Are the FBI's frantic efforts to crack the anthrax case diverting resources away from its war on Osama bin Laden and his organization, Al Qaeda? Increasingly, investigators suspect domestic extremists--not organized international terrorists--are responsible for the biological assaults on Washington, New York and Florida. Some U.S. officials worry that the anthrax attacks have overextended the bureau, as hundreds of agents chase down false leads and arrest perpetrators of anthrax hoaxes.
There's reason for concern. Law-enforcement officials are convinced that bin Laden is preparing for a second wave of terror attacks in the near future. Last week, NEWSWEEK has learned, the CIA received numerous reports from "walk-ins" and electronic intercepts that bin Laden has given a "green light" to Al Qaeda cells operating in Western Europe and the United States to launch terrorist operations. "They were told: 'You don't have to wait for coded messages from Kabul'," one intelligence official told NEWSWEEK.
But one top FBI official insists the bureau is quietly making "huge progress." The global dragnet laid by U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence services is yielding important breaks. And most important, says the official, a few Al Qaeda operatives swept up since Sept. 11 are beginning to cooperate. In recent days, for example, the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate detained a suspected bin Laden soldier, identified only as "Shakir." The suspect, according to a U.S. intelligence official, is believed to have ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, last year's attack on the USS Cole and a key terrorist summit in Malaysia in January 2000. The Malaysia meeting was attended by two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. Jordan won't give the FBI access to Shakir, but it's agreed to share whatever it learns with U.S. investigators. And U.S. officials are cautiously optimistic about cooperation they're receiving from foreign governments--even those identified by the State Department as harborers of terrorists. A case in point: Sudan, which for years sheltered bin Laden, recently offered the FBI the chance to interview three suspected bin Laden associates.
The FBI is also making progress tracing back the money trail from the Sept. 11 attacks. One recent break: investigators learned that numerous flight-training videos were purchased with a Visa card belonging to Marwan Al-Shehhi, a hijacker on United Flight 175. One video was entitled "Citybird: A Cockpit View of a Flight From Belgium to Los Angeles." The videos were sent to an address in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates used by a man named Isam Mansour. In July and August of this year, $19,500 was wired from Mansour's account in Dubai to Al-Shehhi's Sun Trust account in Florida, according to a senior FBI source. U.S. investigators believe the United Arab Emirates may have been the financial hub of the Sept. 11 plot. The suspected paymaster of the operation, a Saudi bin Laden operative named Mustafa Ahmed, was based in Dubai and, according to an FBI source, received $18,260 in Western Union and wire transfers from three of the hijackers in the waking hours preceding the Sept. 11 attacks.
HEALTH Now, 'WTC Syndrome' New York-area physicians have begun seeing a series of illnesses among emergency workers and others who were trapped in the dense plumes of dust and debris on Sept. 11 after the Twin Towers collapsed. Dubbed World Trade Center Syndrome, the ailments range from unrelenting coughs and sinus infections to posttraumatic stress and acute lung traumas, including severe asthma requiring mechanical respiration.
The syndrome appears to be endemic among firefighters. Of the 11,000 members of the New York City Fire Department who worked round the clock following the terrorist assault, 40 percent are still coughing so badly they are under medical care, says Dr. David Prezant, the chief pulmonary physician for the force. Nearly 4,000 firefighters are being treated with steroid inhalants. And at least one is suffering from allergic alveolitis, a rare inflammation of the lung surface. Even people who spent only a few hours in the dust storm have suffered. In one especially troubling case, a Wall Street Journal editor whose office is located across the street from the WTC was fighting for his life last week after developing vasculitis, an autoimmune disease which may have been caused by ingesting the dust.
No one is yet speculating on the long-term prognosis. But in a random sample of 100 sick firefighters, 25 percent were found to have airway hyperreactivity, a strong indication they may develop asthma as a result of their exposure. "This is a major problem that no one is talking about," says Prezant. "We don't know if [these conditions] will be permanent."
SUSPECTS Cracking Down American officials have complained for years that England was a haven for Al Qaeda. But since Sept. 11, the British have appeared to be cracking down. Last week Scotland Yard picked up Yasser El-Sirri, an Egyptian alleged by U.S. intelligence to be a Qaeda recruiter. El-Sirri is suspected of aiding the suicide bombers who killed a key Northern Alliance leader using a booby-trapped TV camera three days before the WTC attacks. El-Sirri faces two death sentences for terrorist offenses in Egypt, but the Brits were reluctant to act against him because his convictions were handed down by Egyptian military courts.
Also under British scrutiny is Abu Qatada, a Palestinian preacher whom U.S. officials describe as a "senior agent for bin Laden in Europe." German sources say that Abu Qatada videotapes were found in the Hamburg apartment of an associate of the Sept. 11 hijackers. The preacher is wanted in Jordan in connection with two terrorist plots. But Jordanian officials secretly told Britain they fear that Abu Qatada's return to Amman could spark terror attacks there. Tony Blair's government now plans to introduce a new law that would allow Abu Qatada and other foreign terror suspects to be detained indefinitely without trial.
HEARTLAND Growing Tab With the country on high alert, mayors across the nation are coming down with anthrax-related pain of their own. Local police and fire departments--already providing beefed-up security--have been flooded with reports of suspicious powders and packages. All this vigilance, coupled with an economic downturn, is breaking municipal budgets. Each time the hazmat unit leaves the firehouse in Beaumont, Texas (population: 115,000), it costs the city about $400; it has responded to nearly 50 calls so far. After their 911 operators were deluged, officials in Madison, Wis., launched a PR campaign to tell people what to look for and when to call. Still, they've spent $200,000 already on false alarms. St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman appointed a city-security czar and accelerated the police-academy class to get more cops on the street--which will cost millions. Atlanta has spent $15 million. Philadelphia predicts a bill of $60 million. Last week, in Washington, D.C., mayors pressed Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge for help. But Ridge, promising a comprehensive domestic-defense plan, was silent about who would pick up the tab.
Peg Tyre PHOTOS Communal Event It could be called "inundation therapy": if something bothers you, plunge deeper into it. That's what overflow crowds have been doing since Sept. 28 at an energetically overcrowded photography show called "Here Is New York." In a SoHo storefront, hundreds of galvanizing pictures of the events of Sept. 11 and their aftermath--taken by prize-winning photojournalists and local amateurs alike--are on sale for $25 each, with the net proceeds going to the Children's Aid Society's WTC Relief Fund. Hey, we feel better already.
TELEVISION Fiction, Too Close to Fact? What do you do when the coolest scene in a hot new TV drama centers on a terrorist's blowing up an airplane? The folks behind Fox's "24" didn't know either. Right after Sept. 11, they said they'd keep the scene. Then they said they'd cut it. Now that "24" is debuting next week, it turns out the producers compromised. We don't see the explosion, but flying pieces of burning fuselage make clear what happened. "24" is about a government agent (Kiefer Sutherland) trying to stop the assassination of a politician, so there wasn't much choice. Without the plane scene, the rest of the show wouldn't make sense. Still, it's hard to say if the producers' solution will work. "I think the explicitness of an image is what might make people uncomfortable, not the idea that bad things are happening in the world," explains co-executive producer Robert Cochran. In short, "24" is gambling that viewers will separate terrorism fact from fiction. "There's a lot of sick people in the world," says co-executive producer Joel Surnow, "and people still watch 'ER'.''
NEW YORK Two Tallies Six weeks after the attacks, the official New York death toll is down to 4,764, but a New York Times survey counts only 2,950. If the Times is right, it's a historical first--city disaster tolls are usually too small. (The 1906 San Francisco quake wracked Chinatown; lists show 12 Asian names.)
The real number is probably in the middle. Media tolls don't rely on as many sources as the police list. That means fewer names, but also fewer errors. The city list is fraught with duplications--one woman was listed 12 times--and "missing" people who turned up later. Police say they won't release their list before they've culled all the mistakes from it. Until then, the media won't be able to check it, and no one will know how many people died in the deadliest attack on American soil.
Mary Carmichael BASEBALL On Deck: A Work Stoppage? It may be a glorious World Series time right now, but next week may begin baseball's darkest winter. The labor contract between players and owners expires Nov. 7--the owners meet the day before in Chicago to plan strategy--and both sides are digging in. They've never figured out how to resolve their differences. In the past 30 seasons, there have been eight work stoppages. The upcoming round may be even tougher because of the terrorist attack. "In the current environment, the most noxious thing we could do is have another strike or lockout," says a baseball insider. In the midst of the current national crisis, the public may have little sympathy for the millionaires and the billionaires. Or the public may not care in the long run: after the 232-day strike of 1994-95, the fans eventually forgave baseball and returned to the stands.
Management is militant about putting the brakes on salary escalation. The average annual player pay--nearly $2.3 million--has more than doubled since the last labor deal, in 1995. Both sides agree that many clubs lose money, so much so that two teams could be dumped from the major leagues this winter. (The Montreal Expos are everyone's first choice to go.) But the players' union has long pointed out there are noneconomic benefits to team ownership: civic pride, ego, corporate synergy. After all, nobody forces owners to pay a shortstop $25 million a year. The owners have lost every negotiation to the union, but they have a big advantage this time. The president of the United States is unlikely to get involved in a dispute, as Bill Clinton did last time, to the detriment of management. George W. Bush was a baseball owner back then, of the Texas Rangers, and he saw firsthand the effect of presidential meddling. Besides, he's got more pressing things on his mind these days.
MOVIES When Good Actors Go Bad A funny thing seems to happen to certain actors after they win Oscars. Once they're able to pick and choose their roles, they pick poorly. Call it the Robin Williams syndrome. Suddenly the funnyman thinks it's his duty to save the world, and turns into Barney Bathos. Jon Voight, another good actor, had this problem after he won for "Coming Home." He kept popping up in schlock tearjerkers like "The Champ" and "Table for Five," seemingly more interested in martyrdom than moviemaking.
Is Kevin Spacey, coming off his award for "American Beauty," the latest casualty? The first sign that he had succumbed to the savior syndrome was his appearance as a badly scarred pedagogue in the egregiously sappy "Pay It Forward," advising his students (and us) how to do good deeds. Now he arrives as an inspirational alien from outer space (who just may be an inspirational, delusional nut case) in "K-Pax," in full possession of the wisdom of the ages. Spacey's a first-rate actor, but something smug has crept into his performances--he floats ethereally above his fellow actors, the only expression on his face an enigmatic, self-satisfied smile. In the slick, formulaic "K-Pax" (it's the planet he claims to be from) he's able to condescend to the entire human race--such a silly species, really--while simultaneously healing an entire ward of psychopaths. Word has it the part was originally intended for Will Smith, who wisely chose to do "Ali" instead. If Smith wins an Oscar for it, will we have to worry about him opting for sainthood, too?
TRANSITION Sermon Rock and roll doesn't often ask for help from the church. But in 1984 REM tracked down the Rev. Howard Finster, a Baptist preacher turned folk artist from rural Georgia, to design the cover of "Reckoning." By the time the Talking Heads commissioned a work for their album "Little Creatures," Finster was a phenomenon on the New York City art scene. But the reverend, who called his crude, splashy displays "sermons in paint," never strayed from the backwoods that fed his art. He died last week at 84.
HOMAGE 'See More About Me' Kent Braithwaite's novel, "The Wonderland Murders," is a thriller about a Mexican-American PI on the trail of an amusement-park killer. It may well be a great book. But it could not possibly be as gripping--as funny, weird and heartbreaking--as the 326 customer reviews Kent Braithwaite has posted on Amazon.com, every one of which is a five-star rave of some book or other and virtually every one of which somehow manages to plug "The Wonderland Murders" by Kent Braithwaite.
He tries to make his resume relevant. Often it's easy: "As a mystery writer with my debut novel in its initial release, I have been reading Robert Ludlum's thrillers for (gasp!) decades." But sometimes it's not easy: "As a California-based mystery writer with my debut novel in its initial release, I have a great interest in other California-based artists in many diverse fields. Ansel Adams is one of the finest photographers to ever receive wide recognition."
Braithwaite's hope, clearly, is that customers will buy his own book. "Wonderland" gets five-star raves and one-star attacks. One customer writes, "As a mystery reader without a novel in its initial release, I genuinely was bored silly by this stupid book." Customers who hated "The Wonderland Murders" suspect that customers who loved it either know the author personally--or are the author personally. One homage is titled "A FINE BOOK BY A FINE MAN."
If you click on the see more about me next to Braithwaite's reviews, you can read all 326 of his raves and peruse his 18 best-of lists. There's "Some Fine American Books, by Kent Braithwaite, An American Author," where his novel pops up at No. 4. And "Good Books From the Last Century, by Kent Braithwaite, Contemporary Author," which begins with "The Great Gatsby." Nobody's going to put his own novel at No. 4 on a list like that. It's No. 5.
Reading his reviews, one learns that Braithwaite lives in Palm Desert, Calif., golf capital of the world ("How I Play Golf," by Tiger Woods), and teaches in a high school with a mostly Hispanic student body ("The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement"). He's not only promoted "Wonderland" but created a post-modern work of art: an auto-biography in 326 reviews. Why only raves? "There are enough anonymous critics who get their kicks panning books while they keep themselves securely hidden namelessly in cyberspace." Braithwaite certainly doesn't want to remain nameless. After all, he's a mystery author with his debut novel in its initial release.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM What's Going On Edition CW gets the sense that the people in command aren't reading from the same script. We've got a war. Let's have a "War Room" for rapid response. Get with it, guys.
C.W. Bush = He's still The Man, but not on top of the game. Take a page from Rudy. Anthrax - Yikes. It's showing up everywhere, and government still clueless. Happy Halloween. Air war - The limits of air power: What if they gave a war and no targets showed up? Ground war - Forget talk of a Ramadan ceasefire. They fast and fight all the time. Go in now. House GOPs - Emerge from bunker with new recovery plan: more tax breaks for fat cats. How patriotic. J. Franzen - Hoity-toity novelist says he's too good for Oprah. Go back to your garret.