January 10, 2002

Following the anthrax trail

by Bob Fitrakis

The FBI investigation has led to connections between Battelle, the CIA, a former Soviet bio-warrior and an alleged bin Laden business associate.

While the national and international media has been busy exploring Battelle’s possible connection to the anthrax scare, the local media has been eerily quiet when it comes to Battelle’s ties to intelligence agencies and companies linked to an alleged bin Laden family business associate. Here’s what they’re not telling you:

The spooky Dr. Strangelove Institute headquartered in Columbus may be ground zero in the domestic military-industrial anthrax scare. With five people dead and 18 ill, Battelle’s role in directing the U.S. Defense Department’s “joint vaccine acquisition program” is now coming under heavy scrutiny—just not in Columbus.

Battelle, in partnership with BioPort of Lansing, Michigan, has a virtual monopoly on military anthrax vaccine production in the United States. BioPort is partly owned by a top-secret British bio-warfare consortium, Porton International. The New York Times reported in July 1998 that BioPort’s owners included Admiral William Crowe Jr., a former chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and ambassador to Britain during the Clinton years. One of Crowe’s partners is the mysterious Fuad El-Habri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent and a reported business associate of the bin Laden family.

Laura Rozen pointed out in an October 13, 2001, Salon.com article that El-Habri, BioPort’s CEO, “made a fortune” working for “Porton International” during the Gulf War a decade ago. Porton had a virtual monopoly on the anthrax vaccine in Britain in partnership with Battelle. Porton International’s for-profit arm, the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research (CAMR), announced last March it was putting together a joint proposal with Battelle to supply the U.K. with an anthrax vaccine.

What’s Porton International, you might ask? Well, they’re the Battelle, so to speak, of the U.K. In the weeks immediately preceding the September 11 attacks, the consortium’s laboratories located at Porton Down made national news in Britain when the BBC reported that Porton Down scientists had conducted biological and chemical experiments on “about 20,000 so-called human guinea pigs… between 1939 and the 1960s.”

On August 27, Britain’s Independent newspaper reported that Porton’s chemical and biological defense branch “tested LSD on soldiers to investigate its ‘tactical battlefield usefulness’” in the ’60s. Two days later, the Sunday Telegraph reported that the experiments included dripping liquid sarin, the deadly nerve gas, onto a patch taped to a soldier’s arm. The British police were investigating between 45 and 70 deaths linked to the experiments.

As I reported in Columbus Alive immediately after the anthrax scare began, Battelle is involved in developing a new and stronger strain of anthrax at its West Jefferson labs. Don’t be deceived by the fake farmland facades of the West Jefferson complex: It’s the center of an unclassified defense project going under the name “Project Jefferson,” according to the New York Times.

The Times also confirmed that the CIA is involved with its own top-secret anthrax project, code-named “Clear Vision.” The presence of the CIA and specter of “national security” is thwarting the current FBI investigation into the mailed anthrax, sources say.

More than any other organization, Battelle controlled access to the Ames strain of anthrax used in various secret projects—and the strain found in last fall’s deadly letters. The Baltimore Sun reported that the Ames strain was also being produced at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, but this is a red herring. Battelle’s involved in that program as well.

A Battelle press release dated December 18, 2001, reads: “Battelle is expanding… with the opening of a suite of offices in West Valley City, Utah. The office will house existing business operation from Battelle’s Dugway, Hill Air Force Base, and Toole, Utah, locations.” Battelle co-manages many labs and projects including the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, well known for its role in the nuclear weapons industry.

As I previously noted in Alive, the number-two man in the former Soviet biochemical warfare operation, Kanatjan Alibekov, now going by the alias Ken Alibek, is a classified consultant with both the CIA and Battelle. A 1998 New Yorker article pointed to work on the anthrax project Alibek conducted with William C. Patrick III. Patrick, now president of Biothreat Assessments, has 48 years of biological warfare experience with the U.S. military, including a stint as the chief of the Army’s Product Development Division (which weaponizes biological agents).

The current FBI investigation has led toward the Patrick/Alibek/Battelle/CIA connection. But whether the feds have the will, or the authority, to investigate spook central in Columbus is another question. The New York Times, on November 9, reported that the FBI already made an error in the “anthrax probe” by allowing the “destruction of university” samples that “may have caused clues to be lost.”

On December 17, London’s Telegraph ran the headline: “CIA links Porton Down to anthrax attacks.” The newspaper reported, “Sources in the FBI said the CIA was under investigation because of the bureau’s ‘interest’ in a contractor which used to work for the agency in its anthrax program.” Sources at Battelle and in law enforcement say the contractor in question was Alibek, not the unnamed former Battelle scientist in Milwaukee the Columbus Dispatch has referred to.

Alibek, who arrived in the U.S. in 1992, needs to be looked at very closely; news reports suggest he had possible financial stakes in a biochemical scare. On October 29, the Washington Post reported that Alibek “has hooked up with an Alexandria, Virginia, company, and, supported by federal grants, opened a laboratory of 35 people.” The article notes the former Soviet bio-warfare scientist is “learning to be a capitalist.”

“Hadron Advanced Biosystems Inc., Alibek’s company, sports an unusual provenance for a biotechnical venture. No other company, doing any kind of work, can claim to be headed by a former number-two man in a vast program aimed at turning anthrax, plague, smallpox, tularemia and many other germs into weapons of war,” noted the Post. “Alibek’s venture is a subsidiary of Hadron Inc…. a publicly traded 37-year-old government contractor specializing in defense and espionage work.”

The FBI’s investigation initially focused on who stood to gain financially from the deadly anthrax letters (as in, who has a stake in increased sales of the anthrax vaccine, for instance). Sources close to the investigation say that El-Habri’s possible ties to the bin Laden family also caused the FBI some concern—not to mention his role as CEO of the only laboratory in the U.S. licensed to sell the anthrax vaccine. But the convergence of the Strangelovian Battelle with BioPort, the British Porton Down consortium and the role of prominent individuals like Alibek, Crowe and El-Habri suggests that much of this is likely to be covered up.

Ironically, this summer, George W. Bush renounced long-standing calls by the Russians for mutual inspections of biochemical weapons sites like Battelle. Bush claimed that mutual inspection of U.S. biochemical technology sites by foreign scientists could risk revealing commercial trade secrets—secrets that would be worth a fortune if a few people controlled the commercial rights to them.