(This is the continuation of a serial novel. For previous chapters click HERE.)
Kyle Lipskey, Darren Harrison and Irwin Rogers meanwhile were playing beat the clock. They had fully anticipated the nature of the noon press conference and they knew that they only had a few hours left until they would be removed from the case entirely. They had obtained a federal search warrant to remove and search a safe deposit box at the Riggs National Bank.
The bank was directly across the street from the White House. The safe deposit box was carefully removed from the building by a United States Army Chemical and Biological Weapons Team and taken to Fort Detrick, Md., to be opened. Once there, the box was opened and found to contain 16 grams of anthrax spores which potentially could have inflicted heavy casualties within a one-square-mile area had they become airborne. There was no accompanying detonation device.
The news of this discovery reached the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Ira Goldberg at 3 p.m. where Lipskey, Harrison and Rogers had been ordered to remain immediately after they had completed the execution of their search warrant. For two hours they paced nervously waiting for the Army to call back with the results. When they did, Ira Goldberg answered the phone.
Up until the moment Ira Goldberg had received this phone call from Fort Detrick, he was personally of the opinion this case was the single-worst plague of his career. He had been preparing to release Ramzi Kamel that morning until Lipskey had called him at home last night to tell him about this dubious confession.
Goldberg knew when he heard this law enforcement version of events, they were too good to be true but he had little choice other than to let the case run its course. They woke up a federal judge and convinced him to sign the search warrant.
Goldberg was a short, balding man with a sunken chest and a powerful voice. He wore dull, plain suits with white shirts and five out-of-style ties that he rotated according to the day of the week. Today he was wearing his faded, purple Monday tie. While Goldberg was not a physically flamboyant man, he remained a formidable opponent in the courtroom. His brilliant briefs, written in longhand with cheap government pens, struck fear into the hearts of the high-dollar defense attorneys who, more often than not, unsuccessfully opposed him in the courtroom.
“Well gentlemen, it appears that you may have a reprieve,” Goldberg said dispassionately to the three nervous investigators. “Anthrax spores have been located in the safe deposit box as you suspected and I’ve been told that they were in sufficient quantity to constitute an extremely lethal dose.”
Lipsky let out a smile of relief as Harrison slapped him a high five in congratulations. Rogers patted Harrison on the back while congratulated Lipskey with a “Way to go Kyle.” All three men began to breathe easier. Even Goldberg indulged in a smile.
“Before we become too self congratulatory gentlemen, you heroes should understand something. This discovery only means that we now have an element of damage control at our disposal. There still remains some serious allegations about your conduct which we’ll eventually have to address.” s
Police officers have their own version of damage control. It gets down to trusting your partner to lie a little bit for the common good. Lipskey and Harrison had rehearsed their own version of damage control in the car on the way to pick up the warrant.
Yes, Lipskey did threaten to send Kamel to the CIA because he knew that most Iranians have an irrational fear of that agency. Iranians believe that the CIA is both capable and responsible for just about everything that goes wrong in Iran. Of course there never was any syringe and Kamel’s self-inflicted wound to his head occurred after he confessed.
Kamel had felt ashamed after he betrayed his accomplice Mohammad and he had expressed these regrets just before ramming his head into the cell. Naturally out of concern for Kamel’s welfare, the two investigators immediately called for restraints, ensured that Kamel was medically treated and then placed him on a suicide watch. The guard present, Jerome Washington, a student at Howard University, would confirm their story.
Ira Goldberg had been practicing law long enough to know the real truth was somewhere between the Lipskey and Kamel versions of events. One fact was irrefutable. Regardless of what really happened, these men had saved the lives of thousands of people and no grand jury would ever indict them, nor would a jury convict them for their actions. Therefore, invoking the wisdom of Solomon, Goldberg decided to become the staunch advocate and protector of these heroic and dedicated law enforcement officers.
Now it was Goldberg’s turn to have a press conference and he had scheduled it for 5 o’clock. With the seal of justice and the three investigators as his backdrop, Goldberg stood on the courthouse steps to face the media. A makeshift podium had been set up to support the half dozen microphones which fed to the awaiting networks. The story was going national.
“Ladies and gentlemen … I have an announcement to make. Later I will have a comment about the allegations Mr. Lee Williams made today during his noon press conference, however I would first like to inform you of the work Special Agent Kyle Lipskey of the FBI and Detective Darren Harrison of the Metropolitan Police Force were doing today while Mr. Williams was giving his press conference.
“Acting on information supplied to them directly from Ramzi Kamel, who remains in custody under a suicide watch, these two dedicated law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at the Riggs National Bank on Pennsylvania Avenue. They specifically were looking for a safe deposit box which Mr. Kamel had indicated contained the deadly bacterial spores of anthrax disease. The box was located and removed to Fort Detrick, Md., for analysis.
“The results of that analysis have just been made available to me. Sixteen grams of lethal anthrax were recovered in the safe deposit box. I have been informed that that quantity is sufficient a dose of anthrax to infect every living person within a one-square-mile radius.
“I should emphasize that both the Treasury Department and the White House are located directly across the street from this bank,” Goldberg paused long enough to gaze over the podium and watch the throng of reporters jotting this important fact in their notes.
Hope you heard that Mr. President, Ira thought to himself.
“I want to assure each and every one of you, without reservation, that I believe the conduct of these officers has been nothing short of exemplary. Had Mr. Williams come to me first with his concerns, instead of conducting a trial of his case in the media, I would have told him that the injury to his client’s head came after he had confessed to his crimes and in all likelihood because he had confessed.
“Mr. Kamel’s injury was a single, self-inflicted bruise to his head, intentionally caused when he rammed his head into his cell. This fact has been confirmed by an independent witness, a guard who was present in the jail at the time. Mr. Kamel was immediately restrained for his own safety and will remain so until he no longer presents a danger to himself and others.
“After a preliminary inquiry, it now appears that Mr. Kamel was having second thoughts about betraying his accomplice, Mr. Mohammad Karun. Mr. Karun, as you ladies and gentlemen may recall, is the suspect presently wanted in connection with the Shenandoah bombing. That act of terror alone included the murder of Special Agent Lou Ciano and 18 others. Our investigation has revealed that these two men — Mr. Ramzi Kamel and Mr. Mohammad Karun — were working in concert in a conspiracy to release lethal doses of anthrax upon the innocent civilian population of Washington, D.C.
“Had they been successful, this would have proven to be the worst single act of terrorism ever committed against the United States to date. This reign of terror was thwarted because of the diligence and dedication of these two men — Kyle Lipskey and Darren Harrison — together with the many men and women who worked with them to help bring this case to closer. Both this city and the nation owe them a debt of gratitude. Thank you.”
Debbie Peerless fired the first question.
“Mr. Goldberg, what is the condition of Mr. Kamel now and how exactly have you able to establish that he was involved with Mr. Karun?”
“Mr. Kamel is presently on a suicide watch. His physical condition is good however it is his mental condition is currently under observation.”
“In answer to your second question, I can only say that Mr. Kamel was directly involved in the transport of the anthrax and was in the process of providing it to Mr. Karun when their conspiracy was uncovered.”
Goldberg was having second thoughts about going into any further detail, especially with Peerless. He used the standard cop-out to retreat.
“ Ladies and gentlemen as you know, this is an on going investigation and as such, I am not at liberty to divulge any details of an active case. We naturally want to apprehend Mohammad Karun but, in order to do so, we must be careful not to publicize our intended activities. We thank you for your time and patience,” Goldberg concluded as he waved good-bye to the crowd with the manila case jacket he held in his hand.
A final volley of electronic flashes from news cameras detonated as the men departed.
“How do feel about becoming a hero, Agent Lipskey?” Peerless yelled from the crowd, hoping to evoke some dialogue.
Lipskey paused and turned toward the reporter. He looked directly at her and said “ The only hero in this case was Lou Ciano.”
Peek a Boo Spook
Philip Donovan was also standing behind a podium, inside the White House briefing room and facing the National Security Council. He was about to deliver the latest progress report regarding the search for Viper. He could almost hear the assemblage sharpening their knives for the attack. Donovan hadn’t survived this long by playing it safe. He led with an attack of his own.
“The classification of this briefing is Top Secret S.I.” Donovan began, just as he had for countless other White House briefings delivered in the past.
Donovan’s hand-sewn suit molded to his athletic frame. He stood poised and erect before the Security Council. Mr.Tall, Dark and Handsome never broke a sweat. It was one of those gifts he’d discovered when in New Haven, pledging his membership in the secret order of the Skull and Bones. “As you are aware, Viper’s anthrax spores have been recovered and they have been neutralized as a potential threat.”
“Thanks to the FBI and the local P.D.,” interrupted Bill Gallager, the National Security adviser to the president. Those at the table smiled and nodded in agreement while savoring the unsaid implication there should be no thanks given to the CIA. Attorney General Nadine Winters failed to find any amusement in Gallager’s remark and instead focused her stare on Donovan.
“Yes,” Donovan agreed, “they did do an excellent job. You should also know that yesterday I met with Detective Irwin Rogers at my home. He became an effective conduit for relaying some crucial details about Ramzi Kamel, which fortunately proved helpful during his interrogation.”
Donovan now knew from the look on their faces this information had not been known by single person in the room until now. He relished the moment.
“What sort of information Donovan?” Gallager asked. “I hope your agency isn’t starting to cross the line here and operate domestically again. You’d be treading on FBI turf, not to mention breaking the law.”
Winters glanced at Gallager as though he was treading on her turf. Her glance did not go unnoticed by Donovan.
“Nothing of the sort, sir. On the contrary, we were merely providing them with a profile that we had assembled on Mr. Kamel. Nothing official of course. It was all done over the phone through Detective Rogers to his partner at the jail. It worked out quite well for all concerned and certainly agree that these law enforcement officers deserve kudos for a job well done,” Donovan said with the faint hint of a lingering smile.
Donovan couldn’t resist one last dig at the National Security adviser.
“I’m sure that we’d all agree that given the proximity of those spores to this very office, all of us should be grateful that the officers involved were successful,” Donovan said as humbly as possible. He then continued.
“Examination of the spores and packaging material indicates they originated in Russia and the packaging at least indicates they were manufactured by Biopreparat, a former Soviet organization responsible for chemical weapons production. That would indicate the materials recovered yesterday date back to the early ’70s. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a chemical safety group, Russian controls over these former Soviet materials are ‘quite loose.’
“There was an outbreak of anthrax in Sverdlosk in the late ’70s which killed 69 people. It is believed that this accidental outbreak occurred during experiments that were being conducted in biological war research at that time.”
“Given the current political situation in Russia, it is entirely possible that these materials were smuggled out of Russia through the black market and into the hands of the terrorist group we are presently dealing with.
“It is unlikely the Russian government is in any way involved. Once again we are seeing ingredients of this conspiracy that indicate the intention of those involved to construct a plausible denial scenario. Pointing the finger at Russia is one more way to divert our attention from the real direction of this threat.”
“The real problem, as I see it, is that once again we are reluctant to say for sure what government is directing this threat,” said Gen. Compton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“They were born Iran, they were trained in Iran, but somehow we seem unable to say they are working for Iran. Until we are willing to commit ourselves to action in response to these attacks against our citizens, both here and abroad, I’m afraid terrorism will soon become a way of life here in America.”
“Are you suggesting a retaliation, general?” Gallager asked.
“Yes sir I am. We had 19 troops killed last June in Saudi Arabia that we know were killed from explosives smuggled from the Bakaa Valley in southern Lebanon. We have satellite photos which show 1,500 soldiers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard assembled in Baalbek. We know of at least a dozen other camps inside Iran which are training nearly 5,000 other would-be terrorists in bomb making and assassination.
“What more do we need to convince us that Iran is involved in promoting and exporting terrorism?” Gen. Compton asked.
“There is growing political support on The Hill for some kind of retaliation,” Donovan said, defending Compton.
“All right, retaliation is on the floor. What kind are we talking about?” Gallager asked.
Donovan waited for the general to speak.
“There is only one kind of message that they understand. Let’s not reduce ourselves to their level by sneaking around in the shadows, trying to pull off some kind of black bag operation. Our response should be a military one and it should be devastating. We can start by hitting their training camps,” Gen. Compton said.
“Did you hear that Phil? The general doesn’t like black bag operations,” Gallager laughed.
“That’s a shame, general,” Donovan joked. “I have a lovely one in mind.”
The attorney general then spoke.
“I realize that I was invited to attend this meeting based on a pending domestic terrorist threat. Now that the potential of that threat appears to have diminished, I hope I am not speaking out of line by giving you my thoughts on this matter.
“While this is now a National Security matter outside of our boundaries, I firmly believe that we must still have overwhelming evidence pointing to Iran to support any retaliatory action.”
Once a judge, always a judge, Donovan thought to himself. Nevertheless he needed another ally.
“I fully agree with the attorney general and I feel that this case still remains a domestic matter as well. Our nation has been deliberately attacked by a foreign power upon our shores. It doesn’t matter that the attack failed. The fact remains that an act of war was committed and it took place in our nation’s capital.
“The attack was orchestrated by a foreign power that refuses to declare war and by soldiers who refuse to wear uniforms. We cannot allow this act of war to go unpunished without inviting terror to become a way of life in America. I’m confident that we can obtain the overwhelming evidence the attorney general is referring to. That evidence is right here in Washington,” Donovan said.
“I’m talking about Ramzi Kamel. Why do you suppose he is contemplating suicide? I’ll tell you why — because either way he turns, he knows he’s dead. He expects no mercy from his government in Iran and he certainly hasn’t seen any mercy from us. We should strongly consider exploiting this asset to it’s full potential. If we were able to enlist Kamel’s full cooperation there would be no plausible denial for this terrorist group to hide behind.”
“Well Nadine, how would you feel about that?” Gallager asked.
“How would I feel about it Bill?” she asked. “It’s not uncommon, during the course of a federal investigation, to ‘exploit an asset’ as Mr. Donovan so euphemistically put it. We could carry him as an unindicted coconspirator, give him a new identity and buy him a house in the suburbs.
“It’s all been done before and it will no doubt be done again. It’s an unfortunate reality that you sometimes have to throw the small fish back into the sea to catch the big ones. If Mr. Kamel is willing to cooperate fully with our investigation, I see no problem with offering him an option to what otherwise would be the death penalty.”
“What is your assessment of the threat potential of Viper now that he’s been cut off from his network Mr. Donovan?” Gallager asked.
“I believe that it is imperative that he be taken into custody, which is another reason it’s vital that we enlist Kamel’s cooperation. Viper has proven to be a highly resourceful and elusive adversary. While his operation has been compromised, it’s still feasible that he could implement an alternative plan.
“Gen. Compton, as a contingency only at this time, I want you to select your targets for final review by the President,” Gallager said. “I’m sure the attorney general will put her best people on the job and …”
“I’m still in the room Bill,” the attorney general interrupted. “I believe you should always dance with one that brung ya. What I’m saying is, I already have my best people on the job.”
While Winters was a newcomer to the National Security Council, her position with the president was far less tenuous than Gallager’s was. Bill Gallager’s performance for this administration had been mediocre at best. He knew that he was one policy error away from extinction and so did Winters.
“No offense intended, Nadine,” Gallager smiled with a hint of irritation in his voice. “Very well then. The president is in California today paying a little homage to those who helped him win his reelection. He’ll be back here tonight and I’ll brief him then. In any case it will be my immediate advice to the president to forego any military action until after we have accumulated this overwhelming evidence. That should take us past the holidays and in all likelihood — the inaugural. Let’s adjourn for now and meet back here on Wednesday at 7 a.m. for an update.”
Donovan assembled his papers while laughing to himself. He was imagining just how and where the president was “paying a little homage” out there in California. Hollywood no doubt. He shut his briefcase and filed out of the room with the rest of the members. Compton stopped to say “Nice briefing Phil” as he passed the podium.
In the hallway Phil Donovan approached the attorney general. “Would the attorney general have a moment she could spare?”
“Don’t tell me that you’re going to try to exploit another asset Mr. Donovan?” she asked, while continuing her brisk walk down the hallway.
“ I was thinking of something more mutually beneficial,” Donovan replied.
“ God I hate this town,” she laughed. “Let’s hear it Phil. You have five minutes.”
To be continued …
George Munkelwitz has been a law enforcement officer for 32 years. He spent 22 years patrolling the streets as a Prince George’s County Police officer. He served in Vietnam as a military intelligence specialist where he worked with the controversial Phoenix Program. Prior to the anthrax attack, he was writing the book “The Mother of Satan.” After the anthrax attack, an article appeared in the Washington Times magazine Insight, quoting his expertise in military intelligence, and mentioning his book. ABC news interviewed him but he felt the network treated him like a suspect and not an expert in the field. He never published the book after that interview. Nearly two decades later, his serial novel is finally published by Baltimore Post-Examiner.