The Faithful Spy: Amerithrax Spoiler Alert
The Faithful Spy: Amerithrax Spoiler Alert
By Ross Getman
New York Times correspondent Alex Berenson has written a spy thriller called Faithful Spy. The hero, John Wells, has been undercover so long that the CIA is no longer sure where his loyalties lie. Only the mid-level CIA analyst at Langley, Jennifer Exley, believes in him. But as Zawahiri's plan to unleash the most devastating bioterrorist attack in history unfolds, Wells and Exley know they must stop him, with or without the help of the ass-covering bureacrats at Langley. Spoiler alert: our hero gets the girl.
Vahid Majidi, a former Los Alamos chemist who heads the FBI Directorate of Weapons of Mass Destruction, last week commented to the New York Daily News about these Jack Bauer (from the tv show "24") scenarios. "Al Qaeda also developed anthrax, but Majidi said the lack of attacks since 2001 indicates they don't have the capability." Dr. Majidi or FBI Director Mueller would have to clarify the statement. Is that because Al Qaeda had the capability but a cell planning to attack the United States was captured?
The President mentioned that Yazid Sufaat's two principal assistants had been captured in 2003. They had been helping Sufaat prior to 9/11. One man was Sudanese -- another was Egyptian. Ron Suskind in the One Percent Solution reported, without naming a source, that "extremely virulent" anthrax was found at a house in Kandahar in Autumn 2003 (that had existed prior to 9/11). He says authorities knew it could be readily weaponized. As intriguing as that vague report is, however, isotopes of the anthrax used in the attacks indicate that the anthrax was grown in the Northeastern United States, not Afghanistan.
The Washington Post, in an article "Hardball Tactics in an Era of Threats," dated September 3, 2006 summarized events relating an American scientist Ali Al-Timimi:
"To the government, they were a terrorist risk in the Washington area. To local Muslims, they were unfairly singled out for prosecution and severe sentences in a post-9/11 world.
'In late 2002, the FBI's Washington field office received two similar tips from local Muslims: Timimi was running 'an Islamic group known as the Dar al-Arqam' that had 'conducted military-style training,' FBI special agent John Wyman would later write in an affidavit.
Wyman and another agent, Wade Ammerman, pounced on the tips. Searching the Internet, they found a speech by Timimi celebrating the crash of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003, according to the affidavit. The agents also found that Timimi was in contact with Sheikh Safar al-Hawali, a Saudi whose anti-Western speeches in the early 1990s had helped inspire bin Laden.
The agents reached an alarming conclusion: 'Timimi is an Islamist supporter of Bin Laden' who was leading a group 'training for jihad,' the agent wrote in the affidavit. The FBI even came to speculate that Timimi, a doctoral candidate pursuing cancer gene research, might have been involved in the anthrax attacks.”
On a frigid day in late February 2003, the FBI searched Timimi's brick townhouse on near Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax. Among the items they were seeking, according to court testimony: material on weapons of mass destruction.
His defense lawyer says that the FBI searched the townhouse "to connect him to the 9/11 attacks or to schemes to unleash a biological or nuclear attack." Unlike in Berenson’s riveting fictional account Faithful Spy, there was no basement lab -- there was no evidence at all found that even remotely hinted at a planned biological attack. When that effort failed, defense counsel says, investigators focused on Al-Timimi’s connections to the men who attended his lectures at the local Falls Church, Va.
Ali Al-Timimi was a graduate student at George Mason University. In November 2000, GMU announced that the School of Computational Sciences and Advanced Biosystems, Inc., a subsidiary of Hadron, Inc., of Alexandria, was pursuing a collaborative program at the Prince William Campus to enhance research and educational objectives in biodefense research. The program was funded primarily by a grant awarded to Advanced Biosystems from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It was located at GMU’s Discovery Hall on Prince William 2 campus.
Ali Al-Timimi worked at George Mason University's Discovery Hall throughout 2000 and 2002 period He drafted an October 6, 2002 in the name of dissident Sheik al-Hawali, Bin Laden's former religious instructor, just before the US Congress vote authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The letter warned of the disastrous consequences that would follow an invasion of Iraq. Dr. Timimi's defense committee explained on their website:
"Because Dr. Al-Timimi felt that he did not have enough stature to send a letter in his name on behalf of Muslims, he contacted Dr. Al-Hawali among others to send the letter. Dr. Al-Hawali agreed and sent a revised version which Dr. Al-Timimi then edited and had hand delivered to every member of Congress."
Bin Laden had referred to Sheik al-Hawali in his 1996 declaration of war on America. Prior to the 1998 embassy bombings, Ayman's London cell sent letters to three different media outlets in Europe claiming responsibility for the bombings and referring to Hawali's imprisonment. In two of the letters, the conditions laid out as to how the violence would stop were (1) release of Sheik Hawali (who along with another had been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia in 1994) and (2) the release of blind sheik Abdel Rahman (who had been imprisoned in connection with WTC 1993). Hawali was released in 1999 after he agreed to stop advocating against the Saudi regime and agreed to limit himself to urging the destruction of the United States and Israel.
Instead of starting a center from scratch, GMU chose to join forces with Dr. Alibek and Dr. Bailey's existing research firm, Hadron Advanced Biosystems Inc., which was already working under contract for the federal government, having received funding from DARPA. Dr. Alibek told the Washington Post that he and Bailey had spent their careers studying an issue that only recently grabbed the country's attention, after the anthrax mailings the previous fall. Dr. Bailey and Alibek met in 1991, when a delegation of Soviet scientists visited the USAMRIID at Ft. Detrick. Dr. Bailey explained that the purpose of the tour was to show the Soviets that the US was not developing offensive biological weapons. Bailey said he tried to engage Alibek in conversation but Alibek remained aloof. Alibek, for his part, explains that he was suspicious of this American smiling so broadly at him. A year later, Alibek would defect to the US and reveal an illegal biological program in the Soviet Union of a staggering scope. Alibek says that one reason he defected was that he realized that the Soviet intelligence was wrong -- that the US research was in fact only defensive.
In Saudi Arabia, Al-Timimi had been mentored by a Saudi-trained Canadian imam Bilal Philips. Philips was Al-Timimi’s Islamic Studies teacher at high school in Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s. Al-Timimi adopted Philips' view that “The clash of civilizations is a reality,” and “Western culture led by the United States is an enemy of Islam.”
After completing his religious education in Saudi Arabia in Medina, Ali Al Timimi had returned to the United States and received a second bachelor's degree -- this time in computer science at the University of Maryland, while also studying software programming at George Washington University. Timimi spoke at IANA conferences in 1993 and 1994. A senior al Qaeda recruiter, Abdelrahman Dosari, also spoke at three IANA conferences in the early 1990s. In December 1993, Al-Dorsari (a.k.a. Shaykh Abu Abdel Aziz "Barbaros") spoke on 'Jihad & Revival" and exhorted young men to fight for their faith as Al-Timimi would later be accused of doing privately with young men in Virginia.
One author, the father of a boy who knew Al-Timimi as young teen, wrote: "Dozens of his talks are available on the Internet in text and in audio format. They contain little about Arab concerns with the Arab-Israeli wars, the rivalries between the Arab states, the problems faced by Muslims living in the West, or even the war in Iraq. Rather, they reveal a man who reflects deeply on the Islamic vision of Judgment day, prophecy, the nature of the divine, and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) -- subjects with which he grappled in Medina and in his private reading." Al Timimi's lecturers (in English after Arabic opening) include "The Negative Portrayal Of Islam In the Media," "Signs Before the Day of Judgement," "Advice to the UK Salafis" and "Crusade Complex: Western Perceptions of Islam."
Al-Timimi's increasing computer skills got him a job at SRA International where Ali worked as a "bioinformatics software architect" providing information technology to the government. Some of his jobs required that Ali obtain a high-level security clearance. One job resulted in a letter of recommendation from the White House. He then enrolled in the PhD program in computational biology at George Mason University.
By 2000, Ali Al-Timimi was already taking advanced courses at Mason in computational sciences. Timimi once explained his research: "I am currently a research scientist at the Center for Biomedical Genomics and Informatics, George Mason University. I am involved in the analysis of the microarray data generated by the CTRF Cancer Genomics Project. Likewise, I am developing new computational approaches and technologies in support of this project." The webpage for Timimi's program at the time explained: "Faculty members and graduate students in the Program in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology participate in numerous collaborative efforts including but not limited to the following Laboratories and Research Centers: Center for Biomedical Genomics and Informatics (GMU) , Laboratory for Microbial and Environmental Biocomplexity (GMU) and Center for Biodefense (GMU).
Beginning the Spring of 2002. GMU hired Ali to develop a computer program that coordinated the research at several universities, letting him go only after he came under suspicion by the FBI. In Spring 2002, according to salary information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, GMU hired him for $70,000 a year. In 2002, the employment was through the School of Computational Sciences and in 2003, it was through Life Sciences Grants & Contracts.
The School of Computational Sciences at George Mason is a joint venture between the American Type Culture Collection ("ATCC") and George Mason. The joint venture is an effort to maximize research efforts by combining the academic and applied approaches to research. The School's first activity was to teach an ATCC course in DNA techniques adapted for George Mason students. The ATCC is an internationally renown non-profit organization that houses the world's largest and most diverse archive of biological materials. The Prince William Campus shares half of Discovery Hall with ATCC. ATCC moved to its current state-of-the-art laboratory at Discovery Hall (Prince Willam II) in 1998. ATCC's 106,000-square-foot facility has nearly 35,000 square feet of laboratory space with a specialized air handling system and Biosafety Level 2 and 3 containment stations. The ATCC bioinformatics (BIF) program carries out research in various areas of biological information management relevant to its mission. BIF scientists interact with laboratory scientists in microbiology, cell biology, and molecular biology at ATCC and other laboratories throughout the world. ATCC has strong collaborations with a large number of academic institutions, including computational sciences at George Mason University.
Through these partnerships, the George Mason Prince William Campus offers George Mason microbiology students an opportunity for students to be involved in current research and gain access to facilities and employment opportunities at ATCC and other partner companies.
If the FBI suspected Al-Timimi, there may have been something in the forensic findings that encouraged their suspicion. In mid-March 2001, former USAMRIID head and Ames researcher Bailey and Ken Alibek filed a patent involving a process to treat cell culture with hydrophobic silicon dioxide so as to permit greater concentration upon drying. Both Alibek and Bailey had their offices at GMU's Discovery Hall at the Center for Biodefense. Victor Morozov later was the co-inventor with Dr. Bailey of the related cell culture process under which the silica was removed from the spore surface.
One ATCC former employee felt so strongly about lax security there the scientist called me out of the blue and said that the public was overlooking the patent repository as a possible source of the Ames strain. ATCC does not deny they had virulent Ames in their patent repository pre 9/11 (as distinguished from their online catalog). The spokesperson emailed me: "As a matter of policy, ATCC does not disclose information on the contents of its patent depository..."
Al-Timimi was on an advisory board member of Assirat al-Mustaqueem, an international Arabic language magazine that published out of Pittsburgh. Assirat, produced in Pittsburgh beginning in 1991, was the creation of a group of North American muslims, many of whom were senior members of IANA. Its Advisory Committee included Bassem Khafagi and Ali Al-Timimi. Two staff members who wrote for Assirat then joined IANA's staff when it folded in 2000. They had been members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and were activists in the movement. One of the former EIJ members, Gamal Sultan, was the editor of the quarterly IANA magazine in 2002. Mr. Sultan's brother Mahmoud wrote for Assirat also. The most prominent writer was the founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Kamal Habib. He led the Egyptian Islamic Jihad at the time of Anwar Sadat's assassination when young doctor Zawahiri's cell merged with a few other cells to form the EIJ. Two writers for Assirat in Pittsburgh reportedly had once shared a Portland, Oregon address with Al Qaeda member Wadih El-Hage who served a Bin Laden's "personal secretary."
After a visit in 2000, Gamal Sultan said Pittsburgh was known as the "American Kandahar," given its rolling hills. Besides forming the Islah ("'Reform) party wth Gamal Sultan, Mr. Kamal Habib contributed to Al Manar al Jadeed, IANA's quarterly journal. The pair sought the blind sheik's endorsement of their political party venture in March 1999 -- although they were not seeking the official participation of organizations like the Egyptian Islamic Jihad or the Egyptian Islamic Group, they were hoping the groups would not oppose it. The pair wanted members of the movement to be free to join in peaceful partisan activity. They were not deterred when the blind sheik responded that the project was pointless. At the same, Sheik Abdel-Rahman withdrew his support for the cease-fire initiative that had been backed by the imprisoned leaders of the Egyptian Islamic Group.
Yusuf Wells, who was a fundraiser for the Benevolence international Foundation, visited Northern Virginia over the April 14-15, 2001 weekend. The previous month he had been at Iowa State on a similar visit. On April 15, 2001, he was brought to a paintball game. In the second season, they had become more secretive and an inquiry by an FBI Special Agent was made in 2000 of one of the members about the games. Part of BIF fundraiser Wells' job involved writing reports about his fund raising trips. In his April 15, 2001 report he writes:
"I was taken on a trip to the woods where a group of twenty brothers get together to play Paintball. It is a very secret and elite group and as I understand it, it is an honor to be invited to come. The brothers are fully geared up in camouflage fatigues, facemasks, and state of the art paintball weaponry. They call it 'training' and are very serious about it. I knew at least 4 or 5 of them were ex US military, the rest varied.
Most all of them young men between the ages of 17-35. I was asked by the amir of the group to give a talk after Thuhr prayer. I spoke about seeing the conditions of Muslims overseas while with BIF, and how the fire of Islam is still very much alive in the hearts of the people even in the midst of extreme oppression. I also stressed the idea of being balanced. That we should not just be jihadis and perfect our fighting skills, but we should also work to perfect our character and strengthen our knowledge of Islam. I also said that Muslims are not just book reading cowards either, and that they should be commended for forming such a group.
Many were confused as to why I had been 'trusted' to join the group so quickly, but were comforted after my brief talk. Some offered to help me get presentations on their respective localities."
Al-Timimi was not friends with the Virginia defendants - at least he did not regularly associate with them outside his classes they attended. But they reportedly were awed by Timimi, a man who could both translate 7th-century Koranic Arabic or joke about the Redskins. The prosecutor argued that the paintball defendants "couldn't figure out how to tie their shoelaces without asking al-Timimi." The group looked up to Al-Timimi and sought his advice on all sorts of questions - to include whether it was permissible to pray in a moving car and whether one could cut short his prayers due to an approaching scorpion.
After 9/11, although a dinner that night was cancelled in light of the events of the day, Al-Timimi sought "to organize a plan in case of anti-Muslim backlash and to get the brothers together." The group got together on September 16. Al-Timimi when he came in told the group to turn of their phones, unplug the answering machine, and pull down the curtains. Al-Timimi told the group that Mullah Omar had called upon Muslims to defend Afghanistan. Al-Timimi read parts of the al-Uqla fatwa to the group and gave the fatwa to Khan with the instructions to burn it after he has read it. Al Timimi said the duty to engage in jihad is "fard ayn" -- an individual duty of all Muslims. Over a lunch, Al-Timimi with two of the group, Al-Timimi told them not to carry anything suspicious and if they were stopped on the way to Pakistan to ask for their mother and cry like a baby. He told them to carry a magazine. The next day the pair left for Pakistan. The group from the September 16 meeting met again in early October, and a number left for Pakistan immediately after that meeting.
Al-Timimi sent out a February 1, 2003 email in Arabic containing an article that said:
"There is no doubt Muslims were overjoyed because of the adversity that befell their greatest enemy. The Columbia crash made me feel, and God is the only One to know, that this is a strong signal that Western Supremacy (especially that of America) that began 500 years ago is coming to a quick end, God willing, as occurred to the shuttle."
In 2001, Al-Timimi kept the personal papers of IANA President Khafagi at his home for safekeeping. His taped audio lecturers were among the most popular at the charity Islamic Assembly of North America in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He knew its President, Khafagi, both through work with CAIR and IANA. Al Timimi was close to his former teacher Safar al Hawali. Al Hawali has played a public role in mediating between Saudi militants and the government. Al-Timimi sought to represent and explain the views radical sheik Al-Hawali in a letter he sent to members of Congress. The same nondescript office building at 360 S. Washington St. in Falls Church where Timimi used to lecture at Dar al Arqam housed the Muslim World League.
Al-Timimi met with FBI agents 7 or 8 times in the months leading up to his arrest. Al-Timimi is a US citizen born in Washington DC His house was searched, his passport taken and his telephone monitored. His communications with Sheik al-Hawali were intercepted.
Al-Hawali, was one of the original incorporators of Mercy International. Mercy, as a front for Al Qaeda, was deeply involved in planning the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The two radical sheiks had been imprisoned from 1994-1999. Ali Al Timimi received his PhD in computational biology shortly after his indictment for recruiting young men to fight the US.
Upon his indictment, in September 2004, al-Timimi explained he had been offered a plea bargain of 14 years, but he declined. He quoted Sayyid Qutb. He said he remembered "reading his books and loving his teaching" as a child, and that Qutb's teaching prevented him from signing something that was false by "the finger that bears witness." He noted that he and his lawyers asked that authorities hold off the indictment until he had received his PhD, but said that unfortunately they did not wait.
The indictment against the paintball defendants alleged that at an Alexandria, Virginia residence, in the presence of a representative of BIF, the defendants watched videos depicting Mujahadeen engaged in Jihad and discussed a training camp in Bosnia.
Famed head of the former Russian bioweaponeering program Ken Alibek told me that he would occasionally see Al-Timimi in the hallways at George Mason, where they both were in the microbiology department, and had been vaguely aware that he was an islamic hardliner. In the end, Al-Timimi was indicted for inciting the young men to go to Afghanistan to defend the Taliban against the United States. During deliberations, he reportedly was very calm, reading Genome Technology and other scientific journals.
At the same time the FBI was searching the townhouse of PhD candidate Ali Timimi, searches and arrests moved forward elsewhere. In Moscow, Idaho, the activities by IANA webmaster Sami al-Hussayen that drew scrutiny involved the same radical sheik. Interceptions showed a very close link between IANA's Sami al-Hussayen and Sheikh al-Hawali, to include the setting up of web sites, and the providing of vehicles for extended communication. Al-Hussayen had al-Hawali's phone number upon the search of his belongings upon his arrest. Sami Hussayen made numerous calls and wrote many e-mails to al-Hawali, sometimes giving advice to him and another dissident Saudi sheik about running Arabic-language Web sites on which they espoused their anti-Western views. Sami al-Hussayen was acquitted of all charges.
George Mason University, Department Listings, accessed August 17, 2003, shows that the National Center For Biodefense and Center for Biomedical Genomics had the same mail stop (MS 4ES). The most famed bioweaponeer in the world -- the former head of the Russian bioweapons program (to include anthrax ) -- was not far from this sheik urging violent jihad in an apocalyptic struggle between religions. The groups both shared the same department fax of XXX-4288. Dr. Alibek reports that shortly after the mailings, he wrote Director Mueller and offered his services but was advised that they already had assembled a large group.
Charles Bailey, the former head of USAMRIID, formally joined the Center in April 2001. He continued to do research with the Ames anthrax strain after 9/11. Over 13 years, he had served as a Research Scientist, Deputy Commander for Research, Deputy Commander and Commander at the U.S. Army Medical Research Instiute. As a USAMRIID scientist, he designed and supervised the construction of BL-3 containment facilities. His hands-on experience with a wide variety of pathogens is chronicled in 70 published articles. During his 4 years with the Defense Intelligence Agency, he published numerous articles assessing foreign capabilities regarding biological weapons." When I asked Dr. Bailey to confirm Al-Timimi's room number relative to his own, his only response was to politely refer me to University counsel. Counsel then never responded to my inquiry regarding their respective room numbers.
In Fall 2001, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology ("AFIP") had detected silicon dioxide (silica) in the attack anthrax - with a characteristic big spike for the silicon. The reason for the silicon dioxide/silica claimed to have been detected by AFIP has never been explained (and it's been nearly a half decade). Dr. Alibek and Dr. Matthew Meselson (of Sverdlosk fame) report that no silica was observable on the SEMS images that they saw. The Daschle product was "pure spores." But while the spores were not coated with silica, was silicon dioxide used as part of a microdroplet cell culture process used prior to drying to permit greater concentration? (Is that why it was detected by the EDX?)
Dr. Alibek and the former head of USAMRIID, Ames anthrax research Charles Bailey, had filed a patent application in mid-March 2001 involving a microdroplet cell culture technique that used silicon dioxide in a method for concentrating growth of cells. The patent was granted and the application first publicly disclosed in the Spring of 2002. Weren't the SEMS images and AFIP EDX finding both consistent with use of this process in growing the culture? It's been suggested informally that perhaps the silicon analytical peak was more likely due to silanol from hydrolysis of a silane, used in siliconizing glassware.
But didn't the AFIP in fact also detect oxygen in ratios characteristic of silicon dioxide? Wasn't the scientist, now deceased, who performed the EDX highly experienced and expert in detecting silica? Hasn't the AFIP always stood by its report, in which it explained: "AFIP experts utilized an energy dispersive X-ray spectrometer (an instrument used to detect the presence of otherwise-unseen chemicals through characteristic wavelengths of X-ray light) to confirm the previously unidentifiable substance as silica?" Perhaps the nuance that was lost - or just never publicly explained for very sound reasons - was that silica was used in the cell culture process and then removed from the spores through a process such as repeated centrifugation.
Dr. Morozov is co-inventor along with Dr. Bailey for a patent "Cell Culture" that explains how the silicon dioxide can be removed from the surface. Perhaps it is precisely this AFIP finding of silicon dioxide (without silica on the SEMS) that is why the FBI came to suspect Al-Timimi in 2003 (rightly or wrongly, we don't know). The FBI would have kept these scientific findings secret to protect the integrity of the confidential criminal/national security investigation. There was still a processor and mailer to catch -- still a case to prove, particularly given that their investigation had not produced any evidence against Al-Timimi.
Last year, FBI microbiologist Dr. Doug Beecher commented in a publication that it undermines biodefense preparations to underestimate the danger of simple spore preparations. He provided me a copy when I wrote him as the designated corresponding author. I then distributed it to reporters. The paper reportedly had been reviewed by Professor Meselson at Harvard. Dr. Beecher is right that there is no reason to view it as akin to "militarization" or requiring state sponsorship. The two sentences by Beecher actually did not address the precise issue presented at all. They just go to illustrate and confirm Dr. Alibek's point that a sophisticated product can result from a relatively simple method. Perhaps the United States biodefense establishment should not let officials commercialize and disclose such dual use technology, whether the patent is assigned to a DARPA-funded program or not -- and whether deemed "biofriendly" or not. (The 2001 patent I’ve described, which was not classified, has been assigned to George Mason University). Richard Ebright is right: proliferation of facilities increases the risk of access to know-how. Given that biodefense spending is fueled by the usual politics-driven pork-barrelled spending, it’s a recipe for disaster.
The many bloggers and commentators who have long held strong and divergent opinions may have just been seeing the elephant in the living room from a different angle. Actually, they've just been in a position to see the elephant's rump from outside the living room door.
Ali Al-Timimi has a very substantial appeal pending in a case that involves a sentence that seems way out of proportion to the crime of exhorting young men to go abroad and defend their faith. In a November 30, 2004 letter of appeal circulated in sympathetic circles in the US and the UK, Bilal Philips encouraged Muslims to assist Al-Timimi “financially, morally or politically.” The letter urged that “whatever the charges against him [Al-Timimi] may be, from an Islamic perspective they are false and contrived in order to silence the Da’wah to correct Islam.”
In a June 2005 interview in a Swiss (German language) weekly news magazine, Neue Zurcher Zeitung, Ken Alibek addresses the anthrax mailings:
A. "...What if I told you Swiss scientists are paid by Al Qaeda? You could believe it or not. It has become somewhat fashionable to disparage Russian scientists. Americans, Iraqis, or whoever could just as well be involved with Al Qaeda. Why doesn't anyone speculate about that?"
Q. "But could one of your students build a biological weapon in the garage?"
A. "Let me reply philosophically: Two hundred years ago, it was unthinkable to believe that people would be using mobile telephones, wasn't it? Everything changes. Our knowledge grows, and technology develops incredibly quickly. These days even high-school kids can breed recombinant microbial strains. I am not saying that a student is in a position to build a biological weapon all by himself. But the knowledge needed to do it is certainly there."
Al-Timimi’s attorney emphasizes that while they searched for materials related to a planned biological attack when they searched his townhouse in late February 2003 -- what he calls Plan A -- they came up empty.
He explains that it was only then they turned to Plan B. No one who responded to my inquiries ever knew Al-Timimi to ever have been involved in any biodefense project. For example, former Russian bioweaponeer Sergei Popov did not know of any such work by Al-Timimi, and Anna Popova had only seen him in the hall on a very rare occasion.
Dr. Alibek thought of him as a "numbers guy" rather than a hands-on type. Given that the FBI knows what Al-Timimi had for dinner on September 16, 2001, it is very likely that the past years have involved a continued search for the mailer and/or processor -- with all theories explored and no stone left unturned.
At his sentencing, Dr. Al-Timimi spoke in clear and measured tones:
"I will not admit guilt nor seek the Court’s mercy. I do this not out of any disrespect to the Court. I do this simply because I am innocent.
My claim of innocence is not because of any inherent misunderstanding on my part as to the nature of the crimes for which I was convicted nor is it because my Muslim belief recognizes sharia rather than secular law. It is merely because I am innocent.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
I declare the government’s recitation poor as it stripped those words of their meaning.
Imprisonment of any term, as this Court well knows, is a crisis for the incarcerated and his or her loved ones. I am no exception to that.
But the real crisis brought on my imprisonment, I sincerely believe is America’s. For if my conviction is to stand, it would mean that two hundred and thirty years of America’s tradition of protecting the individual from the tyrannies and whims of the sovereign will have come to an end. And that which is exploited today to persecute a single member of a minority will most assuredly come back to haunt the majority tomorrow."
He was sentenced to life in prison plus 70 years. Dr. Timimi has very substantial pending appeals relating to warrantless wiretapping and the First Amendment. Dr. Timimi's attorney likely is understandably annoyed that they keep moving Al-Timimi between prisons. KSM invoked George Washington in his statement to a military tribunal in March 2007. That was far less compelling because he was admitting to many serious crimes. Dr. Al-Timimi, on the other hand, was guilty of nothing other than exhorting some young men to go abroad and defend their faith. It seems that his only crime was to put his religion before his nation-state.
As Al-Timimi explained in his eloquent statement upon sentencing, he was convicted out of fear.
The anthrax mailer had asked: "Are you afraid?" The answer was yes.
As one Washington Post reporter said of such cases, the government seems to be engaged in shadow boxing. The only way to get rid of the shadows is to turn on the lights.