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Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

2001 Anthrax Attacks

Project: Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq
Open-Content project managed by Derek, KJF, mtuck

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Former CIA Director James Woolsey makes a secret trip to Europe to find evidence that could link the Iraqi government to various terrorist attacks. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz funds and supports his trip. He visits Wales in a fruitless search for evidence to link Iraq to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see Late September 2001). But he also looks for evidence tying Iraq to 9/11 and the anthrax attacks once they become publicly known in early October (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The Village Voice will later report, “Woolsey was also asked to make contact with Iraqi exiles and others who might be able to beef up the case that hijacker Mohamed Atta was working with Iraqi intelligence to plan the September 11 attacks, as well as the subsequent anthrax mailings.” [Village Voice, 11/21/2001] In late October, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the exile group opposed to Saddam Hussein, says it recently held meetings in London with him. [Daily Telegraph, 10/26/2001] Woolsey is a prominent neoconservative and already has extensive links with the INC (see 2000). It is unknown exactly what Woolsey does in Europe, but his trip has an apparent effect on the media. In addition to numerous articles about Atta’s alleged Prague visit, some articles appear attempting to tie Atta and the Iraqi government to the anthrax attacks as well. For instance, on October 14, 2001, The Observer will report, “According to sources in the Bush administration, investigators are talking to Egyptian authorities who say members of the al-Qaeda network, detained and interrogated in Cairo, had obtained phials of anthrax in the Czech Republic.” [Observer, 10/14/2001] And in late October, the London Times will not only report that Atta was given a vial of anthrax in Prague, but that he met with Iraqi agents numerous times all over Europe (see October 27, 2001). But no hard evidence will emerge supporting any of these allegations pushed by Woolsey.

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Iraqi National Congress, Saddam Hussein, James Woolsey, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Propaganda, Atta in Prague Connection, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

At the behest of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, former CIA Director James Woolsey and a team of Justice and Defense Department officials fly to London on a US government plane to look for evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Woolsey’s trip is in part the idea of neoconservative author Laurie Mylroie (see Late July or Early August 2001). It is the second such mission undertaken by Woolsey this year, as he made a similar trip in February (see February 2001). Woolsey is looking for evidence to support the theory (see Late July or Early August 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001) that Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 WTC bombing, was actually an Iraqi agent who had assumed the identity of a Pakistani student named Abdul Basit. Woolsey visits the Swansea Institute, where Basit studied, to see if Basit’s fingerprints match those of Yousef, who is now serving a life sentence in a Colorado prison. Matching fingerprints would discredit the theory. [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001; Observer, 10/14/2001; Daily Telegraph, 10/26/2001; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] While in Europe, Woolsey also attempts to link the Iraqi government to 9/11 and the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). But according to Knight Ridder, “Several of those with knowledge of the trips said they failed to produce any new evidence that Iraq was behind the attacks.” [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001] Newsweek will similarly report in 2004 that “the results of the Woolsey mission were exactly what the FBI had predicted: that the fingerprints were in fact identical.” [Newsweek, 4/21/2004] The local police in Swansea are curious about Woolsey’s visit and they call the US embassy in London to clarify if Woolsey is visiting in an official capacity. This alerts the State Department and CIA of Woolsey’s trip for the first time, and apparently both agencies are upset. One intelligence consultant familiar with the trip will say, “It was a stupid, stupid, and just plain wrong thing to do.” [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001; Village Voice, 11/21/2001] It is through this contact that Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet learn of Woolsey’s mission (see September 19-20, 2001). [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, George J. Tenet, James Woolsey, Abdul Basit, Colin Powell, Saddam Hussein, Paul Wolfowitz, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Propaganda, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The Observer reports that investigators of the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) believe Iraq is the prime suspect. One CIA source says, “They aren’t making this stuff in caves in Afghanistan. ‘This is prima facie evidence of the involvement of a state intelligence agency. Maybe Iran has the capability. But it doesn’t look likely politically. That leaves Iraq.” [Observer, 10/14/2001] However, this theory only remains the predominant one for a few days. On October 19, the New York Times is dismissive of the Iraq theory and suggests al-Qaeda or a disgruntled American loner could be behind the attacks instead (see October 19, 2001). In November, the American loner theory will become predominant (see November 10, 2001). But in late 2002, with war against Iraq growing increasingly likely, the Iraq theory appears to make a comeback (see October 28, 2002).

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Category Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The envelope to the New York Post anthrax letter.The envelope to the New York Post anthrax letter. [Source: FBI]The 2006 book Hubris by Michael Isikoff and David Corn will reveal that, at some point in October 2001, “[Counterterrorism “tsar” Wayne] Downing, [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz, and other proponents of a war with Iraq thought they had yet more ammunition for the case against Saddam” Hussein in the form of the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Author Laurie Mylroie, who had long suggested Iraq was behind numerous terrorist attacks against the US and whose ideas are influential with Wolfowitz and other Bush administration officials (see October 2000 and Late July or Early August 2001), quickly asserts that Iraq is behind the anthrax attacks as well. “An early forensic test of the anthrax letters (which was later disputed) appeared to show that the anthrax spores were highly refined and ‘weaponized.’ To the Iraq hawks, the news was electric. ‘This is definitely Saddam!’ Downing shouted to several White House aides. One of these aides later recalled overhearing Downing excitedly sharing the news over the phone with Wolfowitz and [Douglas] Feith. ‘I had the feeling they were high-five-ing each other,’ the White House official said.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006]

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Laurie Mylroie, Douglas Feith, Wayne Downing

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Category Tags: Diversion of Resources to Iraq, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Vice President Cheney chairs a National Security Council meeting because President Bush is overseas. According to journalist Bob Woodward, who later interviews many participants in the meeting, the topic of the recent anthrax attacks is discussed (see October 5-November 21, 2001). CIA Director George Tenet suggests that al-Qaeda is behind the attacks. He also adds, “I think there’s a state sponsor involved. It’s too well thought out, the powder’s too well refined. It might be Iraq, it might be Russia, it might be a renegade scientist,” perhaps from Iraq or Russia. Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby also suggests the anthrax attacks were state sponsored. “We’ve got to be careful on what we say. If we say it’s al-Qaeda, a state sponsor may feel safe and then hit us thinking they will have a bye because we’ll blame it on al-Qaeda.” Tenet replies, “I’m not going to talk about a state sponsor.” Vice President Cheney comments, “It’s good that we don’t, because we’re not ready to do anything about it.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 244] No strong evidence will emerge tying the attacks to al-Qaeda or any state sponsor. The anthrax attacks still remain completely unsolved.

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Bob Woodward, National Security Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Politicization of Intelligence, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) appears on the Late Show with David Letterman. Asked on how the recent US invasion of Afghanistan is progressing, McCain says, “I think we’re doing fine… The second phase… the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may—and I emphasize may—have come from Iraq.… If that should be the case, that’s when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made.” [Think Progress, 8/1/2008]

Entity Tags: John McCain

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Category Tags: The Decision to Invade, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

On October 26, 2001, Peter Jennings starts ABC News’s World News Tonight evening news broadcast with the comment: “We’re going to begin this evening with what we believe is a meaningful lead in the most sensitive anthrax case so far, despite a very recent denial by the White House. ABC News has learned what made the anthrax so dangerous in the letter to Senator Tom Daschle was a particular additive which only one country, as far as we know, that’s a very important caveat, only one country as far as we know, has used to produce biological weapons.”
Bentonite - ABC News reporter Brian Ross then adds: “The discovery of bentonite came in an urgent series of tests conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and elsewhere. [Bentonite is] a substance which helps keep the tiny anthrax particles floating in the air by preventing them from sticking together. It’s possible other countries may be using it, too, but it is a trademark of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program.”
Significance - Jennings ends the story by commenting: “This news about bentonite as the additive is being a trademark of the Iraqi biological weapons program is very significant. Partly because there’s been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration inside and out to go after Saddam Hussein. And some are going to be quick to pick up on this as a smoking gun. There is a battle about Iraq that’s been raging in the administration.”
Repeated - The story is repeated by ABC over the next several days, especially by Ross. Qualifications in the initial story are dropped over the next few days as Ross definitely claims that the anthrax “was laced with bentonite” and “the anthrax found in a letter to Senator Daschle is nearly identical to samples they recovered in Iraq in 1994.” On October 28, Ross claims, “[D]espite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.” [ABC News, 10/29/2001; Salon, 4/9/2007; Salon, 8/1/2008]
ABC News Keeps Promoting Story despite White House Denial - On October 29, ABC News notes that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has denied that bentonite was found on the letters. Fleischer says that no test or analysis has shown the presence of bentonite, and “no other finding contradicts or calls into question” that conclusion. But ABC News continues to push the story and quotes former UN weapons inspector Tim Trevan, who says that bentonite “means to me that Iraq becomes the prime suspect as the source of the anthrax used in these letters.” ABC News even brings up the alleged meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi spy in Prague, and quotes former UN weapons inspector Richard Butler: “There are reports that one of the things that may have happened at that meeting was that [Atta] was given by the Iraqi some sample of anthrax.… We do not know if that is true. I believe it is something that should be investigated.” [ABC News, 10/29/2001]
Dropped, Sort Of - ABC News finally drops the story on November 1, when Ross reports: “The White House said that despite initial test results which we reported suggesting the presence of a chemical called bentonite, a trademark of the Iraqi weapons program, a further chemical analysis has ruled that out. The White House says there are chemical additives in that anthrax including one called silica.” Yet this account is not entirely correct, because the White House denied the story from the very beginning, as ABC News made clear in their first stories on the subject, and their quoting of White House Press Secretary Fleischer. [TVNewser, 8/6/2008] But an ABC News article the same day by Gary Matsumoto continues to push the bentonite theory, despite acknowledging that lab results do not show signs of bentonite. He argues that perhaps a different form of bentonite was used that did not show the usual signs. He also argues that perhaps the anthrax was coated with silica, which would be another sign of high sophistication and possible government involvement in the attacks. This is the theory the White House is pushing (see October 25-29, 2001), although it too will eventually be discredited by the FBI (see August 2006). [ABC News, 11/1/2001]
Iraq's Link to Bentonite Questioned - In October 2002, the Washington Post will reveal that early in the anthrax investigation, “US authorities dismissed the possibility that Iraq could have sponsored the attacks because investigators determined that the spores had been coated with silica to make them disperse quickly, rather than the mineral bentonite, regarded by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command as Iraq’s additive of choice.” Furthermore, “Iraq’s alleged preference for bentonite appears to be based on a single sample of a common pesticide collected by UN authorities from Iraq’s Al Hakam biological weapons facility in the mid-1990s.” [Washington Post, 10/28/2002]
Common Clay - Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald will later note: “The very idea that bentonite is ‘a troubling chemical additive,’ let alone that it is some sort of unique Iraqi hallmark, is inane. Bentonite is merely a common clay that is produced all over the world, including from volcanic eruptions.” A geology professor comments: “It is not ‘a chemical additive’ and it is not unique to Iraq. It is widespread and common, and readily available wherever you can get ‘drilling mud.’” [Salon, 4/9/2007]
No Correction - But even though it emerges that bentonite was never actually detected in the anthrax samples, ABC News will not correct its story until after it is heavily pressured to do so in late 2008 (see August 6, 2008).

Entity Tags: Tim Trevan, Richard Butler, Glenn Greenwald, Gary Matsumoto, Peter Jennings, Ari Fleischer, ABC News, Brian Ross

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

A London Times article by Daniel McGrory claims that not only did Mohamed Atta meet with an Iraqi agent in Prague, but that “a special FBI team” is studying “a report from Prague that anthrax spores were given to Atta” during the meeting. Furthermore, “Saddam’s agents were spotted at various times this year with Atta in Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic,” and that Atta met with the agent in Prague at least four times. Additionally, an Iraqi intelligence agent in Rome was seen with Atta in Prague and Hamburg and then disappeared shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The article also alleges numerous meetings between Iraqi agents and Osama bin Laden, as well as a meeting between al-Qaeda second-in command Ayman Zawahiri and Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan. Furthermore, al-Qaeda operatives were supposedly given advanced weapons training in Iraq supervised by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday Hussein. The article mentions no sources at all for these stunning allegations, except to refer to some other recent articles in a couple of cases. However, the article does mention former CIA Director James Woolsey, and it seems probable that Woolsey is a force behind the article, since he is in London at the time attempting to find evidence supporting the Prague meeting and Iraqi involvement in the anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). [London Times, 10/27/2001] This article represents the height of the propaganda effort attempting to link al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government together. Many of the allegations in the article are never mentioned in any other newspaper article, and all of them will eventually be debunked.

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mohamed Atta, Osama bin Laden, Taha Yasin Ramadan, Uday Hussein

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Atta in Prague Connection, Propaganda, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

US satellite photos reportedly show increased activity near the Taji factory in Iraq, which US intelligence suspects may be involved in the production of anthrax. The facility is located 10 miles outside of Baghdad. [World Tribune, 8/14/2002] But on August 20, a week after news of the satellite photos are reported, the Iraqi government allows 15 journalists, mostly Iraqis representing foreign presses, to tour the alleged weapons site. Reporters who tour the facility find “piles of 110-pound sacks of sugar and rice and boxes of milk covered the floor. Writing on the sacks [indicates]… they were imported under the oil-for-food program that allows Iraq to sell unlimited quantities of oil provided the proceeds go for food, medicine and other supplies,” [Associated Press, 8/20/2002] including powdered milk imported from Yemen, Vietnam, Tunisia and Indonesia and sacks of sugar imported from Egypt and India. [Common Dreams, 8/20/2002] Iraq’s trade minister, Mohammed Mehdi Saleh, explains that the trucks captured by the satellite photos had been distributing foodstuffs from al-Taji to warehouses in the various provinces of Iraq. He states: “They [Americans] are checking every movement in Iraq, but a satellite cannot tell real information. This is rubbish information, actually rubbish information to convert baby milk and baby food and sugar to weapons of mass destruction…. We started to move food from this warehouse to supply stores in provinces early this month, and more specifically on August 4 as we started to distribute food rations every two months…. We have transported 2,500 tons of powdered milk in 187 trucks and not 60 trucks as the Americans said and we will continue (to do so)…. If they enlarge the satellite photographs they can compare boxes of the baby milk moved from this site as they were not covered and boxes here.” [Common Dreams, 8/20/2002] An enlargement of the pictures would have revealed the words, “Al-moudhish,” written on the packages—the brand name of the milk that had been imported from Oman. [Associated Press, 8/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Mehdi Saleh

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Politicization of Intelligence, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

In autumn 2002, US Delta Force units train on a mobile biological weapons factory to prepare them for dealing with mobile biological weapons factories in Iraq. The factory is just like the factories the US accuses the Iraqi government of having but which it does not have. The chief designer of the factory is Steven Hatfill, who is also the FBI’s main suspect at the time for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Hatfill began designing the factory while working for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a contractor for the US military and the CIA. He begins gathering parts to build it in 2000, and construction began in September 2001, at a metalworking plant near Fort Detrick, Maryland. SAIC fired him in March 2002, after he failed to get a high-level security clearance and he came under suspicion for the October 2001 anthrax attacks. But Hatfill continues to work on the half-built factory on his own, for no pay, until it is finished later that year. Once it is done, Hatfill continues to advise the US military about it, and sometimes supervises Delta Force training exercises on it at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. However, at the same time, the Justice Department and the FBI is heavily investigating Hatfill for the anthrax attacks, and there is a conflict between agencies over Hatfill’s continued role with the factory. The FBI wants to confiscate the factory, but the military will not give it up. Its equipment includes a fermenter, a centrifuge, and “a mill for grinding clumps of anthrax into the best size for penetrating human lungs,” according to experts familiar with it. However, its components are not connected and it is never used to make lethal germs. The FBI examines the unit but finds no anthrax spores or any other evidence linking it to the anthrax attacks. [New York Times, 7/2/2003] Hatfill will be cleared of any connection to the anthrax attacks in 2008 (see June 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Steven Hatfill, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Category Tags: Pre-9/11 Plans for War, Alleged WMDs, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The Washington Post reports in a front-page story, “A significant number of scientists and biological warfare experts are expressing skepticism about the FBI’s view that a single disgruntled American scientist prepared the spores and mailed the deadly anthrax letters that killed five people last year.” More than a dozen experts suggest investigators should “reexamine the possibility of state-sponsored terrorism, or try to determine whether weaponized spores may have been stolen by the attacker from an existing, but secret, biodefense program or perhaps given to the attacker by an accomplice.” These experts suggest that making the type of anthrax used could take a team of experts and millions of dollars. The article focuses on the possibility that Iraq could be to blame, and mentions that unnamed senior Bush administration officials believe Iraq was behind the attacks (see October 28, 2002). However, even though the Post claims “a consensus has emerged in recent months among experts,” only one expert, Richard Spertzel, is named who supports the Iraq theory. Spertzel was the chief biological inspector for the UN Special Commission from 1994 to 1998. He says: “In my opinion, there are maybe four or five people in the whole country who might be able to make this stuff, and I’m one of them. And even with a good lab and staff to help run it, it might take me a year to come up with a product as good.” [Washington Post, 10/28/2002] Although the article doesn’t mention it, the other scientists Spertzel say could make the anthrax are renowned bioterrorism expert William Patrick and several unnamed scientists at Dugway Proving Ground, the US Army’s bioweapons laboratory in Utah, that Patrick trained in anthrax production in 1998. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] This renewed focus on an Iraq-anthrax link coincides with the US push to go to war with Iraq, and will fade after the Iraq war starts.

Entity Tags: Richard Spertzel, Federal Bureau of Investigation, William C. Patrick III

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Category Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

A Washington Post front page article about the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) states, “Bush administration officials have acknowledged that the anthrax attacks were an important motivator in the US decision to confront Iraq, and several senior administration officials say today that they still strongly suspect a foreign source—perhaps Iraq—even though no one has publicly said so.” The rest of the article focuses on the theory that the attacks were so sophisticated that a state such as Iraq was likely responsible (see October 28, 2002). [Washington Post, 10/28/2002] The Bush administration initially suggested there could be a link between the anthrax attacks and Iraq (see October 14, 2001 and October 17, 2001), but in November 2001 the FBI began focusing on the theory that a loner American was the sole culprit (see November 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, The Decision to Invade, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

On December 6, 2002, conservative media pundit Bill O’Reilly says about Saddam Hussein, “I can’t, in good conscience, tell the American people that I know for sure that he has smallpox or anthrax or he’s got nuclear or chemical and that he is ready to use that. I cannot say that as a journalist or an American.” O’Reilly is far more certain on February 7, 2003, when he tells his listeners, “According to the UN, he’s got anthrax, VX gas, ricin, and on and on.” On February 23, 2003, he says flatly, “This guy we know has anthrax and VX and all this stuff.” Then on March 18, 2003, just two days before the US invades Iraq, he says that he isn’t sure what kind of WMDs Saddam Hussein may possess: “Here’s the bottom line on this for every American and everybody in the world: Nobody knows for sure, all right? We don’t know what he has. We think he has 8,500 liters of anthrax. But let’s see.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), 5/2003]

Entity Tags: Bill O’Reilly, Saddam Hussein, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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