The Attack Anthrax Pictures
Ed Lake
August 31, 2008
(revised Mar. 27, 2012)
On August 21, 2008, the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, NM, issued a press release describing their role in the Amerithrax investigation.  As part of the press release, they included two images of anthrax spores that were in the anthrax letters mailed in 2001.  The first image was taken with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and shows a clump of almost pure spores which appears to be roughly 28 microns in length and 20 microns in diameter.  The diameter of a human hair, by comparison, ranges between 17 to 181 microns in diameter.  There are probably well over a thousand spores in the clump.  (Click on the image below to view a larger version.)

The above image shows almost pure spores, and it's a clump of spores from the letter sent to Senator Patrick Leahy.  (The "debris" in the media letters would be mostly dead bacteria and would mostly look like capsules or tubes that are about two or three times longer than the spores.)

In telephone conversations I had with Dr. Joseph Michael at Sandia, he advised me that this clump should not be considered to be representative of all the spores that were in the Leahy letter.  In the Leahy sample supplied to Sandia for analysis, there were larger clumps, there were clumps of just a few spores, and there were also many individual spores.   The image was intended merely to show the kind of image obtained via a SEM.  A SEM image shows depth and shadows, giving the object a three dimensional look. 

An SEM is primarily intended for viewing the outer surface of an object.  By turning up the power and zooming in, an SEM can also take a much closer look at an individual spore, to the point where a single spore could fill the image the same way as this clump of spores.  Unfortunately, we do not yet have such an SEM image of individual spores from the anthrax attacks of 2001.

However, the Sandia press release also included an second image of anthrax spores from the 2001 attacks, this time taken with a Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM).   (Click on the image below to view a larger version.) 

The purpose of this TEM image is to show that a TEM doesn't just produce images of the outer surfaces of objects the way a SEM or ordinary photograph does.  If the object is thin enough, the transmission beam can also penetrate objects and provide a view of the internal structure.  And if the object is not thin enough, it can be ultramicrotomed to get a thin cross-section for viewing in a TEM.  That is what the above image shows.  A small group of spores from the anthrax attacks were fixed in a transparent material and then sliced to the right thinness for viewing under a TEM. 


As can be seen from the above photos, there is no sign of any "weaponization."  There is no sign of silica as an additive or as a coating.  All that is seen is pure spores.  A March 2008 scientific report has provided us with pictures of weaponized spores.    A single coated spore that was weaponized with silica at Dugway looks like this: 

The silica in the above image consists of tiny particles of crushed fumed silica.  All that can be seen is the silica.  The tiny individual particles of silica are more clearly seen in this image from Dugway which shows a few of the same kind of silica particles clinging to a clump of spores:

Scientist often protect spore powders from the effects of moisture by adding uncrushed fumed silica to the spore powder.  Fumed silica will grab moisture out of the air and prevent it from getting into the spores.  A picture of uncrushed fumed silica added to spores can be viewed by clicking HERE.  It's the image at the bottom of the page. 

Clearly the two pictures from Sandia of the attack spores look nothing like the images of spores coated with or mixed with silica. 

Yet, there was silicon in the attack spores.  Silicon and oxygen were detected by AFIP (Armed Forces Institute of Pathology) by using an energy dispersive X-ray spectrometer (an instrument used to detect the presence of otherwise-unseen chemicals through characteristic wavelengths of X-ray light).   They assumed that the presence of silicon and oxygen meant that silica was present.  That's what nearly everyone initially assumed.


On August 29, 2008, a transcript of the Aug. 18, 2008, roundtable discussion of the science used in the Amerithrax investigation was made public.  (Click HERE.  Or click HERE for my annotated version.)

Among the subjects discussed was the AFIP newsletter which falsely assumed that the presence of silicon and oxygen meant that a silica additive was present. 

The questions were answered with this information:

They did not have the technology to make those statements. ... The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology used scanning electron microscopy to do a gross examination of the spore preps to see if there was exogenous material mixed with the spores. ...  they did a bulk analysis of it.  They could not tell where the presence of the elemental signature was coming from.  They couldn't tell whether it was coming from the outside of the spores or the inside of the spores.  The type of analysis they did was a bulk elemental analysis.
In other words, AFIP used an Energy Dispersive X-Ray spectrometer (EDX) to detect what elements were in a spore sample from the Daschle letter.  However, the X-ray beam penetrates the spores and provides a graph showing EVERYTHING in the spores down to the depth of a micron and a half (a spore is only a micron in diameter), without any real information as to where elements are located in the spore.

The silicon was NOT on the outside of the spores.  It was on the INSIDE of the spore coat, UNDER the exposporium.  Since the scientists at AFIP were inexperienced in examining anthrax powders, AFIP falsely assumed it was an additive.

This, of course, was described in detail in Chapter 15 of my book over three years ago.  The chapter is titled "To Err Is Human."

AFIP may have made false assumptions about what they detected, but they did detect silicon.  If it wasn't an additive, what was the source of the silicon that AFIP detected?


In February of 2002, Sandia was sent samples of the attack anthrax to obtain answers to  questions about the silicon that was detected in the spores.  If there was some form of silicon in the spores, how come no one could see it? 

It now appears that the answer was known for many decades, but it still needed to be re-learned and then re-learned again.

In 1964, M. A. Rouf published a scientific paper titled "Spectrochemical Analysis of Inorganic Elements in Bacteria" in The Journal of Bacteriology.   The paper describes how the element silicon appears naturally in spores.  Silicon is one of the most common elements on earth, so it should be no surprise that it occurs in bacteria.  Howver, it's not considered a "nutrient" that is necessary for life and growth, so the exact reasons for its presence have never been studied.

In 1980, it was demonstrated that the lesson had not been learned.  In two different scientific papers, scientists wrote about unexpectedly finding the element silicon in spores.  Both assumed it was some sort of "lab contamination."  The papers were:

1) M. Stewart, et al. (1980) Distribution of calcium and other elements in cryosectioned bacillus cereus T spores, determined by high-resolution scanning electron probe X-ray microanalysis. Journal of Bacteriology 143: 481-491.

2) K. Johnstone, et al. (1980) Location of metal ions in bacillus megaterium spores by high-resolution electron probe X-ray microanalysis.  FEMS Microbiology Letters 7: 97-101.

The Stewart paper (#1) contained a cross-section spectra map showing where the silicon was located in the Bacillus cereus spores.   Here's that map (click on it to see the entire page): 

The image shows that the silicon was located almost exclusively inside the spore coat under the exosporium.  That is exactly where the silicon in the attack anthrax was located.   Here's an illustration showing the construction of a spore:

In the August 18, 2008, roundtable discussion it was stated that the samples used in the 1980 paper by Stewart were located and re-examined using modern equipment.  

The samples were provided to Dr. Michael, who looked at them.  And he confirmed their results of 30 years ago.  It was not an anomaly, and in fact the silicon incorporation was very similar to what we saw in the anthrax letters.  So we now have documented proof that with bacillus, the genus bacillus, that mineralization -- including mineralization of silicon -- below the exosporium, because the strain that they used, the bacillus series T strain, did have an exosporium similar to anthrax.
Hopefully, there will someday be some new scientific papers which will illustrate with modern spectra mapping techniques exactly where the silicon was located in the attack anthrax and how those images compare to "weaponized" spores that are coated with silica.   However, it takes time for such papers to be written, to be "peer reviewed," and to get on the schedule for printing in a scientific journal.   And, most scientists who did the work on the attack spores seem to have moved on to other projects.

Interestingly, the SEM picture of the spore clump taken at Sandia has been around a long time.  On May 16, 2005, it was displayed on the cover of this book:

If nothing else, this shows that important information is already available, if you know where to find it -- and if it's properly identified.

Nov. 1, 2010 - Revised some descriptions to clarify that the SEM image of the clump of spores was from the Leahy letter.
Mar. 27, 2012 - Changed the RETURN link at the bottom to go to my current main page.  Fixed two broken links.