The U.K. and U.S. governments were stunned.

In 1972, the Soviet Union, United States, and Britain signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention which banned the “development, use, and stockpiling of biological weapons,” but it appeared that the Soviets never shut down their program. In 1991, both countries pressured the Soviet Union into allowing them to inspect Biopreparat’s facilities, Mikhail Gorbachev relenting in a trilateral agreement that allowed for inspections in all three countries. However, as New Yorker journalist, Richard Preston, put it, Biopreparat’s facilities were found to be “sparkling clean and sterile,” leading British and American authorities to believe that the Soviets staged a coverup. The laboratory’s second-in-command, Ken Alibek, would later testify in front of the U.S. Joint Economic Committee that the Soviets had “covered up the evidence as best they could.”

On December 11, 1991, just weeks before Gorbachev stepped down, a team of scientists from the Soviet Union, including Alibek, arrived in America to inspect top U.S. biodefense laboratories like the United States Army Medical Research Institute (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, and Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas. During the trip, Alibek made the acquaintance of USAMRIID’s director, Charles L. Bailey, who would sooner rather than later, become a close friend. After returning home, Alibek felt that there was no evidence to substantiate the Soviet Union’s suspicions of a U.S. bioweapons program. However, the assessment report issued to the government stated otherwise and so, reportedly disillusioned by the political jockeying, Alibek quit Biopreparat, eked out a living during a short-lived stay in Kazakhstan, and then defected to the U.S.

Like Vladimir Pasechnik, Alibek shared details about the Soviets’ bioweapons program and confirmed the U.S. government’s suspicions that scientists had buried a terrifying amount of anthrax on Vozrozhdeiye Island, aptly named “Anthrax Island,” after the U.S. surmised that they had broken the 1972 bioweapons treaty. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Vozrozhdeiye became part of Kazakhstan and in 1997, scientists were allowed to collect anthrax samples from the island only to discover that they were able to recover “viable spores that could be grown in a culture to form live anthrax bacteria.” CNN called it a “ticking time bomb in the Aral Sea.”

In 1993, head of USAMRIID, Charles Bailey, retired from the military and he and Alibek developed a close relationship. Alibek allegedly also developed a relationship with Pasechnik’s debriefer, David Kelly, Porton Down’s lead scientist. Los Angeles Times:

“In the mid-1990s, when Bailey went to work for a Huntsville, Ala., company with defense and intelligence contracts, Alibek visited frequently. They shared meals, attended horse shows. Alibek seemed to enjoy learning about American life.
“He was easy to like,’ Bailey recalled. ‘We became friends.’
They also became a commercially sought-after team.
‘I helped to build Alibek’s reputation with the military,’ Bailey said. ‘A lot of people were impressed with Alibek. I was impressed.’
The Alabama company also hired Alibek as a consultant, and asked him to compose a history of the Soviet program that could be used by the intelligence community.”

That Huntsville, Alabama company where Alibek reportedly became a program manager was SRS Technologies, a “provider of high-end, mission-critical, advanced technology systems engineering and command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance services” for agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, National Reconnaissance Office, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Missile Defense Agency, and DARPA.

Battelle Memorial Institute

In 1997, Bailey and Alibek left SRS Technologies to join Battelle Memorial Institute where, as Whitney Webb reported, Alibek became a program manager. He and another scientist, William C. Patrick III, who debriefed Alibek after defection, started working on projects together that included creating a vaccine-resistant strain of anthrax and a CIA-funded project called “Project Clear Vision,” involving the “building and testing a Soviet-model bomblet for dispersing bacteria.” At the time, Patrick was the “oldest United Nations inspector in Iraq,” and reportedly well-known by the Iraqis as the former director of the U.S. bioweapons program at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

“While at Battelle, Patrick was reportedly working on Operation Jefferson. The project involved the military uses of anthrax, according to the New York Times. Battelle contracted Patrick specifically to conduct a risk assessment study concerning the dissemination of anthrax powder through the U.S. postal system. The Times also confirmed that the CIA was also involved with its own top secret anthrax project at the time, called by its code name ‘Clear Vision.’”

Patrick issued his report on the dissemination of anthrax through the U.S. postal system in February 1999, just two and a half years before anthrax powder was actually disseminated through the U.S. postal system. The project was commissioned by Batelle’s Dr. Steven Hatfill who later became an (exonerated) suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Advanced Biosystems

Two months after Patrick’s report, Alibek joined a subsidiary of Hadron, Inc. called Advanced Biosystems, where he remained until late 2004, becoming vice chairman of the company in 2000. In May 2001, the former director of USAMRIID, Charles Bailey, was appointed vice president. Six months later and after acquiring a company called Analex, Hadron, Inc. adopted the name as a PR move, likely because of the company’s former director, Dr. Earl Winfrey Brian, and a sketchy story involving a software program called PROMIS.

If this sounds familiar it’s probably because Whitney Webb has written quite a bit about Hadron, Brian, and PROMIS in her Jeffrey Epstein series, “Too Big to Fail,” and subsequent articles. Brian basically wanted to steal PROMIS, a software program developed by a company called Inslaw and used by the U.S. Justice Department, not only for his own economic benefit, but for the benefit of Israeli intelligence. Webb via MintPress News:

“[A] plan was hatched to install a ‘trapdoor’ into the software and then market Promis throughout the world, providing the Mossad with invaluable intelligence on the operations of its enemies and allies while also providing Eitan and Brian with copious amounts of cash.”
“CIA was later said to have installed its own trapdoor in the software but it is unknown if they did so with a version of the already bugged software and how widely it was adopted relative to the version bugged by Israeli intelligence.”

After Brian was unable to buy out Inslaw, he involved then-Attorney General Ed Meese “whose Justice Department then abruptly refused to make the payments to Inslaw that were stipulated by the contract, essentially using the software for free, which Inslaw claimed to be theft.” Webb continued, “Inslaw was forced to declare bankruptcy as a result of Meese’s actions” and in 1986, they filed a lawsuit against the DOJ and the court found that the Meese-led department “took, converted, stole” the software through “trickery, fraud and deceit.”

William and Nancy Hamilton, founders of Inslaw, Inc., the company that produced the PROMIS software.

According to SEC filings, Hadron (soon to be renamed Analex) hired Alibek in April 1999, to assist with the development of their new subsidiary, Advanced Biosystems (ABS), which was created later that year. ABS scientists were described as advisors to “Congress, members of the Bush administration, Department of Defense officials and senior members of the medical field on strategies for bio-defense.” In a September 28, 2000 SEC filing, Hadron reported that ABS was “building on its initial $3,367,000 contract” with DARPA and “actively pursuing new business with the U.S. Army, the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health, and other agencies.” By the end of 2002, they had been awarded $12 million in contracts from DARPA and a total of more than $17 million in research grants.

A Consortium of Concerned Republicans

By the time the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, then-U.S. Congressmen Bill McCollum and Duncan Hunter felt that something “had gone terribly wrong with the war.” In response to their growing concerns, they formed a task force before the war ended to address what they believed (correctly) was swelling anti-U.S. sentiment among the Mujahideen and radical Islamic fighters. The official name for the group was the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare and it may have been an outgrowth of the Republican Research Committee. According to a former member and former Pentagon official, Peter Leitner, the original focus was “combating communist expansion and the cancerous Islamic militancy growing on six continents.”

In his book, “Unheeded Warnings: The Lost Reports of The Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare,” Leitner wrote that they initially took part in humanitarian efforts in countries like Afghanistan, Chad, and Angola, they “rode with the mujahideen,” and helped the so-called freedom fighters “secure the weapons and humanitarian aid they needed to evacuate the seriously wounded.” But then…it all went wrong, as McCollum and Hunter put it.

It’s not that the aim of the task force was entirely off-base—warnings about radical Islamic fighters targeting America—it’s that their reports often times contained errors and failed to include source material or attributions. Additionally, authors and scholars noted how anti-Islamic, even extremist, their viewpoints were, perhaps underscoring the task force’s support of the Patriot Act and a war with Iraq. But despite a sea of erroneous intelligence, according to Leitner’s book, the task force was still “active in passing defense legislation,” and in 1986, they wrote “key parts” of the Diplomatic Security and Anti-Terrorism Act that gave the FBI the authority to conduct overseas investigations. They also worked on both the Defense Authorization Act and the Intelligence Authorization Act:

“[T]he case of the Task Force was unusual in that it was a legislative branch organization performing intelligence collection and reporting. This allowed Congress to have its own intelligence to compare with what was received from the executive branch and bolstered the amount of intelligence available to the executive branch by offering work done from a different perspective from the typical intelligence community.”

One of the task force’s reports entitled, “The Rise of Popular Fundamentalism,” published on December 4, 1990, discussed the rise in “militant radical Islamism” (that we funded and groomed) and was signed by Israeli-American political scientist, Yossef Bodansky, and then-congressional aide, Vaughn Forrest. In fact, a lot of the reports appear to be signed by Forrest and Bodansky, who served as the task force’s director between 1998-2004. Bodansky was also a consultant for the Department of Defense and State Department during the 1980s. As for Vaughn Forrest, aside from being an active member, he was also the administrative assistant to the task force’s founder, Bill McCollum, and had been given a SECRET security clearance from the U.S. government.

In 1984, Oliver North wrote in his journal the names, social security numbers, and passport numbers of two men who were preparing to travel to Central America, including Nicaragua, one of which was Vaughn Forrest, again, the chief aide to McCollum at the time. According to the Orlando Sentinel, five days after North’s penned entry, a bomb almost killed Nicaraguan Contra leader, Eden Pastora, leaving eight others dead. Questions arose when Forrest was seen after the blast at the Costa Rican home of John Hull, who was not only believed to be a CIA contact for the Contras, he was accused of plotting Pastora’s assassination. Two years later, North noted Forrest again in his journal but reportedly refused to discuss it.

“[B]elow Forrest’s name in his journal the Marine lieutenant colonel wrote the names of several ex-CIA and military officials. When the Iran-Contra affair became public six months later, these officials turned out to be key players in that scheme to arm the Contras in violation of a congressional ban by diverting $12 million from secret U.S. arms sales to Iran. The recent public release of North’s diaries with their half-dozen references to Forrest has raised new questions about the possibility of the congressional aide’s involvement in the Iran-Contra affair.”

Other congressional members of the task force included James Saxton who chaired the House Armed Services Committee’s terrorism subcommittee and headed the Joint Economic Committee (where Forrest worked for McCollum). Dana Rohrabacher was a co-chair at one point, and former Republican lobbyist, Mark O’Connell, who served as Saxton’s congressional chief of staff, introduced Russian defector and scientist, Ken Alibek, to then-Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, and “other congressional and executive branch leaders.”

As for Peter Leitan, he was the former senior strategic trade advisor for the Office of the Secretary of Defense and a co-founder of the Higgins Counterterrorism Research Center, a nonprofit organization “staffed by former U.S. Government antiterrorism/counter-terrorism, intelligence and defense experts,” according to its website. They provide training to firefighters, police officers, military, and intelligence officers including the FBI, U.S. Capital Police (JTTF), the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), U.S. Secret Service, Blackwater, Department of Defense police, and the Islamic Supreme Council of America.

The organization was founded in March 2001, and was named for U.S. Marine Colonel William R. Higgins who was kidnapped by an Islamic terrorist group in 1998, tortured, and then murdered by his captors in 1990. In 2002, his widow, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps who was initially listed on Higgins’ yearly filings as “president,” wrote a scathing public letter about Guantánamo Bay detainees:

“Besides further disgracing this country and Col. Higgins’ memory, there is absolutely no reason to give Taliban prisoners any more rights than they have already been generously granted. The only reason they were kept alive and brought here is to get information out of them about other terrorists and possible attacks…They are receiving three meals a day, medical care, clothing, shelter, showers, Arabic translators, mail and the right and opportunity to pray five times a day to Allah to destroy America. The very fact they are receiving any of this is an abomination and perversion of the memory of Higgins, who was given none of these things during his years of torture at the hands of their kind.”

There’s no downplaying the anger, rage, and pain that Mrs. Higgins must have felt over the torture and murder of her husband but in the context of a post-9/11 world, the Higgins Counterterrorism Research Center would have been poised politically to support the Patriot Act and a war in Iraq. In fact, in 2005, Leitner was listed as being one of “50 Patriot Act supporters” that warned against the Act lapsing.

In February 2002, after the 2001 Anthrax attacks, Leitner also co-founded the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases at George Mason University. The following year, both Alibek and former USAMRIID director, Charles Bailey, were brought on board to lead a new graduate program in biodefense that operated out of Leitner’s National Center for Biodefense. It seems that everyone was winning after 9/11 and the Anthrax attacks, and it was likely because members of the task force (or individuals within its periphery like Ken Alibek) not only pushed what was brilliantly described by Whitney Webb as “bio-terror alarmism,” both before and after the 2001 attacks, they went on to lobby for Alibek, securing him millions in research funds.

Bio-Alarmism and the 2001 Anthrax Attacks

In her third installment of her anthrax/vaccine series Dark Winter entitled “Head of Hydra,” Webb reported on a “tight-knit group of ‘bioterror alarmists’” who “gained prominence thanks to their penchant for imagining the most horrific, yet fictitious scenarios that inspired fear among Presidents, top politicians and the American public.” She noted how former Air Force physician Robert Kadlac said before the Gulf War that U.S. troops lacked, among other things (my emphasis), “vaccines and antibiotics against the immediate threats posed by Iraq.” Kadlac had been privy to the advice of William Patrick, the same scientist who worked with Alibek on multiple projects involving anthrax. It was also Patrick who “advised the Pentagon — then headed by Dick Cheny —that the risk of a biological weapon by Iraq, particularly anthrax, was high.” Ken Alibek was no different.

Ken Alibek

The Los Angeles Times reported that since Alibek’s defection to the United States, he repeatedly told intelligence agencies and “general audiences” that Russia was still developing biological weapons and that Russian scientists may have defected to rogue states like Iran or Iraq with deadly bio-agents or state secrets in tow. He spoke about people he knew that visited Iraqi sites and said “they had no doubt [there] was an offensive biological weapons program.” But one has to wonder if Alibek’s sources were William Patrick, the prominent U.N. inspector well-known to the Iraqis, or Porton Down’s David Kelly, another inspector in Iraq with whom Alibek allegedly developed an association with prior to his questionable death in 2003.

In 1998, Alibek testified at a Joint Economic Committee hearing that former Congressman Bill McCollum’s executive aide, Vaughn Forrest, “took the lead in arranging.” He told them that Iraq was in negotiations with Russia to purchase fermentors and there was “no doubt” in his mind that the equipment was “destined for use in biological weapons production.” He also disclosed that Russia had reported a “highly placed employee of the Russian biological weapons apparatus” offering his services to the Chinese adding, incredulously, that he had “no way to confirm this report,” but that the scenario seemed plausible to him.

On March 3, 1999, he also testified during an open hearing on international biological warfare threats held by the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and in October, he was invited by DARPA to speak before the House Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Research and Development during which time he told them, “What we need to expect…is biological weapons in the hands of some terrorist organization.” Cuba was also one of Alibek’s targets and in his 1999 book, “Biohazard,” he wrote that although he had no firsthand knowledge, he was convinced that the country’s government was “deeply involved” in bioweapons research and that the Soviets were providing them with direct assistance.

After the 2001 Anthrax attacks that targeted members of the U.S. Congress, who opposed the Patriot Act, via mailed envelopes filled with anthrax (see Robbie Martin’s documentary here or Webb’s series here), Alibek appeared again before a House subcommittee hearing in October 2001, stating that “earlier attempts to wipe out Iraq’s biological weapons capability were probably not successful,” and that Russian bio-weapons experts had “emigrated to rogue nations such as Iraq.” He appeared before the Committee on International Relations about “Soviet Offensive Biological Weapons Program,” two months later.

Alibek was also used in the media to push the government’s information war with statements like, “When I left Russia, it was a country collapsing. Even at that time, it was possible for somebody to sell some strains (of biological agents) to groups of terrorists, or steal some from a facility.” In December 2001, both Alibek and Patrick appeared in a NOVA special called “Bioterror.” During the interview, Alibek continued to push the scenario that scientists from the Soviet Union may have defected to rogue states like Iraq and that they had the skill to improve “the ability of the Iraqi program overnight with just a few changes in strains…and transform Iraq into a very capable BW country.” He also cited Sergei Popov, a department chief from one of Biopreparat’s labs who also defected in 1992, and who reportedly told Alibek that it was easy to steal bio-agents from the labs and that [Russian] scientists had a “desire to sell some products.” Patrick played his part, “Ken, that is scary. That is real scary.”

Interestingly, according to the transcript from the NOVA special, Alibek told Patrick that when he was debriefing him after his defection, “I was not absolutely sure that the United States had terminated the BW program.” And yet, Alibek told journalist Richard Preston two years prior—while sitting in Patrick’s kitchen—that he was “pretty well convinced by the time he got home [after inspecting U.S. biodefense labs in 1991] that the United States did not have a bioweapons program.” In fact, he was so convinced after the inspections that he said he refused to take part in a Soviet report that stated otherwise and then he quit his job. And defected.

Twelve years after that Preston interview at Patrick’s home, when the Iraq war was getting underway, Alibek proclaimed during an online discussion hosted by the Washington Post, that there was “no doubt in my mind that [Saddam] Hussein has WMD,” and “Of course we’ll find proof of his weapons programs, but it’s going to take time.” Of course we would…not. According to Dr. Thomas Monath, a former top biodefense specialist for the U.S. Army who “led a group of experts that advised the Central Intelligence Agency on ways to counter biological attacks,” Alibek not only had the ear of high-level government officials, his statements were “amplified by 9/11.”

“I think he influenced many people who were in position to make some decisions about response…Concern about smallpox, in particular, was driven by Alibek.”

Former acting special assistant for biodefense to President Bush, Dr. Kenneth W. Bernard, agreed with Monath that Alibek’s statements had had “a substantial and profound effect.” But in the years following the 2001 Anthrax attacks, some began to question Alibek’s “bio-alarmism.”

“No biological weapon of mass destruction has been found in Iraq. His most sensational research findings, with U.S. colleagues, have not withstood peer review by scientific specialists. His promotion of nonprescription pills — sold in his name over the Internet and claiming to bolster the immune system — was ridiculed by some scientists.”

Alibek’s response to his own comments that had come under fire was that they “were based on articles he read in Russia’s ‘scientific literature’” because surely Russia, nor any other country, would conceivably plant propaganda in scientific articles, journals, and literature. So just to be clear, a Russian defector not only promoted bio-alarmism and became a main source to justify the United States’ invasion of Iraq (and possibly the passage of the Patriot Act), for years he actively pushed for more research into protecting the human body both before and after an anthrax attack, a precursor to the millions of dollars he would later amass in research funding and earmarked congressional dollars.

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