AMERICAN investigators know the identity of the killer who paralysed the US by sending anthrax in the post but will not arrest the culprit, according to leading US scientists.
For several months the Federal Bureau of Investigation has claimed it has few leads and little evidence about the group or individual who targeted politicians and media organisations.
Their failure to arrest a suspect has compounded other failures of the American security agencies to take action which could have prevented the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
This week, the FBI and John Ashcroft, the attorney general, were at the centre of controversy when they claimed that they had apprehended an American citizen intent on detonating a ‘‘dirty bomb’’, a conventional bomb which would contaminate a large area with radioactive material. Both were forced to admit that there was no evidence that Jose Padile had done little more than associate with suspected al-Qaeda agents in Pakistan.
Last week scientists at Fort Detrick, the US Army’s top secret biological warfare research centre at Fort Detrick, Maryland said the FBI had looked at ways in which anthrax could have been smuggled out of the complex.
At a time when the Bush administration is beefing up America’s Homeland Security defences any indication of progress by the FBI should be good news, but one prominent and well-respected biowarfare expert believes the FBI has not only known the identity of the terrorist for months but has conspired with other branches of the US government to keep it secret.
Dr Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, director of the biological warfare division at the Federation of American Scientists, first accused the FBI of foot-dragging in February with a scathing investigation that included a portrait of the possible perpetrator so detailed that it could only match one person.
Rosenberg said she knows who that person is and so do a top-level clique of US government scientists, the CIA, the FBI and the White House.
"Early in the investigation," Rosenberg told Scotland on Sunday, "a number of inside experts, at least five that I know about, gave the FBI the name of one specific person as the most likely suspect. That person fits the FBI profile in most respects. He has the right skills, experience with anthrax, up-to-date anthrax vaccination, forensic training, and access to the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (AMRIID) and its biological agents through 2001."
Rosenberg’s profile suggests that the suspect is a middle-aged scientist with a doctoral degree who works for a CIA contractor in Washington DC. She adds he has to know or have worked closely with Bill Patrick, the weapons researcher who holds five secret patents on how to produce weapons-grade anthrax, that he suffered a career setback last summer that embittered him and precipitated his campaign and that he has already been investigated by the FBI.
Most crucially, she believes the suspect has in the past actually conducted experiments for the government to test the response of the police and civil agencies to a bioterror attack.
"It has been part of the suspect’s job to devise bioterror scenarios," Rosenberg said. "Some of these are on record. He is known to have acted out at least one of them, in hoax form, perhaps as part of an assignment to test responses. Some hoax events that have never been solved, including several hoax-anthrax events, also correspond to his scenarios and are consistent with his whereabouts."
The question she wants the FBI and the Bush administration to answer is, why it has taken so long to arrest this man? In the unlikely event that the government divulges all it knows about what she now believes to be a full blown cover-up, Rosenberg said responsibility can be expected to fall on a number of government agencies, all with a vested interest in shielding the truth.
"Either the FBI is under pressure from the Pentagon or CIA not to proceed because the suspect knows too much and must be controlled forever from the moment of arrest," she said, "or the FBI is sympathetic to the views of the biodefence clique or the FBI really is as incompetent as it seems."
Rosenberg’s analysis suggests a combination of all three. The American defence establishment guards its secrets well and given the suspect’s covert work on their behalf their reluctance to see him publicly exposed appears natural.
Equally there is evidence that some of the suspect’s colleagues are not unhappy with the fallout from his terror attacks. Rosenberg cites David Franz, a former commander of USAMRIID who earlier this year said of the anthrax campaign: "I think a lot of good has come from it. From a biological or a medical standpoint, we’ve now five people who have died, but we’ve put about $6bn in our budget into defending against bioterrorism."
As for FBI incompetence there are few in America today who have any doubt that the venerable agency made a serious of terrible errors before 9/11 and has conspicuously failed to conduct a solid investigation since.
Earlier this week, congressmen questioned George Tenet, the director of the CIA, about the arrest of Padile and the claims made about his mission. The congressmen were concerned that the attorney general was unduly alarmist about the nature of the plans Padile had made.
It appeared that Padile’s arrest was announced to bolster the image of the FBI and emphasise the continuing threat to the US. Instead the announcement raised questions about why Padile was arrested on arriving in the US rather than being watched to establish the identity of his associates and the source of the radioactive material he would need for a dirty bomb.
George Soros, the billionaire financier, accused the Bush administration of deliberately manipulating the aftermath of September 11 and the arrest of Padile to promote an authoritarian agenda.
‘"I feel that what happened was that Ashcroft (the attorney general) basically detonated a ‘dirty bomb’ plot. The plot is his. The detonation is his. The Bush administration is exploiting the terrorist threat for its purposes, to generate fear and to overcome constitutional constraints on the use of force,’’ he said.