American says he visited Mumbai 7 times before 2008 attack

NEW DELHI (AP) — A Pakistani-American who helped plan a 2008 attack on India’s financial hub told a court Monday that he traveled to India seven times to scout potential targets for a Pakistan-based militant group.

David Coleman Headley gave the Indian court in Mumbai details of his role in planning the attack, in which more than 160 people were killed over three days when a group of 10 men rampaged across the city.

Headley repeated statements that he has made earlier that Pakistan’s main spy agency was deeply involved in planning the attack’s preparations and execution.

FILE- In this Nov. 29, 2008, file photo, an Indian soldier takes cover as the Taj Mahal hotel burns during gun battle between Indian military and militants i…
FILE- In this Nov. 29, 2008, file photo, an Indian soldier takes cover as the Taj Mahal hotel burns during gun battle between Indian military and militants inside the hotel in Mumbai, India. A Pakistani-American who helped plan a 2008 attack on India’s financial hub has told a court in India that he traveled to India seven times to scout potential targets for a Pakistan-based group. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File)

Headley said he supplied his handlers in the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba with videos and maps of luxury hotels, a Jewish center and the city’s main railway station that were attacked, Prosecutor Ujwal Nikam told reporters after Monday’s five hours of testimony.

Headley testified that Lashkar-e-Taiba had tried to launch attacks in India twice earlier without success, said Nikam, who questioned him. The third attempt was the November 2008 attack, Headley said.

Nikam said Headley told the court that in one attempt, a boat in which the men were traveling overturned after hitting rocks and their weapons were lost at sea.

Headley said he joined Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2002 and he and other recruits underwent many years of training in Pakistan, where they were taught the use of weapons and bomb making.

Headley, born of a Pakistani father and an American mother, told the court that his name was Dawood Gilani, but he changed it to David Coleman Headley in 2006 to facilitate his travel to India.

Nikam said Headley used his U.S. passport to travel frequently to India without raising suspicion and was able to give Lashkar-e-Taiba information that was used to plan and carry out the attack.

He said Headley told the court that officials from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence were involved. Pakistan insists that ISI has no links to Lashkar-e-Taiba and denies any connection to the Mumbai violence.

Nikam told reporters that “Headley has given us valuable information,” but declined to comment on the testimony about ISI, saying it was up to the government of India to take it up with the government of Pakistan.

Headley testified by video conference from an undisclosed location in the United States, where he is serving a 35-year prison term for his role in the Mumbai attack.

The Mumbai court investigating the attack gave Headley a conditional pardon in December, which allowed him to become a witness.


This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

PUBLISHED: 10:33 GMT, 8 February 2016 | UPDATED: 10:33 GMT, 8 February 2016

Find this story at 8 Februari 2016

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David Headley: Mumbai plotter ‘visited India’ before attacks

A US man convicted for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks has told an Indian court that he visited Mumbai seven times in advance to gather information.
David Headley gave details of the planning to a court in Mumbai on Monday through a video link from a prison in the US.
Headley, 52, pleaded guilty and co-operated with the US to avoid the death penalty and extradition to India.
More than 160 people were killed by gunmen in the November 2008 attack.
Headley is serving a 35-year jail term in the US for his role in the attacks.
Indian prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said that “this was for the first time that a foreign terrorist” had appeared through a video link in an Indian court to testify.
“This is a very crucial case… I am absolutely satisfied as to what David Headley has revealed in today’s deposition. I may quiz Headley on certain aspects, which were never asked by the FBI,” he added.
Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel under attack in November 2008Image copyrightAFP
Image caption
The Mumbai attack targeted a railway station, luxury hotels and a Jewish cultural centre
Mr Nikam added that Headley’s questioning would continue on Tuesday.
The Mumbai court gave him a conditional pardon in December and allowed him to turn witness.
Headley was sentenced in the US in 2013 on 12 counts, including conspiracy to aid militants from the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) which India blames for carrying out the attacks.
After initially denying the charges, he eventually pleaded guilty and co-operated with the US to avoid the death penalty and extradition to India.
He admitted to scouting potential target locations in Mumbai ahead of the attacks.
Headley was born Daood Gilani to a Pakistani father and American mother but changed his name to David Coleman Headley in 2006 “to present himself in India as an American who was neither Muslim nor Pakistani”, US prosecutors had said.
Headley is alleged to have told US prosecutors that he had been working with LeT since 2002.
He was arrested by FBI agents in Chicago in October 2009 while trying to board a plane for Philadelphia.
The 60-hour assault on Mumbai began on 26 November 2008. Attacks on the railway station, luxury hotels and a Jewish cultural centre claimed 166 lives. Nine gunmen were also killed.
The only attacker captured alive, Pakistani Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, was executed in India in 2012.

8 February 2016

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Copyright © 2016 BBC

Mumbai attack: David Headley deposes before Mumbai court; says failed in 2 attempts before 26/11 attack (2016)

Mumbai attack: In the first deposition on a terror act from foreign soil, Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Headley today told a court here via video-link that Pakistani terrorists attempted to attack Mumbai twice before the 26/11 strikes that killed 166 people but failed both times.

Mumbai attack, Mumbai terror attack, Mumbai attack 26/11, Mumbai attack mastermind, 26/11 attack, David Headley, David Headley latest news
Mumbai attack: David Headley reportedly visited India many times between 2006 and 2008, drew maps, took video footage and scouted several targets for the 26/11 attack including the Taj Hotel, Oberoi Hotel and Nariman House. (PTI)
Mumbai attack: In the first deposition on a terror act from foreign soil, Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Headley today told a court here via video-link that Pakistani terrorists attempted to attack Mumbai twice before the 26/11 strikes that killed 166 people but failed both times.
In his deposition which began at 7 AM, David Headley said that he was a “true follower of LeT” and came to India eight times – 7 before the terror attack on November 26, 2008 and once after that.
Headley, who was made an approver in the 26/11 attack case, said that his main contact in LeT was Sajid Mir, also an accused in the case.
He told the court that LeT made two unsuccessful attempts to carry out terror attacks before finally striking in November 2008, once in September and another in October.
David Headley said that he joined LeT after being “influenced” by its head Hafeez Saeed and took his first “course” with them in 2002 at Muzaffarabad.
David Headley, who is currently serving 35 years prison sentence in the US for his role in the terror attacks, also said he changed his name from Dawood Gilani to David Headley in 2006 so that he could enter India and set up some business.
“I applied for change in name on February 5, 2006 in Philadelphia. I changed my name to David Headley to get a new passport under that name. I wanted a new passport so that I could enter India with an American identity.
“After I got a new passport I disclosed it to my colleagues in LeT of which one of them was Sajid Mir, the person with whom I was dealing with. The objective for coming to India was to set up an office/business so that I can live in India. Before the first visit, Sajid Mir gave me instructions to make a general video of Mumbai,” David Headley told the court here.
Headley also said that in his Indian visa application he had furnished all “wrong” information “to protect his cover”.
He reportedly visited India many times between 2006 and 2008, drew maps, took video footage and scouted several targets for the attacks including the Taj Hotel, Oberoi Hotel and Nariman House.
His reconnaissance provided vital information for the 10 LeT terrorists and their handlers, who launched the attack.
Speaking to reporters, Headley’s lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani said has “he (David Headley) has confirmed that he joined LeT after being influenced by Hafeez Saeed. He told the court that two unsuccessful attempts to carry out terror attacks were also made before 26/11″. He has not explained the role of LeT in attacks”.
The court is currently trying key plotter Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, who is facing trial for his alleged role in the terror attacks, which held the city to ransom for three days.
The deposition of David Headley, assumes significance as it may unravel the conspiracy behind the brazen terror strike, which left 166 people dead.
The court had on December 10, 2015, made David Headley an approver in the case and directed him to depose before the court on February 8.
He had then told Special Judge GA Sanap that he was “ready to depose” if granted pardon.
Judge Sanap had then made Headley an approver, subject to certain conditions and granted him pardon.
Last year, the Mumbai Police had on October 8 moved an application before the court saying that Headley deserves to be tried by this (Mumbai) court together with 26/11 key plotter Abu Jundal in the case as both of them are conspirators and abettors behind the dastardly act.
In the application, the Mumbai Police said that from the judgement passed by the US court against Headley, it was clear that he was a member of LeT and he had played an active role in the criminal conspiracy in the terror attack.
The application also said that Headley had entered into a plea agreement with US in 2010 and thereby willingly and voluntarily agreed that he had conspired.
It is evident, the police had said, that Headley has committed the offences of conspiring with LeT for committing illegal acts in India; waging war against the government of India and offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
He has also been accused of intentionally aiding and abetting the LeT in Pakistan for committing illegal acts in Mumbai, mischief by fire with intent to destroy Hotel Taj, Oberoi and Nariman House, offences under Explosives Act and Explosives Substances Act as also under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.
“This is for the first time in the Indian legal history that a ‘foreign terrorist’ will appear before an Indian court and testify,” Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam had said yesterday.

By: PTI | Mumbai | Updated: February 8, 2016 12:38 PM

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Copyright © 2016 The Indian Express [P] Ltd.

David Headley writes memoir in prison, reveals details of 26/11 attack (2015)

In one of the passages in the memoir, Headley writes about his first encounter with LeT militants in October 2000.
In one of the passages in the memoir, Headley writes about his first encounter with LeT militants in October 2000.
NEW YORK: Pakistani-American LeT terrorist David Headley, serving 35 years for his role in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, has written a memoir in prison detailing how Lashkar’s “dedication” to the cause of the “liberation of Kashmir” inspired him to join the terror group.
American public affairs TV programme Frontline was given access to a draft of the memoir Headley, 54, wrote in jail.
Excerpts from the draft offer a “unique window” into Headley’s turn towards extremism, his training with Lashkar-e-Taiba and his preparations for the Denmark attack against the Jyllands-Posten newspaper.
In one of the passages in the memoir, Headley writes about his first encounter with LeT militants in October 2000.
“On one of my trips, October 2000, I made my first contact with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), quite by accident. I attended their annual convection in November. I was very impressed with their dedication to the cause of the liberation of Kashmir from Indian occupation,” Headley writes.
READ ALSO: Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi released from Adiala jail
He writes that for the terror attack on Mumbai, the plan was to capture an Indian fishing vessel that would not raise alarm with the Indian Coast Guard as it transported the LeT terrorists to Mumbai’s shores.
“The plan was to capture an Indian fishing vessel, which constantly strayed into Pakistani waters, and commandeer it all the way to Mumbai. The hope was that the Indian Coast Guard would not notice an Indian vessel. The boys would carry a GPS device which would guide them directly to the landing site, I had selected earlier,” he writes.
Headley also writes in detail about his decision to join Lashkar “full time” following the 9/11 attacks, and says that by 2002 the group asked him to take “the Daura Aamma, the basic military training course offered by LeT.”
In 2005, Lashkar asked him to change his name from Dawood Gilani to a “Christian sounding name” so that he could travel easily between the US, India and Pakistan and make it difficult for intelligence agencies to track his activities.
“Finally, in June, my immediate superior, Sajid Mir, instructed me to return to the US, change my Muslim name to a Christian sounding name and get a new US passport under that name. He now informed me I would be going to India, since I looked nothing like a Pakistani in appearance and spoke fluent Hindi and Urdu it would give me a distinct advantage in India,” he said.
Describing the training he got at Lashkar camps, Headley writes “we hid most of the day in caves and under trees, while we were given instructions on various lessons.”
He says most of the “practical aspects” of the lessons were carried out at night and during the course, he was trained in “infiltration, survival, camouflage, raid/ambush tactics, hide out, hiding and retrieving weapons caches, more than a dozen night marches, target practice with AK-47 and 9 mm pistol, RPG, grenades, among other training.
“We also went through an extensive indoctrination process and were required to study many Quaranic Chapters and Hadith,” Headley writes.
READ ALSO: David Headley involved in plot to attack Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s office
In the memoir, he recalls the time in 1999 when after serving his sentence for drug trafficking, he had “decided to turn over a new leaf.”
“To make amends for my unrighteous ways I worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). I had spent the past fifteen years frequenting the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, on heroin procuring expeditions,” he says.
Headley writes that the “lawless land” had remained the same, “frozen in time”, since the 18th century. He started leaning more about his religion “as part of my change.”
Headley says he had not been a practicing Muslim for the past fifteen years, “but the seeds of Islam sown in me by my father and in school had never completely died out.”
Another change Headley made was to break away from his Canadian girlfriend, whom he had been planning to marry.
He agreed to an arranged marriage in Pakistan and he kept visiting the country “four times a year, without the knowledge of the DEA or my Probation Officer” to see his new wife, who he had decided to keep in Pakistan.
On his decision to marry a second time, Headley says that “polygamy was aggressively encouraged” by Lashkar and “they were really happy to see me take this step.”

“I was definitely ‘one of the guys’ now,” he writes. On the plans to attack the Danish newspaper, he says that after the 26/11 Mumbai attack he was told to “lay low.”
Instead, he eventually connects with al Qaida and with the assistance of a contact he has inside the organization he travels to Denmark to scout the Jyllands-Posten newspaper for a possible strike.
Headley’s contact took him to North Waziristan in 2009, where he met the “al Qaida number four” Ilyas Kashmiri.
“He gave me a further pep talk on the Denmark Project, saying that, both, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri had stressed upon him the need to conclude this matter quickly. I agreed and assured him of my best effort,” Headley writes.
Headley says since he was “short on manpower” for the Denmark project, he decided to “modify the operation” and instead of assaulting the newspaper building, “just take out the cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, and do this deed myself.”
He said all he needed to carry out the operation was a handgun, which he knew he could find in Europe.

Headley was arrested in October 2009 at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on his way back to Pakistan.

PTI | Apr 22, 2015, 07.18 PM IST

Find this story at 22 April 2015

Copyright © 2015 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd

The Memoir of an “American Terrorist” (2015)

David Coleman Headley is not exactly a household name, but his is one of the more unnerving terrorism cases in the post-9/11 era. White male. Government informant. American citizen. In other words, he had the perfect cover.

It was under the safety of that cover that Headley — a former drug smuggler turned informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration — helped stage the November 2008 siege in Mumbai, an audacious attack that left 166 people dead, including six Americans. Working with the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, Headley used his U.S. passport to travel to India, scout locations for the plot, film them and even find a landing site for the plot’s attackers.

Within weeks of Mumbai, Headley was working on another plot — this time working for Al Qaeda, planning an assault against a Danish newspaper that had published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The plan: A group of attackers would take hostages at the paper, shoot them, behead them and then throw their heads out the window. Again, Headley worked reconnaissance for the mission until his eventual arrest by the FBI at O’Hare International Airport in 2009.

Today, Headley is serving 35 years for his role in Mumbai. His case, however, has hardly gone away. In the aftermath of the Edward Snowden revelations about NSA surveillance, U.S. intelligence officials pointed to the Headley case as an example of how bulk data collection can thwart a terrorist attack. But tonight, in American Terrorist, ProPublica and FRONTLINE investigate that claim.

In the course of our investigation, FRONTLINE was given exclusive access to a draft of a memoir written by Headley after his arrest. Excerpts from the draft offer a unique window into Headley’s turn toward extremism, his training with Lashkar-e-Taiba and his preparations for the Denmark attack.

In one passage, for example, Headley writes about his first encounter with Lashkar militants, describing how he was “very impressed with their dedication to the cause of the liberation of Kashmir from Indian occupation. As Headley tells it:

In 1999, after serving my sentence for drug trafficking, I decided to turn over a new leaf. To make amends for my unrighteous ways I worked … for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) … I had spent the past fifteen years frequenting the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, on heroin procuring expeditions. This lawless land had remained the same, frozen in time, since the 18th century. The British had thought it wise to leave this place alone during their rule of India. I started leaning more and more on my religion as part of my change. I had not been a practicing Muslim the past fifteen years, but the seeds of Islam sown in me by my Father and in school had never completely died out. Another change I made was to break away from my Canadian girlfriend, who I had been planning to marry for the past five years, and agree to an arranged marriage in Pakistan. Still on probation, I kept visiting Pakistan four times a year, without the knowledge of the DEA or my Probation Officer, to see my new wife, who I had decided to keep in Pakistan.

On one of my trips, October 2000, I made my first contact with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LT), quite by accident. I attended their annual convection in November. I was very impressed with their dedication to the cause of the liberation of Kashmir from Indian occupation.

In a later passage, Headley marks his decision to join Lashkar “full time” following the 9/11 attacks, and says that by 2002 the group asked him to take “the Daura Aamma, the basic military training course offered by LT.” It was one of several training programs he writes about. In a separate section, he recalls a second course that he attended:

We hid most of the day in caves and under trees, while we were given instructions on various lessons. Most of the practical aspects of the lessons were carried out at night. During this course, I was trained in infiltration, survival, camouflage, raid/ambush tactics, hide out, hiding and retrieving weapons caches, more than a dozen night marches, target practice with AK-47 and 9 mm pistol, RPG, grenades, among other training. We also went through an extensive indoctrination process and were required to study many Quaranic Chapters and Hadith.

By 2005, Lashkar’s plans for Headley are coming into focus. He is trained in explosives, but perhaps most importantly, Lashkar asks him to change the name given to him at birth by his Pakistani father and American mother — Daood Gilani. He chooses David, which is English for Daood; Coleman, which was his grandfather’s name; and Headley, which was his mother’s maiden name. It was a bureaucratic act, but intelligence officials say the change made Headley that much more difficult to track.

Finally, in June, my immediate superior, Sajid Mir, instructed me to return to the United States, change my Muslim name to a Christian sounding name and get a new U.S. passport under that name. He now informed me I would be going to India, since I looked nothing like a Pakistani in appearance and spoke fluent Hindi and Urdu it would give me a distinct advantage in India.

As his training continued, so did his embrace of the Lashkar lifestyle. In 2007, for example, Headley takes a second wife. He describes the decision by saying:

Polygamy was aggressively encouraged by LT and they were really happy to see me take this step. I was definitely “one of the guys” now.

Around the same time, Headley was conducting regular reconnaissance of targets in Mumbai. On one trip, he checks into the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which would later be the epicenter of the Mumbai attack, with his new wife for a “honeymoon.” As he cases locations on his trips to the city, Headley says he takes “extensive video.”

The plan was to capture an Indian fishing vessel, which constantly strayed into Pakistani waters, and commandeer it all the way to Mumbai. The hope was that the Indian Coast Guard would not notice an Indian vessel. The boys would carry a GPS device which would guide them directly to the landing site, I had selected earlier.

After the attack, Headley says he was told to “lay low.” Instead, he eventually connects with Al Qaeda and with the assistance of a contact he has inside the organization he travels to Denmark to scout the Jyllands-Posten newspaper for a possible strike.

This paper had published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad and was on the top of the hit list for Al Qaeda. The Major told me that the leadership desired the attack to be carried out ASAP on the Newspaper Head Office. I visited Copenhagen in January 2009 and conducted detailed surveillance of the office there as well as their location in Arhus. I was able to make entry into both locations. …

A few days later he took me to North Waziristan, where I met Ilyas Kashmiri, the Al Qaeda number four. He gave me a further pep talk on the Denmark Project, saying that, both, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri had stressed upon him the need to conclude this matter quickly. I agreed and assured him of my best effort.

Western intelligence would soon learn of the plot, and close in on Headley. At the end of his draft, he describes the days leading up to his arrest.

I received final instructions in Denmark and left for the United States. in July 2009, I flew to England from Chicago and met Kashmiri’s friends. … Both of these men were also under surveillance by British Police, as a result of which I too came under surveillance. They forwarded their information to the F.B.I. From England, I checked out Denmark one last time and returned to the United States. I had now reached the conclusion that since I was short on man power, I would modify the operation and, instead of assaulting the newspaper building, just take out the cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, and do this deed myself. All I would need was a handgun, which I knew I could find in Europe … I was finally arrested on 3 October 2009, at O’Hare Airport, on my way back to Pakistan.

APRIL 21, 2015 / by JASON M. BRESLOW

Find this story at 21 April 2015

Headley writes memoir in prison on 26/11 attacks, Lashkar PTI (2015)

He writes that for the terror attack on Mumbai, the plan was to capture an Indian fishing vessel that would not raise alarm with the Indian Coast Guard as it transported the LeT terrorists to Mumbai’s shores. File photo
AP He writes that for the terror attack on Mumbai, the plan was to capture an Indian fishing vessel that would not raise alarm with the Indian Coast Guard as it transported the LeT terrorists to Mumbai’s shores. File photo

Pakistani-American LeT terrorist David Headley, serving 35 years for his role in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, has written a memoir in prison detailing how Lashkar’s “dedication” to the cause of the “liberation of Kashmir” inspired him to join the terror group.

American public affairs TV programme Frontline was given access to a draft of the memoir Headley, 54, wrote in jail.

Excerpts from the draft offer a “unique window” into Headley’s turn toward extremism, his training with Lashkar-e-Taiba and his preparations for the Denmark attack against the Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

In one of the passages in the memoir, Headley writes about his first encounter with LeT militants in October 2000.

“On one of my trips, October 2000, I made my first contact with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), quite by accident. I attended their annual convection in November. I was very impressed with their dedication to the cause of the liberation of Kashmir from Indian occupation,” Headley writes.

He writes that for the terror attack on Mumbai, the plan was to capture an Indian fishing vessel that would not raise alarm with the Indian Coast Guard as it transported the LeT terrorists to Mumbai’s shores.

“The plan was to capture an Indian fishing vessel, which constantly strayed into Pakistani waters, and commandeer it all the way to Mumbai. The hope was that the Indian Coast Guard would not notice an Indian vessel. The boys would carry a GPS device which would guide them directly to the landing site, I had selected earlier,” he writes.

Headley also writes in detail about his decision to join Lashkar “full time” following the 9/11 attacks, and says that by 2002 the group asked him to take “the Daura Aamma, the basic military training course offered by LeT.”

In 2005, Lashkar asked him to change his name from Dawood Gilani to a “Christian sounding name” so that he could travel easily between the US, India and Pakistan and make it difficult for intelligence agencies to track his activities.

“Finally, in June, my immediate superior, Sajid Mir, instructed me to return to the US, change my Muslim name to a Christian sounding name and get a new US passport under that name. He now informed me I would be going to India, since I looked nothing like a Pakistani in appearance and spoke fluent Hindi and Urdu it would give me a distinct advantage in India,” he said.

Describing the training he got at Lashkar camps, Headley writes “we hid most of the day in caves and under trees, while we were given instructions on various lessons.”

He says most of the “practical aspects” of the lessons were carried out at night and during the course, he was trained in “infiltration, survival, camouflage, raid/ambush tactics, hide out, hiding and retrieving weapons caches, more than a dozen night marches, target practice with AK-47 and 9 mm pistol, RPG, grenades, among other training.

NEW YORK, April 22, 2015
Updated: April 22, 2015 18:23 IST

Find this story at 22 April 2015

Copyright© 2016, The Hindu


FRONTLINE investigates American-born terrorist David Coleman Headley, who helped plan the deadly 2008 siege on Mumbai. In collaboration with ProPublica, the film — an updated and expanded version of A Perfect Terrorist — reveals how secret electronic surveillance missed catching the Mumbai plotters, and how Headley planned another Charlie Hebdo-like assault against a Danish newspaper.

APRIL 21, 2015 // 01:23:48
REUTERS/Arko Datta
Find this story at 21 April 2015



In 2008 Mumbai Attacks, Piles of Spy Data, but an Uncompleted Puzzle

In the fall of 2008, a 30-year-old computer expert named Zarrar Shah roamed from outposts in the northern mountains of Pakistan to safe houses near the Arabian Sea, plotting mayhem in Mumbai, India’s commercial gem.

Mr. Shah, the technology chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani terror group, and fellow conspirators used Google Earth to show militants the routes to their targets in the city. He set up an Internet phone system to disguise his location by routing his calls through New Jersey. Shortly before an assault that would kill 166 people, including six Americans, Mr. Shah searched online for a Jewish hostel and two luxury hotels, all sites of the eventual carnage.

But he did not know that by September, the British were spying on many of his online activities, tracking his Internet searches and messages, according to former American and Indian officials and classified documents disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.

They were not the only spies watching. Mr. Shah drew similar scrutiny from an Indian intelligence agency, according to a former official who was briefed on the operation. The United States was unaware of the two agencies’ efforts, American officials say, but had picked up signs of a plot through other electronic and human sources, and warned Indian security officials several times in the months before the attack.

What happened next may rank among the most devastating near-misses in the history of spycraft. The intelligence agencies of the three nations did not pull together all the strands gathered by their high-tech surveillance and other tools, which might have allowed them to disrupt a terror strike so scarring that it is often called India’s 9/11.

“No one put together the whole picture,” said Shivshankar Menon, who was India’s foreign minister at the time of the attacks and later became the national security adviser. “Not the Americans, not the Brits, not the Indians.”

Mr. Menon, now retired, recalled that “only once the shooting started did everyone share” what they had, largely in meetings between British and Indian officials, and then “the picture instantly came into focus.”

The British had access to a trove of data from Mr. Shah’s communications, but contend that the information was not specific enough to detect the threat. The Indians did not home in on the plot even with the alerts from the United States.

Clues slipped by the Americans as well. David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American who scouted targets in Mumbai, exchanged incriminating emails with plotters that went unnoticed until shortly before his arrest in Chicago in late 2009. United States counterterrorism agencies did not pursue reports from his unhappy wife, who told American officials long before the killings began that he was a Pakistani terrorist conducting mysterious missions in Mumbai.

That hidden history of the Mumbai attacks reveals the vulnerability as well as the strengths of computer surveillance and intercepts as a counterterrorism weapon, an investigation by The New York Times, ProPublica and FRONTLINE has found.

Although electronic eavesdropping often yields valuable data, even tantalizing clues can be missed if the technology is not closely monitored, the intelligence gleaned from it is not linked with other information, or analysis does not sift incriminating activity from the ocean of digital data.

This account has been pieced together from classified documents, court files and dozens of interviews with current and former Indian, British and American officials. While telephone intercepts of the assault team’s phone calls and other intelligence work during the three-day siege have been reported, the extensive espionage that took place before the attacks has not previously been disclosed. Some details of the operations were withheld at the request of the intelligence agencies, citing national security concerns.

“We didn’t see it coming,” a former senior United States intelligence official said. “We were focused on many other things — Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, the Iranians. It’s not that things were missed — they were never put together.”

After the assault began, the countries quickly disclosed their intelligence to one another. They monitored a Lashkar control room in Pakistan where the terror chiefs directed their men, hunkered down in the Taj and Oberoi hotels and the Jewish hostel, according to current and former American, British and Indian officials.

That cooperation among the spy agencies helped analysts retrospectively piece together “a complete operations plan for the attacks,” a top-secret N.S.A. document said.

The Indian government did not respond to several requests for official comment, but a former Indian intelligence official acknowledged that Indian spies had tracked Mr. Shah’s laptop communications. It is unclear what data the Indians gleaned from their monitoring.

Asked if Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, Britain’s eavesdropping agency, should have had strong suspicions of a looming attack, a government official responded in a statement: “We do not comment on intelligence matters. But if we had had critical information about an imminent act of terrorism in a situation like this we would have shared it with the Indian government. So the central allegation of this story is completely untrue.”

The attacks still resonate in India, and are a continuing source of tension with Pakistan. Last week, a Pakistani court granted bail to a militant commander, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, accused of being an orchestrator of the attacks. He has not been freed, pending an appeal. India protested his release, arguing it was part of a Pakistani effort to avoid prosecution of terror suspects.

The story of the Mumbai killings has urgent implications for the West’s duel with the Islamic State and other groups. Like Lashkar, the Islamic State’s stealthy communications and slick propaganda make it one of the world’s most technologically sophisticated terror organizations. Al Qaeda, which recently announced the creation of an affiliate in India, uses similar tools.

Although the United States computer arsenal plays a vital role against targets ranging from North Korea’s suspected assault on Sony to Russian cyberthieves and Chinese military hacking units, counterterrorism requires a complex mix of human and technical resources. Some former counterterrorism officials warn against promoting billion-dollar surveillance programs with the narrow argument that they stop attacks.

That monitoring collects valuable information, but large amounts of it are “never meaningfully reviewed or analyzed,” said Charles (Sam) Faddis, a retired C.I.A. counterterrorism chief. “I cannot remember a single instance in my career when we ever stopped a plot based purely on signals intelligence.”

The targeting of Mr. Shah’s communications also failed to detect Mr. Headley’s role in the Mumbai attacks, and National Security Agency officials did not see for months that he was pursuing a new attack in Denmark.

“There are small successes in all of this that don’t make up for all the deaths,” said Tricia Bacon, a former State Department intelligence analyst, referring to intelligence and broader efforts to counter Lashkar. “It’s a massive failure and some small successes.”

Lashkar’s Computer Chief
Zarrar Shah was a digitally savvy operative, a man with a bushy beard, a pronounced limp, strong ties to Pakistani intelligence and an intense hatred for India, according to Western and Indian officials and court files. The spy agencies of Britain, the United States and India considered him the technology and communications chief for Lashkar, a group dedicated to attacking India. His fascination with jihad established him as something of a pioneer for a generation of Islamic extremists who use the Internet as a weapon.

According to Indian court records and interviews with intelligence officials, Mr. Shah was in his late 20s when he became the “emir,” or chief, of the Lashkar media unit. Because of his role, Mr. Shah, together with another young Lashkar chief named Sajid Mir, became an intelligence target for the British, Indians and Americans.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, which translates as “the Army of the Pure,” grew rapidly in the 1990s thanks to a powerful patron: the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), the Pakistani spy agency that the C.I.A. has worked with uneasily for years. Lashkar conducted a proxy war for Pakistan in return for arms, funds, intelligence, and training in combat tactics and communications technology. Initially, Lashkar’s focus was India and Kashmir, the mountainous region claimed by both India and Pakistan.

But Lashkar became increasingly interested in the West. A Qaeda figure involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center was arrested in a Lashkar safe house in 2002. Investigators dismantled a Lashkar network as it plotted a bombing in Australia in 2003 while recruiting, buying equipment and raising funds in North America and Europe. In 2007, a French court convicted in absentia the ringleader, Mr. Mir. He remained at large in Pakistan under ISI protection, investigators say.

Lashkar’s alliance with the ISI came under strain as some of the militants pushed for a Qaeda-style war on the West. As a result, some ISI officers and terror chiefs decided that a spectacular strike was needed to restore Lashkar’s cohesion and burnish its image, according to interviews and court files. The plan called for a commando-style assault in India that could also hit Americans, Britons and Jews there.

The target was the centerpiece of Indian prosperity: Mumbai.

Hatching a Plot
Lashkar’s chiefs developed a plot that would dwarf previous operations.

The lead conspirators were alleged to be Mr. Mir and Mr. Lakhvi, according to interviews and Indian court files, with Mr. Shah acting as a technical wingman, running the communications and setting up the hardware.

In early 2008, Indian and Western counterterrorism agencies began to pick up chatter about a potential attack on Mumbai. Indian spy agencies and police forces gathered periodic leads from their own sources about a Lashkar threat to the city. Starting in the spring, C.I.A. warnings singled out the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and other sites frequented by Westerners, according to American and Indian officials. Those warnings came from electronic and human sources, not from tracking Mr. Shah, other officials said.

“The U.S. intelligence community — on multiple occasions between June and November 2008 — warned the Indian government about Lashkar threats in Mumbai,” said Brian Hale, a spokesman for the director of the Office of National Intelligence. “The information identified several potential targets in the city, but we did not have specific information about the timing or the method of attack.”

United States spy agencies also alerted their British counterparts, according to a senior American intelligence official. It is unclear if the warnings led to the targeting of Mr. Shah’s communications, but by the fall of 2008, the British had found a way to monitor Lashkar’s digital networks.

So had the Indians. But until the attacks, one Indian official said, there was no communication between the two countries on the matter.

Western spy agencies routinely share significant or “actionable” intelligence involving threats with allies, but sometimes do not pass on less important information. Even friendly agencies are typically reluctant to disclose their sources of intelligence. Britain and India, while cooperative, were not nearly as close as the United States and Britain. And India is not included in the tightest intelligence-sharing circles of international, eavesdropping agencies that the two countries anchor.

Intelligence officials say that terror plots are often discernible only in hindsight, when a pattern suddenly emerges from what had been just bits of information. Whatever the reason, no one fully grasped the developing Mumbai conspiracy. “They either weren’t looking or didn’t understand what it all meant,” said one former American official who had access to the intelligence and would speak only on the condition of anonymity. “There was a lot more noise than signal. There usually is.”

Leaving a Trail
Not long after the British gained access to his communications, Mr. Shah contacted a New Jersey company posing online as an Indian reseller of telephone services named Kharak Singh, purporting to be based in Mumbai. His Indian persona started haggling over the price of a voice-over-Internet phone service — also known as VoIP — that had been chosen because it would make calls between Pakistan and the terrorists in Mumbai appear as if they were originating in Austria and New Jersey.

“its not first time in my life i am perchasing in this VOIP business,” Mr. Shah wrote in shaky English, to an official with the New Jersey-based company when he thought the asking price was too high, the GCHQ documents show. “i am using these services from 2 years.”

Mr. Shah had begun researching the VoIP systems, online security, and ways to hide his communications as early as mid-September, according to the documents. As he made his plan, he searched on his laptop for weak communication security in Europe, spent time on a site designed to conceal browsing history, and searched Google News for “indian american naval exercises” — presumably so the seagoing attackers would not blunder into an overwhelming force.

Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist who would survive the Mumbai attacks, watched Mr. Shah display some of his technical prowess. In mid-September, Mr. Shah and fellow plotters used Google Earth and other material to show Mr. Kasab and nine other young Pakistani terrorists their targets in Mumbai, according to court testimony.

The session, which took place in a huge “media room” in a remote camp on the border with Kashmir, was part of an effort to chart the terrorists’ route across the Arabian Sea, to a water landing on the edge of Mumbai, then through the chaotic streets. Videos, maps and reconnaissance reports had been supplied to Mr. Mir by Mr. Headley, the Pakistani-American who scouted targets.

“The gunmen were shown all this data from the reconnaissance,” said Deven Bharti, a top Mumbai police official who investigated the attacks, adding that the terrorists were trained to use Google Earth and global positioning equipment on their own. “Kasab was trained to locate everything in Mumbai before he went.”

If Mr. Shah made any attempt to hide his malevolent intentions, he did not have much success at it. Although his frenetic computer activity was often sprawling, he repeatedly displayed some key interests: small-scale warfare, secret communications, tourist and military locations in India, extremist ideology and Mumbai.

He searched for Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” previous terror strikes in India and weather forecasts in the Arabian Sea, typed “4 star hotel in delhi” and “taj hotel,” and visited to pore over sites in and around Mumbai, the documents show.

Still, the sheer scale of his ambition might have served as a smokescreen for his focus on the city. For example, he also showed interest in Kashmir, the Indian Punjab, New Delhi, Afghanistan and the United States Army in Germany and Canada.

He constantly flipped back and forth among Internet porn and entertainment sites while he was carrying out his work. He appeared to be fascinated with the actor Robert De Niro, called up at least one article on the singer Taylor Swift, and looked at funny cat videos. He visited, a conspiracy theory website, and conducted a search on “barak obama family + muslim.”

In late September and again in October, Lashkar botched attempts to send the attackers to Mumbai by sea. During that period, at least two of the C.I.A. warnings were delivered, according to American and Indian officials. An alert in mid-September mentioned the Taj hotel among a half-dozen potential targets, causing the facility to temporarily beef up security. Another on Nov. 18 reported the location of a Pakistani vessel linked to a Lashkar threat against the southern coastal area of Mumbai, where the attack would occur.

Eventually Mr. Shah did set up the VoIP service through the New Jersey company, ensuring that many of his calls to the terrorists would bear the area code 201, concealing their actual origin. But in November, the company’s owner wrote to the fictitious Indian reseller, Mr. Singh, complaining that no voice traffic was running on the digital telephone network. Mr. Shah’s reply was ominous, according to Indian law enforcement officials, who obtained evidence from the company’s communications records with F.B.I. assistance after the attack.

“Dear Sir,” Mr. Shah replied, “i will send trafic by the end of this month.”

By Nov. 24, Mr. Shah had moved to the Karachi suburbs, where he set up an electronic “control room” with the help of an Indian militant named Abu Jundal, according to his later confession to the Indian authorities. It was from this room that Mr. Mir, Mr. Shah and others would issue minute-by-minute instructions to the assault team once the attacks began. On Nov. 25, Abu Jundal tested the VoIP software on four laptops spread out on four small tables facing a pair of televisions as the plotters, including Mr. Mir, Mr. Shah and Mr. Lakhvi, waited for the killings to begin.

In a plan to pin the blame on Indians, Mr. Shah typed a statement of responsibility for the attack from the Hyderabad Deccan Mujahadeen — a fake Indian organization. Early on Nov. 26, Mr. Shah showed more of his hand: he emailed a draft of the phony claim to an underling with orders to send it to the news media later, according to American and Indian counterterrorism officials.

Before the attacks started that evening, the documents show, Mr. Shah pulled up Google images of the Oberoi Hotel and conducted Wikimapia searches for the Taj and the Chabad House, the Jewish hostel run by an American rabbi from Brooklyn who would die in the strike along with his pregnant wife. Mr. Shah opened the hostel’s website. He began Googling news coverage of Mumbai just before the attacks began.

An intercept shows what Mr. Shah was reading, on the news website NDTV, as the killings proceeded.

“Mumbai, the city which never sleeps, was brought to its knees on Wednesday night as it came under an unprecedented multiple terror attack,” the article said. “Even as heavily armed police stormed into Taj Hotel, just opposite the Gateway of India where suspected terrorists were still holed up, blood-soaked guests could be seen carried out into the waiting ambulances.”

A Trove of Data
In the United States, Nov. 26 was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

A long presidential election fight was over, and many officials in Washington had already drifted away for their long weekend. Anish Goel, director for South Asia at the National Security Council in the White House, left around 6 a.m. for the eight-hour drive to his parents’ house in Ohio. By the time he arrived, his BlackBerry was filled with emails about the attacks.

The Pakistani terrorists had come ashore in an inflatable speedboat in a fishermen’s slum in south Mumbai about 9 p.m. local time. They fanned out in pairs and struck five targets with bombs and AK-47s: the Taj, the Oberoi Hotel, the Leopold Cafe, Chabad House, and the city’s largest train station.

The killing was indiscriminate, merciless, and seemingly unstoppable over three horrific days. In raw, contemporaneous notes by analysts, the eavesdroppers seem to be making a hasty effort to understand the clues from the days and weeks before.

“Analysis of Zarrar Shah’s viewing habits” and other data “yielded several locations in Mumbai well before the attacks occurred and showed operations planning for initial entry points into the Taj Hotel,” the N.S.A. document said.

That viewing history also revealed a longer list of what might have been future targets. M.K. Narayanan, India’s national security adviser at the time, appeared to be concerned with that data from Mr. Shah in discussions with American officials shortly after the attacks, according to the WikiLeaks archive of American diplomatic cables.

A top secret GCHQ document described the capture of information on targets that Mr. Shah had identified using Google Earth.

The analysts seemed impressed by the intelligence haul — “unprecedented real-time active access in place!” — one GCHQ document noted. Another agency document said the work to piece the data together was “briefed at highest levels nationally and internationally, including the US National Security Adviser.”

As early reports of many casualties came in, Mr. Goel said the focus in Washington shifted to a question already preoccupying the White House: “Is this going to lead to a war between Pakistan and India?” American officials who conducted periodic simulations of how a nuclear conflict could be triggered often began with a terror attack like this one.

On Nov. 30, Mr. Goel was back at his office, reading a stack of intelligence reports that had accumulated on his desk and reviewing classified electronic messages on a secure terminal.

Amid the crisis, Mr. Goel, now a senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation, paid little attention to the sources of the intelligence and said that he still knew little about specific operations. But two things stood out, he said: The main conspirators in Pakistan had already been identified. And the quality and rapid pacing of the intelligence reports made it clear that electronic espionage was primarily responsible for the information.

“During the attacks, it was extraordinarily helpful,” Mr. Goel said of the surveillance.

But until then, the United States did not know of the British and Indian spying on Mr. Shah’s communications. “While I cannot comment on the authenticity of any alleged classified documents, N.S.A. had no knowledge of any access to a lead plotter’s computer before the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008,” said Mr. Hale, the spokesman for the Office of the director of National Intelligence.

As N.S.A. and GCHQ analysts worked around the clock after the attacks, the flow of intelligence enabled Washington, London and New Delhi to exert pressure on Pakistan to round up suspects and crack down on Lashkar, despite its alliance with the ISI, according to officials involved.

In the stacks of intelligence reports, one name did not appear, Mr. Goel clearly recalls: David Coleman Headley. None of the intelligence streams from the United States, Britain or India had yet identified him as a conspirator.

The Missing American
Mr. Headley’s many-sided life — three wives, drug-smuggling convictions and a past as an informant for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration — would eventually collapse. But for now, he was a free man, watching the slaughter on television in Lahore, Pakistan, according to his later court testimony. At the time, he was with Faiza Outalha, his Moroccan wife, having reconciled with her after moving his Pakistani wife and four children to Chicago.

Mr. Headley’s unguarded emails reflected euphoria about Lashkar’s success. An exchange with his wife in Chicago continued a long string of incriminating electronic communications by Mr. Headley written in a transparent code, according to investigators and case files.

“I watched the movie the whole day,” she wrote, congratulating him on his “graduation.”

About a week later, Mr. Headley hinted at his inside information in an email to fellow alumni of a Pakistani military school. Writing about the young terrorists who carried out the mayhem in Mumbai, he said: “Yes they were only 10 kids, guaranteed. I hear 2 were married with a daughter each under 3 years old.” His subsequent emails contained several dozen news media photos of the Mumbai siege.

Almost immediately, Mr. Headley began pursuing a new plot with Lashkar against a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. He went to Denmark in January and cased the newspaper, meeting and exchanging emails with its advertising staff, according to his later testimony and court records. He sent messages to his fellow conspirators and emailed himself a reconnaissance checklist of sorts, with terms like “Counter-Surveillance,” “Security (Armed?)” and “King’s Square” — the site of the newspaper.

Those emails capped a series of missed signals involving Mr. Headley. The F.B.I. conducted at least four inquiries into allegations about his extremist activity between 2001 and 2008. Ms. Outalha had visited the United States Embassy in Islamabad three times between December 2007 and April 2008, according to interviews and court documents, claiming that he was a terrorist carrying out missions in India.

Mr. Headley also exchanged highly suspicious emails with his Lashkar and ISI handlers before and after the Mumbai attacks, according to court records and American counterterrorism officials. The N.S.A. collected some of his emails, but did not realize he was involved in terrorist plotting until he became the target of an F.B.I. investigation, officials said.

That inquiry began in July 2009 when a British tip landed on the desk of a rookie F.B.I. counterterrorism agent in Chicago. Someone named “David” at a Chicago pay phone had called two suspects under surveillance in Britain, planning to visit.

He had contacted the Britons for help with the plot, according to testimony. Customs and Border Protection used his flight itinerary to identify him while en route, and after further investigation, the F.B.I. arrested him at Chicago O’Hare Airport that October, as he was preparing to fly to Pakistan. For his role in the Mumbai attacks, he pleaded guilty to 12 counts and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

After disclosures last year of widespread N.S.A. surveillance, American officials claimed that bulk collection of electronic communications led to Mr. Headley’s eventual arrest. But a government oversight panel rejected claims giving credit to the N.S.A.’s program to collect Americans’ domestic phone call records. Case files and interviews with law enforcement officials show that the N.S.A. played only a support role in the F.B.I. investigation that finally identified Mr. Headley as a terrorist and disrupted the Danish plot.

The sole surviving attacker of the Mumbai attack, Mr. Kasab, was executed in India after a trial. Although Pakistan denies any role in the attacks, it has failed to charge an ISI officer and Mr. Mir, who were indicted by American prosecutors. Though Mr. Shah and other Lashkar chiefs had been arrested, their trial remains stalled six years after the attack.

Mr. Menon, the former Indian foreign minister, said that a lesson that emerged from the tragedy in Mumbai was that “computer traffic only tells you so much. It’s only a thin slice.” The key is the analysis, he said, and “we didn’t have it.”

James Glanz, of The New York Times, reported from India, New York and Washington; Sebastian Rotella, of ProPublica, reported from Chicago, India, New York and Washington; and David E. Sanger, of The New York Times, reported from Washington. Andrew W. Lehren, of The New York Times, contributed reporting from New York, and Declan Walsh, of The New York Times, from London. Jeff Larson, of ProPublica, and Tom Jennings and Anna Belle Peevey, of FRONTLINE, contributed reporting from New York.

Related Film: A Perfect Terrorist
FRONTLINE and ProPublica teamed up in 2011 to investigate the mysterious circumstances behind David Coleman Headley’s rise from heroin dealer and U.S. government informant to master plotter of the 2008 attack on Mumbai. Also explore our interactive look at Headley’s web of betrayal.


Find this story at 21 December 2014

America sacrificed Mumbai to keep Headley in play (2013)

Five years on, this is what we now know. A valued CIA proxy, who infiltrated the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), a banned Pakistani Islamist outfit, planned the Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed, and more than 300 injured. David Headley, an American citizen, conceived, scoped and ran supplies for the terrorist ‘swarm’ operation, so called because several independent units simultaneously hit their enemy in multiple locations, coming out of nowhere, multiplying fear and panic.
Headley selected Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, as the theatre of operations while acting as a ‘prized counter-terrorism asset’ for the United States, according to senior officers in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, who described his covert career as running for eleven years. When the LeT’s ten-man suicide squad sailed from a creek in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi, at dawn on 22 November 2008, they navigated towards a landing spot in Mumbai, marked on a GPS provided by the Washington DCborn maverick. Reaching the world’s fourth largest metropolis four nights later, LeT’s team fanned out, following routes plotted by Headley over an intense two-year period of surveillance . Shortly before 10pm, the gunmen shot dead tourists at the Leopold Cafe, massacred more than 60 Indian commuters at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station, and then laid siege to a Jewish centre and two five-star hotels, including the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai’s most famous landmark. Ten men would keep the mega-city burning for more than three days.
This month sees the fifth anniversary of the Mumbai attacks, and the most complete survey to date of former and serving intelligence agents, diplomats, police, and survivors from 12 countries, reveals that the CIA repeatedly tipped off their counterparts in India to an imminent attack, using intelligence derived from their prize asset Headley. What they did not reveal was that their source, a public school educated Pakistani-American dilettante and entrepreneur, was allowed to remain in place even as the attack was realized. His continuing proximity to the terrorist outfit would eventually lead to a showdown between Washington and New Delhi.
Researching ‘The Siege’, we learned that Indian intelligence agents accused their US counterparts of protecting Headley and leaving him in the field, despite the imminent threat to Mumbai. Irate Indian officials claimed that Headley’s Mumbai plot was allowed to run on by his US controllers, as to spool it in would have jeopardized his involvement in another critical US operation . Having infiltrated the LeT, Headley also won access to al-Qaida, making him the only US citizen in the field who might be able to reach Osama bin Laden. Three years before America’s most wanted terrorist was finally run to ground in Abbottabad, this was an opportunity that some in the US intelligence community were not willing to give up.
Phone and email intercepts seen by us confirm how Headley had become trusted by Ilyas Kashmiri, a former LeT commander and senior al-Qaida operative, who led an al-Qaida military affiliate, known as Brigade 313. Based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, Ilyas Kashmiri was, at one point, considered as a potential successor to Osama bin Laden until his death in June 2011.
In 2009, several months after the Mumbai atrocity, agents from the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s foreign intelligence agency, confronted the CIA with these claims, according to accounts seen by us. India is said to have accused the US of pursuing ‘a narrow self-interest’ and having some responsibility in the deaths in Mumbai.
However, the CIA stood firm, one senior agent claiming that ‘Indian incompetence’ was to blame for the attack. In 2006, the US had warned India that the LeT was forming a suicide squad to attack India from the sea. More than 25 increasingly detailed bulletins followed that named Mumbai as the prime objective, and identified several targets, including the Taj hotel. Additional bulletins suggested that a team of highly trained gunmen using AK47s and RDX, military-grade explosives, would seek to prolong the attack by taking hostages and establishing a stronghold, before a final shoot-out that they hoped would be broadcast live around the world on TV.
Some of these bulletins were eventually distilled into notices that reached the police patrolling Mumbai . However, the assessments were ‘ignored or downplayed’ until July 2008 when a senior police officer, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) with responsibility for security in the district of South Mumbai where the Taj was located, took action . On 12 August 2008, DCP Vishwas Nangre Patil spent nine hours with the Taj’s security staff, writing a report to his seniors that concluded: ‘Overall, the [Taj] management has done very little to adapt the hotel to the changing security environment in the city.’ When a truck bomb devastated the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, on 20 September 2008, Patil drew up an urgent list of enhanced security measures for the Taj, including snipers on the roof, blast barriers on the driveway and armed guards on all doors. Although security was tightened as a result, most of these measures were withdrawn again after DCP Patil went on leave in the second week of October 2008.
David Headley was a bizarre mix of Eastern and Western cultures and made for a near-perfect mole. His mother was Serrill Headley, a socialite and adventuress from Maryland, whose great-aunt had funded women’s rights and Albert Einstein’s research . His father was Syed Gilani, a renowned radio broadcaster and diplomat from Lahore, who had been seconded to Voice of America. When Headley was born in Washington DC in 1960, he was initially named Daood Saleem Gilani. Within a year, the family had relocated to Pakistan, where Gilani was brought up as a Muslim and schooled at an exclusive military academy. After his parents divorced and Serrill returned to the US to open a bar in Philadelphia, named, suitably, the Khyber Pass, Gilani, aged 17, rejoined her. He lived with her in a flat above the Khyber Pass — and soon immersed himself in the American way of life. Later he moved to the Upper West Side in New York, where he opened a video rental shop, Fliks.
By 1984, Gilani was a six-foot-two American boy, with a fair complexion, broad shoulders and an impressive mop of curly blond hair. Only his distinctively mismatched eyes — one blue one brown —hinted at his mixed heritage and muddled ancestry. Dressed in crumpled Armani jeans, a leather jacket slung over his shoulder, and a £10,000 Rolex Submariner poking out of his cuff, he was already looking for more lucrative opportunities than video rental. That year, he used his dual identities to smuggle half a kilogram of heroin from Pakistan’s tribal areas to New York, selling it through the video store. When German customs officers caught him four years later at Frankfurt airport en-route to Philadelphia, with two kilograms of heroin, Gilani informed on his co-conspirators to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). While, his accomplices were jailed for between eight and ten years, he became a paid DEA informer, infiltrating Pakistan’s drug syndicates . Some US agents warned that Gilani was too volatile to be trusted, and in 1997, he was arrested again in New York for trafficking. He offered another deal, suggesting he infiltrate Islamist radicals who were starting to worry the CIA and FBI.
A letter put before the court reveals prosecutors conceded that while Gilani might have supplied up to fifteen kilograms of heroin worth £947,000, he had also been ‘reliable and forthcoming’ with the agency about ‘a range of issues’ . Sentenced to fifteen months in the low-security Fort Dix prison, New Jersey, while his co-conspirator received four years in a high-security jail, he was freed after only nine months. In August 1999, one year after hundreds had been killed in simultaneous Al-Qaeda bomb attacks on American embassies in Africa, he returned to Pakistan, his ticket paid for by the US government.
By 2006, Daood had joined the inner circle of Lashkar-e-Toiba, which had been proscribed by the UN five years earlier. Coming up with the plan to attack Mumbai and launch LeT onto the international stage, he changed his name to David Headley and applied for a new US passport. He would use it to travel incognito to India on seven surveillance trips, selecting targets in Mumbai which he photographed using a camera he borrowed from his mother-in-law .
Headley was chaotic and his Mumbai plan was almost undermined by his private life. By 2008, he was married to three women, none of who knew of the others’ existence, two living apart in Pakistan and one in New York. The wife in the US, however, grew suspicious after he championed the 9/11 attackers, reporting him to the authorities. Shortly before the Mumbai operation, his cousin Alex Headley, a soldier in the US Army also considered reporting him after Headley announced that he was naming his newborn son Osama and described him as ‘my little terrorist’ . His Pakistani half-brother Danyal Gilani, who worked as a press officer for the Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, disowned him.
Latest Comment

Alan, you make me laugh. U.S.A is headed right down the toilet, and you know it! India knows quite well how to deal with… Read More
You iz in da toilet
Eventually, Headley’s mother informed on him to the FBI. Her son was only ever interested in himself, she warned, arguing that his selfishness was born out of his lack of a sense of self. None of the complainants heard anything back, with Serrill Headley, who died ten months before Mumbai, confiding in a friend that her son ‘must have worked for the US government’ .
Five years on, with American officials continuing to remain silent over Headley (and the conflict of interest that enabled him to run amok in the field), and with New Delhi still prevented from accessing him, the full truth about Washington’s culpability in 26/11 remains muddied. In India, where no postmortem of any depth has been carried out into Mumbai, the scale of the intelligence failings — the inability of IB and RAW to develop the leads passed them by the CIA and others — will also never be fully exposed.

Adrian Levy & Cathy Scott Clark | Nov 24, 2013, 05.15 AM IST

Find this story at 24 November 2013



It has been called the most spectacular terror attack since 9/11. On the night of Nov. 26, 2008, 10 men armed with guns and grenades launched an assault on Mumbai with a military precision that left 166 dead. India quickly learned the attackers belonged to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group associated with Pakistan’s secretive intelligence agency, the ISI. But what wasn’t known then was that a Lashkar/ISI operative had been casing the city for two years, developing a blueprint for terror. His name was David Coleman Headley, and he’d been chosen for the job because he had the perfect cover: he was an American citizen. FRONTLINE and ProPublica reporter Sebastian Rotella team up to investigate the mysterious circumstances behind Headley’s rise from heroin dealer and U.S. government informant to master plotter of the 2008 attack on Mumbai.

NOVEMBER 22, 2011 // 53:40

Find this story at 22 November 2011

Portland man: I was tortured in UAE for refusing to become an FBI informant (2015)

Yonas Fikre, who attends a mosque where at least nine of its members have been barred from flying, says the US no-fly list is being used to intimidate American Muslims into spying on behalf of US authorities

When Yonas Fikre stepped off a luxury private jet at Portland airport last month, the only passenger on a $200,000 flight from Sweden, he braced for the worst.

Would the FBI be waiting? That would mean more interrogation, maybe arrest. But he told himself that whatever happened it could hardly be as bad as the months of torture he endured in a foreign jail before years of exile in Scandinavia.

A US immigration officer boarded the plane and asked for his passport. Fikre handed over the flimsy travel document that was valid for a single flight to the US. The officer said all was in order. He was free to go.

“I don’t think they knew who I was. I think they thought I was just some rich guy who’d come on a private jet. A rapper or someone,” said Fikre.

The 36-year-old Eritrean-born American was finally back in Portland at the end of a five-year odyssey that began with a simple business trip but landed him in an Arab prison where he alleges he was tortured at the behest of US anti-terrorism officials because he refused to become an informant at his mosque in Oregon.

Fikre is suing the FBI, two of its agents and other American officials for allegedly putting him on the US’s no-fly list – a roster of suspected terrorists barred from taking commercial flights – to pressure him to collaborate. When that failed, the lawsuit said, the FBI had him arrested, interrogated and tortured for 106 days in the United Arab Emirates.

As shocking as the claims are, they are not the first to emanate from worshippers at Fikre’s mosque in Portland, where at least nine members have been barred from flying by the US authorities.

“The no-fly list gives the FBI an extrajudicial tool to coerce Muslims to become informants,” said Gadeir Abbas, a lawyer who represents other clients on the list. “There’s definitely a cluster of cases like this at the FBI’s Portland office.”

They include Jamal Tarhuni, a 58 year-old Portland businessman who travelled to Libya with a Christian charity, Medical Teams International, in 2012. He was blocked from flying back to the US and interrogated by an FBI agent who pressed him to sign a document waving his constitutional rights.

“The no-fly list is being used to intimidate and coerce people – not for protection, but instead for aggression,” said Tarhuni after getting back to Portland a month later. He was removed from the no-fly list in February after a federal lawsuit.

Detained, then put on the no-fly list
Another member of the mosque, Michael Migliore, chose to emigrate to live with his mother in Italy because he was placed on a no-fly list after refusing to answer FBI questions without a lawyer or become an informant. He had to take a train to New York and a ship to England. In the UK, he was detained under anti-terrorism legislation. Migliore said his British lawyer told him it was at the behest of US officials.

“We have a name for it: proxy detention,” said Abbas, Migliore’s lawyer. “It’s something the FBI does regularly. It’s not uncommon for American Muslims to travel outside the US and find they can’t fly back and then they get approached by law enforcement to answer questions at the behest of the Americans.”

I refused to answer questions. That’s when the beating started
Fikre’s problems began not long after he travelled to Khartoum to set up an electronics import business. He still had relatives in Sudan after his family fled there when he was a child to escape conflict in Eritrea. Fikre’s family arrived to California as refugees when he was 13 and he moved to Portland in 2006 where he worked for a mobile phone company.

Not long after he arrived in Khartoum in June 2010, Fikre went to the US embassy to seek advice from its commercial section. A couple of days later he was invited back to what he was told would be a briefing for US citizens on the security situation. Instead he found himself in a small room with two men.

“They pulled out their badges. They mentioned their names and said they were from the FBI Portland field office,” he said.

The agents were David Noordeloos and Jason Dundas, both attached to the Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI office in Portland. Fikre was immediately suspicious because of the agents’ duplicity in luring him to the embassy.

“They said, we just want to ask you a few questions. Right away I invoked my right to have a lawyer. Then they became threatening,” he said.

Fikre said it swiftly became clear the agents wanted information about his mosque in Portland, Masjed As-Saber.

The mosque is the largest in Oregon and drew the FBI’s attention not long after 9/11. In 2002, four years before Fikre arrived in Portland, seven members of its congregation were charged for attempting to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban. Six received prison sentences. A seventh was killed in Afghanistan.

In late 2010, a Somali American, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, was arrested and later convicted for plotting to blow up the lighting of downtown Portland’s Christmas tree amid allegations of FBI entrapment. He occasionally prayed at the As-Saber mosque.

Fikre has acknowledged meeting Mohamud but said he was no more than a passing acquaintance and that he had left for Sudan months before the plot was even hatched or the FBI became involved.

When Fikre hesitated to answer the agents’ questions, he was told he had been placed on the US “no-fly list”.

“I asked them, why am I on a no-fly list after I leave the country? I said to them, you did this in order to coerce me to work with you guys,” he said. “They said there’s a case in Portland and they wanted me to help them. I asked, what is this case about? They said, we can’t talk about it. You have to agree you’ll work with us and if you agree, we’ll tell you.”

Fikre said he would answer questions about the mosque but he was not going to work as an informant.

“Eventually I was answering questions because you know how it feels to be in a room with two of the major agencies and you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “They wanted to know about fundraising. Were there any people that made me feel uncomfortable? What do they talk about during Friday sermons?”

‘The choice is yours to make’
The FBI’s account of the interrogation is summarised in a declassified document written a week later and marked “secret”. It is heavily redacted but Fikre’s claim that he was lured to the embassy under false pretences appears to be confirmed by a line which says that after being escorted to an interview room, “Fikre was informed of the true identity of the agents”.

Yonas Fikre Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Yonas Fikre. Photograph: Dan Lamont
The document shows part of the questioning focussed on financial transactions including his attempt to open a bank account in Dubai, which Fikre said he needed to do business in the region.

“Fikre was asked if he knew anyone related to international terrorism. Fikre denied any knowledge of anyone attempting to train or go to train for terrorist acts against the US or its interests,” the FBI document said. “Fikre agreed to assist and stated that he honestly does not know of anyone attempting to leave the US to attend terrorism related training.”

Fikre agreed to return for further questioning the next day.

“I said OK because I wanted to get out of there,” he said. “The next day I called David Noordeloos and told him, I’m wasting your time and you’re wasting my time. I don’t plan to work for you guys. He got very angry and he said, you mean to tell me you don’t want to work for us?”

About two weeks later, Fikre received an email from Noordeloos.

“While we hope to get your side of issues we keep hearing about, the choice is yours to make. The time to help yourself is now,” it said.

That was the last he heard from the agents. Fikre conclude Khartoum wasn’t the best place to do business and decided to try his hand in the United Arab Emirates but first went to visit relatives in Sweden. He worried that the no-fly list might create difficulties.

“If I was a threat, you would think the US would tell them. If some British guy was coming to this country and he was a threat, the US would be very pissed off if the British knew and didn’t make them aware of it. But nothing happened in Sweden. I came to Sweden normally,” he said.

That only confirmed Fikre’s belief he was on the no-fly list as a means to pressure him not because he was a terrorist threat.

Weeks later he moved to the UAE where he established himself trading in electronics with financial help from his family in California. Months went by. Then in June 2011 he was arrested by the local police.

“I didn’t know what was happening until I was taken away and the next day, that’s when I knew that it was questions related to Portland, Oregon,” he said. “At first I kept on saying, I’m an American. I need my lawyer, I need my embassy. They said to me, the American government don’t care about you. Then they started asking, tell us the story about what’s going on in Portland. The same questions the FBI were asking in Sudan about As-Saber I was being asked in the UAE.”

Fikre swiftly concluded the US had a hand in his arrest.

“Without a doubt this was instigated by the FBI. Why would the UAE ask me questions about this particular mosque in Portland?” he said.

So began months of interrogation.

“I refused to answer questions. That’s when the beating started,” he said. “They started with punches, slaps. They got tired of that so they brought water hose. There’s the hard ones, the black ones, and there’s the soft ones. The soft kind they would use for strangling. When I refused to answer, they put that thing on my neck. They had me lay down and beat me on the soles of my feet. They beat me on the back constantly.

You want to believe it’s not true, that some employee made a mistake
“If they weren’t beating you, they made you stand for eight hours with your hands raised. The beating was much better than the standing.”

The torture continued even when he was alone in his cell at night.

“I was sleeping on tiles, very cold tiles. They put on this AC so it was very cold. The body can’t take this cold on top of the beating,” he said. “That’s when I decided to answer their questions.”

‘You want to believe it’s not true’
After eight weeks of demanding to see someone from the US embassy, he was told he was being taken to meet American diplomat but warned not to say anything about his torture or it would delay his release, which was promised within days.

Fikre found himself sitting in front of woman who only identified herself as Marwa.

“I look all fragile, pale. I’ve lost a lot of weight. I’m drained. I wanted to tell her the situation but I felt like I was so close to my freedom, just two days, three days, and I was getting my ass beaten, and if I tell her it’ll set me back,” he said.

Fikre asked why it took so long for the US to find him, a citizen held by the security services of a close ally. He said Marwa told him they had been looking hard. Later he learned he was being held just blocks from the US embassy.

The State Department has confirmed that a US diplomat visited Fikre while he was being held in the UAE on “unspecified charges”. It said he “showed no signs of having been mistreated and was in good spirits”.

Fikre was not released and the questioning resumed. But an incident gave him hope. An interrogator beating Fikre with a hose caught him on the funny bone in his knee. He collapsed in agony. The man appeared alarmed he had done lasting damage.

“I thought to myself, why would you care? You were strangling me just a few days ago. Then I realised they didn’t want to leave me with any visible injuries. That’s when I had hope that I would get out of there,” he said.

Fikre said he was given a lie detector test but instead of more questions about Portland he was asked if he was a member of al-Qaida or soliciting funds for it. He denied it strenuously. He said it was clear from the response of his interrogators that he passed the test.

Through it all Fikre could not shake the sense that someone in the US had outsourced his interrogation to a place with few legal constraints.

“Toward the end of his interrogation [Fikre] inquired of his interrogator whether the FBI had requested that he be detained and interrogated,” the lawsuit said. “This time, instead of being beaten, the interrogator stated that indeed the FBI had made such a request and that the American and Emerati authorities work closely on a number of such matters.”

The FBI in Portland said it is unable to comment directly on the allegations because they are the subject of pending litigation. But an FBI spokesperson, Beth Anne Steele, said in a statement that the agency works within the law.

“A fundamental FBI core value is the belief that every person has the right to live, work and worship in this country without fear. As such, FBI agents take an oath to uphold the US constitution and to protect the rights of every American citizen under the Constitution, no matter where in the world an agent may working. This holds true every day in every situation,” she said.

After 106 days of imprisonment, the UAE released Fikre without charge.

The no-fly list prevented Fikre from flying back to the US so he opted to go to Sweden where he applied for political asylum. His application was rejected in January because he was unable to prove the US had a hand in his imprisonment although the Swedes accepted that he had been tortured.

In February, Fikre was finally formally notified by the US government he was on the no-fly list because he “may be a threat to civil aviation or national security”. Sweden paid for a private jet to fly him to Portland five years after he left.

Fikre has not been charged with any terrorism related crimes or even questioned as a potential threat on his return to the US. He remains on the no-fly list.

“It’s hard to comprehend that the government does something like this. You want to believe it’s not true, that some employee made a mistake,” he said. “I could be angry but anger doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t answer the question of why I was there. You can’t have this anger build up against your own government, your own country, your own people. I’m an American. I want to try to move on.”

Chris McGreal in Portland, Oregon
Monday 16 March 2015 11.38 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 18 March 2015 21.00 GMT

Find this story at 16 March 2015

© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

American Muslim Alleges FBI Had a Hand in His Torture (2012)

EXCLUSIVE: Yonas Fikre believes the US government played a role in his hellish three-month detention in the United Arab Emirates.

UPDATE: Fikre’s lawyers have written a letter to the Justice Department about his allegations and released a video of him talking about his ordeal.

Last June, while Yonas Fikre was visiting the United Arab Emirates, the Muslim American from Portland, Oregon was suddenly arrested and detained by Emirati security forces. For the next three months, Fikre claims, he was repeatedly interrogated and tortured. Fikre says he was beaten on the soles of his feet, kicked and punched, and held in stress positions while interrogators demanded he “cooperate” and barked questions that were eerily similar to those posed to him not long before by FBI agents and other American officials who had requested a meeting with him.

Fikre had been visiting family in Khartoum, Sudan, when, in April 2010, the officials got in touch with him. He agreed to meet with them, but ultimately balked at cooperating with FBI questioning without a lawyer present and he rebuffed a request to become an informant. Pressing him to cooperate, the agents told him he was on the no-fly list and could not return home unless he aided the bureau, Fikre says. The following week he received an email from one of the US officials; it arrived from a State Department address: “Thanks for meeting with us last week in Sudan. While we hope to get your side of the issues we keep hearing about, the choice is yours to make. The time to help yourself is now.”

“When Yonas [first] asked whether the FBI was behind his detention, he was beaten for asking the question,” says his lawyer. “Toward the end, the interrogator indicated that indeed the FBI had been involved.”
Fikre made his way to the UAE the following year, where, he and his lawyer allege, he was detained at the request of the US government. They say his treatment is part of a pattern of “proxy” detentions of US Muslims orchestrated by the the US government. Now, Fikre’s Portland-based lawyer, Thomas Nelson, plans to file suit against the Obama administration for its alleged complicity in Fikre’s torture.

“There was explicit cooperation; we certainly will allege that in the complaint,” says Nelson, a well known terrorism defense attorney. “When Yonas [first] asked whether the FBI was behind his detention, he was beaten for asking the question. Toward the end, the interrogator indicated that indeed the FBI had been involved. Yonas understood this as indicating that the FBI continued to [want] him to work for/with them.” Nelson, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Council on American Islamic Relations are assembling a high-powered legal team to handle Fikre’s case in the United States.

Fikre’s story echoes those of Naji Hamdan, Amir Meshal, Sharif Mobley, Gulet Mohamed, and Yusuf and Yahya Wehelie. All are American Muslim men who, while traveling abroad, claim they were detained, interrogated, and (in some cases) abused by local security forces; the men claim they were arrested at the behest of federal law enforcement authorities, alleging the US government used this process to circumvent their legal rights as American citizens.

As Mother Jones reported in its September/October 2011 issue, the FBI has acknowledged that it tips off local security forces on the names of Americans traveling overseas that the bureau suspects of involvement in terrorism, and that these individuals are sometimes detained and questioned. The FBI also admits that its agents sometimes “interview or witness an interview” of Americans detained by foreign governments in terrorism cases. And as several FBI officials told me on condition of anonymity, the bureau has for years used its elite cadre of international agents (known as legal attachés, or legats) to coordinate the overseas detention and interrogation by foreign security services of American terrorism suspects. Sometimes, that entails cooperating with local security forces that are accustomed to abusing prisoners. (FBI officials have told Mother Jones that foreign security forces are asked to refrain from abusing American detainees.)

It’s difficult to confirm US involvement in the detentions of Fikre or other alleged proxy detainees—indeed, plausible deniability is part of the appeal of the program. But what’s clear is that Fikre was on the FBI’s radar well before his detention in the UAE. (The FBI declined to comment on his case, as did the State Department.) Fikre, whose only previous brush with the legal system came when he sued a restaurant for having ham in its clam chowder, may have drawn the FBI’s interest because of his association with Portland’s Masjed-as-Saber mosque, where he was a youth basketball coach.

The mosque has been a focus of FBI scrutiny ever since the October 2002 case of the “Portland Seven,” in which seven Muslims from the Portland area were charged with trying to go to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban in the wake of 9/11. (Six are now in jail; the seventh was killed in Pakistan.) Masjed-as-Saber was in the news again in 2010 when Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old Somali American who sometimes worshipped there, was charged with trying to detonate a fake car bomb provided by an undercover FBI agent.

More recently, three other men who attended Fikre’s mosque—Mustafa Elogbi, Michael Migliore, and Jamal Tarhuni—have found themselves on the no-fly list after traveling abroad. (The government’s use of the no-fly list to prevent American terrorist suspects from returning home after traveling overseas is currently the subject of a major ACLU lawsuit.)

Fikre’s case “really does make a mockery of the FBI’s use of watchlisting as a means of protecting the US,” says Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “It’s not a means of protecting America—it’s a tool the FBI uses to put people in vulnerable positions.”

It “really does make a mockery of the FBI’s use of watchlisting as a means of protecting the US.”
Fikre, who is currently living in Sweden and believes that it would be unsafe for him to return to the United States, has given a series of videotaped interviews detailing his ordeal. His presence in Sweden beyond the three-month window allowed for tourist visas suggests that he has applied for permanent status there, and local media have so far refrained from reporting on the story for fear of affecting his case to stay in the country.

In the interviews, Fikre describes a series of events that are similar to the 2008 case of Naji Hamdan, a Lebanese American auto-parts dealer from Los Angeles who was then living in the UAE. Like Hamdan, Fikre claims he was detained in the UAE, tortured (including with stress positions and beatings on the soles of his feet, so as to not show marks), and asked about his activities in the United States. Like Hamdan, Fikre believed a western interrogator was present in the room at some points during his detention, because when he could peek out under his blindfold (“after being kicked/punched and falling over,” Nelson says) he occasionally saw western slacks and shoes. “In those occasions there was a fair amount of whispering,” Nelson added.

The similarities between the two cases were so striking that Michael Kaufman and Laboni Hoq, lawyers who are representing Hamdan in his separate case against the government, initially thought that Fikre had simply parroted Hamdan’s story. But once they heard more, they decided “the backstory of why the government was interested in him was reasonable and something that didn’t sound fabricated,” Kaufman said. “It seemed like a long way to go for a lie,” Hoq added.

A key difference between Hamdan’s and Fikre’s stories is that Hamdan eventually confessed—under torture, he now emphasizes—to being a member of several terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda. He ultimately spent 11 months in UAE custody before being deported to Lebanon, where he now runs a children’s clothing store. Despite an extensive FBI investigation, he was never charged in the United States.

Fikre, his lawyer says, “never confessed to anything”—”thankfully.”

“The FBI does this stuff because they can get away with it,” Nelson says. “But the bureau has totally destroyed any relationship it had with the Muslim community in Portland.”

UPDATE, Wednesday, 1:00 p.m. EST: Fikre’s lawyers have released a video of him talking about his ordeal (they’ve also written a letter to the Justice Department). You can watch the video here:

—By Nick Baumann | Tue Apr. 17, 2012 3:01 AM EDT

Find this story at 17 April 2012

Copyright ©2015 Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress

DOOGIE HUCKSTER A Terrorism Expert’s Secret Relationship with the FBI

EVAN KOHLMANN IS the U.S. government’s go-to expert witness in terrorism prosecutions. Since 2004, Kohlmann has been asked to testify as an expert about terrorist organizations, radicalization and homegrown threats in more than 30 trials.

It’s well-paying work — as much as $400 per hour. In all, the U.S. government has paid Kohlmann and his company at least $1.4 million for testifying in trials around the country, assisting with FBI investigations and consulting with agencies ranging from the Defense Department to the Internal Revenue Service. He has also received another benefit, Uncle Sam’s mark of credibility, which has allowed him to work for NBC News and its cable sibling, MSNBC, for more than a decade as an on-air “terrorism analyst.”

Kohlmann’s claimed expertise is his ability to explore the dark corners of the Internet — the so-called deep web, which isn’t indexed by commercial search engines — and monitor what the Islamic State, al Qaeda and their sympathizers are saying, as well as network the relationships among these various actors. Kohlmann doesn’t speak Arabic, however, and aside from a few days each in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Dubai and Qatar, has hardly any experience in the Arab world. Kohlmann’s research is gleaned primarily from the Internet.

Indeed, Kohlmann is not a traditional expert. Much of his research is not peer-reviewed. Kohlmann’s key theory, to which he has testified several times on the witness stand, involves a series of indicators that he claims determine whether someone is likely a homegrown terrorist. Yet he has never tested the theory against a randomly selected control group to account for bias or coincidence.

For these and other reasons, Kohlmann’s critics describe him as a huckster.

Kohlmann’s works are “so biased, one-sided and contextually inaccurate that they do not provide a fair and balanced context for the specific evidence to be presented at a legal hearing,” said one terrorism researcher.
In a court filing, Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and former CIA officer who has been called to the witness stand several times to discredit Kohlmann’s claims, described his testimony and reports as “so biased, one-sided and contextually inaccurate that they do not provide a fair and balanced context for the specific evidence to be presented at a legal hearing.”
In recent months, however, the small cohort of defense lawyers nationwide who battle the government in terrorism prosecutions have been asking themselves another question: What’s in the government’s mysteriously classified materials about Kohlmann?

The question began circulating last year. While representing at trial Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, of the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, New York lawyer Joshua Dratel, who has security clearances, was given classified materials about Kohlmann, a witness in the Mustafa prosecution. “It was the integrity of a prosecutor who learned of [the materials] some way,” Dratel said, crediting a single Justice Department employee for providing a rare full disclosure about Kohlmann.

Dratel has reviewed the classified materials in full, but he is prohibited from discussing their contents publicly. “It’s hard to talk about it without talking about it,” he said.

However, the judge in the Mustafa case allowed very limited references to the contents of the classified materials during Dratel’s cross-examination of Kohlmann — providing a clue to what the government is hiding about its star terrorism expert.

“You have done more than consulting for the FBI, correct?” Dratel asked Kohlmann.

“Correct,” Kohlmann said from the witness stand.

“You have done more than act as an expert for the government, correct?” Dratel followed.

“That’s correct, yes,” Kohlmann admitted.

That’s as far as the judge would allow.

Kohlmann and the Justice Department did not respond to repeated requests to comment for this story.

Asked if he thinks the information about Kohlmann should be classified, Dratel commented: “I think it’s unjustifiably classified now. I think the rationale for its classification is more connected to litigation, to protecting Kohlmann as a witness.”

KOHLMANN GREW UP in South Florida and attended Pine Crest School, a tony prep school with campuses in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton.

“I applied to college not really knowing what I wanted to do, but I spent summers in France — my father grew up there — and I was always interested in foreign affairs,” Kohlmann said in a 2006 profile in Penn Law Journal, titled “Terrorists Beware; Kohlmann is on the Case.”

Kohlmann studied political science at Georgetown and later law at the University of Pennsylvania, though he never took the bar exam. His steeping in terrorism studies can be credited to Steven Emerson, who founded a nonprofit think tank, the Investigative Project on Terrorism, which a young Kohlmann joined in 1998. “I started obviously as an intern, but by the time I left the Investigative Project in 2003, I was a senior analyst,” Kohlmann said in court testimony.

Prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Emerson successfully portrayed himself as a credible terrorism expert, thanks in part to his 1994 documentary, Terrorists Among Us: Jihad in America, which aired on PBS Frontline. His work at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, which he founded shortly after the airing of Terrorists Among Us, helped fuel speculation linking University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Holy Land Foundation to Hamas. In addition to Kohlmann’s, Emerson also helped launch the career of Rita Katz, who runs the SITE Intelligence Group.

“The Investigative Project was a nonprofit enterprise seeking to collect and harvest information — difficult-to-find information about the recruitment, communications, and financing of particular international terrorist organizations,” Kohlmann said in court testimony. “Then taking this information, and both in its raw form and by distilling it into unclassified memorandums, congressional testimonies, and other documents, including media … we then provided this information to a variety of different people, including, again, everyone from policymakers in Washington, DC, law enforcement, other academics, media, you name it.”

(In recent years, while Kohlmann and Katz have maintained close relationships with the U.S. government and news media, Emerson has seen his star fade due to two embarrassing Fox News appearances — one in 2013, when he claimed a U.S. government official told him that a Saudi national initially suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings was being deported on national security grounds, and another this year, when he said Birmingham, England, was “totally Muslim” and off limits to non-Muslims.)

While at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Kohlmann wrote what would become his book, Al-Qaida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network. He initially submitted the manuscript to the University of Pennsylvania Press, where Sageman, who would become a chief critic of Kohlmann’s work as a government expert, was asked to serve on a peer review panel. He recommended against publishing the book. Kohlmann found a publisher in the United Kingdom, Oxford International Publishers, which had no affiliation with the University of Oxford. (Kohlmann has been asked whether he has intentionally tilted his testimony to leave the impression that his book’s publisher was linked to the prestigious university. “I did not deliberately attempt to exaggerate my credentials,” Kohlmann said in court testimony last year, countering this question.)

With his book and stint with the Investigative Project on Terrorism as credentials, Kohlmann became an expert witness for the Justice Department and a consultant for the FBI. An FBI agent described the baby-faced expert as “the Doogie Howser of Terrorism,” and a George Washington University law professor described Kohlmann to New York magazine as having been “grown hydroponically in the basement of the Bush Justice Department.”

Among Kohlmann’s earliest cases was the 2006 prosecution of Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain in Albany, New York. It was the first FBI counterterrorism sting to use Shahed Hussain, an aggressive criminal-turned-informant who was involved in the investigations of the so-called Newburgh Four — a sting involving four defendants and a plot to bomb synagogues in the Bronx and attack a nearby airport — and of Khalifah al-Akili, a botched sting operation in Pittsburgh in which the FBI informants’ covers were blown. The Albany case was a convoluted one involving a loan between Hussain, the informant, and Hossain, a local businessman who owned a pizzeria and a few rental properties. Aref, a local imam originally from Iraq, was brought in to observe the loan transaction and terms in accordance with Islamic law. The government alleged that Hossain and Aref knew the money was connected to the importation of missiles — the informant used a code word for the missiles, chaudry, the government alleged — but defense lawyers for the two men maintained that they believed the arrangement was a loan, not money-laundering for terrorists.

To support charges that the pair was involved in terrorism, the government used the transcript of a recording between Hossain, the pizzeria owner who was originally from Bangladesh, and the FBI informant. “We are members of Jamaat-e-Islami,” Hossain said in the recording.

The government initially claimed that Jamaat-e-Islami, a political party in Bangladesh, was linked to terrorism through a proxy organization, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen. Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism scholar at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, was originally going to testify to this connection as an expert. But the government instead brought in Kohlmann.

Kevin A. Luibrand, a lawyer for Hossain, challenged Kohlmann’s knowledge as an expert.

“Can you name any of the major political parties in Bangladesh from the year 2000 to 2004?” Luibrand asked Kohlmann in a deposition.

“Other than Jamaat-e-Islami?” Kohlmann asked.


“That’s — I’m not familiar off the top of my head,” Kohlmann said.

“Have you ever heard of an organization known as the Bangladesh National Party?” Luibrand followed.


“Do you know what it is?”

“I’m assuming it’s a political party, but again — the name vaguely sounds familiar but …” Kohlmann answered.

“Do you know what, if anything, it stands for politically within Bangladesh?” Luibrand asked, cutting off Kohlmann’s answer.

“Sorry, can’t tell ya,” Kohlmann said.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, to which Luibrand was referring, is one of the two largest political parties in Bangladesh and allied with Jamaat-e-Islami.

“You can’t tell me because you don’t know?” Luibrand asked Kohlmann in a follow-up question.

“I don’t know off the top of my head,” Kohlmann said.

Kohlmann also admitted in the deposition that he had never written about Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh. Luibrand asked to have Kohlmann disqualified as an expert, arguing that Kohlmann was unable to demonstrate knowledge of the groups he was testifying about. A judge denied the request and allowed Kohlmann to testify. Aref and Hossain were convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Evan Kohlmann on MSNBC as their terrorism analyst.
From there, Kohlmann’s career as a government witness skyrocketed. In all, he has testified in more than 30 trials, including the trial of the Fort Dix Five, a group of men who allegedly planned to attack a U.S. military base in New Jersey; of medical doctor Rafiq Abdus Sabir, who was caught in a sting swearing allegiance to al Qaeda; and of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who plotted with undercover FBI agents to bomb a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. Among more recent court appearances, Kohlmann testified in the Tampa, Florida, trial of Sami Osmakac, a counterterrorism sting target FBI agents described privately as a “retarded fool” whose targets for an attack were “wishy-washy.”

At the same time, Kohlmann has amassed what he has described as seven terabytes of information related to terrorism and illicit activity. He has described the database as proprietary, and he’s never been asked to turn it over as part of his expert testimony. He also leverages it, according to court testimony, to provide information and services to private sector clients; as of 2014, working for the government represented only about 40 percent of Kohlmann’s income.

Sageman, one of Kohlmann’s harshest critics, alleges that the use of this database in trial testimony and expert reports lacks transparency and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to challenge his conclusions. “He uses the appearance of scholarship, such as footnote references, but is extremely selective in his references basing them not on actual scholarly work, but on anecdotes from obscure references that he often has privileged access to, preventing other scholars from checking the context of the reference,” Sageman wrote in a court report.

Sageman also alleged in the same report that Kohlmann views his expert testimony not as well-researched and settled science to be discussed honestly at trial, but as a kind of information clay to be molded for the prosecution’s benefit. Referring to a conversation he had with Kohlmann over lunch, Sageman wrote: “He selects what is most supportive for the side that retains him. Indeed, he told me so at one time when I challenged him about his testimony in the [Hammad] Khurshid case in Copenhagen, because he had neglected to mention important facts under oath. He justified his one-sidedness by saying that it was an adversarial process and it was up to the defense attorneys to cross examine him.”

Among the topics Kohlmann often testifies to is his theory of homegrown terrorists — a series of indicators showing that a disillusioned individual living in the United States likely has stepped over the line to become a terrorist. He has testified that the indicators include choosing a scheme to travel abroad to fight or launch an attack in the United States; acquiring training material and propaganda from the Internet or elsewhere; adherence to an extreme ideology, particularly radical Islam; using “logistical subterfuge” by, for example, encrypting electronic communications or taking indirect routes when traveling; and attempts to contact like-minded individuals. “Not every case necessarily has one of these or all of these, but you do tend to see these factors pop up again and again,” Kohlmann testified in a 2011 hearing in the case of the so-called Triangle Terror Group in North Carolina. “And these tend to be the most definitive factors leading to judge whether something is, indeed, a valid home-grown terrorist or home-grown extremist network or violent extremist network.”

However, the number of indicators in Kohlmann’s theory appears to be malleable, depending on the case. In the North Carolina trial, he testified to five factors. Two years later, in court testimony in the 2013 case of Mohamed Osman Mohamud in Portland, Oregon, Kohlmann listed six factors. In a hearing in the Triangle Terror Group case, Kohlmann conceded that his terrorism indicators, and his methodology in general, are not supported by any statistical analysis that would prove their veracity.

“You go through marriage, camouflage, dressing or what someone wears, the use of guns or paint-balling and training, propaganda and travel and draw certain conclusions from that, correct?” asked defense lawyer James M. Ayers III.

“That’s correct, yes,” Kohlmann answered.

“Now, you have done no statistical studies as to what percent of the population that engages in these various activities are terrorists or not, correct?” Ayers followed.

“No, that’s correct,” Kohlmann said, adding later that he did not believe numerical statistics were applicable to studying homegrown terrorism because of the infrequency of cases.

And it’s not just that Kohlmann chooses not to subject his theory to rigorous testing; he doesn’t seem know much about social science research at all. In a July 2014 hearing in the case of Ralph Deleon, a citizen of the Philippines, and Sohiel Omar Kabir, an Afghanistan-born U.S. citizen — who along with two others were swept up in an informant-led counterterrorism sting — defense lawyer Angela Viramontes quizzed Kohlmann on commonly used terms in the social sciences.

“What is your understanding of an attribute in social science research?” Viramontes asked Kohlmann.

“I don’t understand the question, Your Honor,” Kohlmann said, turning to the judge.

“I think the question speaks for itself. If you don’t know the answer, you don’t know,” Viramontes followed.

“I don’t know the answer,” Kohlmann said.

THE PRIMARY CRITICISM of Kohlmann’s work is that his knowledge about terrorist groups and purported expertise are based primarily on Internet research. The other concern is a question of impartiality, and how much information from the deep web Kohlmann may be giving the FBI for investigations.

Yet the U.S. Department of Justice continues to employ Kohlmann as an expert witness. Most recently, he was proposed as an expert in the prosecution of Agron Hasbajrami, an Albanian citizen who pleaded guilty on June 26 in New York to attempting and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, before Kohlmann could testify in his trial.

In other cases, Kohlmann has testified to the fact that he has assisted the FBI with investigations — but it’s unclear how far Kohlmann’s work crosses the line from independent expert and consultant to paid criminal investigator for the FBI. That’s why, among defense lawyers in terrorism cases, there’s a lot of interest in what the government is hiding in classified materials about Kohlmann.

These lawyers started swapping information in earnest last year, when Joshua Dratel provided a signed declaration to the lawyers representing Deleon and Kabir in Southern California. “It is my opinion that review of the classified materials is essential to any cross-examination of Evan Kohlmann, whom the government has apparently proposed as its expert witness in the Kabir prosecution,” Dratel wrote. “It is also my opinion that the classified materials are extraordinarily material to such cross-examination; indeed, I do not believe there could be more material information.”

Jeffrey Aaron, who represented Kabir, asked the judge to force the government to provide the classified materials on Kohlmann. “We felt that he didn’t seem like a legitimate academic expert to us,” Aaron said. “He seemed like an advocate, and it seemed to us that he was a witness who would always find a way to support the government’s case. We suspect that the material under top-secret protection probably dealt with him cooperating with the FBI or being a quasi-government agent. And honestly, we thought that was very disturbing.”

The judge in the Kabir case, Virginia A. Phillips, refused to give defense lawyers access to the classified materials — but she did hint at their contents in her written ruling: “The materials requested by the defendants to be produced in discovery relate to work on other investigations performed by Evan Kohlmann for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (‘FBI’) and do not address the facts of this case or the conduct of the defendants.”

When Dratel was given access to the classified materials on Kohlmann, and offered a limited opportunity to question him about them on the witness stand during the Mustafa case, he appeared to push Kohlmann to disclose the information — offering even more hints about what might be in the classified materials.

“You testified in a case called United States v. Mehanna?” Dratel asked Kohlmann in the hearing last year.

“Yes,” Kohlmann answered.

Tarek Mehanna was a Massachusetts man who, in a case widely criticized by civil libertarians, was convicted of charges that included providing material support to terrorists because he translated radical Arabic texts into English for a website — the type of activity Kohlmann monitors as a part of his business.

“In that case, in preparing for that case, or at any time during that case, did you inform the prosecutors in that case of your precise relationship with the FBI?” Dratel continued.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘precise,’ but the prosecutors in that case I had worked with on a previous case, and they were fully aware of the nature of my work with the FBI,” Kohlmann answered.

“No, the precise nature of your relationship with the FBI,” Dratel said, speaking cryptically due to the classified material and the limits the judge had placed on his questions.

“Objection, your Honor,” the prosecutor interrupted.

“Did you inform them?” Dratel asked Kohlmann.

“Sustained,” said U.S. District Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest. “Asked and answered.”

Dratel couldn’t go any further.

And Kohlmann didn’t actually answer the question.

Trevor Aaronson
July 27 2015, 5:25 p.m.

Find this story at 27 July 2015


HEAD of the FBI’s Anthrax Investigation Says the Whole Thing Was a SHAM

Agent In Charge of Amerithrax Investigation Blows the Whistle

The FBI head agent in charge of the anthrax investigation – Richard Lambert – has just filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit calling the entire FBI investigation bullsh!t:

In the fall of 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, a series of anthrax mailings occurred which killed five Americans and sickened 17 others. Four anthrax-laden envelopes were recovered which were addressed to two news media outlets in New York City (the New York Post and Tom Brokaw at NBC) and two senators in Washington D.C. (Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle). The anthrax letters addressed to New York were mailed on September 18, 2001, just seven days after the 9/11 attacks. The letters addressed to the senators were mailed 21 days later on October 9, 2001. A fifth mailing of anthrax is believed to have been directed to American Media, Inc. (AMI) in Boca Raton, Florida based upon the death of one AMI employee from anthrax poisoning and heavy spore contamination in the building.

Executive management at FBI Headquarters assigned responsibility for the anthrax investigation (code named “AMERITHRAX”) to the Washington Field Office (WFO), dubbing it the single most important case in the FBI at that time. In October 2002, in the wake of surging media criticism, White House impatience with a seeming lack of investigative progress by WFO, and a concerned Congress that was considering revoking the FBI’s charter to investigate terrorism cases, Defendant FBI Director Mueller reassigned Plaintiff from the FBI’s San Diego Field Office to the Inspection Division at FBI Headquarters and placed Plaintiff in charge of the AMERITHRAX case as an “Inspector.” While leading the investigation for the next four years, Plaintiff’s efforts to advance the case met with intransigence from WFO’s executive management, apathy and error from the FBI Laboratory, politically motivated communication embargos from FBI Headquarters, and yet another preceding and equally erroneous legal opinion from Defendant Kelley – all of which greatly obstructed and impeded the investigation.

On July 6, 2006, Plaintiff provided a whistleblower report of mismanagement to the FBI’s Deputy Director pursuant to Title 5, United States Code, Section 2303. Reports of mismanagement conveyed in writing and orally included: (a) WFO’s persistent understaffing of the AMERITHRAX investigation; (b) the threat of WFO’s Agent in charge to retaliate if Plaintiff disclosed the understaffing to FBI Headquarters; (c) WFO’s insistence on staffing the AMERITHRAX investigation principally with new Agents recently graduated from the FBI Academy resulting in an average investigative tenure of 18 months with 12 of 20 Agents assigned to the case having no prior investigative experience at all; (d) WFO’s eviction of the AMERITHRAX Task Force from the WFO building in downtown Washington and its relegation to Tysons Corner, Virginia to free up space for Attorney General Ashcroft’s new pornography squads; (e) FBI Director’s Mueller’s mandate to Plaintiff to “compartmentalize” the AMERITHRAX investigation by stove piping the flow of case information and walling off task force members from those aspects of the case not specifically assigned to them – a move intended to stem the tide of anonymous media leaks by government officials regarding details of the investigation. [Lambert complained about compartmentalizing and stovepiping of the investigation in a 2006 declaration. See this, this and this]

This sequestration edict decimated morale and proved unnecessary in light of subsequent civil litigation which established that the media leaks were attributable to the United States Attorney for the District of the District of Columbia and to a Supervisory Special Agent in the FBI’s National Press Office, not to investigators on the AMERITHRAX Task Force; (f) WFO’s diversion and transfer of two Ph.D. Microbiologist Special Agents from their key roles in the investigation to fill billets for an 18 month Arabic language training program in Israel; (g) the FBI Laboratory’s deliberate concealment from the Task Force of its discovery of human DNA on the anthrax-laden envelope addressed to Senator Leahy and the Lab’s initial refusal to perform comparison testing; (h) the FBI Laboratory’s refusal to provide timely and adequate scientific analyses and forensic examinations in support of the investigation; (i) Defendant Kelley’s erroneous and subsequently quashed legal opinion that regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) precluded the Task Force’s collection of evidence in overseas venues; (j) the FBI’s fingering of Bruce Ivins as the anthrax mailer; and, (k) the FBI’s subsequent efforts to railroad the prosecution of Ivins in the face of daunting exculpatory evidence.

Following the announcement of its circumstantial case against Ivins, Defendants DOJ and FBI crafted an elaborate perception management campaign to bolster their assertion of Ivins’ guilt. These efforts included press conferences and highly selective evidentiary presentations which were replete with material omissions. Plaintiff further objected to the FBI’s ordering of Plaintiff not to speak with the staff of the CBS television news magazine 60 Minutes or investigative journalist David Willman, after both requested authorization to interview Plaintiff.

In April 2008, some of Plaintiff’s foregoing whistleblower reports were profiled on the CBS television show 60 Minutes. This 60 Minutes segment was critical of FBI executive management’s handling of the AMERITHRAX investigation, resulting in the agency’s embarrassment and the introduction of legislative bills calling for the establishment of congressional inquiries and special commissions to examine these issues – a level of scrutiny the FBI’s Ivins attribution could not withstand.

After leaving the AMERITHRAX investigation in 2006, Plaintiff continued to publicly opine that the quantum of circumstantial evidence against Bruce Ivins was not adequate to satisfy the proof-beyond-a-reasonable doubt threshold required to secure a criminal conviction in federal court. Plaintiff continued to advocate that while Bruce Ivins may have been the anthrax mailer, there is a wealth of exculpatory evidence to the contrary which the FBI continues to conceal from Congress and the American people.

Exonerating Evidence for Ivins

Agent Lambert won’t publicly disclose the exculpatory evidence against Ivins. As the New York Times reports:

[Lambert] declined to be specific, saying that most of the information was protected by the Privacy Act and was unlikely to become public unless Congress carried out its own inquiry.

But there is already plenty of exculpatory evidence in the public record.

For example:

Handwriting analysis failed to link the anthrax letters to known writing samples from Ivins
No textile fibers were found in Ivins’ office, residence or vehicles matching fibers found on the scotch tape used to seal the envelopes
No pens were found matching the ink used to address the envelopes
Samples of his hair failed to match hair follicles found inside the Princeton, N.J., mailbox used to mail the letters
No souvenirs of the crime, such as newspaper clippings, were found in his possession as commonly seen in serial murder cases
The FBI could not place Ivins at the crime scene with evidence, such as gas station or other receipts, at the time the letters were mailed in September and October 2001
Lab records show the number of late nights Ivins put in at the lab first spiked in August 2001, weeks before the 9/11 attacks
As noted above, the FBI didn’t want to test the DNA sample found on the anthrax letter to Senator Leahy. In addition, McClatchy points out:

After locking in on Ivins in 2007, the bureau stopped searching for a match to a unique genetic bacterial strain scientists had found in the anthrax that was mailed to the Post and to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, although a senior bureau official had characterized it as the hottest clue to date.

Anthrax vaccine expert Meryl Nass. M.D., notes:

The FBI’s alleged motive is bogus. In 2001, Bioport’s anthrax vaccine could not be (legally) relicensed due to potency failures, and its impending demise provided room for Ivins’ newer anthrax vaccines to fill the gap. Ivins had nothing to do with developing Bioport’s vaccine, although in addition to his duties working on newer vaccines, he was charged with assisting Bioport to get through licensure.


The FBI report claims the anthrax letters envelopes were sold in Frederick, Md. Later it admits that millions of indistinguishable envelopes were made, with sales in Maryland and Virginia.


FBI emphasizes Ivins’ access to a photocopy machine, but fails to mention it was not the machine from which the notes that accompanied the spores were printed.

FBI Fudged the Science

16 government labs had access to the same strain of anthrax as used in the anthrax letters.

The FBI admitted that up to 400 people had access to flask of anthrax in Dr. Ivins’ lab. In other words, even if the killer anthrax came from there, 399 other people might have done it.

Moreover, even the FBI’s claim that the killer anthrax came from Ivins’ flask has completely fallen apart. Specifically, both the National Academy of Science and the Government Accountability Office – both extremely prestigious, nonpartisan agencies – found that FBI’s methodology and procedures for purportedly linking the anthrax flask maintained by Dr. Ivins with the anthrax letters was sloppy, inconclusive and full of holes. They found that the alleged link wasn’t very strong … and that there was no firm link. Indeed, the National Academy of Sciences found that the anthrax mailed to Congressmen and the media could have come from a different source altogether than the flask maintained by Ivins.

Additionally, the Ft. Detrick facility – where Ivins worked – only handled liquid anthrax. But the killer anthrax was a hard-to-make dry powder form of anthrax. Ft. Detrick doesn’t produce dry anthrax; but other government labs – for example Dugway (in Utah) and Batelle (in Ohio) – do.

The anthrax in the letters was also incredibly finely ground; and the FBI’s explanation for how the anthrax became so finely ground doesn’t even pass the smell test.

Further, the killer anthrax in the letters had a very high-tech anti-static coating so that the anthrax sample “floated off the glass slide and was lost” when scientists tried to examine it. Specifically, the killer anthrax was coated with polyglass and each anthrax spore given an electrostatic charge, so that it would repel other spores and “float”. This was very advanced bio-weapons technology to which even Ivins’ bosses said he didn’t have access.

Top anthrax experts like Richard Spertzel say that Ivins didn’t do it. Spertzel also says that only 4 or 5 people in the entire country knew how to make anthrax of the “quality” used in the letters, that Spertzel was one of them, and it would have taken him a year with a full lab and a staff of helpers to do it. As such, the FBI’s claim that Ivins did it alone working a few nights is ludicrous.

Moreover, the killer anthrax contained silicon … but the anthrax in Ivins’ flask did not. The FBI claimed the silicon present in the anthrax letters was absorbed from its surroundings … but Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories completely debunked that theory. In other words, silicon was intentionally added to the killer anthrax to make it more potent. Ivins and Ft. Detrick didn’t have that capability … but other government labs did.

Similarly, Sandia National Lab found the presence of iron and tin in the killer anthrax … but NOT in Ivins’ flask of anthrax.

Sandia also found that there was a strain of bacteria in one of the anthrax letters not present in Ivins’ flask. (The bacteria, iron, tin and silicon were all additives which made the anthrax in the letters more deadly.)

The Anthrax Frame Up

Ivins wasn’t the first person framed for the anthrax attacks …

Although the FBI now admits that the 2001 anthrax attacks were carried out by one or more U.S. government scientists, a senior FBI official says that the FBI was actually told to blame the Anthrax attacks on Al Qaeda by White House officials (remember what the anthrax letters looked like). Government officials also confirm that the white House tried to link the anthrax to Iraq as a justification for regime change in that country. And see this.

People don’t remember now, but the “war on terror” and Iraq war were largely based on the claim that Saddam and Muslim extremists were behind the anthrax attacks (and see this and this)

And the anthrax letters pushed a terrified Congress into approving the Patriot Act without even reading it. Coincidentally, the only Congressmen who received anthrax letters were the ones who were likely to oppose the Patriot Act.

And – between the bogus Al Qaeda/Iraq claims and the FBI’s fingering of Ivins as the killer – the FBI was convinced that another U.S. government scientist, Steven Hatfill, did it. The government had to pay Hatfill $4.6 million to settle his lawsuit for being falsely accused.

Ivins’ Convenient Death

It is convenient for the FBI that Ivins died.

The Wall Street Journal points out:

No autopsy was performed [on Ivins], and there was no suicide note.

Dr. Nass points out:

FBI fails to provide any discussion of why no autopsy was performed, nor why, with Ivins under 24/7 surveillance from the house next door, with even his garbage being combed through, the FBI failed to notice that he overdosed and went into a coma. Nor is there any discussion of why the FBI didn’t immediately identify tylenol as the overdose substance, and notify the hospital, so that a well-known antidote for tylenol toxicity could be given (N-acetyl cysteine, or alternatively glutathione). These omissions support the suggestion that Ivins’ suicide was a convenience for the FBI. It enabled them to conclude the anthrax case, in the absence of evidence that would satisfy the courts.

Indeed, one of Ivins’ colleagues at Ft. Deitrich thinks he was murdered.

Whether murder or suicide, Ivins’ death was very convenient for the FBI, as dead men can’t easily defend themselves.

Posted on April 17, 2015 by WashingtonsBlog

Find this story at 17 April 2015

© 2007 – 2015 Washington’s Blog

Former F.B.I. Agent Sues, Claiming Retaliation Over Misgivings in Anthrax Case

WASHINGTON — When Bruce E. Ivins, an Army microbiologist, took a fatal overdose of Tylenol in 2008, the government declared that he had been responsible for the anthrax letter attacks of 2001, which killed five people and set off a nationwide panic, and closed the case.

Now, a former senior F.B.I. agent who ran the anthrax investigation for four years says that the bureau gathered “a staggering amount of exculpatory evidence” regarding Dr. Ivins that remains secret. The former agent, Richard L. Lambert, who spent 24 years at the F.B.I., says he believes it is possible that Dr. Ivins was the anthrax mailer, but he does not think prosecutors could have convicted him had he lived to face criminal charges.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Tennessee last Thursday, Mr. Lambert accused the bureau of trying “to railroad the prosecution of Ivins” and, after his suicide, creating “an elaborate perception management campaign” to bolster its claim that he was guilty. Mr. Lambert’s lawsuit accuses the bureau and the Justice Department of forcing his dismissal from a job as senior counterintelligence officer at the Energy Department’s lab in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in retaliation for his dissent on the anthrax case.


The late Bruce Ivins in 2003, when he was a microbiologist at Fort Detrick, Md. Credit Sam Yu/Frederick News Post, via Assocaited Press
The anthrax letters were mailed to United States senators and news organizations in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, causing a huge and costly disruption in the postal system and the federal government. Members of Congress and Supreme Court justices were forced from their offices while technicians in biohazard suits cleaned up the lethal anthrax powder. Decontamination costs nationwide exceeded $1 billion. At least 17 people were sickened, in addition to the five who died.

The bureau’s investigation, one of the longest-running and most technically complex inquiries in its history, has long been seen as troubled. Investigators initially lacked the forensic skills to analyze bioterrorist attacks. For several years, agents focused on a former Army scientist and physician, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, who was subsequently cleared and given a $4.6 million settlement to resolve a lawsuit. Reviews by the National Academy of Sciences and the Government Accountability Office faulted aspects of the F.B.I.’s scientific work on the case.

Mr. Lambert, who was himself criticized for pursuing Dr. Hatfill for so long, has now offered, in his lawsuit and in an interview, an insider’s view of what hampered the investigation.

“This case was hailed at the time as the most important case in the history of the F.B.I.,” Mr. Lambert said. “But it was difficult for me to get experienced investigators assigned to it.”

He said that the effort was understaffed and plagued by turnover, and that 12 of 20 agents assigned to the case had no prior investigative experience. Senior bureau microbiologists were not made available, and two Ph.D. microbiologists who were put on the case were then removed for an 18-month Arabic language program in Israel. Fear of leaks led top officials to order the extreme compartmentalization of information, with investigators often unable to compare notes and share findings with colleagues, he said.

Mr. Lambert said he outlined the problems in a formal complaint in 2006 to the F.B.I.’s deputy director. Some of his accusations were later included in a report on the anthrax case by the CBS News program “60 Minutes,” infuriating bureau leaders.


The police in Frederick, Md., spoke with a woman they identified as Diane Ivins, the wife of Bruce E. Ivins, 62, at the couple’s home in Frederick, Md., in 2008. Credit Rob Carr/Associated Press
The F.B.I., which rarely comments on pending litigation, did not respond to requests for comment on Mr. Lambert’s claims.

Although the lethal letters contained notes expressing jihadist views, investigators came to believe the mailer was an insider in the government’s biodefense labs. They eventually matched the anthrax powder to a flask in Dr. Ivins’s lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland and began intense scrutiny of his life and work.

They discovered electronic records that showed he had spent an unusual amount of time at night in his high-security lab in the periods before the two mailings of the anthrax letters. They found that he had a pattern of sending letters and packages from remote locations under assumed names. They uncovered emails in which he described serious mental problems.

The investigators documented Dr. Ivins’s obsession with a national sorority that had an office near the Princeton, N.J., mailbox where the letters were mailed. They detected what they believed to be coded messages directed at colleagues, hidden in the notes in the letters.

As prosecutors prepared to charge him with the five murders in July 2008, Dr. Ivins, 62, took his own life at home in Frederick, Md. Days later, at a news conference, Jeffrey A. Taylor, then the United States attorney for the District of Columbia, said the authorities believed “that based on the evidence we had collected, we could prove his guilt to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But Mr. Lambert says the bureau also gathered a large amount of evidence pointing away from Dr. Ivins’s guilt that was never shared with the public or the news media. Had the case come to trial, he said, “I absolutely do not think they could have proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” He declined to be specific, saying that most of the information was protected by the Privacy Act and was unlikely to become public unless Congress carried out its own inquiry.

After retiring from the F.B.I. in 2012, Mr. Lambert joined the Energy Department. But an F.B.I. ethics lawyer ruled that because Mr. Lambert had to work with F.B.I. agents in his new job, he was violating a conflict-of-interest law that forbade former federal employees from contacting previous colleagues for a year after they had left their government jobs.

That ruling led to his dismissal, Mr. Lambert said, and he has not been able to find work despite applying for more than 70 jobs. His lawsuit asserts that several other former F.B.I. agents were able to take identical intelligence jobs with the Energy Department and that he was singled out for mistreatment.


Find this story at 8 April 2015

© 2015 The New York Times Company

New Report Casts Doubt on FBI Anthrax Investigation (2014)

For a second time in three years, an independent inquiry cast doubt Friday on the FBI’s assertion that genetic testing had cinched its conclusion that a now-dead Army bioweapons researcher mailed anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and terrorized the East Coast in 2001.

The long-awaited report from the Government Accountability Office found that the FBI’s exhaustive, cutting-edge attempt to trace the killer with matches of genetic mutations of anthrax samples at times lacked precision, consistency and adequate standards.

The 77-page report, perhaps the final official word on the FBI’s seven-year investigation known as Amerithrax, lent credence to a National Academy of Sciences panel’s finding in 2011 that the bureau’s scientific evidence did not definitely show that the anthrax came from the Maryland bioweapons laboratory of Bruce Ivins.

The report’s findings also mirrored some of the conclusions of a joint investigation by FRONTLINE, McClatchy and ProPublica that was published and aired in the fall of 2011.

Shortly after Ivins took a suicidal drug overdose on July 29, 2008, federal prosecutors said they’d been drafting criminal charges against him, and they declared the scientist at Fort Detrick, Md., the culprit. In 2010, they laid out an extensive circumstantial case against him, presenting as a smoking gun the findings of genetic testing by outside laboratories that matched four distinct mutations in the anthrax spores in the letters with those in a flask full of anthrax in Ivins’ laboratory.

“The significance of using such mutations as genetic markers for analyzing evidentiary samples to determine their origins is not clear,” the auditors wrote. “This gap affects both the development of genetic tests targeting such mutations and statistical analyses of the results of their use.”

The auditors pointed out that an FBI team recommended in 2007 that the bureau conduct experiments to determine whether the mutations the FBI was seeking to match might not have been unique to Ivins’ flask, known as RMR-1029. However, those tests were never done.

That omission also drew concern from the National Academy of Sciences panel, which noted that it was possible that four identical “morphs” could have grown in another laboratory in what it termed “parallel evolution.”

The auditors also focused on contradictory test results from samples collected from a colleague of Ivins who’d used anthrax from RMR-1029. That colleague – Henry Heine, though he wasn’t named in the report – submitted one sample that tested positive in all five genetic tests, but a duplicate sample from his vial tested negative for all five markers, the report said.

The report said that Heine, in the presence of an FBI investigator, didn’t follow instructions for collecting one sample as laid out in a grand jury subpoena. The disclosure raises the possibility that inconsistent collection methods undercut the massive testing effort.

While praising the FBI for turning to four outside laboratories for genetic tests on more than 1,000 anthrax samples it had gathered, the report said the bureau’s laboratory had failed to ensure that all the samples were collected in the same fashion, gave “minimal” instruction to the outside labs and set insufficient standards for validating the results. It also failed to measure the uncertainty in its results, leaving it unclear how much weight they deserve, the report said.

Also unstudied was whether the anthrax spores grew differently in varying conditions, the report said.

The FBI said Friday that it stood by its conclusion, saying it “has complete confidence in the scientific results that provided investigators with leads” to the anthrax used in the attacks.

“As noted in the National Academy of Sciences Report, the genetic tests used by the FBI were well validated,” the bureau said, adding that after a review of all scientific analysis it “is satisfied that the analysis was conducted in a quality manner.”

“It is important to note that the scientific results alone were not the sole basis for concluding that Bruce Ivins committed the 2001 anthrax-letter attacks,” the bureau said.

However, Democratic Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey, who was among three members of the House of Representatives who requested the audit from Congress’ investigative arm, said “the GAO report confirms what I have often said: that the FBI’s definitive conclusions about the accuracy of their scientific findings in the Amerithrax case are not, in fact, definitive.”

Holt, a scientist who’s retiring from Congress at month’s end, also said “the United States needs a comprehensive, independent review of the Amerithrax investigation to ensure we have learned the lessons from this bio attack.”

Paul Kemp, an attorney for Ivins, echoed Holt’s call for a fuller investigation.

“I only wish we could have had a trial,” he said. “They never had any evidence he prepared the anthrax . . . only that he worked some unexplained overtime. Many scientists in and out of Fort Detrick asserted that there wouldn’t have been enough time for one person to do this – especially in a building and a lab that was open all day every day – without somebody seeing something.”

December 19, 2014, 7:38 pm ET by Greg Gordon McClatchy Washington Bureau and Mike Wiser, FRONTLINE

Find this story at 19 December 2014

Web Site Copyright ©1995-2015 WGBH Educational Foundation

New Evidence Adds Doubt to FBI’s Case Against Anthrax Suspect (2011)

A U.S. Army scientist stands near the letters used in the 2001 anthrax attacks (Photo courtesy of FBI).

This story is a joint project with ProPublica, PBS Frontline and McClatchy. The story will air on Frontline on Oct. 11. Check local listings.

WASHINGTON – Months after the anthrax mailings that terrorized the nation in 2001, and long before he became the prime suspect, Army biologist Bruce Ivins sent his superiors an email offering to help scientists trace the killer.

Part 1: New Evidence Adds Doubt to FBI’s Case Against Anthrax Suspect

Part 2: Did Bruce Ivins Hide Attack Anthrax From the FBI?

Part 3: Was FBI’s Science Good Enough to ID Anthrax Killer?

Video: The Anthrax Files

Interactive: Read and annotate the case documents

Editor’s Note: About the Case of the Anthrax Letters

Already, an FBI science consultant had concluded that the attack powder was made with a rare strain of anthrax known as Ames that’s used in research laboratories worldwide.

In his email, Ivins volunteered to help take things further. He said he had several variants of the Ames strain that could be tested in “ongoing genetic studies” aimed at tracing the origins of the powder that had killed five people. He mentioned several cultures by name, including a batch made mostly of Ames anthrax that had been grown for him at an Army base in Dugway, Utah.

Seven years later, as federal investigators prepared to charge him with the same crimes he’d offered to help solve, Ivins, who was 62, committed suicide. At a news conference, prosecutors voiced confidence that Ivins would have been found guilty. They said years of cutting-edge DNA analysis had borne fruit, proving that his spores were “effectively the murder weapon.”

To many of Ivins’ former colleagues at the germ research center in Fort Detrick, Md., where they worked, his invitation to test the Dugway material and other spores in his inventory is among numerous indications that the FBI got the wrong man.

What kind of murderer, they wonder, would ask the cops to test his own gun for ballistics?

To prosecutors, who later branded Ivins the killer in a lengthy report on the investigation, his solicitous email is trumped by a long chain of evidence, much of it circumstantial, that they say would have convinced a jury that he prepared the lethal powder right under the noses of some of the nation’s foremost bio-defense scientists.

PBS’ Frontline, McClatchy and ProPublica have taken an in-depth look at the case against Ivins, conducting dozens of interviews and reviewing thousands of pages of FBI files. Much of the case remains unchallenged, notably the finding that the anthrax letters were mailed from Princeton, N.J., just steps from an office of the college sorority that Ivins was obsessed with for much of his adult life.

Bruce Ivins
Bruce Ivins

But newly available documents and the accounts of Ivins’ former colleagues shed fresh light on the evidence and, while they don’t exonerate Ivins, are at odds with some of the science and circumstantial evidence that the government said would have convicted him of capital crimes. While prosecutors continue to vehemently defend their case, even some of the government’s science consultants wonder whether the real killer is still at large.

Prosecutors have said Ivins tried to hide his guilt by submitting a set of false samples of his Dugway spores in April 2002. Tests on those samples didn’t display the telltale genetic variants later found in the attack powder and in sampling from Ivins’ Dugway flask.

Yet records discovered by Frontline, McClatchy and ProPublica reveal publicly for the first time that Ivins made available at least three other samples that the investigation ultimately found to contain the crucial variants, including one after he allegedly tried to deceive investigators with the April submission.

Paul Kemp, who was Ivins’ lawyer, said the government never told him about two of the samples, a discovery he called “incredible.” The fact that the FBI had multiple samples of Ivins’ spores that genetically matched anthrax in the letters, Kemp said, debunks the charge that the biologist was trying to cover his tracks.

Asked about the sample submissions, as well as other inconsistencies and unanswered questions in the Justice Department’s case, lead federal prosecutor Rachel Lieber said she was confident that a jury would have convicted Ivins.

“You can get into the weeds, and you can take little shots of each of these aspects of our vast, you know, mosaic of evidence against Dr. Ivins,” she said in an interview. But in a trial, she said, prosecutors would have urged jurors to see the big picture.

“And, ladies and gentlemen, the big picture is, you have, you know, brick upon brick upon brick upon brick upon brick of a wall of evidence that demonstrates that Dr. Ivins was guilty of this offense.”

Scientists who worked on the FBI’s case do not all share her certainty. Claire Fraser-Liggett, a genetics consultant whose work provided some of the most important evidence linking Ivins to the attack powder, said she would have voted to acquit.

“I don’t know how it would have been possible to convict him,” said Fraser-Liggett, the director of the University of Maryland’s Institute for Genome Sciences. “Should he have had access to a potential bio-weapon, given everything that’s come to light? I’d say no. Was he just totally off the wall, from everything I’ve seen and read? I’d say yes.

“But that doesn’t mean someone is a cold-blooded killer.”

The Justice Department formally closed the anthrax case last year. In identifying Ivins as the perpetrator, prosecutors pointed to his deceptions, his shifting explanations, his obsessions with the sorority and a former lab technician, his penchant for taking long drives to mail letters under pseudonyms from distant post offices and, after he fell into drinking and depression with the FBI closing in, his violent threats during group therapy sessions. An FBI search of his home before he died turned up a cache of guns and ammunition.

Most of all, though, prosecutors cited the genetics tests as conclusive evidence that Ivins’ Dugway spores were the parent material to the powder.

Yet, the FBI never could prove that Ivins manufactured the dry powder from the type of wet anthrax suspensions used at Fort Detrick. It couldn’t prove that he scrawled letters mimicking the hateful rhetoric of Islamic terrorists. And it couldn’t prove that he twice slipped away to Princeton to mail the letters to news media outlets and two U.S. senators; it could prove only that he had an opportunity to do so undetected.

The $100 million investigation did establish that circumstantial evidence could mislead even investigators armed with unlimited resources.

Before focusing on Ivins, the FBI spent years building a case against another former Army scientist. Steven Hatfill had commissioned a study on the effectiveness of a mailed anthrax attack and had taken ciprofloxacin, a powerful antibiotic used to treat or prevent anthrax, around the dates of the mailings. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft called Hatfill a “person of interest,” and the government eventually paid him a $5.8 million settlement after mistakenly targeting him.

Ivins’ colleagues and some of the experts who worked on the case wonder: Could the FBI have made the same blunder twice?

Did Ivins have a motive?

Growing up in Ohio, the young Bruce Ivins showed an early knack for music and science. But his home life, described as “strange and traumatic” in a damning psychological report released after his death, left scars that wouldn’t go away.

The report, written by a longtime FBI consultant and other evaluators with court-approved access to Ivins’ psychiatric records, said Ivins was physically abused by a domineering and violent mother and mocked by his father. Ivins developed “the deeply felt sense that he had not been wanted,” the authors found, and he learned to cope by hiding his feelings and avoiding confrontation with others.

Ivins attended the University of Cincinnati, staying there until he earned a doctoral degree in microbiology. In his sophomore year, prosecutors say, the socially awkward Ivins had a chance encounter that influenced his life: A fellow student who belonged to the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority spurned him.

For more than 40 years, even as a married man, Ivins was obsessed with KKG, a fixation that he later admitted drove him to multiple crimes. Twice he broke into chapters, once climbing through a window and stealing the sorority’s secret code book.

After taking a research job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ivins discovered that a doctoral student, Nancy Haigwood, was a KKG alumna, and he tried to strike up a friendship. When she kept him at a distance, Ivins turned stalker, swiping her lab book and vandalizing her fiance’s car and the fence outside her home. Two decades later, when Haigwood received an FBI appeal for scientists nationwide to help find the anthrax mailer, she instantly thought of Ivins and phoned the FBI. Investigators didn’t home in on him for years.

When they did, the mailbox in Princeton, which also was near the home of a former Fort Detrick researcher whom Ivins disliked, loomed large.

“This mailbox wasn’t a random mailbox,” said Edward Montooth, a recently retired FBI agent who ran the inquiry. “There was significance to it for multiple reasons. And when we spoke to some of the behavioral science folks, they explained to us that everything is done for a reason with the perpetrator. And you may never understand it because you don’t think the same way.”

Ivins was a complicated, eccentric man. Friends knew him as a practical jokester who juggled beanbags while riding a unicycle, played the organ in church on Sundays and spiced office parties with comical limericks. William Hirt, who befriended Ivins in grad school and was the best man at his wedding, described him as “a very probing, spiritual fellow that wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Ivins gained self-esteem and status in his job as an anthrax researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md.

Even so, his fixations wouldn’t quit.

He became so obsessed with two of his lab technicians that he sent one of them, Mara Linscott, hundreds of email messages after she left to attend medical school in Buffalo, N.Y. Ivins drove to her home to leave a wedding gift on her doorstep. When she left, he wrote a friend, “it was crushing,” and called her “my confidante on everything, my therapist and friend.”

Later, after snooping on email messages in which the two technicians discussed him, Ivins told a therapist that he’d schemed to poison Linscott but aborted the plan at the last minute.

USAMRIID was once a secret germ factory for the Pentagon, but the institute’s assignment shifted to vaccines and countermeasures after the United States and Soviet Union signed an international treaty banning offensive weapons in 1969. A decade later, a deadly leak from a secret anthrax-making facility in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk made it clear that Moscow was cheating and prompted the United States to renew its defensive measures.

Ivins was among the first to be hired in a push for new vaccines.

By the late 1990s, he was one of USAMRIID’s top scientists, but the institute was enmeshed in controversy. Worried that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had made large quantities of anthrax before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, President Bill Clinton had ordered that all military personnel, not just those in war zones, be inoculated with a 1970s-era vaccine. But soldiers complained of ill health from the vaccine, some blaming it for the symptoms called Gulf War Syndrome.

Later, Karl Rove, political adviser to new President George W. Bush, suggested that it was time to stop the vaccinations. Further, a Pentagon directive—although quickly reversed in 2000—had ordered a halt to research on USAMRIID’s multiple anthrax-vaccine projects.

Federal prosecutors say these developments devastated Ivins, who’d devoted more than 20 years to anthrax research that was now under attack.

“Dr. Ivins’ life’s work appeared destined for failure, absent an unexpected event,” said the Justice Department’s final report on the anthrax investigation, called Amerithrax. Told by a supervisor that he might have to work on other germs, prosecutors say Ivins replied: “I am an anthrax researcher. This is what I do.”

Ivins’ former bosses at Fort Detrick call that Justice Department characterization wrong. Ivins had little to do with the existing vaccine; rather, he was working to replace it with a better, second-generation version, they say.

In the summer of 2001, Ivins shouldn’t have had any worries about his future, said Gerard Andrews, who was then his boss as the head of USAMRIID’s Bacteriology Division. “I believe the timeline has been distorted by the FBI,” Andrews said. “It’s not accurate.”

Months earlier, Andrews said, the Pentagon had approved a full year’s funding for research on the new vaccine and was mapping out a five-year plan to invest well over $15 million.

Published reports have suggested that Ivins had another motive: greed. He shared patent rights on the new vaccine. If it ever reached the market, after many more years of testing and study, federal rules allowed him to collect up to $150,000 in annual royalties.

If that was his plan, it didn’t go well. After the attacks, Congress approved billions of dollars for bio-defense and awarded an $877.5 million contract to VaxGen Inc. to make the new vaccine but scrapped it when the California firm couldn’t produce the required 25 million doses within two years.

Ivins received modest royalty payments totaling at least $6,000. He told prosecutors he gave most of the money to others who had worked with him on the project, said Kemp, his defense attorney.

Kemp said prosecutors told him privately that they’d dismissed potential financial returns as a motive. That incentive wasn’t cited in the Justice Department’s final report.

Did Ivins have an opportunity?

The relatively lax security precautions in place at U.S. defense labs before the mailings and Sept. 11 terrorist attacks offered many opportunities for a deranged scientist. Prosecutors said Ivins had easy access to all the tools needed to make the attack spores and letters.

Researchers studying dangerous germs work in a “hot suite,” a specially designed lab sealed off from the outside world. The air is maintained at “negative pressure” to prevent germs from escaping. Scientists undress and shower before entering and leaving.

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Like many of his colleagues at Fort Detrick, Ivins dropped by work at odd hours. In the summer and fall of 2001, his night and weekend time in the hot suite spiked: 11 hours and 15 minutes in August, 31 hours and 28 minutes in September and 16 hours and 13 minutes in October. He’d averaged only a couple of hours in prior months. Swiping a security card each time he entered and left the suite, he created a precise record of his visits. Rules in place at the time allowed him to work alone.

Sometime before the mailings, prosecutors theorize, Ivins withdrew a sample of anthrax from his flask—labeled RMR-1029—and began to grow large quantities of the deadly germ. If so, his choice of strains seemed inconsistent with the FBI’s portrait of him as a cunning killer. Surrounded by a veritable library of germs, they say, Ivins picked the Dugway Ames spores, a culture that was expressly under his control.

Using the Ames strain “pointed right at USAMRIID,” said W. Russell Byrne, who preceded Andrews as the chief of the Bacteriology Division and who’s among those convinced of Ivins’ innocence. “That was our bug.”

Federal prosecutors have declined to provide a specific account of when they think Ivins grew spores for the attacks or how he made a powder. But the steps required are no mystery.

First, he would have had to propagate trillions of anthrax spores for each letter. The bug can be grown on agar plates (a kind of petri dish), in flasks or in a larger vessel known as a fermenter. Lieber, then an assistant U.S. attorney and lead prosecutor, said the hot suite had a fermenter that was big enough to grow enough wet spores for the letters quickly.

To make the amount of powder found in the letters, totaling an estimated 4 to 5 grams, Ivins would have needed 400 to 1,200 agar plates, according to a report by a National Academy of Sciences panel released in May. Growing it in a fermenter or a flask would have been less noticeable, requiring between a few quarts and 14 gallons of liquid nutrients.

Next was drying. Simple evaporation can do the job, but it also would expose other scientists in a hot suite. Lieber said the lab had two pieces of equipment that could have worked faster: a lyophilizer, or freeze dryer; and a smaller device called a “Speed Vac.”

Investigators haven’t said whether they think the Sept. 11 attacks prompted Ivins to start making the powder or to accelerate a plan already under way. However, records show that on the weekend after 9/11, Ivins spent more than two hours each night in the hot suite on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The next afternoon, Monday, Sept. 17, 2001, he took four hours of annual leave but was back at USAMRIID at 7 p.m. Because of their Sept. 18 postmarks, the anthrax-laced letters had to have been dropped sometime between 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday’s noon pickup at a mailbox at 10 Nassau St. in Princeton.

If Ivins did make the seven-hour round-trip drive from Fort Detrick, he would’ve had to travel overnight. Investigators said he reported to USAMRIID at 7 a.m. Tuesday for a business trip to Pennsylvania.

Did Ivins have the means?

Colleagues who worked with Ivins in the hot suite and think that he’s innocent say he’d never worked with dried anthrax and couldn’t have made it in the lab without spreading contamination.

Andrews, Ivins’ former boss, said Ivins didn’t know how to use the fastest process, the fermenter, which Andrews described as “indefinitely disabled,” with its motor removed. He said the freeze dryer was outside the hot suite, so using it would have exposed unprotected employees to lethal spores.

Without a fermenter, it would have taken Ivins “30 to 50 weeks of continuous labor” to brew spores for the letters, said Henry Heine, a former fellow Fort Detrick microbiologist who’s now with the University of Florida. Prosecutors and a National Academy of Sciences panel that studied the case said the anthrax could have been grown as quickly as a few days, though they didn’t specify a method.

FBI searches years later found no traces of the attack powder in the hot suite, lab and drying equipment.

Fraser-Liggett, the FBI’s genetics consultant, questioned how someone who perhaps had to work “haphazardly, quickly” could have avoided leaving behind tiny pieces of forensically traceable DNA from the attack powder.

Lieber, the Justice Department prosecutor, said the FBI never expected to find useable evidence in the hot suite after the equipment had been cleaned multiple times.

“This notion that someone could have stuck a Q-tip up in there and found, you know, a scrap of ‘1029’ DNA, I think is, with all due respect, it’s inconsistent with the reality of what was actually happening,” she said.

Yet, in 2007, six years after the letters were mailed, the FBI carefully searched Ivins’ home and vehicles looking for, among other things, anthrax spores. None were found.

The first round of anthrax letters went to an eclectic media group: Tom Brokaw, the NBC anchor; the tabloid newspaper the New York Post; and the Florida offices of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer. Just over two weeks later, on Oct. 4, jittery Americans were startled to learn that a Florida photo editor, Robert Stevens, had contracted an extremely rare case of inhalation anthrax.

Stevens died the next day. As prosecutors tell the story, Ivins would hit the road to New Jersey again as early as Oct. 6, carrying letters addressed to the offices of Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman from Vermont, and Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate majority leader.

Unlike the brownish, granular, impure anthrax in the earlier letters, this batch was far purer, with tiny particles that floated like a gas, making them more easily inhaled and therefore deadlier.

Just a few hours before those letters were dropped at Nassau Street, investigators had a scientific breakthrough: Paul Keim, an anthrax specialist at Northern Arizona University, verified that the spores in Stevens’ tissues were the Ames strain of anthrax.

“It was a laboratory strain,” Keim recalled later, “and that was very significant to us.”

On Oct. 15, an intern in Daschle’s office opened a nondescript envelope with the return address “4th Grade, Greendale School, Franklin Park, NJ 08852.” A white powder uncoiled from the rip, eventually swirling hundreds of feet through the Hart Senate Office Building, where dozens of senators work and hold hearings. It would take months and millions of dollars to fully cleanse the building of spores.

Ill-prepared to investigate America’s first anthrax attack, the FBI didn’t have a properly equipped lab to handle the evidence, so the Daschle letter and remaining powder were taken to Fort Detrick.

Among those immediately enlisted to examine the attack powder: Bruce Ivins.

The FBI would turn to Ivins time and again in the months and years ahead. At this early moment, he examined the Daschle spores and logged his observations with scientific exactitude. The quality, he determined, suggested “professional manufacturing techniques.”

“It is an extremely pure preparation, and an extremely high concentration,” Ivins wrote on Oct. 18, 2001. “These are not ‘garage’ spores.”

Part 2: Did Bruce Ivins Hide Attack Anthrax From the FBI?

In early 2002, federal agents who were hunting the anthrax killer were trying to winnow a suspect list that numbered in the hundreds. They knew only that they were looking for someone with access to the rare Ames strain of anthrax used in research labs around the world. Profilers said the perpetrator probably was an American with “an agenda.”

The powder-laced letters, which killed five people, contained no fingerprints, hair or human DNA but did offer one solid microscopic clue: The lethal spores in the powder were dotted with genetically distinct variants known as morphs.

So agents set out on an arduous task: Collect samples from Ames anthrax cultures around the world, sort through them and find one with morphs that matched the attack powder. Then they’d have a line on where the murder weapon was made and, perhaps, the identity of the killer.

Bruce Ivins, an Army scientist at Fort Detrick, Md., had a good idea where the inquiry was headed. In the months after the attacks, he’d schooled federal agents in the intricacies of anthrax, explaining how the telltale morphs can arise from one generation to the next.

In April 2002, Ivins did something that investigators would highlight years later as a pillar in the capital murder case that was being prepared against him before he committed suicide in 2008: He turned over a set of samples from his flask of Ames anthrax that tested negative, showing no morphs. Later, investigators would take their own samples from the flask and find four morphs that matched those in the powder.

Rachel Lieber, the lead prosecutor in a case that will never go to trial, thinks that Ivins manipulated his sample to cover his tracks. “If you send something that is supposed to be from the murder weapon, but you send something that doesn’t match, that’s the ultimate act of deception. That’s why it’s so important,” Lieber said.

However, a re-examination of the anthrax investigation by Frontline, McClatchy and ProPublica turned up new evidence that challenges the FBI’s narrative of Ivins as a man with a guilty conscience who was desperately trying to avoid being discovered.

Records recently released under the Freedom of Information Act show that Ivins made available a total of four sets of samples from 2002 to 2004, double the number the FBI has disclosed. And in subsequent FBI tests, three of the four sets ultimately tested positive for the morphs.

Paul Kemp, Ivins’ lawyer, said the existence of Ivins’ additional submissions was significant because it discredits an important aspect of the FBI’s case against his client. “I wish I’d known that at the time,” he said.

Heroes and suspects

To understand how investigators eventually came to see almost everything Ivins did or said as proof of his guilt, you have to return to the fall of 2001.

The FBI wasn’t equipped to handle deadly germs, so the attack powder was rushed to Fort Detrick, the home of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

From the beginning, Fort Detrick researchers played a prominent role in the inquiry. Ivins was among the most voluble, offering advice and a steady stream of tips about co-workers, foreign powers and former employees who might have carried out the attacks.

Investigators quickly recognized they were in an awkward situation. Any of the scientists could be the killer. Agents canvassed the tight-knit laboratory, inviting the researchers to finger their colleagues. “We were heroes in the morning and suspects in the afternoon,” recalled Jeffrey Adamovicz, at the time the deputy chief of the Bacteriology Division, where Ivins worked.

At 8:45 a.m. on Dec. 16, 2001, Ivins typed out an email to colleagues offering to provide Ames strain “for genetic analysis or sequencing by whomever.” He offered a sample of the original Ames anthrax taken in 1981 from a Texas cow and a collection of spores sent to Fort Detrick in 1997, mostly from the U.S. Army base in Dugway, Utah. Seven years later, prosecutors announced that they were certain the attack powder had been grown with germs from the Dugway flask Ivins was offering for scrutiny.

John Ezzell, a USAMRIID scientist at the time who assisted the FBI, said in an interview that Ivins likely didn’t think the technology could distinguish among Ames variants. But the record suggests otherwise.

On Jan. 23, 2002, Ivins gave an FBI agent a detailed tutorial on how to spot morphs in anthrax colonies. He also volunteered the names of two people who had the “knowledge and character” to have prepared and sent the letters while explaining that he’d never worked with powdered anthrax.

Ivins then showed the agent photos of anthrax morphs and said that “DNA sequencing should show the differences in genetics,” the mutations that make morphs grow differently. Ivins had good reason to understand the biology of morphs: One of his best friends at the lab, Patricia Worsham, had published a pioneering paper on the subject several years earlier.

In suggesting that the FBI use morphs to catch a killer, Ivins was proposing some cutting-edge science. No one had ever attempted to genetically fingerprint morphs, and the researchers advising the FBI weren’t even sure it could be done. Such genetic detective work, now commonplace, was in its infancy. Today, this technique is recognized as a precise but not foolproof method of identification.

A few weeks later, Ivins gave several people the sort of evidence he seemed to be suggesting they collect. He provided a sample to a colleague who wanted to look at the spores under a microscope. Then, on Feb. 27, Ivins drew anthrax from his flask, which he labeled RMR-1029, and provided it to investigators who were assembling the FBI’s worldwide library of anthrax. If prosecutors are right, the murderer had handed over his gun for testing.

But then the narrative took a strange twist. Perhaps deliberately, perhaps by chance, Ivins placed the spores in the wrong type of glass vessel. Investigators rejected the sample and told him to try again.

Sometime in the next few weeks, prosecutors contend, Ivins figured out for the first time that the morphs might trap him. Until then, they assert, he’d assumed that the anthrax in his flask was pure and therefore without morphs. But Paul Keim, the scientist who helped the FBI identify the attack strain, said it seemed implausible that Ivins thought his spores were morph-free. The Dugway culture included dozens of separate batches, most of which were grown at the Utah Army base in fermenters, an ideal breeding ground for morphs. Ivins, Keim said, was likely to have understood this.

In April 2002, Ivins prepared a third sample from RMR-1029. This time, his lawyer said, he plucked a sample using a technique called a “single colony pick,” a method biologists use to maintain purity when growing bacteria. Ultimately, this sample tested negative for the morphs. Prosecutors said they’re not even sure that the sample Ivins submitted came from the flask. If it did, they said, he obstructed justice, since their subpoena instructed scientists to capture diverse samples of spores that would be sure to reproduce any morphs. Ivins told investigators he’d followed standard procedures for microbiologists when he sampled just one colony.

Investigators eventually seized and tested the germs Ivins turned over to his colleague for microscopic examination, and found they tested positive for the morphs. Separately, they stumbled across a duplicate first submission from February: the material that had been rejected. It, too, was positive.

Curious conduct in the lab

In late April 2002, investigators confronted Ivins about reports that he’d been furtively testing for anthrax spores in his office and other areas outside the “hot suites,” the sealed rooms where researchers worked with deadly pathogens.

Ivins said that that was true and volunteered that he’d also conducted cleanups in the lab not once but twice — in December 2001, when he bleached over areas he’d found to be contaminated, and again in mid-April, when he conducted a search for errant anthrax spores.

These acts violated the lab’s standard procedure, which called for the safety office to investigate and clean up any contamination.

Ivins offered curious explanations. He said that in December, he had been trying to address the worries of a junior technician that sloppy handling of the attack powder had spread deadly spores through the lab. In April, against the advice of his supervisor, he launched his own tests after two researchers accidentally spilled a small amount of anthrax in the hot suite.

Asked why he didn’t inform safety officials of the possible dangers, Ivins told investigators he didn’t want to disrupt the FBI inquiry or alarm colleagues.

Whatever his motivation, subsequent tests showed Ivins had a point about failures to contain anthrax in the labs. His sampling showed that tiny amounts of anthrax of various strains had somehow seeped out of the hot suite and into his office. The Army ordered an investigation into why the lab’s safety procedures weren’t followed.

Despite Ivins’ puzzling behavior, investigators wouldn’t focus on him for years.

The anthrax inquiry was following another course and had zeroed in on a virologist named Steven Hatfill. A blunt character who boasted of his years in Rhodesia, Hatfill had a penchant for publicity, holes in his résumé and an unpublished novel that featured a Palestinian terrorist who attacks Washington with the bubonic plague. The evidence against him was entirely circumstantial.

Investigators remained on Hatfill’s trail until late 2006. By then, they’d searched his home, deployed anthrax-sniffing dogs and even emptied a pond, from which they removed a suspicious contraption. It was a turtle trap. No evidence of anthrax turned up. (Hatfill sued the government and received $5.8 million to settle the case).

A new Ivins sample

In early April 2004, Ivins was asked to help the FBI collect a complete set of cultures from Fort Detrick. Earlier, FBI agents had found 22 vials of anthrax that hadn’t been turned over. On April 6, a lab assistant found a test tube of material that appeared to have been removed from Ivins’ flask.

The assistant gave the germs to Henry Heine, a colleague of Ivins’ who happened to be in the building. Heine said he checked with Ivins, who told him to send a sample from the tube to the FBI. In an April 6 email, Ivins thanked Heine, acknowledging that the anthrax “was probably RMR-1029.”

Heine views this moment as a sign of his colleague’s innocence, pointing out that Ivins willingly turned over a sample he thought had originated from his flask. In an interview, Heine said there were no cameras in the building, that FBI agents weren’t monitoring the search and that Ivins easily could have prepared the sample himself and tampered with the evidence.

A day later, investigators seized Ivins’ flask, locking it in a safe double-sealed with evidence tape.

What happened next raises questions about the reliability of the FBI’s method for detecting morphs. The bureau separately ordered tests on Heine’s sample and a second one drawn from the same test tube. Records show conflicting results, one negative and one positive.

Does this mean the FBI’s tests for morphs were unreliable?

An FBI scientist said Ivins had told investigators the anthrax in the refrigerator had been diluted. This perhaps made the morphs undetectable in testing, said the scientist, who was made available to discuss the matter on the condition of anonymity.

Heine said the sample he sent wasn’t diluted.

“We can only go by what Bruce told us,” the FBI scientist replied.

Heine said he sent the FBI at least two additional samples from RMR-1029 that Ivins had shared with him. He said the FBI later told him both had tested negative for the morphs. The FBI scientist said the bureau could find no record of this.

Ivins’ hidden obsessions come out

In September 2006, the FBI assigned Edward Montooth to lead the anthrax inquiry. Montooth looked at the evidence through fresh eyes, and his attention quickly focused on the background and conduct of Ivins. By December, he told FBI Director Robert Mueller that Ivins had emerged as the prime suspect.

Investigators saw mounting evidence that the Fort Detrick scientist was hiding something.

They learned about his lifelong obsession with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and discovered that the Princeton, N.J., mailbox into which the letters had been dropped was just yards from a KKG office. Ivins had mailed packages under assumed names, and his email messages expressed fears that he was paranoid, delusional or suffering from a split personality.

“When I get all steamed up, I don’t pout. I push Bruce aside, then I’m free to run about!” one read.

The genetic evidence seemed persuasive. Investigators had tested 1,059 Ames samples from U.S. and foreign labs and found only 10 with three or more of the morphs that genetically matched the letter powder. All traced back to Ivins’ flask.

The FBI identified 419 people at Fort Detrick and other labs who could have had access to the material. Prosecutors say each was investigated and cleared of possible involvement.

All of Ivins’ actions in the early days of the investigation were reinterpreted as signs of his guilt. Investigators recovered a portion of his first sample from RMR-1029—the test tubes that had been rejected because they were the wrong kind—and found that they contained the incriminating morphs. They contrasted that with the second sample from 2002—no morphs—and saw it as proof that Ivins had learned before submitting it that the Ames strain could be traced to his flask.

Asked about the April 2004 sample turned up by PBS Frontline, McClatchy and ProPublica that tested positive, prosecutor Lieber said it could be easily explained. Ivins had no choice: FBI agents were swarming through Fort Detrick looking for cultures of anthrax that hadn’t been submitted for genetic testing.

The unauthorized cleanup of the lab, the Justice Department said in its report last year, reflected a “guilty conscience.”

“The evidence suggests that Dr. Ivins knew where to swab because he knew where he had contaminated the building,” prosecutors wrote.

Even Ivins’ defenders had questioned his actions at the time. “I said, ‘Bruce, do you realize how bad this looks?’ And he was a little bit puzzled,” Adamovicz said. “I said, ‘This makes you look suspicious because it looks like you’re trying to hide something.’ Bruce, of course, denied that he was trying to hide anything. And again, in my view, I don’t think he was trying to hide anything. I think he couldn’t keep a secret if he had to.”

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The Army’s report on the incident didn’t portray it as nefarious. It confirmed the presence of Ames anthrax and two other anthrax strains in Ivins’ office. Ames also was found near a “pass box” through which Ivins had transferred one of the letters to the hot suite, the men’s changing area and Ivins’ office. But investigators were unable to nail down an original source for the contamination. They determined that it was unrelated to the minor spill in the hot suite and speculated that it could have resulted from the handling of the anthrax letters.

Investigators executed a search warrant at Ivins’ home and office. They found guns, a shooting range in his basement and Tasers. But swab after swab taken from every conceivable nook and cranny found not a single spore from the attack powder. Lieber said that was to be expected with a microbiologist trained to handle dangerous germs.

Claire Fraser-Liggett, a key genetics consultant for investigators, found such a dismissal troubling. “You think about all the efforts that had to go into decontaminating postal facilities, and the volatility of those spores and the fact that they were around for so long,” she said. “I think it represents a big hole, really gives me pause to think: How strong was this case against Dr. Ivins?”

Ivins sat down for detailed interviews with prosecutors in early 2008 and volunteered a series of damaging admissions with his lawyer present. He acknowledged making long drives at night while his wife slept and calmly recounted his obsession with Kappa Kappa Gamma, blindfolding and bondage. Sometimes his answers were incoherent, FBI summaries show. He couldn’t explain, for example, why he had spent so many late nights in the lab in the weeks before the letter attacks.

By the summer of 2008, Ivins was coming apart. He told his group therapy session, which he’d begun attending in recent months, that he was planning to get a gun so he could kill his enemies. The FBI searched his home again and seized several guns, bulletproof vests and 250 rounds of ammunition.

Ivins was briefly committed and then released. On July 26, he took an overdose of over-the-counter medication. Three days later, he was dead at 62. Neither he nor the prosecutors would ever have their day in court.

‘This was not an airtight case’

A week later, Justice Department officials called a news conference to describe their evidence against Ivins as some in Congress called for an independent investigation of the case.

“We believed that based on the evidence we had collected, we could prove his guilt to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt,” U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor told reporters at the time. “Based on the totality of the evidence we had gathered against him, we are confident that Dr. Ivins was the only person responsible for these attacks.”

Prosecutors and investigators patiently laid out the case against Ivins. At its heart, they said, was the revolutionary science that had improbably traced the attack powder to a single flask.

“RMR-1029 was conclusively identified as the parent material to the anthrax powder used in the mailings,” the Justice Department wrote in its summary of the case.

Fraser-Liggett, who did some of the pioneering genetics work for the investigation, remains unconvinced.

“This was not an airtight case, by any means. You know, I think that, for an awful lot of people, there is a desire to really want to say that ‘yes, Ivins was the perpetrator. This case can reasonably be closed. And we can put this tragic chapter in U.S. history behind us,’ ” she said. “But I think part of what’s driving that is the fact that, if he wasn’t the perpetrator, then it means that person is still out there.”

Part 3: Was FBI’s Science Good Enough to ID Anthrax Killer?

WASHINGTON — In March 2007, federal agents convened an elite group of outside experts to evaluate the science that had traced the anthrax in the letters to a single flask at an Army lab in Maryland.

Laboratory work had built the heart of the case against Bruce Ivins, an Army researcher who controlled the flask. Investigators had invented a new form of genetic fingerprinting for the case, testing anthrax collected from U.S. and foreign labs for mutations detected in the attack powder.

Out of more than 1,000 samples, only eight had tested positive for four mutations found in the deadly germs sent to Congress and the news media.

Even so, the outside scientists, known as the “Red Team,” urged the FBI to do more basic research into how and when the mutations arose to make sure the tests were “sound” and the results unchallengeable.

Jenifer Smith, a senior manager at the FBI’s laboratory, shared the team’s concerns. Smith recalled that she was worried the FBI didn’t have a full understanding of the mutations and might see a trial judge throw out the key evidence.

“The admissibility hearing would have been very difficult,” Smith recalled in an interview. “They had some good science, but they also had some holes that would have been very difficult to fill.”

The FBI rebuffed the Red Team’s suggestion, describing it as “an academic question with little probative value to the investigation.”

Ivins committed suicide in July 2008 as prosecutors were preparing to charge him with capital murder in the cases of the five people killed by the anthrax mailings. Prosecutors announced that Ivins was the sole perpetrator and the parent material for the letters had come from his flask.

Three years later, that assertion remains an open question. A separate panel, from the National Academy of Sciences, found that prosecutors had overstated the certainty of their finding. Committee members said newly available testing methods could prove the FBI’s case much more definitively or lead to other potential suspects. But federal investigators, who closed the case more than a year ago, have expressed no interest in further scientific study of the evidence.

A re-examination of the anthrax case by PBS Frontline, McClatchy and ProPublica has raised new questions about some of the evidence against Ivins. The reporting uncovered previously undisclosed tensions between researchers who were trying to create a new form of forensic science and criminal investigators whose boss was under intense pressure from the president of the United States to crack a case that had few leads and hundreds of plausible suspects.

Paul Keim, an anthrax expert at Northern Arizona University who assisted in the FBI investigation, said he had qualms about whether the bureau’s groundbreaking laboratory method would have survived a rigorous legal review.

“I don’t think that it was ready for the courtroom at the time Bruce committed suicide,” Keim said.

If Ivins hadn’t killed himself, he said, the FBI would have launched a “hard push” for additional data that showed the method was reliable. Such research, he said, also could have shown it wasn’t valid.

Keim, a member of the Red Team who attended the March 2007 meeting in Quantico, Va., said he didn’t find out that the team’s call for further research had been rejected until a year later, after Ivins had committed suicide and prosecutors were hastily organizing a news conference to describe the science.

Keim and other scientists involved in the case said the strictures of a criminal investigation prevented them from talking to one another or sharing information as they would on a typical research effort.

“The investigation was being driven by a small group of bureau scientists and investigators,” Keim said. “Broader engagement with an expert panel sworn to secrecy would have been good. Having the best scientific consultants embedded would have been good.”

Jenifer Smith was the section chief of the Intelligence and Analysis Section in the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate until 2009, and she observed the process from inside. During the anthrax case, she said, the FBI lab departed from its traditional procedures and allowed top investigators to influence how the science was conducted.

“They deviated from traditional lab practice in this particular case,” Smith said. “There were some political things going on behind the scenes, and it was embarrassing not to have this solved. Yes, it was a long, drawn-out investigation. But that’s when you don’t deviate from your practices.”

Rachel Lieber, the lead prosecutor, said law-enforcement officials did try to make sure the science was rigorously vetted. But Lieber said there were limits and that the science was only a piece of a much larger mosaic of evidence against Ivins.

“You look at the lines of a trial and where do we spend our resources,” Lieber said. “Are we doing a science project or are we looking for proof at trial? These are two very different standards.”

Unprecedented effort on science

Questions about the definitiveness of the scientific findings began to arise soon after prosecutors said Ivins was the anthrax mailer. U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor declared without equivocation in August 2008 that the FBI had proved that Ivins’ flask, RMR-1029, “was the parent flask for the spores” used in the mailings — “effectively the murder weapon.”

At a briefing a few weeks later, the FBI’s lab director, Christian Hassell, was asked to give a “level of confidence” for the findings. “It’s very high,” he replied. “This whole exercise shows that they were traced back to a single flask.”

Another official at the briefing, who spoke on condition of anonymity as a ground rule, claimed that the Red Team of outside experts had vetted and approved the work and the FBI had heeded its calls for further research.

“We invited a cadre of scientists to conduct a Red Team review of the science that we performed, and we took their suggestions,” the official said. “We made additional experiments and the data available to the Red Team at their suggestion. And so all of the science that went behind this was well-reviewed.”

Critics on Capitol Hill weren’t mollified. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and one of the intended recipients of an anthrax letter, said he didn’t believe that Ivins had acted alone. So FBI Director Robert Mueller announced in September 2008 that a panel of the National Academy of Sciences would conduct an independent review of the scientific findings.

The FBI didn’t wait for the outcome of those deliberations. In February 2010, with the panel still taking testimony, prosecutors announced that the case was closed, Ivins was the sole perpetrator and RMR-1029 was “conclusively identified as the parent material to the anthrax powder used in the mailings.”

Nearly a year to the day later, the outside committee looked at the same evidence differently, saying scientific data “provided leads” as to where the spores had come from but “alone did not rule out other sources.”

The tests that identified the flask as the source of the parent spores for the attack showed an association but didn’t “definitively demonstrate such a relationship,” the panel said.

When the case of the anthrax mailings broke in late 2001, genetic sequencing was in its early days. It was only a year earlier that two teams of American scientists had announced that they’d mapped the human genome. Work on anthrax was under way but incomplete.

Watch the video report
A fortuitous lab miscue may have provided the biggest break. Early in the investigation, a colleague of Ivins’ at the Army research facility in Fort Detrick, Md., left spores from one of the letters growing in a dish longer than she’d planned. When she next looked, the researcher, Terry Abshire, noticed something potentially significant: The cultures had small numbers of visually distinguishable colonies, or morphs, which are caused by genetic mutations.

One of the leading scientists in the field describes morphs this way: Imagine a jar of M&M’s that are almost all chocolate — the anthrax spores — but sprinkled with a few blues and reds — the morphs. Scoop out a big enough portion of spores, grow the anthrax on plates, and a morph or two probably will appear.

Morphs that look the same can be caused by different mutations. To create a true genetic fingerprint of the attack powder, scientists had to find and sequence the mutations that spawned the morphs.

Once they had that fingerprint, investigators could look for a match with the stocks of anthrax in bio-defense labs. The Ames strain used in the letter attacks had been cultured from a dead cow in Texas in 1981, and the Army frequently used it for animal testing of vaccines.

More than 1,000 samples tested

The attack powder had multiple morphs. Over several years, contractors developed tests for four morphs that produced what the FBI said were reliable results.

It was no easy task. Just a year before the anthrax attacks, it would have been inconceivable, Keim said. By late 2001, it was merely revolutionary.

When the anthrax samples from U.S. and foreign bio-weapons labs were screened, only 10 out of more than 1,000 tested positive for three or more of the morphs. All came from Ivins’ flask, RMR-1029.

In its report earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences panel raised numerous questions about this finding, some of which had been posed by the Red Team back in 2007.

The panel also noted that the FBI didn’t have a complete understanding of how temperature or other growth conditions might affect how many morphs appeared. Perhaps a particular morph would become visible only under certain growth conditions. It was this question that the Red Team had suggested for additional research in 2007.

The FBI’s own records show that the tests didn’t always deliver reliable results. In trying to prove that a sample Ivins provided from his flask in April 2002 was deceptive because it contained none of the morphs from the attack powder, investigators sampled the flask 30 times. All came back with at least one morph, and 16 came back with all four. Six of them showed only two or fewer, even though they were grown directly from the Ivins culture.

The National Academy of Sciences panel’s report raised the possibility that some of the morphs could arise through the process of “parallel evolution,” in which identical mutations occur in separately growing colonies of bacteria.

Richard Lenski, a Michigan State University professor and specialist in this field, said the FBI faced a significant challenge. In what he termed a “dream world” with unlimited resources, researchers could separately grow hundreds of colonies of the anthrax in both Ivins’ flask and the attack powder and compare the morphs that evolve.

Such an experiment, of course, would be an expensive long shot, because the person who made the powder did so in secret with methods that remain unknown.

Claire Fraser-Liggett, a pioneering genetics researcher, was part of the effort to track the morphs. In August 2008, she sat onstage alongside senior FBI science officials as the findings were presented. By then, she said, the technology had leapfrogged far beyond the techniques used in 2001 and 2002 to compare morphs.

Beginning in about 2006, she said, “next generation” sequencing came on line. What cost $250,000 and took one to two months of work in 2001 now could be done for about $150 in a week. With price no longer an issue, the DNA in a colony of anthrax could be sampled over and over and over, assuring accuracy. And you wouldn’t be limited to four morphs; you could test as many as you felt were useful.

Fraser-Liggett doesn’t fault the FBI for not switching to an untried technique in 2006. But she said the enhanced precision now available could bring new evidence to light, confirming investigators’ original conclusion or pointing in other directions.

Chemical signals never fully explained

For now, the case remains a matter of dispute, with prosecutors and law-enforcement officials insisting that the combination of science and circumstantial evidence would have been more than sufficient to win a conviction.

One area of contention is whether the killer tried to add a chemical to make the spores float more easily, so they’d have a better chance of being inhaled. McClatchy first reported last spring that the FBI had failed to explain the presence of unusual levels of silicon and tin in two of the letters, since those elements aren’t part of the process of growing spores.

Scientists pressing for answers to those questions published a paper in a scientific journal this month. The FBI says the silicon was present through a natural process, not from any special treatment by Ivins.

David A. Relman, vice chairman of the National Academy study committee and a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said the scientific picture remained incomplete.

Relman said, for example, that the high level of silicon measured in the letter sent to the New York Post remained a “big discrepancy,” one for which the panel received no explanation. None of the spores in Ivins’ now-infamous flask contained any silicon.

Relman said the panel questioned FBI officials about whether the high silicon measurement had arisen from an anomaly in the testing.

“We asked: ‘Is it nonrepresentative sampling?'” he said.

“And they said, ‘No, we don’t think that’s the answer.’ ”

“There is no answer,” Relman said, “That’s why we said it’s not resolved.”

Lieber, the prosecutor, said she would have moved to exclude the high-silicon reading at trial since it came from a single measurement.

According to the FBI, the anthrax from RMR-1029 was used as starter germs for the attack powder. Investigators suspect that there were at least two separate production runs. The powder sent to the media was relatively coarse; the anthrax mailed to Congress had much smaller particles and floated like a gas.

The germs in the flask were a mix of anthrax grown by Ivins and the Army base in Dugway, Utah. During the growth phase, the anthrax killer introduced several impurities, including silicon, trace elements of tin and, in two of the letters, an unusual strain of another bacterium, Bacillus subtilis.

Had Ivins not committed suicide, his trial very likely would have included vigorous sparring over the scientific evidence. Experts probably would have offered conflicting testimony about the reliability and certainty of the genetic tests.

Relman said a trial would have been the only way in which the prosecution’s evidence “could have been weighed and challenged by experts.”

It’s worth considering whether an independent panel should evaluate the full case against Ivins, looking at the science, the evidence investigators gathered and all other relevant material, Relman said.

“We have to decide … how important this case is to us as a society, and I’m not presupposing it is,” he said.

Fraser-Liggett and Lenski said it would be valuable to continue testing the anthrax samples in the case as new, more sensitive technologies come on line.

“Speaking as an individual citizen,” Lenski wrote in an email, “I think it would benefit the public. Even if it didn’t resolve the Amerithrax case with respect to criminal culpability, it would be a valuable test run of what science could contribute if a similar terrorist event were to occur.”

by Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica, Greg Gordon, McClatchy, Jim Gilmore and Mike Wiser, PBS Frontline, Oct. 10, 2011, 11:04

Find the story at 10 October 2011 part 1

Find the story at 10 October 2011 part 2

Find the story at 10 October 2011 part 3


The Anthrax Files: The Essential Documents (2011)

FRONTLINE closely examined more than 27,000 pages of FBI documents for this investigation. Here are some of the key documents and significant reports on the investigation and the government’s conclusion that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the perpetrator of the attacks.

October 1997 — USAMRIID Reference Material Receipt Record
This document shows Dr. Bruce Ivins at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) was the custodian of a 1000 ml flask of liquid anthrax labeled RMR-1029. The FBI later claims RMR-1029 is the parent material of the anthrax used in the mailings.

October 2001 — Bruce Ivins’ Analysis of the Daschle Sample
The anthrax from the letter addressed to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) was sent to USAMRIID for analysis by Ivins and his colleagues. In his report, Ivins wrote:

If this is a preparation of bacterial spores, it is an extremely pure preparation, and an extremely high concentration. These are not “garage” spores. The nature of the spore preparation suggests very highly that professional manufacturing techniques were used in the production and purification of the spores, as well as converting the spores into an extremely fine powder.

March 2005 — Ivins Interviewed by FBI
In the spring of 2005, investigators were narrowing in on RMR-1029, and they began interviewing people with access to the flask. They interview Ivins on March 31. He is asked detailed questions about the flask, anthrax production at USAMRIID, and personal e-mail exchanges:

IVINS was aware that many of these e-mails reveal aspects of his personal life and mental health at the time, including an acknowledgement by him that he was seeing a psychologist and had been diagnosed with “paranoid personality disorder.” IVINS offered that at the time some of these e-mails were written he was taking the antidepressant prescription medication Celexa (citalopram hydrobromide). IVINS said he is better now and no longer takes Celexa. IVINS related that he internalizes his negative emotions and, as a result, suffers from ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. When asked whether his psychological condition had ever caused him to do anything which surprised him, IVINS responded in the negative. IVINS offered that he does not “act out” and has never hit his wife.

Ivins is also asked whether, as the patent-holder on an anthrax vaccine, he could have financially benefited from the attacks. Ivins says that he received $6,000 in royalties after his vaccine was mass-produced and that he shared the payment with his colleagues.

Ivins also addresses his late hours and weekends at work, saying he would sometimes go to the lab “‘to escape’ the stresses of his family” and that he spent time in the hot suites to escape a security guard who bothered him.

And he talks about taking long, “mindless drives,” equating them with “the way some people go for a long walk,” but denies driving to Princeton, N.J. (the location from which the anthrax letters were mailed).

Years later, Ivins would e-mail a friend about this interrogation, which he says put him into a deep depression:

Up until that time I felt that I had been helping officials with the anthrax letters case, providing as much as I could that I thought was relevant. Then at the end of March I had an interrogation from two people who said I was suspicious … and asked me lots more accusatory questions. I was crushed and had to be taken out of the biocontainment suites for several months.

September 2006 — FBI Report on the USAMRIID Anthrax Samples
This FBI report shows all the samples that tested positive for the morphs that were in the attack anthrax. Three of those samples — highlighted in the document — came from Ivins. The report also notes an additional sample from Ivins that tested negative for the morphs; investigators would later accuse Ivins of having deliberately obscured this sample to hide his involvement in the attacks.

Summer 2007 — Ivins’ E-mails Following His Grand Jury Appearance
As pressure increased throughout the investigation, particularly following his May 2007 appearances before the grand jury, Ivins’ e-mail activity revealed an increasingly distraught man:

“Eventually a trial will come and we’ll be dragged up to the witness chair to testify, and that’s when the other side wil [sic] start dragging us through the dirt. It’s a lawyer’s job to sully the personal and professional reputations of witnesses on the other side. For me it means people finding out that I’m a slob, keep poor records, am lousy at math, and see a psychiatrist. There are things that others would prefer not to be spread around. I’m planning on leaving at the end of September of 2008.” (May 23, 2007)
“Who knows. I’m just so beat. I was at the grand jury for five hours, 3 hours on one day and 2 hours on the next. The questions were so accusatory on so many fronts. … I’m not planning on jumping off a bridge or something, so don’t think I’m going suicidal or something. I honestly don’t know what anybody can do. … I don’t think there’s much anybody can do. I search emails and documents, trying to find things, trying to help, and look at what it gets me. It makes me wish that I had never gone into biomedical research.” (May 24, 2007)
“The grand jury was also very accusatory. I’m fortunately taking a lot of medication for depression, but that’s only helping some. I also have to use a lot of caffeine in the morning, and then alcohol and sleeping pills at night. Do you realize that if anybody gets indicted for even the most remote reason with respect to the anthrax letters — something as simple as not locking up spore preps to restrict them from only people in our lab — they face the death penalty? Playing any part, even a minor part such as providing information about how to make spores, or how to make them in broth, how to harvest and purify that could wind up putting one or more hapless persons on death row. Not pleasant to think about.” (June 10, 2007)
November 2007 — FBI Searches Ivins’ Home
On Nov. 1, agents interview Ivins at work and ask him a series of questions about RMR-1029 and his submissions to the FBI repository.

Towards the end of the interview, agents tell Ivins that a search is underway of his home, vehicles and office space. The agents ask Ivins if he “worried”; he acknowledged he was and after a few minutes said that he does things “a middle age man should not do” and that would “not be acceptable to most people,” including cross-dressing.

“It was the worst day of my life,” Ivins would later e-mail a friend.

January 2008 — Ivins Interviewed by Federal Prosecutors
This is the FBI’s report of Ivins’ first major sit-down interview with federal prosecutors. During the interview, he details his obsession with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, which began in the early 1960s after a KKG member rejected a date with him.

Ivins admits visiting several KKG houses across the south and stealing secret ritual materials from KKG chapters at the University of North Carolina and West Virginia University. He says he committed the burglaries during spring breaks “to ensure nobody would be present in the houses.”
Ivins says his wife had no knowledge of his obsession or his clandestine visits to KKG houses. In her interview with FRONTLINE, prosecutor Rachel Lieber underscored the significance of this admission: “He said to us, effectively, ‘I don’t have an alibi.’”
Ivins also tells investigators that after he learned his colleague Nancy Haigwood was a Kappa, “he set out to learn everything about and befriend her.” He admits to stealing her lab notebook while in graduate school, and to later spray painting “KKG” on the sidewalk near her house and vandalizing her car.
Ivins admits to having several aliases and to maintaining a P.O. box from which he distributed copies of the KKG ritual book using a name prosecutors say was based on the name of Haigwood’s then-husband. He says he had a second P.O. box where he received bondage literature.
February 2008 — Ivins’ Second Interview by Federal Prosecutors
In a second sit-down interview with Ivins, prosecutors follow up on many of the statements he made in his first interview, including his KKG obsession. Ivins describes in detail breaking into the Chapel Hill and West Virginity University sorority houses:

He entered the house at night through a first floor bathroom window which was located behind a shrub. Although there were several lights on inside, he knew nobody was there as those lights were always left on. IVINS, using a small pen light to help him see, went upstairs and looked for anything which was locked and may contain secretive sorority documents or materials. There was a hallway closet which was locked, so IVINS used a coat hanger or some similar object to open the door. Inside the closet he found the “Cipher” and some documents regarding KKG rituals. The Cipher was a document encased in glass, and it referred to a book of ritual which IVINS also looked for but did not find. In an unlocked closet directly across from that which contained the Cipher were some blindfolds made from torn bed sheets. IVINS assumed the blindfolds were used for the KKG initiation, but he did not take them. IVINS left after spending about an hour in the house, taking with him the Cipher and ritual materials.

He also says he took long drives “as a way to relieve stress or as a form of therapy,” but says his wife never knew where he went or questioned him.

During the interview, investigators showed Ivins a diagram he drew early on in the investigation that showed how he prepared very pure anthrax spores. But when shown the diagram, Ivins said he didn’t remember drawing it and was “non-responsive” to questions about how to interpret the drawing.

Investigators would later contrast Ivins’ precise memory of events long past with his inability to explain how his time was spent during late nights in the laboratory. And they would argue that Ivins’ admissions of long drives was significant because it showed a pattern of behavior, and because he undercut an alibi by acknowledging his wife didn’t know when or where he was going.

July 2008 — Fredericksburg Police Report
View the report (PDF)

Threatening to take revenge on his colleagues, Ivins broke down during a group therapy session in July 2008. His therapist, Jean Duley petitioned for Ivins to be involuntarily confined to a mental institution, and police forcibly removed Ivins from the lab the following day. Duley’s notes are included in this police report, released after Ivins’ suicide.

The client appeared angry, hostile, and jumpy. He was asked if there was an issue he wanted to discuss. The client was evasive, pressed he started talking about anger towards investigators, the government, the whole system. He began to detail the anger, asked to focus he described he wasn’t going to face the death penalty. He described his plan, the bullet proof vest, a gun, a list of co-workers, people that had wronged him, etc. He had a tone of anger but a smile on his face. He was very agitated, shaky and pressed I his speech, very delibrate, [sic] thoughtful and certain in manner. He explained that he had been on the streets looking for someone to pick a fight with him so that he could hurt them, showing a sharp pen he could use as a weapon. He stated that he was not going to drink, but when he did it would be the 1st time, he kept asking for sleeping pills, several times he asked. He repeated his plan with the bullet proof vest, gun, list, explaining that a well thought out plan cleaning up etc could be done, he was stopped because others in the group were unnerved by that speech. He was very clear in his thought patterns, is [sic] anger towards certain individuals and his ideas of harming others and himself.

February 2010 — Justice Department Releases Summary of Amerithrax Investigation
View the report (PDF)

The government publicly named Bruce Ivins as the suspect in a hastily arranged press conference days after his August 2008 suicide; the Justice Department’s final summary of the Amerithrax investigation was released 18 months later.

The 92-page report details the government’s case against Ivins, including his access to RMR-1029, his late nights and weekends in the lab, his mental health issues, his suspicious submissions to the FBI anthrax repository, his KKG obsession, his habit of long drives, and the threats made during his July 2008 therapy session. Regarding Ivins’ motive, investigators wrote:

… it is clear that by the summer of 2001, Dr. Ivins was under an extraordinary amount of stress in his professional life. The anthrax vaccine research program that Dr. Ivins had invested essentially his entire career of more than 20 years was in jeopardy of failure. … Under extreme pressure from so many different assaults on his career and life’s work, Dr. Ivins had a motive to commit the crime.”

February 2011 — National Academies of Sciences Questions FBI Scientific Findings
View the report

Under criticism about the FBI’s conclusions in the case, FBI Director Robert Mueller asked an independent panel from the National Academies of Sciences to independently review the investigation’s scientific findings.

“It is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the B. anthracis in the mailings based on the available scientific evidence alone,” the panel concluded in a 191-page report.

And the report particularly called into question the conclusions about RMR-1029: “The scientific link between the letter material and flask number RMR-1029 is not as conclusive as stated in the DOJ Investigative Summary,” though the panel did say that genetic evidence supported “an association” between the attack anthrax and RMR-1029.

In its official response, the FBI maintained that its scientific conclusions were only one part of its case against Ivins:

… while science played a significant role, it was the totality of the investigative process that determined the outcome of the anthrax case. Although there have been great strides in forensic science over the years, rarely does science alone solve an investigation. The scientific findings in this case provided investigators with valuable investigative leads that led to the identification of the late Dr. Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks.

August 2011 — Expert Behavioral Analysis Panel Report
View the report (PDF)

Following Ivins’ suicide, a federal court judge asked a panel of experts to review Ivins’ psychiatric records. The panel’s review of the records found that:

Dr. Ivins was psychologically disposed to undertake the mailings; his behavioral history demonstrated his potential for carrying them out; and he had the motivation and the means. The psychiatric records offer considerable additional circumstantial evidence in support of the DOJ’s finding.

The report details Ivins’ “traumatic, damaging childhood,” his KKG obsession and his “intense emotional attachments” to two of his female lab technicians. It suggests his “lifelong preoccupation” with revenge, “personal validation” and “professional redemption” as possible motives behind the attacks.

Ivins’ “significant and lengthy history of psychological disturbance and diagnosable mental illness” should have precluded him from holding a security clearance, the report concludes.

October 10, 2011, 11:57 pm ET

Find this story at 10 October 2011

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FBI Spied ‘Beyond Its Authority’ on Keystone XL Opponents

New investigation reveals agency’s actions amounted to ‘substantial non-compliance’ with its own rules

The FBI violated its internal rules while spying on Tar Sands Blockade activists in Texas protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, a new report shows. (Photo: Tar Sands Blockade/flickr/cc)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) broke its own internal rules when it spied on Keystone XL opponents in Texas, violating guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming overly involved in complex political issues, a new report by the Guardian and Earth Island Journal published Tuesday has revealed.

Internal documents acquired by the outlets through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show how the FBI failed to get approval for launching investigations into Houston-based protesters, whom the agency labeled “environmental extremists,” and held a bias in favor of the controversial tar sands pipeline—currently awaiting federal approval—extolling its supposed economic benefits in one document which outlined reasons for spying on its opponents.

“Many of these extremists believe the debates over pollution, protection of wildlife, safety, and property rights have been overshadowed by the promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices,” the file states. “The Keystone pipeline, as part of the oil and natural gas industry, is vital to the security and economy of the United States.”

The Guardian reports:

Between November 2012 and June 2014, the documents show, the FBI collated inside knowledge about forthcoming protests, documented the identities of individuals photographing oil-related infrastructure, scrutinised police intelligence and cultivated at least one informant.

….However, the partially redacted documents reveal the investigation into anti-Keystone activists occurred without prior approval of the top lawyer and senior agent in the Houston field office, a stipulation laid down in rules provided by the attorney general.

Additionally, the FBI appeared to have opened its file on the Keystone XL opponents in 2013 following a meeting between officials from the agency and TransCanada, the company building the pipeline.

“For a period of time—possibly as long as eight months—agents acting beyond their authority were monitoring activists aligned with [direct action climate group] Tar Sands Blockade,” the Guardian writes.

Dozens of activists were arrested in Texas in late 2012, although none were accused of violent crime or property damage, according to key Tar Sands Blockade organizer, Ron Seifert.

“Less than a month after TransCanada showed the FBI a PowerPoint claiming that people opposed to [Keystone XL] need to be watched, Houston’s FBI office cuts corners to start an investigation; it’s not surprising but it is revealing of who they really work for,” Seifert told Common Dreams on Monday. “The FBI has been harassing and actively repressing communities of organizers for decades.”

Yet more records show that the FBI associated the Tar Sands Blockade, which organizes peaceful protests, with other “domestic terrorism issues.”

Other documents suggest that the Houston-based investigation was only one of a larger probe, possibly monitoring other anti-Keystone XL activists around the country.

“We’re not surprised,” Seifert continued. “We’re also not deterred. Movements for climate and environmental justice are activating people from diverse political backgrounds to take direct action to defend themselves from threats like [Keystone XL]. People are stepping out of the blind alleys of electoral politics and building grassroots power, and that’s scary for people who want a monopoly on power.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015
byCommon Dreams
byNadia Prupis, staff writer

Find this story at 12 May 2015

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As Internal Docs Show Major Overreach, Why Is FBI Spying on Opponents of Keystone XL Pipeline?

A new report confirms for the first time that the FBI spied on activists in Texas who tried to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Documents from the FBI reveal it failed to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened its investigation, which was run from its Houston field office. The files document “substantial non-compliance” with Department of Justice rules. The Tar Sands Blockade mentioned in that report was one of the main groups targeted by the FBI. Agents in Houston office also told TransCanada they would share “pertinent intelligence regarding any threats” to the company in advance of protests. We are joined by Adam Federman, contributing editor to Earth Island Journal and co-author of the new investigation published by The Guardian, “Revealed: FBI violated its own rules while spying on Keystone XL opponents.” In February, he also revealed how the FBI has recently pursued environmental activists in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington and Idaho for “little more than taking photographs of oil and gas industry installations.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A new report confirms for the first time that the FBI spied on activists in Texas who tried to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The report is based on FBI documents obtained by The Guardian and the Earth Island Journal. The documents also reveal that the FBI failed to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened its investigation, which was run from its Houston field office. The files document, quote, “substantial non-compliance” with Department of Justice rules. Much of the FBI’s surveillance took place between November of 2012 and June 2014.

AMY GOODMAN: The Tar Sands Blockade mentioned in the report was one of the main groups targeted by the FBI. Agents in Houston also told TransCanada they would share, quote, “pertinent intelligence regarding any threats” to the company in advance of protests.

For more, we are joined by Adam Federman, contributing editor to Earth Island Journal, co-author of this new investigation that was published by The Guardian. It’s headlined “Revealed: FBI Violated Its Own Rules While Spying on Keystone XL Opponents.” In February, he also revealed how the FBI has recently pursued environmental activists in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington and Idaho for, quote, “little more than taking photographs of oil and gas industry installations.”

Adam Federman, thank you so much for joining us from Burlington, Vermont. Talk about this most recent exposé. How do you know the FBI was spying on those who are opposed to the Keystone XL?

ADAM FEDERMAN: Yeah, the recent investigation is based on more than 80 pages of documents that we obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. And the most striking thing about them is that they demonstrated for the first time that the FBI opened an investigation into anti-Keystone pipeline campaigners in Texas in 2012, late 2012, and that investigation continued through 2013, despite the fact that it was opened without proper approval from within the FBI. And what’s interesting about them is that they show extensive interest in Tar Sands Blockade and activists organizing in Houston, particularly in, yeah, neighborhoods in East Houston, where tar sands oil would eventually end up at the refineries that are based there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the most surprising revelations that you found in these documents, could you talk about that?

ADAM FEDERMAN: Yeah, there are several. I mean, the fact that the investigation was opened without proper approval is probably most noteworthy. The FBI requires approval from legal counsel and a senior agent for investigations that are described as sensitive, and those include investigations into political or religious organizations, media institutions, academic institutions, and basically they set a higher threshold for opening an investigation. So, the fact that the Houston domain failed to do that obviously violates agency protocol.

But I think, more broadly, the documents also sort of illuminate the FBI’s characterization of environmental organizations and activism in the country. You know, the sort of opening salvo in the investigation is a synopsis of what they call environmental extremism, and that sort of undergirds the entire investigation and has also—you know, we’ve seen the same sort of language used in other contexts, not just surrounding Keystone pipeline.

AMY GOODMAN: Adam, many of the—looking at the quotes in the FBI documents, they talk about, as you said, the environmental extremists and say, quote, “Many of these extremists believe the debates over pollution, protection of wildlife, safety, and property rights have been overshadowed by the promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices. The Keystone pipeline, as part of the oil and natural gas industry, is vital to the security and economy of the United States.” Can you explain these documents?

ADAM FEDERMAN: Yeah, I mean, that quote is really quite amazing for a number of reasons. Mike German, a former FBI agent who’s now at the Brennan Center and who we worked with on this story, you know, said that that characterization would include just about anyone who watches the evening news. I mean, it’s such a broad brush to tar—to describe environmental activists as extremists simply for being concerned about things like pollution, wildlife and property rights.

And then the FBI also goes on to claim that the Keystone pipeline is vital to the national security and economy of the United States, which of course is highly controversial and contested. And as I’m sure your viewers know, the State Department is still deliberating over whether to approve the northern leg of the pipeline itself. So that question remains open; however, it seems that the FBI has taken it upon its own to suggest that the pipeline is crucial to U.S. national security and financial security.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the 2010 intelligence bulletin from the FBI Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit that you obtained. It warned that, even though the industry had encountered only low-level vandalism and trespassing, recent “criminal incidents” suggested environmental extremism was on the rise. The FBI concluded, quote, “Environmental extremism will become a greater threat to the energy industry owing to our historical understanding that some environmental extremists have progressed from committing low-level crimes against targets to more significant crimes over time in an effort to further the environmental extremism cause.”

ADAM FEDERMAN: Yeah, it’s a fascinating document. And the story behind how I obtained it is because of the fact that that very document was used by the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security to justify surveillance of anti-fracking groups in the state. And it essentially captures the FBI’s thinking on, you know, the threat of environmental extremism to—specifically to the energy industry. And this is laid out, as you say, in 2010, so I think that this is sort of the foundation for the FBI’s approach to the environmental movement more broadly. And I think, with these more recent documents, we’re seeing that sort of carried out in real time. And we also know that the FBI has had high-level meetings with TransCanada and that local and state law enforcement along the pipeline route and in Pennsylvania and elsewhere has actively investigated and spied on environmental activists of, you know, all stripes. And it’s quite systematic, and I do think that the FBI is in many ways leading the charge.

AMY GOODMAN: You report the FBI’s monitoring of Tar Sands Blockade activists failed to follow proper protocols for more than eight months. I want to read the FBI’s response: quote, “While the FBI approval levels required by internal policy were not initially obtained, once discovered, corrective action was taken, non-compliance was remedied, and the oversight was properly reported through the FBI’s internal oversight mechanism.” That’s what the FBI said, acknowledging they didn’t initially get approval. Adam, as we wrap up right now, if you can talk about what—the legality of what the FBI did, in what you released today in the Earth Island Journal and The Guardian, and also in your past reporting on FBI spying on activists?

ADAM FEDERMAN: Well, I think, unfortunately, it’s perhaps not the exception that the FBI has opened an investigation without proper approval. In 2011, the inspector general issued a report showing widespread cheating on a test that was designed to prevent this very kind of thing from happening. So it essentially demonstrates a lack of internal control. But more broadly speaking, the question that I think we need to be asking is whether the investigation, opened properly or not, should have been conducted to begin with. I mean, Tar Sands Blockade is committed to nonviolent civil disobedience. They’ve been very open and transparent about their activism and work. And I think the question is whether this investigation should have been opened to begin with, and, quite frankly, if the FBI is actively investigating other anti-Keystone pipeline activists or anti-fracking activists in other states.

AMY GOODMAN: Adam Federman, we want to thank you for being with us, contributing editor to Earth Island Journal, where he covers the intersection between law enforcement and the environment. He co-authored the new investigation published by The Guardian, “Revealed: FBI Violated Its Own Rules While Spying on Keystone XL Opponents.” We’ll link to that story at When we come back, it’s the 30th anniversary of the MOVE bombing, when the Philadelphia police bombed a neighborhood. Stay with us.


Find this story at 13 May 2015

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