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Anthrax mailer began work before 9/11?

FBI

I'll admit that the FBI has put together some very suggestive information about Bruce Ivins, the anthrax researcher who committed suicide last week. The key document is this one (pdf), an affadavit for a search warrant, in which Postal Inspector Thomas F. Dellafera informs us that Ivins was under suspicion for the following reasons:

(1) At the time of the attacks, he was the custodian of a large flask of highly purified anthrax spores that possess certain genetic mutations identical to the anthrax used in the attacks; (2) Ivins has been unable to give investigators an adequate explanation for his late night laboratory work hours around the time of both anthrax mailings; (3) Ivins has claimed that he was suffering serious mental health issues in the months preceding the attacks, and told a coworker that he had "incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times" and feared that he might not be able to control his behavior; (4) Ivins is believed to have submitted false samples of anthrax from his lab to the FBI for forensic analysis in order to mislead investigators; (5) at the time of the attacks, Ivins was under pressure at work to assist a private company that had lost its FDA approval to produce an anthrax vaccine the Army needed for U.S. troops, and which Ivins believed was essential for the anthrax program at USAMFUID; and (6) Ivins sent an email to [redacted] a few days before the anthrax attacks warning [redacted] that "Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas" and have "just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans," language similar to the anthrax letters warning "WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX . . . DEATH TO AMERICA . . . DEATH TO ISRAEL."

I'd like to hear some scientific experts weigh in on #1, which is the only non-circumstantial piece of evidence here. The Feds have more damning stuff, too, such as this bit about the anthrax letters noted by the New York Times:

[S]earches of Dr. Ivins's home in Frederick, Md., turned up "hundreds" of similar letters that had not yet been sent to media outlets and members of Congress.

But here's something Bloomberg caught about Ivins's late-night work habits:

The spike in his evening hours began in mid-August, almost a month before the Sept. 11 attacks, investigators said.

So, he was working on all this before 9/11? What's that all about?

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Army stages coup in Mauritania

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Officers in Mauritania's military have overthrown the government of President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and established a ruling military junta led by the former chief guard to the president. Abdallahi had been the first democratically elected leader in 20 years, but has come under fire recently for catering to hard-line Islamists. The coup comes after two weeks of political turmoil, which included a vote of no-confidence in the cabinet, a walk-out by 48 members of parliament and the dismissal of several top military officials. The president's daughter called it "a textbook coup d'etat."

Mauritania is an oil-rich country, one that scientists in 2006 predicted could churn out 300,000 barrels of oil a day. While this is just a drop in the barrel relative to the global oil market (Saudi Arabia alone provides over 10 million barrels a day), the volatile mixture of oil and political instability is never good for a country or for a region, as the Nigerian example clearly shows. It is also noteworthy that Mauritania is an Islamic republic that recognizes Israel, and that it has its own terrorism problem, with four French tourists murdered last December by al Qaeda affiliates.

Although these factors might make you think that Mauritania is a nation of strategic interest for the U.S., it shouldn't exactly shock you that this isn't making headline news in American newspapers. You almost need a shovel to find it on the websites of The New York Times or The Washington Post. A state department spokesman condemned the illegal seizure of power, but that's likely to be the extent of it.

With Darfur still the atrocity du jour, it may be hard for many Westerners to pay attention to more than one crisis in Africa.