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MARGARET WARNER: For an update on the investigation and some insight into how authorities are going about it, we turn to Stephen Engelberg, an investigations editor at The New York Times. He co-authored the book Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War; and Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s counter-terrorism operations. He is now an international security consultant. Welcome, gentlemen. Steve Engelberg, beginning with you, pick up on what Dr. Koplan just said. How far along are investigators in determining who’s behind these attacks?
STEPHEN ENGELBERG, New York Times: Well, as far as we know, not that far. There are two avenues you can go down; I think the FBI is going down both of them. One is the very straightforward criminal investigation. Where did the letter come from, what can we deduce from the envelope, what can we deduce about the handwriting, what can we deduce about where it was mailed? Obviously we’re doing all of that. But – you know — that only takes you so far. There are generally some things that weapons experts say people who have made this kind of anthrax in their past, say might be deduced about the form it’s in. If you sort of have a sense of what the particles look like and how they’ve been milled, you might be able to say that this comes from somebody who worked in one or another foreign programs, but that’s a lot of guesswork. And the fact of the matter is, you know, this may be a very difficult crime to crack. We in America have been quite spoiled about terrorism. If you remember back to World Trade Center One, or Oklahoma City, we seemed to have an answer in about 48 hours. I think, unfortunately, you know, a more relevant example might be Ted Kaczynski, –
MARGARET WARNER: The Unabomber…
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: — the Unabomber, which was a 17-year investigation.
MARGARET WARNER: And involved the mails.
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: Involved the mails.
MARGARET WARNER: Vince Cannistraro, what would you add to that in terms of how much progress has been made?
VINCENT CANNISTRARO, former intelligence official: I don’t think a lot of progress has been made. I think as Steve has said, there are some things you can deduce right away from the writing, the hand lettering of the messages on the envelopes, and inside the envelopes. You can deduce something about the strain of anthrax, whether it’s a strain that has been genetically modified or manipulated.
MARGARET WARNER: And we just heard that it has not been.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: It has not been, so that suggests that it is a common variety. It suggests also that it probably doesn’t come from the Iraqi bio weapons program, because we know something about the nature of the anthrax strains that were cultivated by the Iraqi program. These do not seem to be similar to that. Likewise, it doesn’t seem to be similar to other strains and other bio weapons programs such as in the Czech Republic. So we may be dealing with something that is going to be very, very difficult to pin down. But at the same time, it may be completely domestic in origin and dissemination.
MARGARET WARNER: Steve Engleberg, as you said, there are couple different avenues to go down. I may not choose the same avenues, but one is analyzing the letter, and one is analyzing what was in the letter, the anthrax. Take us through a little more about the letter itself. They know the three letters at least that they still have were postmarked in Trenton, and what, they all went through the same mail processing facility, is that correct?
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: That’s right.
MARGARET WARNER: And at least one mail handler has contracted it. How far does that get them?
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: Well, I don’t think it gets you very far. If you look at that route– and by the way, it may not be the route that they first focused on; they’re now looking at other routes-I mean you have mailboxes, you have apartment buildings where there are large bins into which letters can be tossed, you have post offices. I think that this is going to be extremely difficult to track down. I think Vince made a good point. Just because we think about foreign programs doesn’t mean this couldn’t be entirely domestic. And I think one has to think about that possibility as well.
MARGARET WARNER: More on the letter, Vince Cannistraro. Let’s talk about the handwriting, because the authorities have released… First they released the envelopes, which showed, wouldn’t you say, that it the same person who wrote all three?
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: It seems to be the same person who is the author of all three.
MARGARET WARNER: Then yesterday they released the actual texts of the letters and we have those. Let’s put one up: Maybe the letter to Tom Brokaw and this also went to the New York Post. Take a look at this. What does an investigator look at there?
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: Well, he looks at the lettering itself and in the context of the letter. At the top you see "09-11-01," referring to September 11. So the author of this letter is trying to put the mailing in the context of the September 11 bombings, but that is written by someone who is probably not foreign born.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you say that?
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: Because of the way you describe 9-11-01. In the Middle East they wouldn’t put the date that way. In Europe they wouldn’t put the date that way. That’s something that’s unique to the United States.
MARGARET WARNER: It would be 11-9-01.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: It would be 11-9-01. That’s correct. Then the writing itself, the block lettering: A native Arabic writer who is used to writing in cursive from right to left, if he then learns to write English, would not be writing with a forward slant, would be writing with a leftward slant. And so that’s another indication. The word penicillin is spelled incorrectly, of course. Then the phrases, "Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great," it almost sounds like a conception of someone in the United States of what a foreign terrorist would write and what he would do. Al-Qaida, the organization of bin Laden, probably doesn’t use language like this. Now it doesn’t mean that it is not identified with al-Qaida, but it does indicate something else. "Allah is Great," for example, is probably also not a construction that a devout Muslim would use that way.
MARGARET WARNER: Steve Engelberg, what would you add to this?
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: Well, I find this letter fascinating in the sense that if you look at the first one, it says, "This is next." You look at a later one, it says, "Take your penicillin." Vince and I have both been students of al-Qaida over the years. They’re not big on warnings. They don’t preannounce what they’re going to do. And they don’t do things on a small scale. If you look at the al-Qaida style of terrorism, it’s larger and larger and larger style extravaganzas.
MARGARET WARNER: Mass casualties.
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: Yeah. This does not, at least in the previous history, have the feel for it. One other thing that is interesting is that bin Laden lately has had a habit — doesn’t ever take credit, but he always says… Thanks God this happened. Curious that in this case even if they haven’t done it, you have not seen an "Al-Jazeera" tape in which bin Laden or somebody else comes forward and says, "Thank God the germs are attacking America."
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now back to the anthrax before we end. We heard Dr. Koplan say that this was a common strain but not genetically modified.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: But what about the question– and Jim was asking about this– the level of skill that an individual would have to have and what kind of equipment that he or she would have to have?
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: I think the person would have to have some specialized knowledge, some sophisticated background in biology. And there is a difference in the granularity of the samples sent to New York and the samples sent to Capitol Hill, to Senator Daschle’s office. It’s milled much finer in the Washington samples, to five microns or better, which suggests a sophisticated milling machine to do that, and someone who knows how to use it. So I think that does narrow it down a little bit.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Steve Engelberg, for instance, if you had to go out and buy this equipment or get the anthrax, does that leave a trail, or is this stuff available in a way that investigators could never find the trail?
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: Well, you’d be surprised. The Pentagon a couple years ago went and did a program in which they gave some people a million dollars and said, "Go out and build yourself an anthrax factory." And they found that you could get the fermenter you needed on the Internet from Germany, from a brewery, you know, somebody selling used equipment. The other equipment was basically available if you knew what you were doing, from Lowe’s Hardware Store or Home Depot. The anthrax is a bit of a trick if you want to get a strain that is truly virulent, that takes something. But the main thing you need here is knowledge. Once you know what you’re doing and you have somebody guiding you, the trail you leave is not that wide a swath.
MARGARET WARNER: And are there lots of Americans with that level of knowledge?
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: Not a lot of Americans. But around the world there are people. There are people who worked in the Soviet weapons program or the Iraqi weapons program or elsewhere, I think, North Korea if you could find them, who might have this kind of knowledge.
MARGARET WARNER: Bottom line, Vince Cannistraro, discovering people who have sent things through the mail, as Steve Engleberg pointed out with the Unabomber, has been very, very difficult.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO: It’s very difficult, and if this is a Unabomber-type person who is doing this, it may take a long time to find them.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Vince Cannistraro, Steve Engleberg, thank you both.