Anthrax? The F.B.I. Yawns


The F.B.I.'s bumbling before 9/11 is water under the

bridge. But the bureau's lackadaisical ineptitude in

pursuing the anthrax killer continues to threaten

America's national security by permitting him to

strike again or, more likely, to flee to Iran or North


Almost everyone who has encountered the F.B.I. anthrax

investigation is aghast at the bureau's lethargy. Some

in the biodefense community think they know a likely

culprit, whom I'll call Mr. Z. Although the bureau has

polygraphed Mr. Z, searched his home twice and

interviewed him four times, it has not placed him

under surveillance or asked its outside handwriting

expert to compare his writing to that on the anthrax


This is part of a larger pattern. Astonishingly, the

F.B.I. allowed the destruction of anthrax stocks at

Iowa State University, losing what might have been

valuable genetic clues. Then it waited until December

to open the intact anthrax envelope it found. The

F.B.I. didn't obtain anthrax strains from various labs

for comparison until March, and the testing is still

not complete. The bureau did not systematically

polygraph scientists at two suspect labs, Fort

Detrick, Md., and Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, until

a month ago.

Perhaps it's a cheap shot for an armchair detective to

whine about the caution of dedicated and exceptionally

hard-working investigators. Yet months pass and the

bureau continues to act like, well, a bureaucracy,

plodding along in slow motion. People in the

biodefense field first gave Mr. Z's name to the bureau

as a suspect in October, and I wrote about him

elliptically in a column on May 24.

He denies any wrongdoing, and his friends are

heartsick at suspicions directed against a man they

regard as a patriot. Some of his polygraphs show

evasion, I hear, although that may be because of his


If Mr. Z were an Arab national, he would have been

imprisoned long ago. But he is a true-blue American

with close ties to the U.S. Defense Department, the

C.I.A. and the American biodefense program. On the

other hand, he was once caught with a girlfriend in a

biohazard "hot suite" at Fort Detrick, surrounded only

by blushing germs.

With many experts buzzing about Mr. Z behind his back,

it's time for the F.B.I. to make a move: either it

should go after him more aggressively, sifting

thoroughly through his past and picking up loose

threads, or it should seek to exculpate him and remove

this cloud of suspicion.

Whoever sent the anthrax probably had no intention of

killing people; the letters warned recipients to take

antibiotics. My guess is that the goal was to help

America by raising preparedness against biological

attacks in the future.

So it seems fair to ask the F.B.I. a few questions:

Do you know how many identities and passports Mr. Z

has and are you monitoring his international travel? I

have found at least one alias for him, and he has

continued to travel abroad on government assignments,

even to Central Asia.

Why was his top security clearance suspended in

August, less than a month before the anthrax attacks

began? This move left him infuriated. Are the C.I.A.

and military intelligence agencies cooperating fully

with the investigation?

Have you searched the isolated residence that he had

access to last fall? The F.B.I. has known about this

building, and knows that Mr. Z gave Cipro to people

who visited it. This property and many others are

legally registered in the name of a friend of Mr. Z,

but may be safe houses operated by American


Have you examined whether Mr. Z has connections to the

biggest anthrax outbreak among humans ever recorded,

the one that sickened more than 10,000 black farmers

in Zimbabwe in 1978-80? There is evidence that the

anthrax was released by the white Rhodesian Army

fighting against black guerrillas, and Mr. Z has

claimed that he participated in the white army's

much-feared Selous Scouts. Could rogue elements of the

American military have backed the Rhodesian Army in

anthrax and cholera attacks against blacks? Mr. Z's

résumé also claims involvement in the former South

African Defense Force; all else aside, who knew that

the U.S. Defense Department would pick an American who

had served in the armed forces of two white-racist

regimes to work in the American biodefense program

with some of the world's deadliest germs?

What now? When do you shift into high gear?


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