Probe has found no links between anthrax, Sept. 11

No clear traces yet seen to `organized terrorism,' FBI chief tells mayors

War On Terrorism The Nation

October 25, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Investigators have found no links between the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes and the anthrax attacks that have killed three people this month, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said yesterday.

Mueller said it is "not clear" whether the anthrax cases can be traced to "organized terrorism."

"But these attacks were clearly meant to terrorize a country already on the edge," Mueller said at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The FBI, he pledged, is "responding swiftly to each and every incident."

Other top U.S. officials, including President Bush, have continued to express suspicions that the anthrax attacks are linked to Osama bin Laden or his al-Qaida terrorist network. Yesterday, the president raised that possibility anew, though he conceded that he has "no direct evidence."

FBI agents and postal inspectors intensified their focus yesterday on the Trenton, N.J., area, where three anthrax-tainted letters were postmarked. But some investigators cautioned that the search for those behind the threats could be a prolonged one, reminiscent of the years-long pursuit of the Unabomber or the still unsolved Tylenol poisonings in the 1980s.

The search for clues has led federal agents to a mail-sorting facility in New Jersey and to research laboratories across the country. Investigators also are poring over the three threatening letters that were mailed with anthrax and that were made public Tuesday, dissecting the anti-American and anti-Israeli messages and handwriting.

Speaking in Glen Burnie yesterday, Bush repeated suggestions that the anthrax threats could be connected to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"Both series of actions are motivated by evil and hate," the president said. "Both series of actions are meant to disrupt Americans' way of life. Both series of actions are an attack on our homeland. And both series of actions will not stand."

Mueller told the U.S. mayors yesterday that the bureau is putting its "heart and soul" into the investigations of the anthrax scares and last month's terrorist acts. He said that a quarter of all FBI employees are directly involved in what has become the largest criminal investigation in U.S. history.

At the same time, Mueller said, the bureau is undergoing significant internal changes. Focused for decades on solving crimes, the bureau is shifting its focus more toward trying to prevent crimes, particularly terrorist acts.

"Historically, we have been better at tracking down terrorists after the fact than stopping them in their tracks before they strike," Mueller said. To change that, he said, the FBI must do more to involve local police and elected officials in counterterrorism.

Mayor Martin O'Malley of Baltimore, one of the first local officials to publicly question the FBI's information sharing in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, praised Mueller's remarks at what was billed as an "emergency security summit" of the nation's mayors.

But, O'Malley said, local police departments could be doing more to help federal investigators.

"The problem is getting down to the operational level," O'Malley said yesterday. "If the FBI has 600,000 tips, the question is, `How many have you been able to follow up with? And could we help with the other 590,000?'"

Of equal urgency to local leaders is how to stretch their budgets to cover the expenses related to police overtime and other security measures after last month's attacks.

"How do we pay for this?" Mayor John Street of Philadelphia, a Democrat, pointedly asked Mueller yesterday. The mayors are expected to ask the same question of Congress. O'Malley is to testify today before an appropriations panel chaired by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.

Mueller said he could not provide answers about local budgets. But he said additional police patrols and local counterterrorism efforts were crucial.

"I must tell you that the threat level remains very high," Mueller said. "This possibility requires all of us to continue walking the fine line of staying alert on the one hand, without causing undue alarm on the other hand."

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