I am not one for conspiracy theories, as regular New Statesman readers know. But this week I must air an intriguing possibility: why have there been no arrests or charges in the anthrax investigations, following the five deaths and mass panic more than ten months ago? "The longer nothing happens, the more one is forced to come to the conclusion that there is a reason why the process is not going forward", Dr Barbara Hatch Rosenberg--chair of the Federation of American Scientists' working group on biological weapons and an academic at the State University of New York--tells me.
In other words, is a cover-up going on? The FBI says it has interviewed 5,000 people, issued 1,700 grand jury subpoenas, polygraphed hundreds of people and created 112 databases in a continuing investigation that has so far cost many millions; it says that it has reduced the number of suspects to a net of 30. But in the tiny world of biological warfare experts here, one name is on everyone's lips. I shall call him "Dr X", though I know his real name and whereabouts.
The FBI has searched his home twice, polygraphed him and interviewed him four times; it has now privately told his new employers at the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training that he is no longer a suspect. But the circumstantial evidence against the 48-year-old man is startling.
From 1997 to 1999, he worked at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland--the American equivalent of Porton Down--an hour north of DC, where (according to his own 1999 CV) he acquired a "working knowledge" of "wet and dry BW [biological warfare] agents and knowledge of how to produce Bacillus globigii", a chemical offshoot of the lethal anthrax. He was among a small number vaccinated against anthrax.
It is now beyond doubt that the lethal doses of anthrax, as I revealed here last 10 December, were from the Ames strain and obtained from US military sources (that is to say, Fort Detrick).
It now seems likely that the anthrax was sent by an American who had no wish to kill people, but merely to hammer away at his hobby-horse: that the US is unprepared for a biological warfare attack. Dr X, after leaving Fort Detrick and working for the Science Applications International Corporation, even commissioned a study that included a scenario of an envelope containing anthrax powder being released in an office. Following his exclusion from a terrorism seminar in 1997, Dr X wrote to the organisers protesting his absence; "I am tremendously interested in becoming more involved in this BW [biological warfare] area," he wrote.
But Dr X's earlier background is even more intriguing. He was brought up in Illinois but obtained medical and other doctoral degrees in what was then Rhodesia, and South Africa. In his CV, he claims he worked with the Selous Scouts (the Rhodesian equivalent of the SAS) and had contacts with South African intelligence, too.
This leads us to a compelling question. In his period there (1978-80), why was there the biggest outbreak of anthrax in modern history--among Rhodesian blacks (affecting 10,000) as they fought for independence? Eerily, Dr X worked close to the Greendale part of Salisbury (now Harare): and the name of the fictitious school in New Jersey that was the return address for the anthrax letters of last September? "Greendale" school, fourth grade.
Then there are the hoax letters. It is not generally known that a series of hoax letters--supposedly containing anthrax but in fact with harmless powder inside--started as early as 1997. One was sent to B'nai B'rith, the best-known Jewish group in the US, with a letter saying it contained "anthracks" (the real ones last September had similar unconvincing misspellings such as "penacilin"); this, presumably, was a crude attempt to suggest that illiterate Arab …