"Domestic terrorists real possibility, experts say"

By Jerry Mitchell

Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer

10/26/01 p. 1
 

While Washington questions whether foreign terrorists are behind recent anthrax attacks, the real possibility exists that domestic terrorists are responsible, experts say.

"They could be running a copycat incident on the back of Sept. 11," said L. Paul Bremer, a former U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands who was in charge of counterterrorism in the Reagan administration and is now chairman and CEO of Washington-based Marsh Crisis Consulting. "There's certainly precedence for that."

Terrorism typically inspires imitators, he said. "We found when there was one hijacking, you tended to get a whole bunch in a row. It's sort of a general pattern of terrorists."

Authorities this week have released copies of the three letters containing anthrax that were written to the New York Post, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

After analyzing copies of those letters, retired Air Force counterterrorism specialist Gary Brown said he believes the letters are the work of domestic, not foreign, terrorists.

Brown, whose Oregon firm specializes in analyzing documents for truthfulness, said the terrorists behind the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks didn't send any letters or notes afterward. If the same people are responsible for the anthrax attacks, he asked, why would they do so in this case? "Why didn't they send some kind of note then (Sept. 11) that said 'Death to America' or 'These will continue' ?" Brown asked.

In contrast to the Sept. 11 attack, planned for years, the Daschle letter "appears to be an afterthought," Brown said.
The second question regarding the letters is "what are the terrorists' goals?" Brown asked.
Presumably, in the case of terrorists who struck the World Trade Center, the answer is "death to Israel, death to America," he said.

Yet those phrases don't appear until the very end of the letter, he said.

In fact, the phrase "Death to Israel" in the Brokaw letter is actually written a little smaller than other phrases, "which would indicate it was even less important," he said. "That doesn't compute in my mind. It's almost like 'Death to Israel' was an afterthought."

The letter sent to Daschle is more threatening than the others and appears to have contained more anthrax because many more people have been exposed to the anthrax, including postal carriers, experts say.
One possible explanation is the Brokaw and New York Post letters, which were sent first, didn't get the desired reaction, Brown said.

Some handwriting experts have suggested the deliberate printing indicates a person may be trying to conceal his handwriting.

"Who would be more likely to try to conceal their writing?" Brown asked.

Would terrorists who plan to commit suicide, Brown asked, actually worry about whether their handwriting is recognized? "What do they care? It sounds like someone trying to take advantage of 9-11, but they're not so suicidal."

He said the biggest giveaway the terrorist is probably domestic is a phrase contained in the note to Daschle: "Are you afraid?"

"That is not what a terrorist would say," Brown said. "That's a question brought about by a lack of self-esteem and respect."

Some of the terrorists' choice of targets appear puzzling, some experts say. For instance, they say, why would foreign terrorists pick the New York Post over The New York Times? Why a grocery store tabloid instead of internationally known CNN?

"If this is someone like Timothy McVeigh and some of his friends, they would definitely go after the media outlet in Florida that puts out tabloids," Brown said.

But there's a danger in reading too much into targets, said Daniel Levitas of the Kansas City-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights and a researcher on hate groups. "The reason the media were chosen is what seems most simple they're a great megaphone for the transmission of the message."

He said those on the radical right have dabbled in biological warfare for years.

In 1995, members of the Minnesota Patriots' Council were arrested and charged with possession of ricin, a deadly biochemical substance.

In the years that followed, a white supremacist from Ohio was accused of possessing a weakened form of anthrax, and members of an anti-government group in Texas were arrested for plotting to use a cactus thorn dipped in anthrax or HIV as a weapon.

Besides that, reports show the anthrax found in the three letters is similar to the U.S. Ames strain, which was sent from the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in 1980.

Levitas suggested the perpetrator could even be a Unabomber-type, acting on his own. "America's history is full of mass murderers who delighted in the murders of American people they didn't know," he said.

Scott Ritter of Delmar, N.Y., a former United Nations weapons inspector whose new documentary, In Shifting Sands, has just been released, said his first inclination was Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida was the culprit based on the timing.

But phrases such as "Death to America," "Death to Israel" and "Allah is great" sound more boiler-plate than authentic terrorist, he said, making him think it could be a domestic copycat, most likely an extremist right-wing group, given the targets of the attacks.

"It's almost like they're leading you down the path," Ritter said. "I think ultimately the content of the letters will not matter as much as handwriting and technical analysis. I'm pretty confident the FBI is going to get these guys."

Chester Quarles, a University of Mississippi professor who has written several books on terrorism, said his gut feeling today is the same as it was in 1995, when the Oklahoma City bombing took place.

"Everybody was saying, 'This was the hand of foreign terrorists.' But I was saying, 'No, this is the hand of right-wing extremism,' " he said. "It's just my perception, but I really think this is a right-wing radical."

For starters, the overall tone of the three anthrax letters rings false, he said. "It doesn't sound like the typical party line."

Also, there's a difference in the tone of the various letters, he said. The letter to Daschle sounds so much more threatening, Quarles said.

"It sounds personal. In (Daschle's) case, it could be a murderer versus a terrorist," he said.

In contrast, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw is told in his letter to take penicillin, a hint the writer might like Brokaw, Quarles said.

As for those who would suggest Americans couldn't come up with such anthrax, he said, "I think we underestimate how well-informed the average young American is. You can go on the Internet and learn how to make bombs. To say, 'Well, you have to be some mad scientist in some laboratory in the Middle East, run by some mad scientist,' I don't buy into that."

Copyright 2001 Clarion-Ledger

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