WMD's: The Syrian Connection
By Laurie Mylroie
February 8, 2006
The New York Sun is doing yeoman’s work in explaining why the latest group-think — that Saddam Hussein had no proscribed WMD—may be very wrong. Ha’aretz has lent its support, reporting that Israeli officials believe “[m]aterial was transferred to Syria in the dark of the night, on the very eve of the war,” and “[t]he Americans are the ones who are making the mistake now." That is also the view of retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, who headed the National Imagery and Mapping Agency.
The little that has emerged about the Iraqi documents captured by U.S. forces supports the idea that Baghdad retained WMD programs. The Weekly Standard reports that one such document from February 2003, just before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, was entitled by U.S. translators, “Chemical, Biological Agent Destruction.” Other documents indicate that Iraq acquired anthrax and mustard gas in 2000. And Bill Tierney, who worked in Iraq both before and after OIF, recently detailed for FrontPageMagazine evidence that Iraq maintained such programs, as well as Baghdad’s efforts to hide such evidence.
UNSCOM: Source of the Information on Iraq’s Weapons Programs
A false narrative has arisen regarding our knowledge of Saddam’s weapons programs—namely, that that information came from shadowy and unreliable defectors. In fact, the information came from the U.N. weapons inspectors (UNSCOM, the U.N. Special Commission) and dates back to 1995. That summer, Baghdad began to threaten it would expel UNSCOM, if UNSCOM did not declare that Iraq had fully disclosed its weapons programs and that they had been destroyed, so sanctions could be lifted.
On August 8, however, Hussein Kamil, Saddam’s son-in-law, who had supervised those programs, defected to Jordan. As Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan subsequently explained, Iraq had indeed decided to expel UNSCOM, but “Kamil’s defection changed plans and compelled the Iraqi leadership to administer the battle in another direction.”
After Kamil’s defection, Iraqi invited UNSCOM chairman Rolf Ekeus to Baghdad, stating that if Ekeus saw Kamil first, Baghdad would regard that as an unfriendly act. The Iraqis wanted to control the flow of information, and Ekeus played cleverly on their fears of what Kamil might say.
The Iraqis acknowledged to shocked UNSCOM officials that all their proscribed weapons programs were bigger and more advanced than they had previously admitted, but they claimed to have unilaterally destroyed that material. Kamil, for his part, was cautious, revealing little, although he did alert UNSCOM to the fact that a translator they were using worked for Iraqi intelligence. Within the year, Ekeus warned the U.S. Congress, “The Iraqi government does not consider the  Gulf war was a war with an ending. The struggle is still going on. It was a battle of Kuwait, not a war of Kuwait."
Particularly worrisome was Iraq’s biological weapons program (which UNSCOM believed Iraq had tested on live human subjects), because it could be used covertly to kill large numbers of people Hence, President Bill Clinton warned, “Think how many can be killed by just a tiny bit of anthrax, and think about how it's not just that Saddam Hussein might put it on a Scud missile . . . Think about all the other terrorists and other bad actors who could just parade through Baghdad and pick up their stores if we don't take action.”
Clinton recognized the danger, but did virtually nothing. In the fall of 1997, Iraq began a series of crises over weapons inspections that had the effect of weakening support for UNSCOM. In December 1998, on the eve of the House impeachment vote, Clinton finally launched a bombing campaign, particularly ill-timed, as the Muslim month of Ramadan was about to begin, and the campaign was brief (Tierney is scathing about its ineffectualness). UNSCOM pulled out of Iraq in advance of the attack and never returned.
So which scenario is more likely: 1) with UNSCOM gone, Saddam destroyed the material that UNSCOM believed he had, because the Iraqis would provide no coherent account of its purported destruction? Or 2) with UNSCOM gone, Saddam’s proscribed weapons activities expanded?
Loose WMD and the Syrian Connection?
Already in the mid-1990s, even while Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad, Saddam’s great rival lived, Baghdad proposed sending biological weapons experts to Damascus, according to a member of the Iraq Survey Group. The death of al-Assad senior in June 2000 and the assumption of power by his son Bashar paved the way for much closer ties.
In the summer of 2002, Ha’aretz reported that Damascus was importing arms and sending them to Baghdad, as the United States edged toward war with Iraq. Documents found in Iraq confirm that story. Damascus now harbors a significant number of Saddam-era officials, while current Iraqi officials assert that Syria is the main external source of support for the Iraqi insurgency. Ties between the Syrian and Iraqi Baathists are very close.
Former undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith suggests there may be a loose Iraqi WMD problem, similar to the problem of loose Soviet nukes. It has been over four years since high quality, weapons-grade anthrax was sent to Senators Daschle and Leahy. That material was more lethal than the anthrax produced by the U.S. and Soviet biological weapons programs. The FBI’s claim that it was produced by a lone scientist was always a stretch; indeed, it is much more likely that it was produced by an enemy state. Notably, the FBI has provided no explanation of who was responsible.
The most difficult aspect of producing that anthrax was the R&D involved in developing a process for making it so deadly. Did Iraq produce it? Was that material or the technique for making it exported to Syria, which might have its own reasons for attacking the United States, and which has close ties to Iran, with which Washington is locked in an escalating confrontation over its nuclear program?
“Know the enemy” is axiomatic to fighting a war. The nature of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programs has been treated like a political football, but it is decidedly not.
Laurie Mylroie is an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Bush vs. the Beltway: the Inside Battle over War in Iraq (HarperCollins).
BU's biolab and the law
By Daniel Goodenough and David
IN RESPONSE to the laboratory outbreak of tularemia at Boston University Medical School in 2004, the Boston Public Health Commission has recently proposed an extensive set of laboratory regulations for the city. Questions can be raised as to whether these regulations are strong enough and whether they ensure sufficiently independent oversight, but the commission is to be commended for keeping in place longstanding regulations governing laboratories in Boston.
In 1994, the Boston Public Health Commission adopted regulations banning the use of recombinant DNA techniques -- genetic engineering in popular parlance -- within Biosafety Level-4 laboratories. These regulations were adopted out of health and safety concerns. Recombinant DNA research on pathogens is risky, since scientists cannot always predict what will result from their experiments in genetic engineering.
The risks are especially pronounced for recombinant DNA research performed in BSL-4 laboratories. Those laboratories are reserved for the most dangerous and most exotic pathogens, which can be transmitted through the air, are nearly always lethal, and for which no vaccines, no drugs, or other countermeasures exist. The disasters that could result if super versions of already lethal bugs were accidentally released in the city of Boston need no elaboration.
The anthrax mailings of 2001 highlight the additional possibility of deliberate release by a disturbed, disgruntled, or extremist laboratory worker. The mailings underscore the fact that threats may come from ''insiders" and can be difficult to prevent.
The 1994 ban on this dangerous research is relevant now as Boston University plans to build a BSL-4 laboratory in the South End. Given that recombinant DNA techniques are essential tools for research in modern biology, how can the facility conduct scientific work that does not violate the 1994 Public Health Commission ban?
Boston University has recognized this dilemma. In a July 2004 statement, Dr. Mark Klempner, associate provost for research at Boston University Medical School and the principal investigator at the BSL-4 facility, wrote: ''The regulation prohibits attempts to efficiently make fully virulent risk Level 4 organisms more virulent and more dangerous. It was not intended, in spirit or letter, to deter legitimate research." In short, he has declared that the recombinant DNA research to be performed in the Boston University lab will be ''legitimate research" and has asserted that, as ''legitimate research," it will be exempt from regulation.
Klempner's position is without basis. The wording of the 1994 Public Health Commission ban is concise and straightforward: recombinant DNA ''requiring containment defined by the [NIH] guidelines as 'BL4' [today known as BSL-4] shall not be permitted in the City of Boston."
The 1994 Public Health Commission ban draws no distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate research. It makes no judgments on the value of recombinant DNA research in BSL-4 labs. It simply outlaws such research within the city's limits in order to protect public health and safety in a densely populated urban area.
The existing ban on recombinant DNA research in a BSL-4 lab in Boston must be upheld. This same restriction is in place in Cambridge. We must not sacrifice public safety for researchers pushing their own agendas. We urge Mayor Thomas M. Menino and city councilors to follow the guidelines put in place by the Public Health Commission.
Daniel Goodenough is a professor of cell biology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. David Ozonoff is a professor of environmental health at Boston University School of Public Health. Also contributing to this piece were Richard H. Ebright, a professor of chemistry at Rutgers University, and Lynn Klotz, a senior science fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation.
Saddam WMD Tapes Subject of ABC Nightline Special
By Sherrie Gossett
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
February 15, 2006
(1st Add: Includes additional comments from former federal prosecutor John Loftus.)
(CNSNews.com) - Secret audiotapes of Saddam Hussein discussing ways to attack America with weapons of mass destruction will be the subject of an ABC "Nightline" program Wednesday night, a former federal prosecutor told Cybercast News Service.
The tapes are being called the "smoking gun" of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The New York Sun reported that the tapes have been authenticated and currently are being reviewed by the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The panel's chairman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), declined to give the Sun details of the content or context of the recordings, saying only that they were provided to his committee by former federal prosecutor John Loftus.
Loftus has been tight-lipped about the tapes, telling the Sun only that he received them from a "former American military intelligence analyst." However, on Wednesday he told Cybercast News Service, "Saddam's tapes confirm he had active CW [chemical weapons] and BW [biological weapons] programs that were hidden from the UN."
On Tuesday night, Loftus told Cybercast News Service that ABC's "Nightline" would air an "extensive report" on the tapes Wednesday night. Loftus also described an ABC News "teaser," which reportedly contains audio of Saddam Hussein discussing ways to attack America with WMD. "Nightline will have a lot more," said Loftus.
The tapes are scheduled to be revealed to the public Saturday morning at the opening session of The Intelligence Summit, a conference which brings together intelligence professionals from around the world.
Loftus is president of The Intelligence Summit. Its advisory council includes generals, a former F.B.I. official, a former senior Israeli Mossad officer and the former chair of the British Joint Intelligence Committee, according to information posted on the summit website. Currently a private attorney, Loftus says he works pro bono to help intelligence agents obtain lawful permission to declassify and publish the "hidden secrets of our times."
He purportedly has held some of the highest security clearances in the world with special access to NATO Cosmic, CIA codeword and Top Secret nuclear files.
This year's Intelligence Summit will bring together top terrorism experts including Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of "Funding Evil," 9/11 investigator Jean-Charles Brisard, author of "Zarqawi: the New Face of Al-Qaeda;" former CIA agent Michael Scheurer, author of "Imperial Hubris," and Richard Marcinko, former head of SEAL Team Six, and author of "Rogue Warrior."
The Intelligence Summit will be featured not only in the Wednesday Nightline report but also on ABC World News Tonight.
In a March 2005 addendum to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) report on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, ISG head Charles Duelfer wrote that while there continue to be reports of WMD in Iraq, the ISG found "such reports are usually scams or misidentification of materials or activities."
A limited number of cases involved the discovery of old chemical munitions produced before 1990, Duelfer wrote. He also reported in the addendum that a large collection of audiotapes from Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council meetings chaired by Saddam was in the process of translation. While he conceded there were "remaining uncertainties," the chief weapons hunter said it was "not likely" the documentation would provide "significant surprises" regarding WMD.
Loftus told Cybercast News Service that the documentation referenced by Duelfer ended in 1991, and was not related to the new audiotapes.
"[T]here were no weapons," Sen. Hillary Clinton, (D-N.Y.) recently commented, "or if there were, they certainly weren't used or they were in some way disposed of or taken out of the country." Her comments were reported in The New York Sun.
On Tuesday night, Loftus praised a Cybercast News Service article published on Oct. 4, 2004, entitled Saddam Possessed WMD, Had Extensive Terror Ties.
The exclusive report featured documents showing numerous efforts by Saddam Hussein's regime to work with some of the world's most notorious terror organizations, including al Qaeda, to target Americans.
The documents also demonstrate that Saddam's government possessed mustard gas and anthrax, both considered weapons of mass destruction, in the summer of 2000, during the period in which United Nations weapons inspectors were not present in Iraq. The papers showed that Iraq trained dozens of terrorists inside its borders.
(The Conservative Voice)
ABC Saddam Tapes Translation Said to be Wrong
February 16, 2006 04:38 PM EST
By Sher Zieve – Appearing on Thursday’s Sean Hannity show, former UN Weapons Inspector and translator Bill Tierney said the translations of the Saddam 12-hours tapes were incorrect. Tierney said that he was originally asked by ABC to provide the translations. However, ABC was said “not to like them” [Tierney's translations] and it, subsequently, hired another translator.
Tierney also said that he was contacted to translate the tapes by the National Virtual Translation Center, which is run by the FBI. Tierney advised that the tapes are filled with Saddam Hussein talking, many times to Tarik Aziz, about terrorist attacks on the US via missiles, chemical and biological WMDs and the necessity of help and support from Russia, France and Brazil.
One of the biggest bones of contention with Tierney is ABC’s translation of Hussein saying “Iraq would never do such a thing”. Tierney advises that this portion of the translation is taken completely out of context. Tierney says that prior to Saddam making that statement, he was talking about attacks on the US but, due to his use of “proxies”, Iraq would not be blamed. The inference is that Hussein, due to his using others not connected with Iraq to affect the US attacks, said that the US and others would say: “Iraq would never do such a thing”.
of 'Saddam Tapes' Disagrees With ABC's 'Take' on the Story
By Susan Jones
CNSNews.com Senior Editor
February 17, 2006
(CNSNews.com) - A four-day Intelligence Summit that runs Friday through Monday in Arlington, Va., is re-igniting debate over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction -- what weapons did Saddam have, when did he have them, and what did he do with them?
As Cybercast News Service reported earlier this week, the organizers of the Intelligence Summit have 12 hours of Saddam Hussein's audio recordings from the mid-1990s.
On Wednesday night, ABC News played excerpts from those tapes, including one where Saddam Hussein predicts a terrorist attack on the United States. But Bill Tierney, the man who interpreted the tapes, is suggesting that ABC News downplayed the story when it aired excerpts on Wednesday night.
"Terrorism is coming," Saddam says in one excerpt played on ABC News. "I told the Americans a long time before Aug. 2 and told the British as well ... that in the future there will be terrorism with weapons of mass destruction."
Saddam asks, "In the future, what would prevent a booby-trapped car causing a nuclear explosion in Washington or a germ or a chemical one? This is coming, this story is coming, but not from Iraq."
The way ABC News told the story, Saddam was saying that Iraq itself would not launch a WMD attack on the United States.
But on Thursday evening, the translator of those tapes, former U.N. weapons inspector Bill Tierney, told Hannity & Colmes he disagrees with ABC's interpretation of what Saddam was saying.
"I disagree completely, because Saddam also says in other tapes that the war is ongoing," Tierney said, according to a transcript of the program.
"And when I was there [in Iraq] as an inspector, what struck me is that these people were still in the fight. There was no change of heart like you had in Germany after World War II. They were still in the fight. It makes perfect sense."
Asked about reports that Iraq's WMD was destroyed in 1998 when President Bill Clinton did pinpoint bombing, Tierney also rejected that notion.
"I'm going to tell you something. Before we went in there, the Iraqis moved all their equipment out except for a few massive machines that they couldn't move. That -- that four days of bombing was a joke," Tierney said on Hannity & Colmes.
Tierney also said Iraq "rebuilt everything" after the bombing.
In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003, the Bush administration argued that the war was necessary as a preemptive strike because Saddam had WMD and there was a danger that he would use them against the U.S. or its allies.
Since then, President Bush has been repeatedly blasted, particularly by Democrats, for "lying" about the existence of Iraq's WMD.
Although many people now say the WMD wasn't there when the U.S. went to war in Iraq, others insist the full story is not yet known.
Saturday's discussion at the Intelligence Summit in Arlington will focus on what conference organizers call "smoking gun evidence" of Iraqi WMD.
Cheney's Secret World Behind The Shooting Furor
Cheney Believed He, His Family and Staff May Have Been Exposed in an Anthrax Attack After 9/11; Was False Alarm But Story Kept Quiet
NEW YORK, Feb. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- A few weeks after 9/11, Newsweek has learned, Vice President Dick Cheney worried that he and his family and his staff might have been exposed in an anthrax attack. According to knowledgeable former officials, a mysterious letter turned up at the vice president's mansion. (A former senior law-enforcement official recalled that sensors went off.) The alarm turned out to be false. Still, to be safe, Cheney and his entourage began taking Cipro, the powerful antibiotic. The story was hushed up. (Cheney's office referred Newsweek to the Secret Service, which declined to comment.) In the February 27 Newsweek cover story, "Cheney's Secret World," (on newsstands Monday, February 20), Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas examines Cheney's private world, his relationship with President Bush, and how last week's hunting accident once again drew attention to the unusual nature of Cheney's power. He remains by far the most powerful vice president in history, and one of the most secretive and mysterious public officials to ever hold such high office, Thomas writes.
The night of the shooting of 78-year-old Harry Whittington in a hunting accident, Cheney sat alone on the porch of his guesthouse, saying very little as others came and went. "He was shaken, crushed, miserable," his host, Katharine Armstrong, tells Newsweek. "I could have gotten up and wrapped my arms around the vice president." But she didn't; no one did. (Lynne Cheney had not accompanied her husband on the trip.)
Katharine Armstrong accompanied Cheney on the shoot and described the scene to Newsweek: It was late afternoon, and the hunters were ready to call it a day. Whittington, a prominent Austin lawyer and big-time GOP donor, had bagged two birds with two shots. "Great shot, Harry, you got a double!" called out Katharine. While Whittington went off with his dog and his guides to find the dead birds, Cheney and Pam Willeford, the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and another major GOP donor, went ahead to look for another covey of birds. Cheney spotted a bird flying behind him, swung around with his Italian-made 28-gauge shotgun toward the setting sun, and pulled the trigger. Whittington, wearing a regulation orange vest, was approaching out of a slight gully, some 30 yards away.
Armstrong, watching from an off-road vehicle about a hundred yards away, saw Whittington fall. A team of Secret Service agents bolted out of the car and ran past her, one of them shouting an expletive. Gun in hand, Cheney rushed over to the fallen Whittington. Later, the vice president rode back with Armstrong. "You'd have to be an idiot not to see what the poor man was going through," recalled Armstrong. "It was very quiet. I remember leaning forward and squeezing him on the shoulder." At one point, Cheney said, "I never saw him."
That night, according to a senior White House official who refused to be identified discussing a sensitive matter, Cheney did not speak to either Bush or the White House staff or his own press people, Newsweek reports. He did speak with David Addington, his chief of staff and former lawyer who is a strong proponent of executive power and keeping secrets. In Washington, White House staffers were quietly urging Cheney's staff to somehow go public with the shooting. But President Bush never picked up the phone to call Cheney, either to console or to offer counsel.
Shortly after 8 a.m., a local deputy sheriff arrived at the ranch to take a statement from Cheney. By then, it was clear the story could not be contained. Cheney and Katharine Armstrong talked about how to get the story out. "What do you want me to do?" Armstrong asked. "What do you feel comfortable doing?" Cheney replied. Armstrong knew a reporter at the local paper, Jaime Powell of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Powell understood hunting and had written a sensitive and favorable obituary of her father the year before. Unfortunately, Armstrong couldn't find Powell on her cell phone, and it was nearly 2 p.m., after much back and forth between Armstrong and the paper, that the Corpus Christi Caller-Times finally put a short story up on its Web site.
The president had met with Cheney privately on Monday morning at the White House before the daily intelligence briefing. According to a White House aide speaking, as usual, anonymously, Bush listened closely and watched Cheney's body language to see how emotional the accident had been for someone not given to public displays of feeling. "The president wanted to give him some room to handle this," the senior aide tells Newsweek. "The President could visibly tell this was weighing heavily on him and he felt, in his judgment, that he should not push him too hard."
Cheney's hunting friends, who describe him as a crack shot (the veep has downed as many as 70 pheasants in a single day) as well as a by-the-book and safety-conscious hunter, don't believe he will permanently lay his gun down. "You have to learn from these things, and that's the kind of hunter he is," says Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, a close friend. "He'll be back. He'll be out there as soon as he can. It's in his blood."
Byron York - NR White House Correspondent
February 20, 2006, 7:20 a.m.
“He Shall Direct Thy Paths to the Weapons of Mass Destruction.”
The former U.N. inspector behind the “Saddam Tapes” says God revealed WMD sites to him.
William Tierney, the former United Nations weapons inspector who unveiled the so-called "Saddam Tapes" at a conference in Arlington, Virginia, Saturday, told National Review Online that God directed him to weapons sites in Iraq and that his belief in the importance of one particular site was strengthened when a friend told him that she had a vision of the site in a dream.
In his presentation at the so-called "Intelligence Summit," Tierney, an Arabic speaker, described how he received the "Saddam Tapes" from federal authorities last year as part of his job as a contract translator. It was supposed to be a routine assignment, but Tierney said he soon realized the tapes had special significance and decided to make them public. Tierney said he believes the tapes, which have not yet been fully evaluated, will eventually reveal that Iraq was behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Tierney also said that he believes Iraq orchestrated the 2001 anthrax attacks, with Saddam Hussein using American scientist Steven Hatfill as a "proxy" to carry out the mission.
Afterward, in a talk with NRO, Tierney addressed comments he made in February 2003 on "Coast to Coast AM," a radio program devoted to paranormal phenomena. On the program, hosted by George Noory, (who took over from predecessor Art Bell), Tierney discussed a possible nuclear-related facility in Iraq. A description of Tierney's remarks on the "Coast to Coast AM" website says:
Tierney's methods of ascertaining this location were rather unconventional. "I would ask God and just get a sense if something was valid or not, and then know if I needed to pursue it," he said. His assessments through prayer were then confirmed to him by a friend's clairvoyant dream, where he was able to find the location on a map. "Everything she said lined up. This place meets the criteria," Tierney said of the power generator plant near the Tigris River that he believes is actually a cover for a secret uranium facility.
Tierney told NRO that he appeared on the program because he wanted to reach a large audience. "I don't believe a lot of the stuff that goes on on 'Coast to Coast,'" he said. "It's a forum to speak to people who are searching for answers, and that's why I went on." But as far as what he said about the influence of his religious faith on his work as a weapons inspector, Tierney said he has no regrets: "I don't take back anything."
"I am a Christian — I would describe myself as an Acts Christian," Tierney told NRO. "If you look at the book of Acts for the early church, it's pretty exciting stuff. I mean, Christianity, you can do your hour-a-week thing in church, or you can skip the spiritual mountaintops. That's what I've been going for for years."
Tierney said he had originally planned to pursue a career as a classical guitarist when "God sort of grabbed me by the collar and said, 'I don't want you in that.'" He joined the military and eventually found himself working as an intelligence analyst.
In the job, Tierney was required to go through hundreds of reports of possible threats each day. "One of those might involve a nuclear attack against the United States," he said. "If you don't catch it, it could happen, because you, as the analyst, failed. So I'm sitting there going, 'Alright, God, I need help. Thank you for showing me which one of these things is important and which one is not."
Tierney also served as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq in the 1990s, and he said he remembers thinking about the book of Psalms as a kind of guiding construct for his work. He particularly recalled the 18th Psalm, verse two, which, in the King James version, says, "The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower."
The phrase "high tower" struck him deeply. "It talked about God is my fortress, God's horn is my salvation and my high tower," Tierney said. "In that context, it's not talking about protection. From a high tower, you can see the enemy coming. So God is my intel. And I took another verse [from Proverbs] that said, 'In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.' What I did was I sort of tweaked it a little bit — In all thy UNSCOM inspections, He shall direct thy paths to the weapons of mass destruction." (UNSCOM was the United Nations Special Commission, the agency originally charged with Iraqi weapons inspections.)
Tierney said he applied that inspiration to a particular site, a facility that might have been part of an Iraqi nuclear program. There was, he said, "a report, I don't want to get into too much of the details right now, but it ended up being a description of an underground uranium enrichment plant. It took me eight months to put the things together, but I came up with a location within a short distance of Tarmiyah where EMIS took place — electromagnetic isotope separation." Tarmiyah had been a site involved in an earlier Iraqi nuclear program, a program that was quite advanced when it was revealed by defectors after the first Gulf War in 1991.
But the people in charge of searching for WMD didn't take Tierney seriously. When he brought it up with his superiors, he said, "People basically rolled their eyes, they didn't follow up on it." After leaving his position as an inspector, he still had the information, and was still frustrated by his inability to get it out. "I'm in a position of what do I do with this?" Tierney said. "Do I go public? Because then I could get in trouble for revealing classified information....I wanted to get it to UNMOVIC so they could check it out, and I didn't know what to do." (UNMOVIC was the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspections Commission, the body that took over the work of UNSCOM.)
That's where his friend's dream came in. "I got on the phone with a good friend I haven't talked to in 15 years. And I just told her what was going on, and she cut me off and said, 'You know, I had a dream about two years ago.' And then she described a location. She didn't know what it was, she just knew it was important to somebody. She drew a picture of this, and it was the exact angle of this location, as a power generation station on the Tigris River. It had two inlets and two outlets, exactly in her picture, and she said, 'There was water flowing into this house, and there was something going on downstairs, and I was standing there and no one knew I was there' — this is in her dream — 'and there was a lot of activity going on, but they didn't know I was there.' And she had no idea, I didn't tell her anything. And right as I was trying to decide what to do with this, she gives me this."
In the end, it all seemed to fit a Biblical pattern. "So the dream — look in the Bible," Tierney said. "There were dreams." Tierney gave the information to UNMOVIC, which, he said, did not adequately pursue it.
Tierney's penchant for applying his religious beliefs to specific intelligence issues was quite controversial in the later stages of his career in government. In 2003, the publication Army Times reported that Tierney's career as a Chief Warrant Officer ended when "the Defense Intelligence Agency said Tierney, an Arabic-speaking analyst and former U.N. arms inspector, overstepped his bounds when he prayed with an Iraqi Christian defector shortly before the 1998 Desert Fox air strikes against Iraq." The DIA concluded that Tierney had "demonstrated an unwillingness to comply with routine intelligence procedures."
Tierney argued that he was being discriminated against because of his religious beliefs, and his congressman, Rep. Charles Canady of Florida, tried to have him reinstated. But in the end, Tierney left the military. Later, in 2002, he worked as a civilian interrogator at the American detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but Army Times reported that "after two months at Guantanamo, Tierney was dismissed when DIA officials once against felt he wasn't following established procedures."
Tierney wasn't the only controversial figure at the "Intelligence Summit." The president of the organization that staged the conference, former federal prosecutor John Loftus, has in the past drawn attention for writing that the Bush family won its wealth by supporting the Nazi regime in the 1930s. Loftus has also written about his theory linking the Enron scandal to the September 11 terrorist attacks, claiming that Vice President Dick Cheney forbade American intelligence from investigating ties between Enron, the Taliban, and al Qaeda in the months leading up to the attacks. "The Enron cover-up confirms that 9/11 was not an intelligence failure or a law enforcement failure (at least not entirely)," Loftus wrote. "Instead, it was a foreign policy failure of the highest order. If Congress ever combines its Enron investigation with 9/11, Cheney's whole house of cards will collapse."
Finally, there are questions surrounding the chief financial supporter of the "Intelligence Summit." Last week, the New York Sun reported that two former CIA directors, James Woolsey and John Deutch, had been scheduled to take part in the Summit, but pulled out at the last minute because of concerns over "new information they received regarding one of the Summit's biggest donors, Michael Cherney, an Israeli citizen who has been denied a visa to enter America because of his alleged ties to the Russian mafia." Cherney's organization, the Michael Cherney Foundation, is listed as the Summit's only "Platinum Sponsor," meaning Cherney contributed at least $100,000 to the event.
— Byron York, NR's White House correspondent, is the author of The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They'll Try Even Harder Next Time.
NYC man contracts anthrax
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
February 22, 2006, 5:10 PM EST
A drum-maker who imports raw animal hides from Africa has been infected with anthrax in what is believed to be an isolated accident that poses no public health threat, officials said Wednesday.
Vado Diomande, who also is a dancer and choreographer, traveled in December to Ivory Coast in west Africa and became ill shortly after his return, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. There was no evidence of any criminal intent or terrorist connection, the mayor said.
"We have every reason to believe that this infection is an isolated, accidentally and naturally transmitted case," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg said the 44-year-old man had been working with the unprocessed animal hides at a work space in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn before he became sick last week.
At least four other people, including a family member of the infected man who worked with the hides, also may have been exposed and three are being treated with antibiotics, city Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said. The fourth was in transit, he said.
Teams of federal and city officials planned to search the man's workspace in Brooklyn and his West Village apartment to test for additional traces of anthrax.
Officials also wanted to check the areas for any signs that anthrax was being produced to completely rule out the possibility of bioterrorism. "Every indication suggests that this is naturally occurring anthrax," said Frieden.
Diomande collapsed after performing last week with his dance company, Kotchegna, at the Steadman Theatre in Mansfield, Pa., according to Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Calvin B. Johnson.
On Friday, blood tests were taken and by Monday, the tests began to indicate the possible presence of anthrax. Diomande was in stable condition at the Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., just south of the New York border.
Anthrax spores are found in soil in many parts of the world, and livestock become infected from consuming contaminated soil or feed. People then can become infected if they come into contact with the contaminated hides or other parts.
Weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the nation was on high alert as anthrax-laced letters popped up in several places, including New York City. NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, two U.S. senators and the offices of the New York Post were among the targets.
The anthrax attacks killed five people across the country, including a New York City hospital worker and two postal workers, and sickened 17. Investigators never determined who was responsible.
Authorities said they were not concerned that the transport of the hides or the finished drums posed any health risk, because it was during the process of treating and working with the materials that they believe Diomande was infected.
At the Pennsylvania university where Diomande performed last Thursday, students were informed about the anthrax case but were assured they were not in danger. About 100 people attended the performance, according to Terri Day, a university spokesman.
Diomande has been a dancer and drummer since he was a child, according to a web site for his dance troupe. When he was a teenager he danced with the National Ballet of the Ivory Coast, and toured all over the world. He founded his own dance company in 1989, the web site said.
for calm as anthrax is back
Animal skins infect city man
By KERRY BURKE, DAVID SALTONSTALL
and TRACY CONNOR
A Manhattan dance troupe leader was infected with anthrax after inhaling spores from raw animal skins he brought to the city from Africa to make drums, officials revealed yesterday.
Authorities went to extraordinary lengths to reassure New Yorkers that Vado Diomande's frightening illness was not a replay of the 2001 anthrax terror attacks that sowed fear across the nation.
"We have every reason to believe that this infection is an isolated, accidentally and naturally transmitted case," Mayor Bloomberg said. "There is no - let me repeat - no evidence at this time of any criminal intent associated with this infection," he added.
Even though the city said there was no public health crisis, the emergency response was dramatic: a live City Hall news conference, a briefing from the feds and surreal scenes of police and firefighters in biohazard suits scouring Diomande's home and workplace.
Diomande, 44, an Ivory Coast immigrant who lives in the West Village and stores his equipment in Brooklyn, was in fair condition at a hospital in Pennsylvania. He fell ill at a Chinese restaurant after a performance at a nearby university in Pennsylvania last Thursday.
"He had difficulty breathing. It was severe and he had to be taken to the hospital right away," said Jennifer Vincent, 36, who is married to Diomande's nephew.
At first, doctors were mystified by the well-built man's sudden lung crisis, but by Monday, blood tests had pointed to a dreaded diagnosis: inhalation anthrax.
A relative and three people who worked with Diomande were being treated with antibiotics as a precaution because they also may have been exposed to the dangerous spores.
Anthrax is a naturally occurring bacteria that shows up in soil and grazing animals. People are infected by touching, ingesting or - most harmfully - breathing in the spores.
Human cases were relatively rare until 2001, when a terrorist mailed envelopes laced with the white powder to media outlets and politicians, killing five people and sickening 17. Investigators never determined who was behind the attacks.
Diomande's personal physician, Dr. Melanie Maclennan, said Diomande had worked for years with animal skins and probably had "low-grade chronic exposure" to the bacteria before something triggered the infection last week.
She said anthrax also could have been at the root of a severe skin infection that attacked Diomande's thigh during a 2003 tour of Europe and Africa and landed him in the hospital for six weeks.
Even though inhaled anthrax is the deadliest form, especially if caught late, doctors were optimistic Diomande would survive. "I expect him to recover," Maclennan said. After the anthrax diagnosis was confirmed, hazardous-material and counterterrorism teams swooped on Diomande's Downing St. apartment and the downtown Brooklyn warehouse where he kept the goat hides.
The stilt dancer and choreographer had visited the Ivory Coast in December and returned to New York with the unprocessed skins in suitcases.
"It's my understanding that spores can reside within the hairs of the hides," said Dr. Lisa Rotz of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The process of drum making involves soaking the hide and stretching it and scraping the hide. . . . He could aerosolize any spores."
Diomande came down with flulike symptoms after working on the hides at Pinnacle Self-Storage at 2 Prince St. near the Manhattan Bridge overpass in Brooklyn, officials said.
Nevertheless, he embarked on the two-day trip last week with his troupe, Kotchegna, collapsing after a performance at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania.
He was being treated at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., where he underwent surgery to drain fluid from his lungs, family members said.
Diomonde's wife, Lisa, is "very scared," the victim's brother-in-law Alex Harman told Channel 7.
"He's her whole life and she breaks down pretty frequently [at] the thought that she might lose him," he said.
FDNY and NYPD officials in moon suits secured Diomande's home and warehouse, and CDC teams were preparing to swab the Brooklyn site for anthrax. They were also focusing on a black van he used to transport the skins from Kennedy Airport to the warehouse.
Police searching his apartment found a bottle of Cipro, a prescription antibiotic used to treat anthrax and also given to people who travel overseas to ward off infections.
Tom Beale, 27, a wood sculptor whose studio is in the Prince St. building, said he felt anxious.
"I feel like, 'Am I exposed to anthrax and am I going to have to go to the hospital?' " he asked. "You hear anthrax in your building, you kind of freak out."
With Celeste Katz,
Carrie Melago and Robert F. Moore
Manhattan drum maker hospitalized with disease likely from animal hides brought from Africa
BY BRYAN VIRASAMI AND DELTHIA RICKS
STAFF WRITERS; Staff writer Rocco Parascandola contributed to this article.
February 23, 2006
A 44-year-old Greenwich Village man diagnosed with inhalation anthrax was in stable condition yesterday, and officials declared it an isolated case with no links to terrorism.
The man, Vado Diamonde, appeared to have contracted anthrax from raw animal hides he purchased in the Ivory Coast that he uses to make drums, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference.
He was breathing on his own inside the intensive care unit at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., where he collapsed after attending a concert.
After learning of the case Tuesday, police sealed off the rented Brooklyn warehouse on Prince Street where Diamonde works, along with his apartment on Downing Street in Manhattan. Authorities were planning to send in teams in protective suits to search the spaces and collect air samples for tests, said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
After learning of the test results late Tuesday, Bloomberg called a news conference yesterday to say the city has determined there was no risk to the general public and no signs of terrorism.
"There's absolutely no evidence of it so far," Bloomberg said. "The patient has been 100 percent cooperative, he's described in infinite detail what he's been doing and we believe it is simply a case of an accidental contamination."
Four other people who had contact with the warehouse where the hides were stored, at 2 Prince St., including a family member, were contacted and had already taken or will be receiving antibiotics as a precaution.
Officials said anthrax is not contagious among humans. They also said the incident did not warrant evacuating any neighbors of the two sites.
The last case of naturally occurring inhalation anthrax was in 1976 in Texas. A person using wool to make rugs contracted it from contaminated fibers.
The path to the anthrax infection may have begun in December, when Diamonde returned from a trip to the Ivory Coast. It appears he contracted it by inhaling spores from the hides, possibly from scraping or beating them.
Tests were conducted on Friday and preliminary results on Monday showed the presence of anthrax.
After tests confirmed anthrax yesterday, New York officials were informed.
The scientific effort that confirmed the man was infected involved public health experts in two states and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Dr. Lisa Rotz, a CDC medical epidemiologist, said it took a week to confirm the infecting pathogen was Bacillus anthracis. She said the organism can infect different parts of the body.
Infectious disease experts learned in the 2001 anthrax-by-mail attacks that starting antibiotic therapy as soon as possible can reduce mortality.
She said a team of CDC investigators is being dispatched to New York to examine any other hides the man may have stored.
Anthrax Investigation Finds No Other Exposures
February 23, 2006
More tests are being run on the home and workspace of a Manhattan man in the city's first known case of anthrax exposure since shortly after the September 11th terror attacks.
Unlike those incidents, health officials believe 44-year-old Vado Diomande contracted the disease from animal skins he brought back from Africa to use to make drums. Diomande remains hospitalized in Pennsylvania Thursday morning where he had traveled to perform with a dance troupe.
City officials stress there is no cause for alarm, but they aren't taking any chances.
Police, fire and emergency crews are testing his Brooklyn workspace and his West Village apartment for any signs of the bacteria. They believe the skins were kept in the warehouse in DUMBO.
“At this time, we have every reason to believe that this infection is an isolated, accidentally and naturally transmitted case,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a news conference Wednesday. “No other illnesses have been reported whatsoever.”
Diomande lives on the fifth floor of a building on Downing Street. Residents were allowed to stay inside, but some of his neighbors still have their concerns.
"You don't know if was outside on the street, if he was bringing them in,” said one neighbor. “Did you walk in it? Did you take it in your house? So, it is. It is very scary."
According to published reports, Diomande may also have contracted anthrax back in 2003 when he developed a severe rash on his leg. He was on a tour in Europe and Africa at the time.
The last time anyone in the city was infected with Anthrax was in a series of mailings following the September 11th terror attacks.
City officials stress this case appears to be isolated, accidental, and naturally transmitted. Several of Diomande's co-workers who may have handled the hides are being treated with antibiotics as a precaution.
Man recovering after contracting inhalation anthrax
By ADAM GOLDMAN
Associated Press Writer
February 23, 2006, 12:56 AM EST
NEW YORK -- A dancer who makes drums with animal hides from Africa was recovering at a Pennsylvania hospital after becoming infected with anthrax in what officials called an isolated accident that posed no public health threat.
Vado Diomande, who also is a choreographer and instructor, traveled in December to Ivory Coast in west Africa and became ill shortly after he returned, bringing several goat hides with him, officials said. There was no evidence of any criminal intent or terrorist connection, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday.
"We have every reason to believe that this infection is an isolated, accidentally and naturally transmitted case," he said.
Bloomberg said the 44-year-old man had been working with the unprocessed animal hides at a work space in Brooklyn before he became sick last week with inhalation anthrax, more serious than the more common skin anthrax.
Dr. Lisa Rotz, a medical epidemiologist with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said health officials believe Diomande may have inhaled the spores in a process that includes soaking the hides, stretching them and scraping them to remove hair.
Anthrax spores are found in soil in many parts of the world, and livestock become infected from consuming contaminated soil or feed. People then can become infected if they come into contact with the contaminated hides or other parts.
Rotz said investigators were seeking samples of the hides to test them for spores. Authorities said they were not concerned that the transport of the hides or the finished drums posed any health risk.
Diomande was diagnosed with respiratory anthrax, which can be fatal, but city health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said he was breathing on his own and appeared to be "doing better than people with respiratory anthrax usually do."
Diomande collapsed after performing last week with his dance company in Mansfield, Pa., according to Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Calvin B. Johnson.
On Friday blood tests were taken, and by Monday the tests began to indicate the possible presence of anthrax. Diomande was in stable condition at the Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., just south of the New York border.
Several other people, including a family member of the infected man who worked with the hides, also may have been exposed and are being treated with antibiotics, Frieden said.
Authorities on Wednesday searched Diomande's West Village apartment and the Brooklyn warehouse where he worked, an eight-floor building that houses several small businesses and artists' studios. Police said there was no evidence that anthrax was produced in either location.
Nonetheless, the episode caused some apprehension among people who worked at the warehouse.
Lincoln Mayne, 34, a fashion and art designer, said the discovery of anthrax in the warehouse was "surreal."
"People are apprehensive. Nobody is telling us anything," he said.
At the Pennsylvania university where Diomande performed for about 100 people, students were informed about the anthrax case but were assured they were not in danger.
On Wednesday evening, about 75 people attended a question-and-answer session in the university's auditorium, where officials repeated their assurances that no one was in danger of being infected.
Weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the nation was on high alert as anthrax-laced letters popped up in several places, including New York City. NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, two U.S. senators and the offices of the New York Post were among the targets.
The anthrax attacks killed five people across the country, including a New York City hospital worker and two postal workers, and sickened 17. Investigators never determined who was responsible.
That year, a woman was hospitalized in Vancouver, British Columbia, with skin anthrax on her palm, which she contracted while handling animal hides during a drum-making class.
The CDC's Rotz said the last case of inhalation anthrax not linked to terrorism occurred in 1976. The victim made wool rugs as a hobby.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection says in its travel guidelines that the importation of animal products is "severely restricted," but it was not immediately clear what the policies were regarding goat skins like the ones Diomande brought through John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Diomande has been a dancer and drummer since he was a child, according to a Web site for his dance troupe. When he was a teenager he danced with the National Ballet of the Ivory Coast, and toured all over the world. He founded his own dance company in 1989, the Web site said.
Associated Press writers Sara Kugler in New York, Mike Stobbe in Atlanta and Genaro C. Armas in Mansfield, Pa., contributed to this report.
Three more treated in anthrax case
BY CURTIS L. TAYLOR AND LUIS PEREZ
STAFF WRITERS; Staff writer Bryan Virasami contributed to this story.
February 24, 2006
A New York City man who tested positive for inhalation anthrax remained hospitalized yesterday in Pennsylvania, as local and federal authorities expanded their investigation to a Brooklyn residence where three people were placed under medical observation, officials said.
Seven people exposed to raw animal hides that were being used to make drums have been placed on antibiotics, according to a statement released by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Vado Diomande, 44, of Greenwich Village, was listed in stable condition yesterday at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., about 200 miles from the city in rural northern Pennsylvania. Authorities said Diomande, a dancer and drummer, is believed to have contracted the potentially deadly bacteria since acquiring the untreated hides in West Africa two months ago. The illness was discovered after he collapsed following a performance he gave Feb. 16 at a college near Sayre.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, reiterating his earlier comments on the case, said yesterday that the incident was isolated and did not pose a threat to public health or safety.
Authorities found "absolutely no evidence of anthrax production" at either the Prince Street warehouse where Diomande works or the apartment in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, Bloomberg told reporters at a public appearance in Harlem.
"I think that's the first and most important thing here. There appears to be not any shred of evidence whatsoever that this was an attempt at criminal or terrorist activity," the mayor said.
Anthrax is a potentially fatal disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that forms spores that are normally dormant but can come to life under the right conditions. Symptoms can include small blisters, stomach pains and flu-like symptoms.
Authorities said three additional people apparently had come into contact with the unprocessed hides when they were brought to the Brooklyn apartment. Four other people, who authorities on Wednesday said may have been exposed to the bacteria, already were undergoing treatment.
Late yesterday, the FBI's Hazardous Materials Response Unit was taking samples in a 1,200-square-foot room at the Prince Street warehouse, spokeswoman Christine Monaco said. Up to 24 hours is needed for the results to be analyzed by city health officials and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said.
"Sampling is done by swabs and wipes, which go to the city Health Department, and vacuuming, which go to CDC," Monaco said.
As a precaution, both locations remained cordoned off and city emergency personnel were on alert, officials said. The Crown Heights apartment was being evaluated for anthrax contamination.
Health officials said this type of anthrax infection is extremely rare. Diomande traveled in December to Ivory Coast, in West Africa, and brought several goat hides back to the United States. He became ill shortly after his return, officials said.
Staff writer Bryan Virasami contributed to this story.
Anthrax list adds 3
BY NICOLE BODE in Sayre, PA.
and LISA L. COLANGELO and TRACY CONNOR in New York
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Friday, February 24th, 2006
Health officials identified three more New Yorkers yesterday who could have been exposed to anthrax - a Brooklyn man and his family who bought animal skins from the Manhattan dancer and drum maker sickened by the deadly spores.
The buyer, his wife and their son are not ill, but were given the antibiotic Cipro as a precaution, and biohazard teams were planning to test their Crown Heights apartment for the bacteria, the Health Department said.
The only person with a confirmed anthrax infection is Vado Diomande, 44, a well-known African dance troupe leader who collapsed after a performance in Pennsylvania last week.
Diomande apparently contracted anthrax from untreated goat skins he brought here from the Ivory Coast and scraped and stretched to make drums.
Four New Yorkers who worked with Diomande are also taking Cipro.
An unidentified Crown Heights man bought hides from Diomande to make his own drums and processed the skins in his apartment, potentially exposing the family to spores that lurk in the flesh of grazing animals, officials said.
More than a dozen investigators descended on the Dean St. building yesterday to conduct tests and reassure neighbors they are not in danger.
"It's scary," said a man identified only as Gregory, 44, who lives on the block. "But with the mayor coming out and saying it comes from a natural source and there's nothing to do with terrorism, it really put me at ease."
Diomande, the first U.S. resident in 30 years to become sick after inhaling anthrax from a natural source, was in stable condition yesterday.
His personal physician, Dr. Melanie Maclennan, said that while his prognosis is good, doctors had to crack his rib cage to drain fluid from his lungs - and it could take him six months to recover. "It's really a tragedy," she said.
Biohazard teams from several city and federal agencies swooped down on Diomande's West Village apartment and the downtown Brooklyn workshop where he stored equipment and a van.
At the Brooklyn workshop, a trucking company owner named Roy, who stored tires and a refrigerator in the facility, was spooked by the sight of investigators in moon suits.
"I'm not even going to go back there," he said. "Whatever I left there they can throw away. My life is worth a lot more than that."
Despite his panic, city officials stressed there is no threat to the general public - unlike the situation in 2001, when a terrorist mailed anthrax to media outlets and politicians, killing five people.
Only those who worked directly with the untreated hides could have inhaled enough spores to become infected. Customers who bought drums from Diomande were not at risk, because the skins were already treated, killing any bacteria.
With Alison Gendar, Tony Sclafani, Rich Schapiro and Christina Boyle
Officials: Anthrax patient's life in danger
By TOM HAYS
Associated Press Writer
February 24, 2006, 4:05 PM EST
NEW YORK -- The condition of a drum maker who became infected with anthrax after importing raw animal hides has worsened, city officials said Friday.
"He's in serious trouble," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a City Hall news conference. "Your prayers have to be with him."
Vado Diomande, a drum maker and dancer, traveled in December to Ivory Coast, in West Africa, and became ill shortly after he returned, bringing several goat hides with him.
Diomande collapsed after performing last week with his dance company in Mansfield, Pa. On Thursday, he had been listed in stable condition at a hospital in Sayre, Pa., just south of the New York border.
"He has experienced increased difficulty breathing during the course of the day, resulting in a change in his condition to serious," according to a statement released Friday afternoon by Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre.
Bloomberg again emphasized that the treatment with antibiotics of the seven people who may have been exposed to the hides was only a precaution, and that investigators had found no evidence of any serious threat to public health.
Anthrax: City Hunts Hides
By Jarrett Murphy
The city's response to the case of anthrax in Brooklyn-based drum maker Vido Diomande, which Mayor Bloomberg characterized in an afternoon press conference as operating under "an abundance of caution," is following the skins. And they are leading to some of the wide human networks in which all city dwellers move, sometimes without even realizing it.
Because Diomande appears to have become sick from the untreated animal skins he was using to make drums, health authorities have begun treating a second drum maker and his wife and kid. They are among seven people currently taking antibiotics as a precaution; they show no signs of actually having anthrax, which cannot pass from person to person. "Just to complicate things," Bloomberg said Friday, the second drum-maker bought his skins from a third man, and police were in the process of "securing" this third guy's pad this afternoon. Meanwhile, the city is sending letters to parents of students at a public school where Diomande performed a few weeks back, saying there is no risk to the kids. And there are efforts underway to reassure parents of kids at a private school where Diomande taught a class.
One guy, so many connections. (Cue "Rhapsody in Blue" for the following ode to city life). It'd be true for almost anyone in town. How many people have you come into fairly close contact with today, on the subway, outside the coffee shop, in the elevator, at the noon meeting? In the last week? Therein lies the whole aura of the city. There's a chance you were on the subway with this guy. There's no risk of your getting sick from him. But you are, in some fleeting way, connected.
Tests have confirmed "low levels of anthrax bacteria" at Diomande's Greenwich Village apartment, and preliminary tests indicate anthrax bacteria are also at his workplace and in his van. The second drum-maker's apartment is being tested. Bloomberg cast the test results at "not surprising," given their sensitivity, and said the city was going to clean all the sites. In addition, the mayor says the city will clean the common areas of the apartment building even though there's almost no risk of anyone getting infected there. Other tenants in the building can request a cleaning.
So far, the mayor says, all the evidence "continues to be consistent without our initial belief that this is a naturally acquired infection" —a kind so rare that one hasn't been recorded in the United States in 30 years. "There's no risk whatsoever," Bloomberg says of the kids who were in class with Diomande. "That's just not the way anthrax is communicated."
|The New York Daily News
Originally published on February 24, 2006
Experts baffled by case
BY PAUL H.B. SHIN
As the nation's first known case of natural inhalation anthrax in 30 years, Vado Diomande's illness has created a bit of a puzzle for disease detectives.
Health officials believe the dance troupe leader and drum maker breathed in the potentially deadly anthrax spores while working with tainted goat hides in a confined space.
But experts said Diomande would have had to inhale a significant dose of spores to get sick, or been weakened by a pre-existing illness.
Studies have shown that goat-hair mill workers routinely inhale up to 1,000 spores a day but rarely get sick, said Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology at NYU Medical Center. Tierno served on the mayoral task force that probed New York's 2001 anthrax attacks.
Unlike processed anthrax used as a weapon, which is easily aerosolized by adding substances such as silica, naturally occurring spores tend to clump together.
"These clumps don't find their way efficiently into the deep alveoli [air pocket] spaces in the lungs," Tierno said.
Scientists believe a person may have to inhale 8,000 to 20,000 spores to get sick with inhalation anthrax, said Dr. Stephanie Factor, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan.
The last known case of natural-inhalation anthrax, in 1976, occurred in a 32-year-old California man who had been weaving anthrax-tainted wool imported from Pakistan. The man died about six days after developing a sore throat and fever.
Some experts believe there may have been other cases of natural-inhalation anthrax in the United States between 1976 and this case. But before the deliberate anthrax attacks in 2001, the disease was so rare it was not something doctors would have routinely been on the lookout for, Tierno noted.
say no anthrax threat after drum maker's visit to Hastings
By CANDICE FERRETTE
HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON — Parents at Hillside Elementary School, where a New York City drum maker and dancer performed just days before he fell ill from exposure to anthrax, can expect to be put at ease tomorrow night during a special meeting on the topic of the potentially deadly bacteria.
"We will be reporting that there is no danger to the school or to the children," said Mary Wirth, school board president.
Vado Diomande, 44, whose health was declining yesterday, makes traditional African drums and is a dancer and choreographer with the Kotchegna Dance Company. The troupe performed Feb. 10 for third-graders at Hillside.
Since the school realized its connection with Diomande, Superintendent John Russell has been in communication with the Westchester County and New York state Health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the FBI.
Calls to school Principal Gail Osterman, Assistant Principal Carolann Castellano and Russell were not returned yesterday.
Diomande remained in serious condition yesterday as officials on all levels of government again reassured residents there was no public health risk. The news was more grim than a report Wednesday, when officials said he was breathing on his own and in relatively good shape for a person exposed to anthrax.
"He is in serious trouble," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference Friday. "Inhalation anthrax is very often fatal. ... I think your prayers have to be with him."
Diomande traveled in December to the Ivory Coast in West Africa and returned with several goat hides he used to make drums. He began feeling flu-like symptoms in January before collapsing last week after performing with his dance company in Mansfield, Pa.
Kotchegna, meaning "messenger" in the Ivorian language of Mahou, is a seasoned dance company Diomande founded. The group has traveled across the United States and around the world promoting Ivorian culture through chant, mime, dance and music.
After the show at the Hastings school, performers conducted dance and drumming workshops with all six classes — about 120 students total — according to Wirth and a Web site linked to the school that details the event. Students had just finished studying Africa, and the dance company provided an experience that they couldn't get from a textbook, the Web site said.
Bloomberg revealed yesterday that testing had indicated the presence of low levels of anthrax at a Brooklyn warehouse where Diomande worked and at his apartment in Greenwich Village.
But the mayor insisted the finding "is not a surprise and should not cause alarm." Both sites, he added, would undergo an extensive cleanup. City officials again emphasized that the treatment with antibiotics of the seven people who may have been exposed to the hides — including members of Diomande's family and a fellow craftsman — was only a precaution and that investigators had found no evidence of any serious threat to public health.
Hastings children face no anthrax risk
By REBECCA BAKER ERWIN
HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON — Four medical doctors assured parents last night that the chances were virtually impossible that their children could catch anthrax from a dancer who performed at their school and fell ill to the deadly bacteria a week later.
Still, some parents asked if the rooms where Vado Diomande performed could be cleaned with anthrax-killing chemicals, a move that school board members said they would consider but that the doctors deemed unnecessary.
"The risk is so low that nothing needs to be done," said Bob Klein, an internist from Hastings who specializes in infectious diseases.
Diomande, 44, performed for third-graders at Hillside on Feb. 10, giving rise to fears among parents that the children could have been exposed. He collapsed last week after performing with his dance company in Mansfield, Pa., and was last reported in serious condition at a Pennsylvania hospital.
Health officials said they believe Diomande contracted anthrax from prolonged exposure to raw animal hides from Africa used to make drums. The bacteria were found in his work space and in his apartment.
Many of the 50 parents who attended the meeting peppered the doctors and school officials with questions about anthrax, how it's spread and how long it can survive.
"This really is not that easy of an illness to get," said David Siegler, a Yonkers pediatrician whose patients include many Hillside students. "This is not like chickenpox."
Ada Huang, deputy commissioner of the Westchester County Health Department, said the drums brought into the school had been treated with chemicals that would kill anthrax spores.
Huang said victims of inhalation anthrax typically show symptoms within a week of exposure, and noted Diomande performed two weeks ago.
"The school is safe," she said.
Schools Superintendent John Russell said the county and state health departments and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not test for anthrax at the school because there is next to no chance of finding any spores inside.
"They said there was no risk," he said.
But even the smallest chance that Diomande could have brought anthrax spores into the school had a few parents calling for action.
"Can't we bring in some kind of cleaning chemical, to humor us?" asked Judy Feder, whose 9-year-old daughter is in Hillside.
Klein said the CDC and the New York City Health Department were not testing the city schools where Diomande performed. Testing in the schools, he said, would force the agencies to test in countless other places where Diomande had been.
"Everyone agrees that's not a good use of the CDC," he said.
Mayor Lee Kinnally, whose wife teaches at Hillside, told parents that he doubted the village would intervene and order the building to be cleaned.
"Most everything that could be done has been done," he said.
Several parents thanked school officials for calling them on Saturday and following up the calls with e-mails and the public meeting.
"I wish the White House would take a note from them," said Con Roche, whose 10-year-old son is in fourth grade at Hillside.
Diomande's dance troupe has traveled throughout the world promoting Ivorian culture through chant, mime, dance and music. After the show at the Hastings school, performers conducted dance and drumming workshops with about 120 students who had just finished studying Africa.
Deborah Chaiko said she was not worried about her 10-year-old son, who got the flu six days after the performance but had none of the signs of anthrax that Diomande has suffered.
"We've got to feel for the poor guy," she said. "He's sicker than anyone."
back hides as anthrax source in New York case
Feb 28, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Laboratory testing in the case of the New York City drum maker who recently contracted anthrax has supported the belief that he inhaled anthrax spores while working with contaminated animal hides, according to federal health officials.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Feb 24 that tests revealed Bacillus anthracis in the workplace, home, and van of the man, identified in news reports as Vado Diomande, 44. He fell ill with inhalational anthrax after performing in a concert in Mansfield, Pa., on Feb 16.
The test results "are consistent with the hypothesis that the patient's exposure occurred while working on contaminated hides while making traditional drums," the CDC said in a notice sent through its Health Alert Network.
Diomande, who has the first known US anthrax case since 2001, remains in serious condition in a Pennsylvania hospital, according to a New York Times report today. He was reported to have made drums from goat hides imported from Africa.
The Environmental Protection Agency planned to begin cleaning Diomande's Greenwich Village apartment and his studio near the Brooklyn waterfront this week, the Times reported yesterday. The agency intended to clean the apartment hallways and other common areas, plus other residents' apartments on request, the story said.
The Times also reported yesterday that testing had revealed no anthrax in an apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where a man worked on unprocessed hides obtained from Diomande.
The CDC said about two thirds of anthrax cases in the United States in recent decades were linked with handling animal hides or hair, but hides nonetheless pose little risk of causing anthrax.
Hides "pose a low risk of cutaneous [skin] anthrax, and an extremely low risk of inhalation anthrax," the agency said.
However, the industrial handling of large numbers of hides or of hair from many animals has been linked historically with an increased risk. Among 236 anthrax cases reported to the CDC from 1955 through 1999, 153 (65%) were tied to industrial handling of hides or hair, the CDC said. But only 9 of the 153 cases (6%) were inhalation anthrax, the most dangerous form.
"No cases of inhalation anthrax in the US have ever been associated with animal hide drums," the agency said. Diomande's exposure "occurred when he was making and finishing drums made from untanned animal hides, and was not associated with playing finished drums. His exposure was similar to that experienced during industrial handling of hides."
While the CDC does not recommend preventive treatment for people who have had contact with animal-hide drums, drum owners or players should report any unexplained fever or skin lesions to their healthcare provider, the agency said.
Diomande's illness worried parents of children attending a New York area school where he performed about a week before he got sick, according to a report in today's Journal News in White Plains, N.Y.
At a meeting last night, four doctors assured about 50 parents there was virtually no chance that their children would contract anthrax as a result of Diomande's performance at Hillside School in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., the newspaper reported.
Ada Huang of the Westchester County Health Department said the drums Diomande used had been treated with chemicals that would kill anthrax spores. And School Superintendent John Russell said public health agencies would not test for anthrax at the school because there was next to no chance of finding any spores, according to the story.
However, some parents asked if the rooms where Diomande performed could be chemically decontaminated, and school board members said they would consider that, the report said.
The story said Diomande's dance troupe has traveled globally promoting the culture of Ivory Coast through chant, mime, dance, and music.
Anthrax Case Tests Public Health Preparedness
by Fred Mogul
NEW YORK, NY, February 28, 2006 — While the recent anthrax case does not appear to be related to bio-terrorism, it has offered a chance to test the public health system. WNYC’s Fred Mogul looks at how well it worked.
REPORTER: African dancer Vado Diomande collapsed during a performance at a Pennsylvania University, a week ago Thursday. And it was not until last Tuesday – five days later – that the Centers for Disease Control definitively confirmed he had contracted anthrax from animal hides he used to make drums. That seems like a long time, but is it? Dr. Vincent Fischetti of Rockefeller University.
FISCHETTI: It’s as quick as we can do it at this point in time. It takes a little while to identify organisms like this. In this particular case it took about 48 hours to identify that it was definitely anthracis bacteria. Unfortunately, the treatment window is about 48 hours. After that, it is very difficult to treat this individual so he will survive.
REPORTER: Doctors don’t wait for confirmed lab tests to begin treating illnesses. Often, they quickly prescribe anti-biotics to go after bacteria. The technology for testing for bacteria, viruses and other pathogens is improving, but still has a way to go.
FISCHETTI: What is really needed -- and a lot of people are certainly working on this -- is rapid identification of these organisms at the bedside or at the point of isolation. Once we have that, we could respond and treat a lot more rapidly.
REPORTER: Fischetti is one of several observers who credit the clinicians in rural Pennsylvania for even suspecting the illness might be anthrax. Dr. Stephen Morse, the director of Columbia University’s Center for Public Health Preparedness, says that in recent years, the “suspicion index” among doctors has increased.
MORSE: When we had those anthrax attacks in 2001, it took quite a while for someone to think of that diagnosis. And now, obviously, people are much more aware of it. I think that’s a good sign.
REPORTER: Local doctors alerted state and federal officials, who confirmed the test results and began looking for the cause of the illness and other infected people. Dr. Nathaniel Huppert of Weill Cornell Medical Center thinks the chain of action worked well. Sure, there was a lag before the authorities got involved, but that’s appropriate -- tests should be confirmed before involving public officials. And even though that lag time is shrinking, Huppert says:
HUPPERT: All bets are off between a case like this, where you have one individual who’s sick, and a situation like 2001, where you had multiple individuals in multiple states, or, heaven forbid, a situation where you have multiple individuals in a single location from an intentional release of an organism like anthrax.
REPORTER: Shortly after the CDC confirmed the anthrax last Tuesday, Mayor Bloomberg alerted the media. He said the case posed no threat to public health – a refrain he repeated for the rest of the week. On Friday, he held a second news conference about the progress in containment, identification and environmental cleanup efforts – and again reiterated that the isolated illness was not dangerous to the public. Arguably, spending that much time on reassurance the public could increase anxiety, rather than decrease it. But former health commissioner Dr. Neal Cohen thinks it worth erring on the side of repetition.
COHEN: I think the daily reporting of updated information is enabling the public to gain comfort that the earlier presentation of information is holding true.
REPORTER: Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly both say they have been satisfied with the city's response to the anthrax case, but that “you can always do better.” Both men, however, decline to say where exactly they would improve protocols and actions. Dr. Frieden says pinpointing those will have to wait for an “After Action Review” – and that will come later. For WNYC, I’m Fred Mogul.
Advisory Notices & Announcements
Questions and Answers: Anthrax and Animal Hides
By Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Emergency Preparedness & Response
Feb 28, 2006, 06:27
What is anthrax?
How is anthrax transmitted?
Am I at risk for
anthrax from animal hides or hair, or from making a drum from these products?
Am I at risk for
anthrax from my souvenir animal hide drum?
Why did the New
York City resident get anthrax?
Is there a way to
treat cattle or goat hides to render them safe for use in making drums?
* Heat (heated
to an internal temperature of 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit)
or placed in boiling water for a minimum of 30 minutes)
How can I further
protect myself if I work with hides that may be potentially contaminated
with anthrax spores?
What if I worked
with hides and I am concerned about exposure to anthrax?
May I import souvenir
animal hide drums?
May I import animal
Concern and doubt: New York community uneasy over Anthrax case
by IKENNA ELLIS EZENEKWE
Special to the AmNews
Originally posted 3/1/2006
Merchants in the business of animal hides and African arts along with concerned citizens are expressing mixed concerns over the news of Vado Diomande’s reported infection with anthrax while working with unprocessed animal hides. Diomande, whose health condition has worsened following his hospitalization on February 16 at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., is believed to have imported the raw animal hides from the Ivory Coast, West Africa for use in making African drums.
At a recent conference on February 26 Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH assured the general public that; “All evidence continues to indicate that this is an extremely rare event caused by working intensively with infected animal skins. While we continue to investigate this situation, we have every reason to believe there is no risk to people who were not exposed to working with these unprocessed hides.”
Andrew Tucker, the spokesman for the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, confirmed this week “the patient’s residence, the patient’s van, the patient’s workspace in downtown Brooklyn (DUMBO) have tested positive for anthrax, and a man’s apartment in Crown Height who bought hides from the patient have tested negative.”
Some of the merchants who operate African art stores along 125th Street in Harlem told the Amsterdam News that they “have handled unprocessed animal hides in worse conditions and have yet to hear of any case of anthrax infection as a result of animal hides.” A West African drummer for a popular Nigerian band the Prisoners of Conscience echoed the same, stating that his experiences with animal hides span over 15 years, and that he has yet to hear of an anthrax case attributed to untreated animal hides.
However, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated it is possible to contract anthrax from untreated animal hides, but noted that the risk of contracting inhalation anthrax, the type contracted by Diomande, is extremely low, while also noting that foreign animal hides may pose a higher risk than U.S. hides. Anthrax occurs naturally in nature in soils in the U.S. and abroad. Natural anthrax differs from weaponized anthrax, witnessed in 2001 in the wake of the September 11th attacks, in that typically the particles have a larger diameter, are denser, and not readily airborne as the weaponized anthrax; which are more powdery, readily airborne and exhibit a lesser tendency to stick together.
The city has called upon the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lend its expertise in the clean-up of the contaminated sites. According to the spokesperson for the EPA, Mary Mears, the EPA has met with the residents of the apartment complex where Diomande lived this week, and were due to start cleanup work at Diomande’s apartment, hallways and other common places on Tuesday, February 28. A meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, February 30 to determine when to begin the clean-up of the warehouse facility in downtown Brooklyn. Mears added that the clean-up process will be quite simple, since regular bleach is sufficient to neutralize the bacteria agent.
fears shake Island school
Victim of the disease performed at Dreyfus, but officials insist kids are not at risk
Thursday, March 02, 2006
By LISA SCHNEIDER
STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE
The 44-year-old dancer and drum-maker who contracted anthrax performed at Dreyfus Intermediate School in Stapleton in early February -- but the school didn't make the connection until Tuesday.
The news struck fear into parents and students who worried about the kids who shook the man's hand, played his drum or danced with him onstage.
City officials immediately sought to impress on parents and students that the youngsters are not at risk for getting anthrax, a rare, potentially fatal disease.
"We want to assure you that there is no risk that your child will get anthrax as a result of this concert," read a letter by city officials -- including the mayor, education and health commissioners -- which was mailed to parents and distributed to students.
The city Health Department has not tested Dreyfus' auditorium for anthrax spores, but said it is confident the school is safe.
On Feb. 9, Vado Diomande of Manhattan played the drums with an Afro-Brazilian dance troupe in front of 300 children in Dreyfus' auditorium.
A week later, he collapsed in a Pennsylvania restaurant and was subsequently diagnosed with respiratory anthrax, which officials believe he developed while working with untreated cow and goat hides from Africa.
Diomande is currently in serious condition at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa.
On Tuesday, the dance troupe returned to Dreyfus, this time without Diomande.
When the principal, Linda Hill, asked about his absence, she learned that he was the man who had been infected with anthrax, said David Cantor, a spokesman for the Department of Education.
"She immediately called the regional health director," Cantor said.
School officials yesterday sent letters to students' parents telling them their children won't get sick.
School and Health Department officials planned to meet with parents today to answer questions and allay concerns.
Diomande, who makes his own drums in a Brooklyn studio, apparently contracted anthrax while removing hair from the animal hides he brought back from a two-week trip to the Ivory Coast in December, the Health Department said.
"These hides were not brought to the school," said the letter sent home to parents.
Once skins are processed and made into drums, they no longer pose a health risk, the department said.
Students learned about the anthrax yesterday during their lunch periods.
"Everybody was just in shock," said Danaysha Fields, a seventh-grader at Dreyfus.
Seventh-grader Shamel Mitchell found Diomande's music fascinating and influential, but is now concerned about his health -- and he's not alone.
When sixth-grader Shawn Timothny Boyce learned about the anthrax, he said, "I was scared. My friend touched the drums."
It's highly unlikely children were exposed to anthrax, and if they were, they would have become sick by now, since Diomande's performance occurred almost three weeks ago, said Dr. Mark Jarrett, chief medical officer at Staten Island University Hospital.
"He wasn't tanning the hides in front of them," Dr. Jarrett said, so it is unlikely that anthrax spores were released into the air.
Besides, he said, anthrax particles have to be the correct size to infect people.
"If they're too small, they'll fly away, and if they're too big, they'll sink to the ground," Dr. Jarrett said.
Humans are infected with anthrax -- which is caused by a microbe called bacillus anthracis -- by breathing in spores, having microbes enter small cuts or abrasions on skin or by eating contaminated meat.
For children to get anthrax from being with Diomande, "they would need prolonged contact with him or his clothing," said Dr. Frank Scafuri, chief of infectious diseases at St. Vincent's Hospital, West Brighton.
Anthrax primarily occurs in animals and has been cited as a potential agent of bioterrorism.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has emphasized that Diomande's case did not result from terrorism but rather from his contact with infected untreated animal skins.
Diomande accompanied a dance troupe that also performed at PS 63 in Manhattan and a Westchester school.
So far, the city has tracked no additional cases of anthrax, and only a few people who were exposed to the raw skins Diomande brought back from Africa are undergoing preventive treatment.
Lisa Schneider covers health news for the Advance. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anthrax fears rain on Queens parade tradition
BY BRYAN VIRASAMI
Anthrax fears have forced organizers of the Phagwah Parade in Queens to curtail the use of powder and water during the festive Hindu celebration in Richmond Hill.
The joyous tradition of parade participants and many spectators squirting colored water and dousing one another's heads and faces with red or white powder has triggered complaints, according to officials of Community Board 10, which expressed those concerns to police and organizers of the March 19 event.
Betty Braton, chairwoman of Community Board 10, which covers part of Richmond Hill, said she has received "numerous" complaints about the use of powder. Among those complaining, Braton said, were sanitation workers and Parks Department employees concerned that someone could mix anthrax with the harmless powder or slip into the parade crowd, which numbered 10,000 last year, and throw anthrax itself.
Parade organizers encouraged participants to refrain from using powder during the 2002 parade in the wake of the post-Sept. 11 anthrax scare, but have not felt the need to issue such a warning since then. Organizers reluctantly agreed to the board's request this year.
Pandit Chandrica Persaud, a Hindu priest with the Phagwah Parade & Festival Committee, said the request to halt the use of powder was misguided.
"That is absolutely out of order because they use the powder on the float, they don't go and throw it on people who don't want it [thrown on them]; but as usual, the community boards are making all the problems," Persaud said. "But we have to carry out our religious activities."
Organizers vow to discourage participants from using powder and water along the parade route, but said the practice will continue at the start of the parade and when it ends at Smokey Park.
The use of powder and water are symbolic practices that date back thousands of years to religious observances in India.
Braton said she understands the symbolism, but cautioned that health and security comes first. She suggested the practice be moved indoors, where it would be easier to guarantee only celebrants would be present.
"Everyone has an absolute right to observe their religion, but no one has an absolute right to do it in a setting where someone else could have a problem from it," Braton said. "For example, if there is an asthmatic standing on the street -- no one's religious observances has a right to put that person into harm."
Staff writer Rocco Parascandola contributed to this story.
Volume 75, Number 41 | March 1 -7 2006
Anthrax drums up scare, as Village man is stricken
By Lincoln Anderson
A week after a Greenwich Village man was reported to have contracted natural anthrax from raw goatskins he used making African drums, the city was reassuring parents at an East Village elementary school where the man recently performed that their children were not at risk of contracting the deadly bacteria.
Meanwhile, Vado Diomande, 44, of 31 Downing St., remained in stable condition at a hospital in Pennsylvania, where he collapsed on Feb. 16 after giving a performance at a college.
David Cantor, a Department of Education spokesperson, said Diomande gave a concert at P.S. 63 on E. Third St. on Feb. 3. and that it was the only New York City public school at which Diamonde performed. Diamonde reportedly also gave lessons at a private school.
D.O.E. sent a letter to P.S. 63 parents last Thursday informing them their children were not at risk of contracting anthrax at the concert. D.O.E. also sent the letter to parents at the Earth School, which is located in the P.S. 63 building, but which did not have any students at the concert, to allay any fears they might have and so they wouldn’t be surprised by the news. A meeting held at the school with Department of Health and Education officials was attended by at least 50 parents, the spokesperson said.
Cantor said that, according to the Health Department, “Once the drums are made and processed, there is no more anthrax.” The Health Department’s Web site says how Diomande contracted inhalation Anthrax is very rare and happened because he worked with the skins in a confined space. One news article said the spores were in the skins’ hair, which Diomande sliced off when making the drumheads.
Low levels of anthrax were found at a warehouse in Dumbo, Brooklyn, where Diomande worked on his drums, at his Village apartment and in his van. The skins were never at Downing St., however, according to the Health Department. Mayor Bloomberg has said both sites will undergo a full cleanup and that there’s no health risk. Seven people who may have come in contact with the goatskins — including Diomande’s wife — are being given antibiotics as a precaution. A third site, a Crown Heights apartment, tested negative for anthrax.
A highly regarded West African drummer and dancer, Diomande has worked closely with Kiboko Projects, a Grand St.-based program sponsoring cultural-exchange arts and education programs between the United States, Africa and Russia. As part of Kiboko’s “Diary Project” exhibitions, Diomande performed about eight times with them, including at least twice at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery on E. 10th St. and Second Ave. and once at the Puffin Room Gallery on Broome St. in Soho.
Mark Scheflen, Kiboko Project’s artistic director, said Diomande also performed at the American Museum of Natural History for Kwanza.
“We know Vado very well,” he said.
Jill Raufman, Kiboko Projects executive director, is especially close to Diomande and his wife, a former student of his who manages his Kotchegna Dance Company. Raufman met Diomande as a student in his African-dance class at Djoniba on E. 18th St. between Broadway and Park Ave. She said Diomande married four or five years ago, and that since then he’s lived in the Village, where his wife had already resided for awhile.
“There’s just a quality about him that’s very special. He’s the best teacher at Djoniba,” Raufman said. “He also makes drums — people come from all over the world for that.”
It was reported that Diomande had cutaneous anthrax a few years ago, requiring a skin graft on his thigh. However, Raufman said Diomande never knew he had anthrax before, and was told it might have been a flesh-eating disease like Ebola. She said that in 2003 Diomande had first visited the Ivory Coast, in Africa, and that when he got off the plane in Amsterdam, where he was going to perform, his leg was badly swollen. Other performers in the troupe later found him feverish in his hotel room and took him to the hospital.
“They said, at the time, somebody else would have died — and forget about walking or dancing again,” Raufman said. “He’s incredibly strong.”
Last December, Diomande again visited the Ivory Coast for a couple of weeks. Raufman said he made the trip because in October someone stole the special masks — which are very expensive — that he wears during his specialty — stilt-dance performances in which he communes with ancestors. It’s believed the anthrax spores may have been among four goatskins he brought back from Africa this time.
His new masks were stolen from his van again in December, Raufman said.
Usually quiet Downing St. was abuzz with activity last Wednesday.
“There are helicopters and cops and N.P.R. is reporting on it,” said Livvie Mann, president of the Bedford Downing Block Association, over the phone late Wednesday afternoon.
The area in front of Diomande’s building was cordoned off as F.B.I. agents and police Emergency Service Unit officers wearing white hazmat suits and blue oxygen tanks on their backs could be seen going in and out of the building as they checked his apartment for the presence of anthrax.
“Most of the activity is usually over there at Blue Ribbon restaurant,” observed Don Corrigan, a retiree, of the usually tranquil intersection, adding, “I think the block association should take this up, instead of worrying about tree guards and parking signs.”
“It’s scary! I can’t even believe it. I’ve lived here forever,” said Lillian Moore, 25 — who had been on her way to Ino restaurant nearby — after being told what was going on. “It’s normally so low-key, that’s why I had to stop.”
“I was in the house. I saw all these cars, cops, with the big [TV news] pole, van,” said Frank Napolitano, 76, standing on his stoop. He said he frequently sees the landlady of 31 Downing St., Mary Piazza, walking her German shepherd puppy up and down the block.
Police spokespersons at the scene assured that the exterior of the building and area in front of the building were anthrax free. They handed out an anthrax fact sheet to building residents detailing the three types of anthrax — skin, lung and gastrointestinal — and noting that inhalation anthrax cannot be spread from person to person or by living in the same building with someone infected with anthrax.
The first night, police allowed people in and out of the 15-unit building, but not up to the fifth floor, where Diomande’s apartment is. But if people were already in fifth-floor apartments with their doors closed, they were allowed to stay inside.
Sometime early Thursday morning, the police tape around the street in front of the building was removed. A Sixth Police Precinct officer was posted in the vestibule in the days afterward to keep reporters and others from going up to Diomande’s apartment.
Mar 6, 2006
Anthrax Cleanup Continues Inside Brooklyn Warehouse
The cleanup inside a Brooklyn warehouse used by the Manhattan man who contracted anthrax is moving forward.
The Environmental Protection Agency says its focus now is on two floors where anthrax was actually found.
Vado Diomande worked inside the warehouse with untreated animal skins that contained anthrax spores.
The EPA must now take samples in the spaces where anthrax was discovered, which the agency says is a three to four-day process.
The agency cleared Diomande's East Village apartment on Thursday and is now waiting for the results of tests taken at his Downing Street address.
Diomande was diagnosed with inhalation anthrax last month. He remains in serious condition at a Pennsylvania hospital.
Mar 6, 2006 11:20 am US/Eastern
Anthrax Victim's Condition Improves
(AP) NEW YORK A drum maker who became infected with anthrax after inhaling spores from raw animal hides is improving and is now listed as being in Fair condition. The condition of 44-year-old Vado Diomande continues to improve, doctors said.
Physicians at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pennsylvania are continuing to work in conjunction with experts from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in managing Diomande's care.
According to the hospital “Fair” is defined as “vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious, but may be uncomfortable. Indicators are favorable.”
In December, Diomande returned from Ivory Coast with several goat hides he used to make drums. He began feeling flu-like symptoms in January before collapsing last week during a tour with his dance company in Pennsylvania.
Manhattan Man's Apartment Still Has Traces Of Anthrax
March 07, 2006
There are still traces of anthrax at the home of the Manhattan man who was infected with the potentially deadly disease last month.
The Environmental Protection Agency says it will re-clean Vado Dionmande's home in the West Village, after two areas of the apartment still tested positive Tuesday. The location was contaminated with the deadly disease last month.
The Brooklyn warehouse where Diomande stored and worked with animal skins believed to contain the anthrax virus is also still being cleaned. The skins were used to make drums for the victim's dance troupe.
Diomande's health continues to improve. He is currently listed in fair condition at the Pennsylvania hospital where he is being treated.
Australia reports first human anthrax infection since 1998
08/03/2006 19:00:52 AEST
Health authorities have confirmed the first human anthrax infection in Australia since 1998.
Officials in the state of New South Wales say the man contracted the disease from his work on a property, but has been successfully treated.
They say outbreaks of anthrax in animals occur in a belt which runs through the middle of the state.
Most cases are said to involve a skin infection of the sort the farm worker contracted, probably through having open wounds on his skin.
ABC Asia Pacific TV / Radio Australia
Volume 75, Number 42 | March 8 -14 2006
Cleaning service takes on new meaning in the Village
By Jefferson Siegel
Greenwich Village may not qualify as a superfund cleanup site, although two of the neighborhood’s buildings have been the focus of intensive hazardous material cleanups recently.
An apartment building at 31 Downing St. was evacuated last Thursday as a top-floor apartment was searched and scoured for any remaining traces of natural anthrax. Meanwhile, a six-story apartment building at 55 W. Eighth St. remains empty as it is practically being dismantled inside two months after mercury from an unknown source was found dripping into a second-floor apartment.
Last Thursday Downing St. was closed for the day from Sixth Ave. to Bedford St. for the cleanup of the apartment of Vado Diomande, 44, an African drummer and dancer stricken with anthrax last month. The pavement in front of 31 Downing St. was covered in plastic and two large tents had been erected. A large white tent, with “U S Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team” printed on the side, filled the street near the building’s entrance. Part of this tent was used by cleanup teams to don white hazmat suits, while the other part held equipment used to decontaminate workers coming out of Diomande’s apartment. A smaller blue tent held supplies and was used as a work area.
Pat Seppi, an Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson who was on the scene, said, “We’re decontaminating the residence of the patient.” Diomande is still recovering in a Pennsylvania hospital. Officials believe Diomande contracted inhalational anthrax while using raw goatskins from the Ivory Coast to make drumheads.
“We’re HEPA [high-efficiency particulate air] vacuuming the possessions and applying a chlorox solution to the hard surfaces to clean them,” Seppi said.
On Feb. 22, the city’s Department of Health circulated a letter to tenants advising them that “...there is no indication that any other persons in your building are at risk for anthrax.” Residents were allowed to stay in their homes as hazmat teams from the police and F.B.I. checked the apartment for the presence of anthrax and took photographs of the apartment. Diomande’s apartment subsequent tested positive for low levels of anthrax.
“We did have some positive hits on the apartment,” Seppi said, “and we think it [the anthrax] came from Brooklyn.” Diomande worked with the goatskins at a warehouse in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn.
“We evacuated the [Downing St.] apartment building for the day, from 8 to 8 because, in addition to cleaning the apartment, we’re also cleaning the common areas,” Seppi added.
Inside the large white tent, Coast Guardsmen pulled on white suits, gloves and breathing masks. The Atlantic Strike Team, based in Fort Dix, N.J., specializes in cleanups of chemicals, oil spills and other hazardous materials. As each finished donning the protective gear, another Guardsman carefully inspected him from head to toe, covering any exposed areas or spaces with duct tape.
Neil Norrell, the on-scene coordinator for the E.P.A.’s Region 2 team, said it took several days to get a positive result for anthrax because there is no test that offers immediate, definitive results. Two tests were performed simultaneously at the city’s Department of Health labs. The first test takes 24 hours to detect the presence of anthrax spores. However, this test “can’t differentiate between a live spore and a piece of the organism that’s dead, so you have to culture it,” Norrell explained. The culturing takes 24 hours, after which a confirmation analysis is performed.
Norrell said the incident was isolated. “It’s naturally occuring anthrax, so the problem was just inside the apartment,” he said.
Norrell said the cleanup team was trying to save as much of Diomande and his wife’s personal belongings as possible. However, porous materials like clothing, seat cushions, carpets and drapery, where spores could be embedded, were bagged and removed.
“Any material we think that could be contaminated is being incinerated,” Norrell said as boxes from the apartment were being loaded into a truck. “Because this is a naturally occuring organism, you can treat it the same way you would any medical waste.”
As he spoke, three more white-suited hazmat workers emerged from the building and began the process of decontamination. One by one, each stepped first into a large, 1-foot-high tub. Another hazmat-clad worker sprayed a bleach solution over the entire white suit. The cleanup worker then waited 15 minutes for the solution to work. He then stepped into an adjoining tub, where a high-pressure stream of water was sprayed over him to wash off the bleach.
“I realize that this looks like a big deal,” Norrell said as the workers went through the cleansing process, “but we set something up this extensive because we wanted to be overly cautious.”
Several blocks away on W. Eighth St., another apartment building has been empty for almost two months after a tenant found the toxic chemical mercury in a puddle in her bedroom.
On Jan. 12, longtime building resident Carol Wilson returned from vacation to discover a silvery liquid dripping from her bedroom ceiling. Within hours the building was evacuated. Workers have removed floors, walls and ceilings in an attempt to find the source of the mercury. Most of Wilson’s possessions have been removed for incineration and tests continue to determine if any toxic vapors remain.
Late last week the city’s Department of Environmental Protection determined the building is clean.
“We have cleared the building,” D.E.P. spokesperson Ian Michaels said last Friday. “D.E.P. has found mercury levels are down to within our guidelines.” However, the city’s Health Department will be the final arbiter of the building’s safety as their tests continue. “We still do not know” where the mercury came from, Michaels added.
For the past two months Wilson and residents of the building’s eight other apartments have lived in hotel rooms, on friends’ couches and in temporary sublets. However, even once the building is declared habitable, Wilson and the three people who lived above her will not be able to return any time soon.
Recently Wilson stood in her apartment hallway in front of a cavernous space which used to contain her bedrooms and the bedrooms of the apartment above. Now the walls from both apartments have been removed and the ceiling that used to separate her bedroom from the one above is gone, leaving a bare, two-story-high space. Electric wires dangled on one side. Her floor has been removed, leaving only rafters visible.
A large hole in one floor looks into the ground-floor shoe store below. The store, Studio 55, remained open during the early part of the evacuation, but was then closed for two days, tested and allowed to reopen when no trace of mercury was detected.
“We’re almost done,” said Stephen Jaraczewski, an environmental engineering consult who has been overseeing the cleanup, last Wednesday.
Small plastic disks — mercury vapor monitors — were located in three locations in Wilson’s apartment. Each will be removed and tested to determine if any toxic vapors remain.
Over several days, workers at the Eighth St. building have been observed carrying out bags destined for incineration. As opposed to the cleanup at 31 Downing St., the workers did not wear face masks or any other protective gear. The standard uniform appeared to be a company T-shirt and jeans.
Last Wednesday a worker was observed placing clear bags filled with Wilson’s personal belongings in front of the building and leaving the pile unattended for several minutes at a time. After a large pile of bags had accumulated, one worker dragged two lightly loaded bags past pedestrians to a waiting truck. At least one of the bags had a hole. One bag held various clothing items of Wilson’s, another several wooden dresser drawers.
“I get mixed messages from everybody,” Wilson said last weekend. “At one point I’m told everything has to go. At another point I’m told some things can be salvaged, at another point I’m told some things can be ventilated [to air out any mercury vapors and be salvaged].”
After mercury was first detected in one of her bedrooms, most of the contents of the two bedrooms were removed for incineration. Wilson was told books, papers and other items in two other rooms tested negative and could be saved.
But Wilson is concerned workers may have contaminated her “safe” possessions by placing contaminated items in her clean living room. “I was told it didn’t affect metal, and they’re throwing out all these metal things — scissors, bookends,” she said. This past week saw workers accelerating the pace of discarding items. It seemed like “they weren’t even paying attention after awhile,” she said.
Wilson, who is a graphic designer, planned to drive to a Long Island warehouse to try and reclaim some bags filled with her property. “It’s not only my things,” she lamented. “It’s my life, it’s my photography, it’s my research.”
Manhattan Man Who Contracted Anthrax Suffers Health Setback
March 10, 2006
Doctors at the Pennsylvania hospital where Manhattan resident Vado Diomande is being treated for inhalation anthrax say the drummer was downgraded Friday from fair to serious condition.
There is no word yet on what sparked the change in Diomande’s condition.
Health officials believe Diomande contracted anthrax while working with untreated animal skins he uses to make traditional African drums. Anthrax naturally occurs in untreated animal hides.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency says crews have cleaned all but one of the six floors in the DUMBO, Brooklyn, warehouse where Diomande worked with the animal skins. When they are done, another round of testing will take place to make sure the facility is clear of the potentially deadly bio-toxin.
Cleaning at Diomande’s apartment in the West Village was completed Wednesday, and the EPA says testing Friday shows there is no sign of anthrax.
The EPA says test results on the warehouse should be available early next week.
microbiologist criticizes security measures at U.S. labs
March 11, 2006, 5:25 PM EST
PRINCETON BOROUGH, N.J. (AP) _ Security measures at U.S. labs are failing to keep pace with the fast-growing number of biodefense research projects, according to a Rutgers University microbiologist.
Speaking at a biodefense seminar series at Princeton University, Richard Ebright said Friday that expanding research into such deadly pathogens as anthrax, plague and tularemia isn't being regulated as strictly as other industries.
"The easiest way for al-Qaida to obtain bioweapons agents would be to place someone in a U.S. bioweapons institution," Ebright said.
"This is something that needs to be prevented," he added, saying potential terrorists need only one well-placed doctoral student to advance their efforts.
A professor at Rutgers' Wakeman Institute of Microbiology, Ebright has been a strong critic of government biodefense efforts. He said the number of institutions and people handling bioweapons agents has jumped at least 20-fold, even as research funding declines for work on safer agents that could help biodefense.
Ebright said there have been incidents across the country in which researchers have improperly handled agents and animals used in testing.
Federal safety rules are not designed to prevent accidental releases of bioweapons agents, and security measures are fragmented, gap-ridden and poorly coordinated among agencies, Ebright said.
Von Roebuck, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, disputed Ebright's statements. Roebuck said that biodefense licensing procedures established in 2002 are working, with about 300 research entities covered.
"The safety measures are in place," Roebuck told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Saturday's editions. "These programs go through a review. To be registered, a lot of questions are asked, a lot of measures are looked at ... This is taken very seriously."
Lynn Enquist, a Princeton molecular biologist who edits the Journal of Virology, told the newspaper that Ebright gave "a fairly accurate assessment" of biodefense research risks.
Seminar coordinator Laura Kahn, a medical doctor who has studied laboratory infections, said the "macho kind of culture" surrounding biodefense research needs to change.
"They view accidents with a real laissez-faire attitude," she said.
raised on lax biolab controls
Rutgers prof says it's easy to infiltrate defense projects
Saturday, March 11, 2006
BY KEVIN COUGHLIN
Obtaining deadly germs for a terror attack could be as easy as enrolling in college.
So claims a Rutgers University microbiologist, who warned yesterday that laboratory controls have not kept pace with the spread of biodefense research projects since the deadly anthrax attacks of 2001.
"The easiest way for al Qaeda to obtain bioweapons agents would be to place someone in a U.S. bioweapons institution. One well placed doctoral student ... This is something that needs to be prevented," Richard Ebright told scientists and students at Princeton University's Carnegie Biodefense Seminar.
The lecture was a short walk from the spot where authorities suspect anthrax-tainted letters may have been mailed in the fall of 2001. Those attacks, which killed five people and triggered national panic, remain unsolved.
Ebright, an ardent critic of the government's biodefense program, said other industries are regulated more stringently than fast-growing research involving anthrax, plague and tularemia.
By his count, federal grants for research into the germs causing those three killer diseases have spiked 1,400 percent since 2001, compared with the prior five years. He said the number of institutions and people handling bioweapons agents has jumped at least 20-fold, while research funding has declined for promising work on safer agents that could help biodefense.
In the meantime, Ebright said, researchers have been exposed accidentally to anthrax, tularemia and Q-fever bacteria at labs in California, Massachusetts and Colorado. Three mice infected with plague were reported missing last year from the Public Health Research Institute in Newark.
One lab sent anthrax to a research center in Oakland, Calif., without first heating it enough to sterilize it. "They gave the anthrax spores a sauna and sent them on their way," said Ebright, a professor at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology.
Von Roebuck, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said biodefense licensing procedures established in 2002 are working. Some 300 research entities are covered.
"The safety measures are in place," Roebuck said in an interview. "These programs go through a review. To be registered, a lot of questions are asked, a lot of measures are looked at ...This is taken very seriously."
But, Ebright said, there are no federal safety rules designed to prevent accidental releases of bioweapons agents. Security measures are fragmented, gap-ridden and poorly coordinated among agencies.
Only New Jersey and Maryland have state registries that tell them what's in their backyards, and the only federally mandated security at bioweapons labs is a lock on the door. Video cameras are not required. Nor would federal screening automatically exclude researchers affiliated with militant Islamic or white supremacist groups, Ebright said.
Princeton molecular biologist Lynn Enquist, who edits the Journal of Virology, said Ebright gave "a fairly accurate assessment" of risks posed by biodefense research. "The people who are paying for this research, and Congress, and the people doing the work need to get on the same page," Enquist said.
Seminar coordinator Laura Kahn, a medical doctor who has studied laboratory infections, shares some of Ebright's concerns.
"The scientists are kind of cowboys. It's a real macho kind of culture. They view accidents with a real laissez-faire attitude. If there's a spill or an accident, it's not taken quite as seriously as in other environments. That has to change," Kahn said.
Manhattan Man With Anthrax Said To Be Improving
March 13, 2006
The condition of the Manhattan man diagnosed with inhalation anthrax is improving.
After suffering a setback last week, doctors said Monday they have upgraded Vado Diomande from serious to fair condition.
Diomande is being treated at a Pennsylvania hospital since he fell ill last month while performing in the state. Diomande collapsed in a restaurant following a dance performance at a Pennsylvania university.
Health officials believe the musician, drum maker, and choreographer contracted the disease from untreated animal skins he brought back from Africa.
The Loss of Biological Innocence
Advances in biotech present dark possibilities and an editor's dilemma.
By Jason Pontin
When, if ever, should editors not publish a story they think is true, but they know is controversial? Well, if publication is dangerous or useless. That question was suggested by this month’s cover story by contributing writer Mark Williams (see “The Knowledge”).
Williams (for the record, my brother) spent 14 months investigating genetically engineered biological weapons. He immersed himself in their arcane biology, and he interviewed numerous scientists and security experts. But his journalistic coup was securing the candor of Serguei Popov, a former Soviet bioweaponeer.
Popov described how Biopreparat, the Soviet agency that secretly developed bioweapons during the Cold War, created recombinant pathogens that produced novel symptoms. Some of those symptoms were very horrible. In one case, Popov and his researchers spliced mammalian DNA that expressed fragments of myelin protein, the insulating layer that sheathes our neurons, into Legionella pneumophila, a bacterium responsible for pneumonia. In Williams’s account, “In test animals…the myelin fragments borne by the recombinant Legionella goaded the animals’ immune systems to read their own natural myelin as pathogenic and to attack it. Brain damage, paralysis, and nearly 100 percent mortality resulted.” But Biopreparat had more expansive ambitions than poisoning populations. The military scientists who ran the agency wanted bioweapons that could alter behavior, and they investigated using pathogens to induce memory loss, depression, or fear.
This information might be of only sinister, nostalgic interest, but for Williams’s thesis. He argues that the advance of biotechnology -- in particular, the technology to synthesize ever larger DNA sequences -- means that “at least some of what the Soviet bioweaponeers did with difficulty and expense can now be done easily and cheaply. And all of what they accomplished can be duplicated with time and money.” Williams explains how gene-sequencing equipment bought secondhand on eBay, and unregulated biological material delivered in a FedEx package, can be misused. He concludes that terrorists could create simple weapons like Popov’s myelin autoimmunity weapon, and states could engineer the more ambitious recombinant pathogens that Biopreparat contemplated.
All of this is tremendously controversial. Critics within the U.S. defense community dismiss Popov’s accounts of what Biopreparat achieved. Most security experts believe that creating any bioweapon -- let alone a recombinant pathogen -- is difficult, and “weaponizing” those agents is nearly impossible. And many biologists, whilst not as sanguine about the difficulties, think that a preoccupation with bioweapons is counterproductive for two reasons: first, because funding biodefense research tends to disseminate knowledge of how to develop such weapons; second, because we don’t have a very good idea of how to defend ourselves against them.
When I quizzed people involved with national security, they warned me off publishing. Our story might give our enemies ideas, they said. If we had no recommendations for improving public safety, we had better kill the piece.
These arguments have weight. Therefore, why publish? We had encouragement. Distinguished scientists who are familiar with bioweapons, including George Poste, the former chief scientist at SmithKline Beecham and the sometime chairman of a task force on bioterrorism at the U.S. Defense Department, were supportive. The scientists confirmed that the advance of biological knowledge offered malefactors new categories of weapons with new opportunities for violence and coercion. As Poste told me, “Biology is losing its innocence. For a long time, biology was irrelevant to national security. But that’s changing. The biological revolution means a determined actor can undoubtedly build a biological weapon.” Additionally, in February a long report by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council of the National Academies entitled “Globalization, Biosecurity, and the Future of the Life Sciences” provided us moral support. It replicated much of our reporting and conclusions, and while we were sorry to be scooped, we were relieved to be in such respectable company.
Nevertheless, we took a number of precautions. We were careful to occlude any recipes for bioweapons. What detail we do provide is based on published research and has been widely discussed. Finally, in the interests of balance, we asked Allison Macfarlane, a senior research associate in the Technology Group of MIT’s Security Studies Program, to rebut our argument (see “Assessing the Threat”).
Yet, in the end, we published the story because we believed it was important. Modern biotechnology is potentially a threat to our welfare, but the life sciences will continue to advance. Thus, our best hope of countering the threat is to invest in research that will suggest a technological solution. But as Serguei Popov himself told us, “First we have to be aware.”
Write to me at email@example.com.
Monday, March 13, 2006
The Knowledge -- Part 1
Soviet scientists were developing plague-like bioweapons in the 1980s. Why aren't we listening more to a key defector?
By Mark Williams
This article -- the cover story in Technology Review's March/April 2006 print issue -- has been divided into three parts for presentation online. This is part 1; part 2 will appear on March 14, and part 3 on March 15.
Our editor in chief, Jason Pontin, dedicated his column in the most recent TR issue ("The Loss of Biological Innocence") to the pros and cons of publishing a story on such a dark and controversial issue.
Last year, a likable and accomplished scientist named Serguei Popov, who for nearly two decades developed genetically engineered biological weapons for the Soviet Union, crossed the Potomac River to speak at a conference on bioterrorism in Washington, DC.
Popov, now a professor at the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases at George Mason University, is tallish, with peaked eyebrows and Slavic cheekbones, and, at 55, has hair somewhere between sandy and faded ginger. He has an open, lucid gaze, and he is courteously soft-spoken. His career has been unusual by any standards. As a student in his native city of Novosibirsk, Siberia's capital, preparing his thesis on DNA synthesis, he read the latest English-language publications on the new molecular biology. After submitting his doctorate in 1976, he joined Biopreparat, the Soviet pharmaceutical agency that secretly developed biological weapons. There, he rose to become a department head in a comprehensive program to genetically engineer biological weapons. When the program was founded in the 1970s, its goal was to enhance classical agents of biological warfare for heightened pathogenicity and resistance to antibiotics; by the 1980s, it was creating new species of designer pathogens that would induce entirely novel symptoms in their victims.
In 1979, Popov spent six months in Cambridge, England, studying the technologies of automated DNA sequencing and synthesis that were emerging in the West. That English visit, Popov recently told me, needed some arranging: "I possessed state secrets, so I could not travel abroad without a special decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. A special legend, essentially, that I was an ordinary scientist, was developed for me." The cover "legend" Popov's superiors provided proved useful in 1992, after the U.S.S.R. fell. When the Russian state stopped paying salaries, among those affected were the 30,000 scientists of Biopreparat. Broke, with a family to feed, Popov contacted his British friends, who arranged funding from the Royal Society, so he could do research in the United Kingdom. The KGB (whose control was in any case limited by then) let him leave Russia. Popov never returned. In England, he studied HIV for six months. In 1993, he moved to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, whence he sent money so that his wife and children could join him. He remained in Texas until 2000, attracting little interest.
"When I came to Texas, I decided to forget everything," Popov told me. "For seven years I did that. Now it's different. It's not because I like talking about it. But I see every day in publications that nobody knows what was done in the Soviet Union and how important that work was."
Yet if Popov's appearance last year at the Washington conference is any indication, it will be difficult to convince policymakers and scientists of the relevance of the Soviet bioweaponeers' achievements. It wasn't only that Popov's audience in the high-ceilinged chamber of a Senate office building found the Soviets' ingenious applications of biological science morally repugnant and technically abstruse. Rather, what Popov said lay so far outside current arguments about biodefense that he sounded as if he had come from another planet.
The conference's other speakers focused on the boom in U.S. biodefense spending since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the anthrax scare that same year. The bacteriologist Richard Ebright, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, fretted that the enormous increase in grants to study three of the category A bacterial agents (that is, anthrax, plague, and tularemia) drained money from basic research to fight existing epidemics. Ebright (who'd persuaded 758 other scientists to sign a letter of protest to Elias Zerhouni, the director of the National Institutes of Health) also charged that by promiscuously disseminating bioweaponeering knowledge and pathogen specimens to newly minted biodefense labs around the United States, "the NIH was funding a research and development arm of al-Qaeda." Another speaker, Milton Leitenberg, introduced as one of the grand old men of weapons control, was more splenetic. The current obsession with bioterrorism, the rumpled, grandfatherly Leitenberg insisted, was nonsense; the record showed that almost all bioweaponeering had been done by state governments and militaries.
Such arguments are not without merit. So why do Serguei Popov's accounts of what the Russians assayed in the esoteric realm of genetically engineered bioweapons, using pre-genomic biotech, matter now?
They matter because the Russians' achievements tell us what is possible. At least some of what the Soviet bioweaponeers did with difficulty and expense can now be done easily and cheaply. And all of what they accomplished can be duplicated with time and money. We live in a world where gene-sequencing equipment bought secondhand on eBay and unregulated biological material delivered in a FedEx package provide the means to create biological weapons.
Build or Buy?
In February, a report by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council of the National Academies entitled "Globalization, Biosecurity, and the Future of the Life Sciences" argued, "In the future, genetic engineering and other technologies may lead to the development of pathogenic organisms with unique, unpredictable characteristics." Pondering the possibility of these recombinant pathogens, the authors note, "It is not at all unreasonable to anticipate that [these] biological threats will be increasingly sought after...and used for warfare, terrorism, and criminal purposes, and by increasingly less sophisticated and resourced individuals, groups, or nations." The report concludes, "Sooner or later, it is reasonable to expect the appearance of "bio-hackers.'"
Malefactors would have more trouble stealing or buying the classical agents of biological warfare than synthesizing new ones. In 2002, after all, a group of researchers built a functioning polio virus, using a genetic sequence off the Internet and mail-order oligonucleotides (machine-synthesized DNA molecules no longer than about 140 bases each) from commercial synthesis companies. At the time, the group leader, Eckard Wimmer of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, warned that the technology to synthesize the much larger genome of variola major -- that is, the deadly smallpox virus -- would come within 15 years. In fact, it arrived sooner: December 2004, with the announcement of a high-throughput DNA synthesizer that could reproduce smallpox's 186,000-odd bases in 13 runs.
The possibility of terrorists' gaining access to such high-end technology is worrisome. But few have publicly stated that engineering certain types of recombinant microörganisms using older equipment -- nowadays cheaply available from eBay and online marketplaces for scientific equipment like LabX -- is already feasible. The biomedical community's reaction to all this has been a general flinching. (The signatories to the National Academies report are an exception.) Caution, denial, and a lack of knowledge about bioweaponeering seem to be in equal parts responsible. Jens Kuhn, a virologist at Harvard Medical School, told me, "The Russians did a lot in their bioweapons program. But most of that isn't published, so we don't know what they know."
On a winter's afternoon last year, in the hope of discovering just what the Russians had done, I set out along Highway 15 in Virginia to visit Serguei Popov at the Manassas campus of George Mason University. Popov came to the National Center for Biodefense after buying a book called Biohazard in 2000. This was the autobiography of Ken Alibek, Biopreparat's former deputy chief, its leading scientist, and Popov's ultimate superior. One of its passages described how, in 1989, Alibek and other Soviet bosses had attended a presentation by an unnamed "young scientist" from Biopreparat's bacterial-research complex at Obolensk, south of Moscow. Following this presentation, Alibek wrote, "the room was absolutely silent. We all recognized the implications of what the scientist had achieved. A new class of weapons had been found. For the first time, we would be capable of producing weapons based on chemical substances produced naturally by the human body. They could damage the nervous system, alter moods, trigger psychological changes, and even kill."
When Popov read that, I asked him, had he recognized the "young scientist?" "Yes," he replied. "That was me."
After reading Biohazard, Popov contacted Alibek and told him that he, too, had reached America. Popov moved to Virginia to work for Alibek's company, Advanced Biosystems, and was debriefed by U.S. intelligence. In 2004 he took up his current position at the National Center for Biodefense, where Alibek is a distinguished professor.
Regarding the progress of biotechnology, Popov told me, "It seems to most people like something that happens in a few places, a few biological labs. Yet now it is becoming widespread knowledge." Furthermore, he stressed, it is knowledge that is Janus-faced in its potential applications. "When I prepare my lectures on genetic engineering, whatever I open, I see the possibilities to make harm or to use the same things for good -- to make a biological weapon or to create a treatment against disease."
The "new class of weapons" that Alibek describes Popov's creating in Biohazard is a case in point. Into a relatively innocuous bacterium responsible for a low-mortality pneumonia, Legionella pneumophila, Popov and his researchers spliced mammalian DNA that expressed fragments of myelin protein, the electrically insulating fatty layer that sheathes our neurons. In test animals, the pneumonia infection came and went, but the myelin fragments borne by the recombinant Legionella goaded the animals' immune systems to read their own natural myelin as pathogenic and to attack it. Brain damage, paralysis, and nearly 100 percent mortality resulted: Popov had created a biological weapon that in effect triggered rapid multiple sclerosis. (Popov's claims can be corroborated: in recent years, scientists researching treatments for MS have employed similar methods on test animals with similar results.)
When I asked about the prospects for creating bioweapons through synthetic biology, Popov mentioned the polio virus synthesized in 2002. "Very prominent people like [Anthony] Fauci at the NIH said, "Now we know it can be done.'" Popov paused. "You know, that's...naïve. In 1981, I described how to carry out a project to synthesize small but biologically active viruses. Nobody at Biopreparat had even a little doubt it could be done. We had no DNA synthesizers then. I had 50 people doing DNA synthesis manually, step by step. One step was about three hours, where today, with the synthesizer, it could be a few minutes -- it could be less than a minute. Nevertheless, already the idea was that we would produce one virus a month."
Effectively, Popov said, Biopreparat had few restrictions on manpower. "If you wanted a hundred people involved, it was a hundred. If a thousand, a thousand." It is a startling picture: an industrial program that consumed tons of chemicals and marshalled large numbers of biologists to construct, over months, a few hundred bases of a gene that coded for a single protein.
Though some dismiss Biopreparat's pioneering efforts because the Russians relied on technology that is now antiquated, this is what makes them a good guide to what could be done today with cheap, widely available biotechnology. Splicing into pathogens synthesized mammalian genes coding for the short chains of amino acids called peptides (that is, genes just a few hundred bases long) was handily within reach of Biopreparat's DNA synthesis capabilities. Efforts on this scale are easily reproducible with today's tools.
What the Russians
Popov's affiliation with Alibek is a strike against him at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (Usamriid) at Fort Detrick, MD, where Biopreparat's former top scientist has his critics. Alibek, one knowledgeable person told me, effectively "entered the storytelling business when he came to America." Alibek's critics charge that because he received consulting fees while briefing U.S. scientists and officials, he exaggerated Soviet bioweaponeering achievements. In particular, some critics reject Alibek's claims that the U.S.S.R. had combined Ebola and other viruses -- in order to create what Alibek calls "chimeras." The necessary technology, they insist, didn't yet exist. When I interviewed Alibek in 2003, however, he was adamant that Biopreparat had weaponized Ebola.
Alibek and Popov obviously have an interest in talking up Russia's bioweapons. But neither I, nor others with whom I've compared notes, have ever caught Popov in a false statement. One must listen to him carefully, however. Regarding Ebola chimeras, he told me when I first interviewed him in 2003, "You can speculate about a plague-Ebola combination. I know that those who ran the Soviet bioweapons program studied that possibility. I can talk with certainty about a synthesis of plague and Venezuelan equine encephalitis, because I knew the guy who did that." Popov then described a Soviet strategy for hiding deadly viral genes inside some milder bacterium's genome, so that medical treatment of a victim's initial symptoms from one microbe would trigger a second microbe's growth. "The first symptom could be plague, and a victim's fever would get treated with something as simple as tetracycline. That tetracycline would itself be the factor inducing expression of a second set of genes, which could be a whole virus or a combination of viral genes."
In short, Popov indicated that a plague-Ebola combination was theoretically possible and that Soviet scientists had studied that possibility. Next, he made another turn of the screw: Biopreparat had researched recombinants that would effectively turn their victims into walking Ebola bombs. I had asked Popov for a picture of some worst-case scenarios, so I cannot complain that he was misleading me -- but the Russians almost certainly never created the plague-Ebola combination.
One further testimonial to Popov: the man himself is all of a piece. Recalling his youth in Siberia, he told me, "I believed in the future, the whole idea of socialism, equity, and social justice. I was deeply afraid of the United States, the aggressive American military, capitalism -- all that was deeply scary." He added, "It's difficult to communicate how people in the Soviet Union thought then about themselves and how much excitement we young people had about science." Biological-weapons development was a profession into which Popov was recruited in his 20s and which informed his life and thinking for years. To ask him questions about biological weapons is to elicit a cascade of analysis of the specific cell-signaling pathways and receptors that could be targeted to induce particular effects, and how that targeting might be achieved via the genetic manipulation of pathogens. Popov is not explicable unless he is what he claims to be.
Popov's research in Russia is powerfully suggestive of the strangeness of recombinant biological weapons. Because genetics and molecular biology were banned as "bourgeois science" in the U.S.S.R. until the early 1960s, Popov was among the first generation of Soviet university graduates to grow up with the new biology. When he first joined Vector, or the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology, Biopreparat's premier viral research facility near Novosibirsk, he didn't immediately understand that he had entered the bioweaponeering business. "Nobody talked about biological weapons," he told me. "Simply, it was supposed to be peaceful research, which would transition from pure science to a new microbiological industry." Matters proceeded, however. "Your boss says, "We'd like you to join a very interesting project.' If you say no, that's the end of your career. Since I was ambitious then, I went further and further. Initially, I had a dozen people working under me. But the next year I got the whole department of fifty people."
In 1979, Popov received orders to start research in which small, synthesized genes coding for production of beta-endorphins -- the opioid neurotransmitters produced in response to pain, exercise, and other stress -- were to be spliced into viruses. Ostensibly, this work aimed to enhance the pathogens' virulence. Popov shrugged, recalling this. "How could we increase virulence with endorphins? Still, if some general tells you, you do it." Popov noted that the particular general who ordered the project, Igor Ashmarin, was also a molecular biologist and, later, an academician on Moscow State University's biology faculty. "Ashmarin's project sounded unrealistic but not impossible. The peptides he suggested were short, and we knew how to synthesize the DNA."
Peptides, such as beta-endorphins, are the constituent parts of proteins and are no longer than 50 amino acids. Nature exploits their compactness in contexts where cell signaling takes place often and rapidly -- for instance, in the central nervous system, where peptides serve as neurotransmitters. With 10 to 20 times fewer amino acids than an average protein, peptides are produced by correspondingly smaller DNA sequences, which made them good candidates for synthesis using Biopreparat's limited means. Popov set a research team to splicing synthetic endorphin-expressing genes into various viruses, then infecting test animals.
Yet the animals were unaffected. "We had huge pressure to produce these more lethal weapons," Popov said. "I was in charge of new projects. Often, it was my responsibility to develop the project, and if I couldn't, that would be my problem. I couldn't say, "No, I won't do it.' Because, then, what about your children? What about your family?" To appease their military bosses, Popov and his researchers shifted to peptides other than beta-endorphins and discovered that, indeed, microbes bearing genes that expressed myelin protein could provoke animals' immune systems to attack their own nervous systems. While the Vector team used this technique to increase the virulence of vaccinia, with the ultimate goal of applying it to smallpox, Popov was sent to Obolensk to develop the same approach with bacteria. Still, he told me, "We now know that if we'd continued the original approach with beta-endorphins, we would have seen their effect."
This vision of subtle bioweapons that modified behavior by targeting the nervous system -- inducing effects like temporary schizophrenia, memory loss, heightened aggression, immobilizing depression, or fear -- was irresistibly attractive to Biopreparat's senior military scientists. After Popov's defection, the research continued. In 1993 and 1994, two papers, copublished in Russian science journals by Ashmarin and some of Popov's former colleagues, described experiments in which vaccines of recombinant tularemia successfully produced beta-endorphins in test animals and thereby increased their thresholds of pain sensitivity. These apparently small claims amount to a proof of concept: bioweapons can be created that target the central nervous system, changing perception and behavior.
I asked Popov whether bioweaponeers could design pathogens that induced the type of effects usually associated with psychopharmaceuticals.
"Essentially, a pathogen is only a vehicle," Popov replied. "Those vehicles are available -- a huge number of pathogens you could use for different jobs. If the drug is a peptide like endorphin, that's simple. If you're talking about triggering the release of serotonin and dopamine -- absolutely possible. To cause amnesia, schizophrenia -- yes, it's theoretically possible with pathogens. If you talk about pacification of a subject population -- yes, it's possible. The beta-endorphin was proposed as potentially a pacification agent. For more complex chemicals, you'd need the whole biological pathways that produce them. Constructing those would be enormously difficult. But any drug stimulates specific receptors, and that is doable in different ways. So instead of producing the drug, you induce the consequences. Pathogens could do that, in principle."
Psychotropic recombinant pathogens may sound science fictional, but sober biologists support Popov's analysis. Harvard University professor of molecular biology Matthew Meselson is, with Frank Stahl, responsible for the historic Meselson-Stahl experiment of 1957, which proved that DNA replicated semiconservatively, as Watson and Crick had proposed. Meselson has devoted much effort to preventing biological and chemical weapons. In 2001, warning that biotechnology's advance was transforming the possibilities of bioweaponeering, he wrote in the New York Review of Books, "As our ability to modify life processes continues its rapid advance, we will not only be able to devise additional ways to destroy life but will also become able to manipulate it -- including the fundamental biological processes of cognition, development, reproduction, and inheritance."
I asked Meselson if he still stood by this. "Yes," he said. After telling him of Popov's accounts of Russian efforts to engineer neuromodulating pathogens, I said I was dubious that biological weapons could achieve such specific effects. "Why?" Meselson bluntly asked. He didn't believe such agents had been created yet -- but they were possible.
No one knows when such hypothetical weapons will be real. But since Popov left Russia, the range and power of biotechnological tools for manipulating genetic control circuits have grown. A burgeoning revolution in "targeting specificity" (targeting is the process of engineering molecules to recognize and bind to particular types of cells) is creating new opportunities in pharmaceuticals; simultaneously, it is advancing the prospects for chemical and biological weapons. Current research is investigating agents that target the distinct biochemical pathways in the central nervous system and that could render people sedate, calm, or otherwise incapacitated. All that targeting specificity could, in principle, also be applied to biological weapons.
The disturbing scope of the resulting possibilities was alluded to by George Poste, former chief scientist at SmithKline Beecham and the sometime chairman of a task force on bioterrorism at the U.S. Defense Department, in a speech he gave to the National Academies and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, in January 2003. According to the transcript of the speech, Poste recalled that at a recent biotech conference he had attended a presentation on agents that augment memory: "A series of aged rats were paraded with augmented memory functions.... And some very elegant structural chemistry was placed onto the board.... Then with the most casual wave of the hand the presenter said, "Of course, modification of the methyl group at C7 completely eliminates memory. Next slide, please.'"
This is part 1 of a three-part article. Part 2 will appear on March 14.
Editor's note: Conscious of the controversial nature of this article, Technology Review asked Allison Macfarlane, a research associate in the Science, Technology, and Global Security Working Group in MIT's Program in Science, Technology, and Society, to rebut its argument: see "Assessing the Threat." We were also careful to elide any recipes for developing a biological weapon. Such details as do appear have been published before, mainly in scientific journals.
Mark Williams is
a contributing writer to Technology Review.
Terrorists could buy reagents on the Web, build a DNA synthesizer, and create a deadly virus. But it would be no easy feat.
By Mark Williams
This article -- the cover story in Technology Review's March/April 2006 print issue -- has been divided into three parts for presentation online. This is part 2; part 1 appeared on March 13, and part 3 will run on March 15.
In part 1, Russian-born scientist Serguie Popov, now a professor at the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases at George Mason University, spoke about his work developing bioweapons in the Soviet Union in the 1980s -- and correspondent Mark Williams explained why it matters to us today.
The recent report by the National Academies described many unpleasant scenarios: in addition to psychotropic pathogens, the academicians imagine the misuse of "RNA interference" to perturb gene expression, of nanotechnology to deliver toxins, and of viruses to deliver antibodies that could target ethnic groups.
This last is by no means ridiculous. Microbiologist Mark Wheelis at the University of California, Davis, who works with the Washington-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, notes in an article for Arms Control Today, "Engineering an ethnic-specific weapon targeting humans is...difficult, as human genetic variability is very high both within and between ethnic groups...but there is no reason to believe that it will not eventually be possible."
But commentators have focused on speculative perils for decades. While the threats they describe are plausible, dire forecasts have become a ritual -- a way to avoid more immediate problems. Already, in 2006, much could be done.
Popov's myelin autoimmunity weapon could be replicated by bioterrorists. It would be no easy feat: while the technological requirements are relatively slight, the scientific knowledge required is considerable. At the very least, terrorists would have to employ a real scientist as well as lab technicians trained to manage DNA synthesizers and tend pathogens. They would also have to find some way to disperse their pathogens. The Soviet Union "weaponized" biological agents by transforming them into fine aerosols that could be sprayed over large areas. This presents engineering problems of an industrial kind, possibly beyond the ability of any substate actor. But bioterrorists might be willing to infect themselves and walk through crowded airports and train stations: their coughs and sniffles would be the bombs of their terror campaign.
Difficult as it may still be, garage-lab bioengineering is getting easier every year. In the vanguard of those who are calling attention to biotechnology's potential for abuse is George Church, Harvard Medical School Professor of Genetics. It was Church who announced in December 2004 that his research team had developed a new high-throughput synthesizer capable of constructing in one pass a DNA molecule 14,500 bases long.
Church says his DNA synthesizer could make vaccine and pharmaceutical production vastly more efficient. But it could also enable the manufacture of the genomes of all the viruses on the U.S. government's "select agents" list of bioweapons. Church fears that starting with only the constituent chemical reagents and the DNA sequence of one of the select agents, someone with sufficient knowledge might construct a lethal virus. The smallpox virus variola, for instance, is approximately 186,000 bases long -- just 13 smaller DNA molecules to be synthesized with Church's technology and bound together into one viral genome. To generate infectious particles, the synthetic variola would then need to be "booted" into operation in a host cell. None of this is trivial; nevertheless, with the requisite knowledge, it could be done.
I suggested to Church that someone with the requisite knowledge might not need his cutting-edge technology to do harm. A secondhand machine could be purchased from a website like eBay or LabX.com for around $5,000. Alternatively, the components -- mostly off-the-shelf electronics and plumbing -- could be assembled with a little more effort for a similar cost. Construction of a DNA synthesizer in this fashion would be undetectable by intelligence agencies.
The older-generation machine would construct only oligonucleotides, which would then have to be stitched together to function as a complete gene, so only small genes could be synthesized. But small genes can be used to kill people.
"People have trouble maintaining the necessary ultrapure approach even with commercial devices -- but you definitely could do some things," Church acknowledged.
What things? Again, Serguei Popov's experience at Biopreparat is instructive. In 1981, Popov was ordered by Lev Sandakhchiev, Vector's chief, to synthesize fragments of smallpox. "I was against this project," Popov told me. "I thought it was an extremely blunt, stupid approach." It amounted to a pointlessly difficult stunt, he explained, to impress the Soviet military; when his researchers acquired real smallpox samples in 1983, the program was suspended.
A closely related program that Popov had started, however, continued after he departed Vector for Biopreparat's Oblensk facility in the mid-1980s. This project used the poxvirus vaccinia, the relatively harmless relative of variola used as a vaccine against smallpox. Not only was vaccinia -- whose genome is very similar to variola's -- a convenient experimental stand-in for smallpox, but its giant size (by viral standards) also made it a congenial candidate to carry extra genes. In short, it was a useful model for bioweapons.
For at least a decade, therefore, a team of Biopreparat scientists systematically inserted into vaccinia a variety of genes that coded for certain toxins and for peptides that act as signaling mechanisms in the immune system. Though Popov had directed that the recombinant-vaccinia program should proceed through the genes coding for immune system-modulating peptides, he left before the researchers finished with the interleukin genes. But it would be surprising if the Vector researchers did not reach the gene for interleukin-4 (IL-4), an immune-system peptide that coaxes white blood cells to increase their production of antibodies and then releases them.
There is some evidence that the Russians discovered the effects of inserting the IL-4 gene into a poxvirus. Those effects are deadly. In 2001, Ian Ramshaw and a team of virologists from the Australian National University in Canberra spliced IL-4 into ectromelia, a mousepox virus, and learned that the resulting recombinant mousepox triggered massive overproduction of the IL-4 peptide. Even the immune systems of mice vaccinated against mousepox could not control the growth of the virus: a 60 percent mortality rate resulted. Other experiments have confirmed the lethality of the recombinant pathogen. The American poxvirus expert Mark Buller, of Saint Louis University in Missouri, engineered various versions of the recombinant, one of which maintained the mousepox virus's full virulence while generating excessive interleukin-4. All the mice infected with this recombinant died. The BBC reported that when asked about the Australian experiment, Sandakhchiev, Vector's director, remarked, "Of course, this is not a surprise."
Because vaccinia is universally available, it is fortunate that a vaccinia-IL-4 hybrid would not be an effective biological weapon: vaccinia has limited transmissibility between humans. Still, there are other poxviruses that are transmissible. Smallpox, the most infamous, is nearly impossible for aspiring bioterrorists to acquire. But a herpesvirus named varicella-zoster, or common chickenpox, is easily acquired and even more infectious than smallpox.
What would happen if bioterrorists spliced IL-4 into chickenpox and released the hybrid into the general population? Perhaps nothing. Very often, the Soviet bioweaponeers successfully spliced new genes into pathogens, only to find that infected test animals showed no symptoms. One reason was that the genetically engineered microbes were often "environmentally unstable" -- that is, they did not retain the added genes. Engineering recombinant pathogens can be ineffective for other reasons, too: the foreign gene might be expressed in the "wrong" organ. But according to several virologists with knowledge of biological weapons, the result of splicing IL-4 into chickenpox might be to suppress the immune response to the disease. According to these virologists, the effect would be similar to what happens to cancer patients when they catch chickenpox. They often die -- even when treated with antiviral therapies. For healthy children or adults, chickenpox is usually a superficial disease that mainly affects the skin; but depending on the immunosuppressive state of an infected cancer patient, chickenpox lesions can be slow to heal, and the viscera -- that is, the lungs, the liver, and the central nervous system -- become progressively diseased.
Bioterrorists could create a varicella-IL-4 recombinant virus more easily than they could acquire or manufacture the pathogens that top the select-agents list. IL-4 is one of the standard genes used in medical research; a plasmid of human IL-4 could be ordered from one of the DNA synthesis jobbing companies and delivered via FedEx for $350. If our hypothetical bioterrorists were worried about detection, they might avoid the DNA synthesis companies altogether. Conveniently, without its junk DNA, IL-4 is only about 462 base pairs long. It's possible to download IL-4's genetic sequence from the Internet, use a basic synthesizer to construct it in five segments, and then assemble those segments "manually," as Popov's scientists did. The other principal tools needed would be a centrifuge -- like the $5,000 DNA synthesizer, cheaply available via Internet sites -- and a transfection kit, a small bottle filled with reagent that costs less than $200 and which would be necessary to introduce the IL-4 gene into chickenpox. Finally, the terrorists would also require an incubator and the media in which to grow the resulting cells. The total costs, including the DNA synthesizer: probably less than $10,000.
Editor's note: Conscious of the controversial nature of this article, Technology Review asked Allison Macfarlane, a research associate in the Science, Technology, and Global Security Working Group in MIT's Program in Science, Technology, and Society, to rebut its argument: see "Assessing the Threat." We were also careful to elide any recipes for developing a biological weapon. Such details as do appear have been published before, mainly in scientific journals.
Mark Williams is
a contributing writer to Technology Review.
The current revolution in biotechnology is more likely to be exploited by national militaries than by terrorists.
By Mark Williams
This article -- the cover story in Technology Review's March/April 2006 print issue -- has been divided into three parts for presentation online. This is part 3; part 1 appeared on March 13, and part 2 on March 14.
Be Afraid. But of
"There are now more than 300 U.S. institutions with access to live bioweapons agents and 16,500 individuals approved to handle them," Ebright told me. While all of those people have undergone some form of background check -- to verify, for instance, that they aren't named on a terrorist watch list and aren't illegal aliens -- it's also true, Ebright noted, that "Mohammed Atta would have passed those tests without difficulty."
Furthermore, Ebright told me, at the time of our interview, 97 percent of the researchers receiving funds from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study bioweapon agents had never been funded for such work before. Few of them, therefore, had any prior experience handling these pathogens; multiple incidents of accidental release had occurred during the previous two years.
Slipshod handling of bioweapons-level pathogens is scary enough, I conceded. But isn't the proliferation of bioweaponeering expertise, I asked, more worrisome? After all, what reliable means do we have of determining whether somebody set out to be a molecular biologist with the aim of developing bioweapons?
"That's the most significant concern," Ebright agreed. "If al-Qaeda wished to carry out a bioweapons attack in the U.S., their simplest means of acquiring access to the materials and the knowledge would be to send individuals to train within programs involved in biodefense research." Ebright paused. "And today, every university and corporate press office is trumpeting its success in securing research funding as part of this biodefense expansion, describing exactly what's available and where."
As for the threat of next-generation bioweapons agents, Ebright was dismissive: "To make an antibiotic-resistant bacterial strain is frighteningly straightforward, within reach of anyone with access to the material and knowledge of how to grow it." However, he continued, further engineering -- to increase virulence, to provide escape from vaccines, to increase environmental stability -- requires considerable skill and a far greater investment of effort and time. "It's clearly possible to engineer next-generation enhanced pathogens, as the former Soviet Union did. That there's been no bioweapons attack in the United States except for the 2001 anthrax attacks -- which bore the earmarks of a U.S. biodefense community insider -- means ipso facto that no substate adversary of the U.S. has access to the basic means of carrying it out. If al-Qaeda had biological weapons, they would release them."
Milton Leitenberg, the arms control specialist, goes a step further: he says because substate groups have not used biological weapons in the past, they are unlikely to do so in the near future. Such arguments are common in security circles. Yet for many contemplating the onrush of the life sciences and biotechnology, they have limited persuasiveness.
I suggested to Ebright that synthetic biology offered low-hanging fruit for a knowledgeable bioterrorist. He granted that there were scenarios with sinister potential. He allowed that biotechnology could make BioShield, which focuses on conventional select agents such as smallpox, anthrax, and Ebola, less relevant. Still, he maintained, "a conventional bioweapons agent can potentially be massively disruptive in economic costs, fear, panic, and casualties. The need to go to the next level is outside the incentive structure of any substate organization."
Even those who are intimately involved with biodefense often support this view. For an insider's perspective, I contacted Jens Kuhn, the Harvard Medical School virologist. The German-born Kuhn has worked not only at Usamriid, and at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, but also -- uniquely for a Westerner -- at Vector.
Kuhn, like Ebright, is no fan of how the biodefense boom is unfolding. "When I was at Usamriid, it exemplified how a biodefense facility should be," he told me. "That's why I'm worried -- because the system worked, and the experts were concentrated at the right places, Fort Detrick and the CDC. Now this expertise gets diluted, which isn't smart."
Kuhn believes, nevertheless, that some kind of national biodefense program is needed. He just doesn't think we are preparing for the right things. "Everybody makes this connection with bioterrorism, anthrax attacks, and al-Qaeda. That's completely wrong." Kuhn recalled his time at Vector and that facility's grand scale. "When you look at what the Russians did, those kinds of huge state programs with billions of dollars flowing into very sophisticated research carried on over decades -- they're the problem. If nation-states start a Manhattan Project to build the perfect biological weapon, we're in deep shit."
But doesn't modern biotechnology, I asked, allow small groups to do unprecedented things in garage laboratories?
Kuhn conceded, "There are a few things out there" with the potential to kill people. But weighing the probabilities, he saw the threat in these terms: "Definitely more biowarfare than bioterrorism. Definitely more the sophisticated bioweapons coming in the future than the stuff now. There's danger coming towards us and we're focusing on concerns like BioShield. I don't think that's the stuff that will save us."
Is Help on the Way?
The near-term threat is that genes could be hacked outside of large laboratories. This means that terrorists could create recombinant biological weapons. But the leading edge of bioweapon research has always been the work of government labs. The longer-term threat is what it always has been: national militaries. Biotechnology will furnish them with weapons of unprecedented power and specificity. George Poste, in his 2003 speech to the National Academies, warned his audience that in coming decades the life sciences would loom ever larger in national-security matters and international affairs. Poste noted, "If you actually look at the history of the assimilation of technological advance into the calculus of military affairs, you cannot find a historical precedent in which dramatic new technologies that redress military inferiority are not deployed."
Harvard's Matthew Meselson has said the same and added that a world in which the new biotechnology was deployed militarily "would be a world in which the very nature of conflict had radically changed. Therein could lie unprecedented opportunities for violence, coercion, repression, or subjugation." Meselson adds, "Governments might have the objective of controlling very large numbers of people. If you have a situation of permanent conflict, people begin contemplating things that the ordinary rules of conflict don't allow. They begin to view the enemy as subhuman. Eventually, this leads to viewing people in your own culture as tools."
What measures could mitigate both the near and the more distant threats of bioweaponry? BioShield, as it is now constituted, will not protect us from genetically engineered pathogens. A number of radical solutions (like somehow boosting the human immune system through generic immunomodifiers) have been proposed, but even if pursued, they might take years or decades to develop.
More immediately, no one has a good idea about what should be done. Some scientists hope to arrest the spread of bioweapons knowledge. Rutgers's Richard Ebright wants to reverse what he believes to be counterproductive in the funding of biodefense. More dramatically, Harvard's George Church is calling for all DNA synthesizers to be registered internationally. "This wouldn't be like regulating guns, where you just give people a license and let them do whatever they want," he says. "Along with the license would come responsibilities for reporting."
Furthermore, Church believes that just as all DNA synthesizers should be registered, so should any molecular biologists researching the select agents or the human immune system response to pathogens. "Nobody's forced to do research in those areas. If someone does, then they should be willing to have a very transparent, spotlighted research career," Church says.
But enactment of Church's proposals would represent an unprecedented regulation of science. Worse, not all nations would comply. For instance, Russian biologists, some of whom are known to have worked at Biopreparat, have reportedly trained molecular-biology students at the Pasteur Institute in Tehran.
More fundamentally, arresting the progress of biological-weapons research is probably impractical. Biological knowledge is all one, and therapies cannot be easily distinguished from weapons. For example, a general trend in biomedicine is to use viral vectors in gene therapy.
Robert Carlson, senior scientist in the Genomation Lab and the Microscale Life Sciences Center in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington, believes there are two options. On the one hand, we can clamp down on biodefense research, stunting our ability to respond to biological threats. Alternatively, we can continue to push the boundaries of what is known about how pathogens can be manipulated -- spreading expertise in building biological systems, for better and for worse, through experiments like Buller's assembly of a mousepox-IL4 recombinant -- so we are not at a mortal disadvantage. One day, we must hope, technology will suggest an answer.
Serguei Popov has lived with these questions longer than most. When I asked him what could be done, he told me, "I don't know what kind of behavior or scientific or political measures would guarantee that the new biology won't hurt us." But the vital first step, Popov said, was for scientists to overcome their reluctance to discuss biological weapons. "Public awareness is very important. I can't say it's a solution to this problem. Frankly, I don't see any solution right now. Yet first we have to be aware."
Editor's note: Conscious of the controversial nature of this article, Technology Review asked Allison Macfarlane, a research associate in the Science, Technology, and Global Security Working Group in MIT's Program in Science, Technology, and Society, to rebut its argument: see "Assessing the Threat." We were also careful to elide any recipes for developing a biological weapon. Such details as do appear have been published before, mainly in scientific journals.
Mark Williams is a contributing writer to Technology Review.
York Daily News
Originally published on March 21, 2006
Anthrax victim improving in hosp
The Manhattan man infected with anthrax from animal skins he was using to make drums was upgraded to good condition at a Pennsylvania hospital yesterday.
Vado Diomande, 44, has been in the hospital for more than a month and suffered several setbacks but has been improving steadily for a week, officials said.
The leader of an African dance troupe, Diomande apparently inhaled the deadly spores while cleaning goat hides he brought back from the Ivory Coast.
His diagnosis - which came four years after an anthrax terror scare gripped the city - triggered a massive medical investigation.
Low levels of the bacteria were found in his Village apartment and Brooklyn workshop, but no one else got sick.
The inhalation form of anthrax is the deadliest form of the disease, and Diomande was the first person in the United States to contract it from a natural source since 1976.
Man with anthrax could be released soon
SAYRE - The man who contracted inhalation anthrax is still listed in good condition and he is anticipated to be discharged in the next several days, according to officials at Robert Packer Hospital Tuesday.
Vado Diomande, 44, a drum maker and dancer from New York City, became ill a few weeks ago after performing at Mansfield University.
Diomande had performed with his dance troupe at Mansfield University, collapsed, and was first taken to Soldiers and Sailors Hospital in Wellsboro. He was later transported to Robert Packer.
He was said to be suffering from a respiratory infection that was later discovered to be caused by anthrax.
Diomande has been a patient at Robert Packer Hospital since Feb. 17, and Guthrie Healthcare System officials will hold a press conference this afternoon to celebrate his recovery.
On hand for the event will be Guthrie's Chief of Pulmonology Dr. James Walsh, who was Diomande's primary physician; Robert Packer Hospital President and COO Mary Mannix; as well as Diomande himself.
See Thursday's edition of the Morning Times for coverage on this press conference.
(PA) Morning Times
Anthrax patient says he will dance again;
Vado Diomande to be released from RPH ‘in near future'
By WARREN HOWELER Times Managing Editor
SAYRE - The New York City man who has been hospitalized at Robert Packer Hospital since Feb. 17 after being stricken with inhalation anthrax said Wednesday he will dance again.
And to prove that, he danced a quick jig, much to the delight of Guthrie Healthcare System officials and members of the news media who attended a special press conference held Wednesday on the Guthrie campus.
Diomande, a dancer and drummer originally from the Ivory Coast, became ill following a performance with his dance troupe “Kotchegna” at Mansfield University on Feb. 16. He was initially taken to Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital in Wellsboro and transferred to Robert Packer Hospital on Feb. 17.
Diomande contracted the disease while handling cow skins that he brought back with him from a trip to the Ivory Coast. Diomande uses raw animal hides to make drums.
Diomande did speak during Wednesday's press conference, noting that nothing like this has every happened to him before while he has engaged in drum-making.
“Skins have never made me sick before,” he said. “I have always been very clean and careful when making drums. It is difficult and disciplined work.”
From now on, Diomande said he will utilize a different way in doing his drum-making for his own protection.
“I will wear a mask and work in a contained and well-ventilated area,” he said. “When cow skins are large, I will cut them only when wet.”
Diomande said he is an artist within this country and works to show his culture to anybody in the world.
“That's why I came from Africa all the way here,” he said. “All my work is to show my culture, my music, my song and traditional ways. Drumming, dancing and teaching are my life.”
Diomande did lose between 45 and 50 pounds during his fight against inhalation anthrax. During that time, he had to be placed on a ventilator and underwent multiple surgeries to drain fluids from around his lungs.
But without the hard work of his doctors and officials from Guthrie Healthcare, he would not be here today, Diomande said.
“I just want to say thank you to my doctors (Dr. James Walsh, Dr. Nche Zama and Dr. David Herlan), they did a very fine job,” Diomande said. “If not for them, maybe I'm not here today.”
Diomande's wife Lisa described her husband's situation as a “freak accident.”
“He is a tremendously strong man,” Lisa Diomande said. “So I was able to keep my faith and strength throughout this ordeal, but I have say that I don't think I would have made it through the terrifying moments of treatment if I haven't been given the tremendous support that this hospital provided me every step of the way. The nurse care here is exceptional and I had people that took the time to not only show tremendous caring and compassion, but they also communicated with me about everything. They made themselves available to me at all times, which was the support I needed because I was watching Vado be extremely sick in intensive care. If I hadn't had that - people ask me how I got through this, and that is the only way I would have made it.”
“This is a happy day for us,” said Kathy Lewis, of Guthrie Corporate Communications, at Wednesday's press conference. “Everybody has a smile and for good reason.”
“This is truly a remarkable story - one that will be of interest within the medical community for many years to come,” said RPH President and COO Mary Mannix. “It is a story of teamwork at its best between two hospitals, within our hospital and beyond.”
Having a cadre of highly-skilled and experienced specialist working as part of Guthrie Healthcare's tertiary team “makes it much easier to deal with such an unexpected situation,” Mannix said.
“I'm very proud of our staff at Robert Packer Hospital,” she said. “They dealt with the situation calmly and professionally. The entire team exemplified the values on which we were founded - patient centerness, teamwork and excellence. Our staff kept their focus on the situation at hand and immersed themselves in caring for Mr. Diomande and in supporting his family, as they do for all patients and families at Robert Packer Hospital.”
Guthrie officials are happy that this story will have a happy outcome, said Mannix.
“That outcome is due to the efforts of countless people - those providing direct patient care to Mr. Diomande and those behind the scenes, all focused on Mr. Diomande's recovery,” she said.
Walsh - who is chief of Pulmonology at Guthrie and Diomande's primary doctor - credited Soldiers and Sailors Hospital during his comments Wednesday.
“They were very quick in terms of recognizing the possibility (that Diomande had inhalation anthrax) and getting him here,” said Walsh.
Walsh also expressed his pride in Robert Packer Hospital.
“(Robert Packer Hospital) has the resources available; the staff in terms of nurses, respiratory therapists; and a group of physicians that allows us to be able to take care of somebody when they get this sick in Sayre, Pa.,” he said. “We're extremely pleased that we're having a good outcome and I fully anticipate that Mr. Diomande is going to continue to recover.”
Another group of individuals who helped Robert Packer Hospital with this incident was the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Walsh said.
“They were very supportive in assisting us,” he said. “(The Centers for Disease Control) were tremendous in their support and assistance in helping us care for Mr. Diomande.”
Walsh also emphasized that inhalation anthrax is caused by a naturally-occurring spore.
“He (Diomande) is not contagious to anybody at all,” Walsh said. “If you take drum lessons from him, you are not going to get anthrax. If you buy a drum from him, you are not going to get inhalation anthrax. If you shake his hand, you are not going to get inhalation anthrax, and if you go see him perform, you are not going to get anthrax.
“I'm looking forward to the point where he recovers enough that I can see him (Diomande) perform, and I hope the whole world can come out and see him,” Walsh added.
Diomande did joke that he is looking to resume dancing within two weeks, but added while smiling that he will wait until he receives medical clearance before partaking in that activity.
Walsh did not put a timetable on when Diomande will be released from Robert Packer Hospital, noting that it will be sometime in “the near future.”
Diomande's case was the first such incident of naturally occurring inhalation anthrax to occur in the United States since 1976.
Anthrax victim released from Pa. hospital, thanks doctors
By MICHAEL RUBINKAM
March 23, 2006, 8:42 AM EST
SAYRE, Pa. -- A dancer and drum maker thanked his doctors, smiled broadly and did a jig in a hospital auditorium before he was released, showing off his remarkable recovery from a rare and usually fatal form of anthrax.
"I just want to say thank you to my doctors; they do very good job. If not for them, maybe I'm not here today," Vado Diomande, choking back tears, said at a news conference Wednesday.
Diomande, an Ivory Coast native, contracted the first case of naturally occurring inhalation anthrax in the United States since 1976. He was discharged from Robert Packer Hospital late Wednesday, more than a month after collapsing during a dance performance at a Pennsylvania university.
Diomande's physical strength and good health played a key role in his recovery, his doctors said Wednesday.
"I think Vado survived because he was such a fit and strong person to begin with," said Dr. James Walsh, the hospital's chief lung doctor. "Someone who had a chronic illness, who was a little weaker, might not have done as well."
Diomande, 44, of New York City, said he believes he contracted the disease while working with a large cowhide to make drums about a week before his Feb. 16 collapse. Previously he had told health officials he had been working with goatskin.
Officials believe he inhaled anthrax spores while making the instruments.
Diomande plans to resume drum making, but said he'll wear a mask and wet down the animal hides before he cuts them. He said he's not sure whether the animal skin that made him ill came from Africa or the United States.
The hospital's president, Mary Mannix, called Diomande's recovery a "remarkable story, one that will be of interest to the medical community for many years to come."
Diomande, who lost 45 or 50 pounds during his ordeal, had to be placed on a ventilator and underwent multiple surgeries to drain fluid from around his lungs. He still has abnormal lung function and will have to take antibiotics for several more weeks. An anthrax infection, Walsh said, "can be very insidious."
Inhaled anthrax is the deadliest form of the disease, with a fatality rate of about 75 percent even when antibiotics are given, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Philip S. Brachman, an anthrax expert at Emory University in Atlanta, said the 2001 anthrax attacks taught doctors that massive, rapidly administered doses of antibiotics greatly improve a patient's chance of survival. Of the 11 cases of inhaled anthrax from the attacks, six victims survived.
"With aggressive therapy, the mortality rate should be closer to 50 percent," said Brachman, who wasn't involved in Diomande's care.
Diomande said he hopes to dance again in as little as two weeks _ a timetable his doctors call highly unlikely. Walsh said it will probably be several months before Diomande is able to resume performing with the dance troupe he founded.
His wife, Lisa, said she's "not at all" worried about Diomande's return to drum-making.
"New York City is in a panic because the distinctions have not been made clear enough. Vado had an industrial accident. ... This is a freak accident," she said.
Anthrax is not transmitted from person to person and Walsh said people should not have any compunctions about working with Diomande.
"You can take drum lessons from him and not get anthrax," he said. "If you buy a drum from him, you're not going to get inhalational anthrax. If you shake his hand you're not going to get inhalational anthrax."
Although their fifth-floor walk-up has been treated with bleach, the Diomandes plan to stay temporarily with Lisa's brother and sister-in-law in Jersey City, N.J.
"Our apartment in New York is a very big question. All of our clothes, curtains, rugs and beds have been taken out of there. It's not in a livable condition," Lisa Diomande said.
PA) Daily Review
Anthrax victim awaits release from Robert Packer Hospital
By Aaron Cahall
More than a month after he was diagnosed with inhalational anthrax, Diomande showed a brief dance step and a broad smile at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, thanking his doctors for his recovery and saying he plans to return to dancing and drum-making.
Diomande, 44, of Brooklyn, N.Y., collapsed after a performance with his dance group Kotchegna Feb. 16 at Mansfield University, and was later taken to the Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, where he was diagnosed with naturally occurring inhalational anthrax, fatal in a large percentage of cases.
However, Diomande appeared energetic and upbeat Wednesday, celebrating his recovery and thanking his doctors for their work.
"I just want to say thank you to my doctors; they do very good job," Diomande said. "If not for them, maybe I'm not here today."
Diomande's strong physique and athletic lifestyle likely played a part in helping him survive the illness, according to Dr. James Walsh, Guthrie Chief of Pulmonology and primary physician for Diomande.
"I think Vado survived because he was such a fit and strong person to begin with," Walsh said. "He had the strength to survive such an illness. Someone who had a chronic illness, who was a little weaker, might not have done as well."
The most deadly version of the disease, inhalational anthrax has a fatality rate of about 75 percent even when antibiotics are given, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Diomande traced the illness back to Feb. 9, when he said he cut a large cow skin into smaller sections, and noticed a powder on the floor. He had previously told health officials he believed the material was a goat skin, and said Wednesday he was not sure whether it originated in the United States or Africa.
Less than a week after exposure Diomande began feeling ill, he said, and had difficulty breathing and getting out of bed following a trip to Chicago a few days before his company's Mansfield performance. Diomande said he attempted to climb stairs after that performance, but was unable to do so.
Originally taken to Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital in Wellsboro, Diomande was transferred to Robert Packer Hospital where a diagnosis of inhalational anthrax was eventually made.
Diomande was placed on a ventilator and underwent several surgeries to remove fluids from around his lungs, and was given a variety of antibiotics to combat the disease. While he appeared healthy Wednesday, Diomande's wife Lisa said he had lost about 45 to 50 pounds, "mostly muscle," during his treatment.
Lisa Diomande said her husband's case had put New York City in a panic because the distinctions between his naturally occurring inhalational anthrax and the weaponized variety attributed to several deaths in 2001 had not been made clear.
"Vado had an industrial accident," she said. "There are so many elements that had to line up in a perverse, strange, coincidental way for him to get sick."
Hospital President and CEO Mary Mannix said Diomande's case, the first of naturally occurring inhalational anthrax in the U.S. since 1976, "will be of interest to the medical community for years to come." Walsh said information gained in treating Diomande would provide a guide for other physicians on how to tackle the illness.
Walsh emphasized that Diomande's affliction with the non-weaponized form of inhalational anthrax and his ongoing recovery from it posed no health risk to those in contact or doing business with him.
"He is not contagious to anyone at all," he said. "You can take drum lessons from him, you're not going to get inhalational anthrax. You can buy a drum from him, you're not going to get inhalational anthrax."
Lisa Diomande said the couple's Brooklyn apartment had been stripped of porous material, including clothes and bedding, and was heavily bleached, making it "not livable." She said they planned to stay with relatives in Jersey City, N.J.
Walsh cautioned that it could be months before Diomande is back on stage, with an ongoing course of oral antibiotics and return visits planned.
Diomande said he intended to follow doctors' orders of rest for the next two to three weeks and would take further precautions when working with animal hide in the future, but envisioned a more speedy return to performing and educating.
"Maybe two weeks," he said.
Aaron Cahall can be reached at (570) 888-9652; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
PA) Daily Review
Sayre Anthrax patient released;
case draws national attention; Sayre, Wellsboro hospitals cited
By: Aaron Cahall
Treatment of a New York City man in Sayre for anthrax drew national attention to two local hospitals over the last month, highlighted by a news conference attended by major media outlets as well as stories on CNN and in other media.
Vado Diomande, 44, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was discharged late Wednesday from the Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre after more than a month of treatment for the often-fatal inhalational anthrax, the first naturally occurring case in the U.S. since 1976.
The case drew national headlines and attention to the Robert Packer Hospital as well as Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital in Wellsboro, where Diomande was admitted after collapsing following a performance at Mansfield University Feb. 16.
It was Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Microbiology Supervisor Don Banks who made the initial diagnosis of inhalational anthrax, later confirmed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while Diomande was a patient at the Robert Packer Hospital.
Banks, a 25-year veteran, was tipped off to the nature of Diomande's illness following X-rays, according to Gerard Doran, administrative director of laboratory services for the hospital.
After examining a stain of a blood sample under the microscope, Doran said Banks realized what he was looking at, allowing him to make the correct diagnosis.
"It was like nothing he'd ever seen before," Doran said. "That's what first gave them pause, that they were dealing with something unusual."
Banks' work led to a segment on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," about the successful diagnosis, which aired March 7. The correct early diagnosis was cited by Dr. James Walsh, primary physician for Diomande at Robert Packer Hospital, as a significant factor in his patient's survival of an illness listed as 75 percent fatal by the CDC.
"Everyone's pretty excited here that we're getting this kind of recognition, although it comes at Mr. Diomande's expense," Doran said. "We're happy we were able to do something that initiated treatment that saved his life."
Media attention was also focused on the Robert Packer Hospital, with Guthrie Corporate Communications staff receiving inquiries from more than 30 media outlets, including local, New York-based, and national media about the case, according to spokesperson Kathy Lewis.
To cope with the "enormous" amount of media requests, Guthrie staff set up a daily e-mail to the various outlets with updates on Diomande's condition, a tactic Lewis said was successful in disseminating information.
Guthrie President and CEO Mark Stensager said the case brought more media attention to the hospital than it had seen in about seven or eight years, but praised the staff's handling of the situation.
"I thought the entire staff handled this extremely well," Stensager said. "I thought Kathy (Lewis) did an excellent job. I've worked in major organizations in other cities, and I feel collectively this team handled this situation with a level of reception and skill as good or better than large organizations in urban settings. It was very impressive."
A news conference held Wednesday following successful treatment of Diomande drew 19 different media outlets including correspondents from the New York Times, New York Post and New York Daily News, as well as camera crews and satellite trucks from New York television stations WABC, WCBS, WNBC and Fox.
Despite the attention focused on the hospital, Stensager said the moment belonged to the staff and physicians who treated Diomande.
"It was a proud moment for all those involved in the care," he said. "They really deserve the credit. It was a real opportunity to celebrate this accomplishment, but the credit really goes to the staff and the physicians."
Aaron Cahall can be reached at (570) 888-9652; e-mail: email@example.com.
York Times Loses U.S. High Court Bid to Stop Hatfill Suit
March 27 (Bloomberg) -- New York Times Co. lost a U.S. Supreme Court appeal to stop a libel suit by Steven J. Hatfill, the scientist the Justice Department once identified as a ``person of interest'' in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
The justices, without comment in Washington, let stand a ruling that said Hatfill can pursue his suit over a series of New York Times columns written by Nicholas Kristof. The columns criticized the slow pace of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's probe into the attacks and discussed the possibility that Hatfill was the culprit.
The company argued in its appeal that the lower court ruling, issued by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, ``will inhibit criticism of the government and penalize speech about public matters in violation of the First Amendment.''
No one has ever been charged in connection with the attacks, in which five people died from exposure to anthrax spores sent through the mail. Hatfill, who worked until 1999 at the Fort Detrick infectious diseases research institute, said in a 2002 press conference that he ``had absolutely nothing to do with this terrible crime.''
Hatfill urged the Supreme Court not to get involved in the libel case. He said in court papers that Kristof's first four columns on the subject ``did not report investigative interest in Dr. Hatfill but rather were designed to create some.''
None of those columns mentioned Hatfill by name, referring to him in places as ``Mr. Z.'' Kristof used Hatfill's name only after the scientist held a news conference to deny any involvement with the attacks.
New York Times Co., the third-largest newspaper publisher, said the columns, read in their entirety, ``took care to caution readers against drawing any conclusion of Hatfill's guilt.''
In addition to libel, Hatfill accuses the New York Times of intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is filed separate lawsuits against the federal government and closely held Conde Nast Publications Inc.'s Vanity Fair magazine.
Hatfill's attorneys wouldn't disclose his age.
The case is New York Times v. Hatfill, 05-897.
To contact the reporter
on this story:
Last Updated: March 27, 2006 10:11 EST
Committee for the Freedom of the Press
NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · U.S. SUPREME COURT · Libel · March 27, 2006
High court refuses to stop anthrax libel suit
The defamation lawsuit brought against The New York Times by a former U.S. Army bioweapons scientist, who was named a "person of interest" in the anthrax killings, will be allowed to continue after the nation's high court declined to hear the case.
March 27, 2006 · The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to stop a defamation suit against The New York Times brought by Dr. Steven Hatfill, the scientist labeled a "person of interest" in the 2001 anthrax-laced letters which killed five people.
The Times had appealed to the Supreme Court to throw out the case before pre-trial collection of evidence begins because it claimed that the stories could not reasonably have accused Hatfill of being the anthrax mailer. By refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court allows Hatfill's libel case to continue to trial.
"It's not unexpected," said David Schulz, who represents the Times. "Now it's back to the trenches. We're confident that at the end of the day that the case lacks merit."
Hatfill, a former bioweapons researcher for the U.S. Army, sued the Times in 2002 over columns written by Nicholas Kristof criticizing the FBI for not investigating Hatfill. U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton of Alexandria, Va., originally threw out Hatfill's suit in November 2004, ruling that the stories "are not reasonably read as accusing Hatfill of actually being the anthrax mailer."
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond (4th Cir.) overturned the lower court ruling, reinstating the suit last July. A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that dismissal is improper "unless it appears beyond doubt that [Hatfill] can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief," Judge Dennis W. Shedd wrote for the majority.
The Times appealed for full court review of the decision, but in a narrow 6-6 ruling with one judge not participating, the court allowed the three-panel decision to stand in October.
The Supreme Court's decision has no effect on a separate lawsuit filed by Hatfill against former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other government officials, claiming the government violated his rights under the Privacy Act by leaking his name to the press.
(Hatfill v. The New York Times Co., Media Counsel: David Schulz, Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, New York) -- CM
Anthrax victim returns to New York; supporters question cleanup
By ELIZABETH LeSURE
March 29, 2006, 11:38 PM EST
NEW YORK -- Homecoming for Vado Diomande was bittersweet.
After a month of treatment for anthrax at a Pennsylvania hospital, he returned to the hugs and cheers of friends and relatives in New York on Wednesday to continue recovering from a form of the disease that is usually fatal.
But he and his wife can't go home to their Manhattan apartment because he can't be exposed to the bleach used to clean it. Many of their belongings were incinerated. And they're encountering the financial and emotional effects the ordeal had on friends and neighbors.
"Now, as we come back to New York, I find that we are facing a life that has many questions," his wife, Lisa Diomande, said at a press conference with her husband Wednesday night. "We don't know where we're going to live."
The couple are staying temporarily with family members outside New York.
Vado Diomande, a dancer and drum maker, collapsed after a Feb. 16 dance performance at a Pennsylvania university. Officials believe he inhaled anthrax spores while using animal skins to make drums.
Diomande, 44, was discharged from Robert Packer Hospital a week ago. He said a few words to reporters gathered at an Upper East Side church Wednesday.
"I want to say thank you to everybody," he said, surrounded by friends, relatives and members of his dance troupe, Kotchegna Dance Co.
A friend and troupe member, Justin Kafando, handed him a drum, which he used to beat out a joyful rhythm.
"We feel so fortunate to have Vado back and doing well," dancer Aisha Saunders said before presenting him with flowers. "Vado is an inspiration to us all. He is loved and respected by many in the community."
Amid the happiness, Lisa Diomande and others expressed confusion over how the decontamination was handled, saying authorities may have been overzealous at the couple's apartment building and Vado Diomande's Brooklyn work space.
All their porous possessions _ clothing, curtains, rugs, the bed _ had to be destroyed, she said, adding they're worried that the image of West African dance and drum making was tainted by the ordeal and they're concerned about the dance company's future.
She said they were told the illness posed a very low public health risk, because it can't be spread from person to person.
"So why was it presented this way to the public, and then a cleanup operation that was top-level in terms of presentation, in terms of excessive cleanup?" she asked.
Kafando, who runs a recording studio in the Brooklyn building where Vado Diomande worked, said his studio was destroyed in the cleanup. His business partner, Persephone DaCosta, said officials did not give them a list of the items that had to be incinerated.
Attorneys Norman Siegel and Guy Vann appeared with the Diomandes and their supporters on Wednesday night and said they have started an investigation into the incident and response.
"We understand the public health concerns, but perhaps what happened here was overkill and overreaction," Siegel said.
A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency, Mary Mears, said the EPA directed the cleanup of the Diomandes' apartment and consulted on the decontamination effort in Brooklyn.
"Our first priority was to protect the health of the family and those who lived and worked around them," Mears said. "We worked with a representative for the family every step of the way on what would or wouldn't be discarded."
Mears said the owner of the Brooklyn building hired a contractor, Trade-Winds Environmental Restoration Inc., to conduct the cleanup there. A man who answered the telephone at Trade-Winds on Wednesday night said no one was available to comment.
A health department spokesman, Andrew Tucker, provided a statement about the work done at the Brooklyn building.
"It is our understanding from the contractor that items that couldn't be cleaned properly would be discarded," the statement said. "We have every reason to believe that they did an appropriate cleanup of the facility."
State dedicates new field hospital to anthrax victim
By Cara Rubinsky, Associated Press Writer | April 5, 2006
HARTFORD, Conn. --Nearly five years after an elderly Oxford woman died of inhalation anthrax, the state Wednesday dedicated a new mobile field hospital in her memory.
The $8.25 million dollar hospital, funded by state bond money, includes a series of tents and is roughly the size of a football field when all 100 beds are set up.
The hospital is designed for any situation where people need to be quarantined because of anthrax, another biological agent or a chemical agent.
It can also be used for large-scale disasters when emergency crews expect to be on scene for a long time, like the collapse of L'Ambiance Plaza in Bridgeport in 1987.
"We can go anywhere. We can set up anywhere," said Dr. J. Robert Galvin, commissioner of the Department of Public Health. "This is a fantastic facility. There's nothing like this currently in existence in the United States."
The hospital was dedicated Wednesday to Ottilie Lundgren, one of five people across the country who died after anthrax exposure in 2001.
Her niece, Shirley Davis, wept as she accepted a bouquet of flowers inside the hospital, which was set up on the lawn of the state Capitol. An official from DHS Systems, which manufactured the facility, said Connecticut is the first state to buy one.
"I am so thankful and proud of my state," Davis said. "I'm proud that I live here, and proud that we're first in the country."
Investigators believe Lundgren, 94, died after opening anthrax-contaminated mail. They have not yet determined who was responsible for sending the anthrax, which also sickened 17 people.
"We thought it fitting that her name be associated with this readiness tool," said Leonard Guercia, chief of the operations branch of the state Department of Public Health.
For the first 72 hours of an emergency, the hospital would be staffed by a team of 120 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who have agreed to be on call. After that, state hospitals would send doctors and nurses.
The hospital, which can be broken into four 25-bed units, has electricity, heat, air conditioning, fresh water, showers and bathrooms. It will be stored at Camp Hartell, a military installation in Windsor Locks.
Volume 75, Number 46 | April 5 - 11 2006
Drummer beats anthrax, but cleanup has him reeling
By Bonnie Rosenstock
Last Wednesday evening — a week after being released from a Pennsylvania hospital where he had been recovering for more than a month after collapsing from anthrax while on tour — Greenwich Village African dancer and drum maker Vado Diomande held a press conference at the Unitarian Church of All Souls on Lexington Ave. and 80th St.
Looking gaunt and thin from his life-threatening ordeal, he spoke very briefly but warmly to a handful of reporters and well-wishers. In halting, heavily accented English, the smiling Diomande, 44, thanked everybody who helped him and said he was happy to be alive.
Diomande is the first person in America in more than 30 years to have contracted natural anthrax. Only 18 cases were reported in the country during the 20th century. Inhalation anthrax is not contagious from human to human.
According to a six-page handout that was distributed, Diomande purchased four goatskin hides for djembe drum making when he was visiting his home village in the Ivory Coast after 13 years of living abroad. The goatskins were transported in the cargo of the plane in a roll, wrapped in a plastic bag. Diomande carried them through U.S. customs, where they were inspected by officials and released back to him. In addition, Diomande acquired cowhides from a local New York supplier a few days prior to becoming ill. He and a co-worker recall that one of these hides was full of dander and dust, which rose in the air when he tossed it on the floor of his sixth-floor workspace on Prince St. in Brooklyn.
Lisa Diomande, who manages her husband’s Kotchegna Dance Company, said she was thrilled to be back home and thanked New Yorkers and the West African community for their support and sympathy.
“This experience has been one of shocking accidental illness,” she said. “We all want to work together to make sure this freak accident will never happen again. It’s been a pioneering experience.” She emphasized that being near Diomande doesn’t make anyone sick, that “you can hug him, kiss him, take class with him, buy his drums, you can trust his craftsmanship. He is not a contagion. He received an infection in his lungs from breathing in a certain amount of spores of a certain size. We’re going to find out exactly what the nature of naturally occurring bacillus anthracis infection is,” she promised.
She also expressed concern about how their artistic lives are going to resume and how to rebuild the image of West African drums and drum making.
“It’s a tainted image. Many people are paying the price for this,” she declared.
Another handout, a two-page paper headed “Questions and Points to Consider,” stated that the public is frightened to interact with Diomande and others who make and perform with drums made of animal hides, which has resulted in suspicion and cancelled bookings.
The Diomandes are facing a future filled with many uncertainties.
Diomande cannot return to their fifth-floor walk-up at 31 Downing St. in Greenwich Village because his lungs are not strong enough to manage all the stairs, and the apartment was decontaminated with bleach, which is not good for his still-recovering lungs to breathe.
“My place is rent stabilized, so I don’t pay very much,” noted Lisa Diomande. “Moving out of the Village is going to be hard enough because we can’t afford the rent on a new place there.”
In addition, they have no furniture. All porous possessions were incinerated, including curtains, rugs, the bed and all their clothing. Despite requests from the Diomandes, a complete inventory of the items removed from the apartment and 2 Prince St. has not been provided by the Environmental Protection Agency or the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the two agencies responsible for overseeing the cleaning effort.
Both documents outlined the inconsistencies in decontamination procedures. For example, neither Diomande’s clothing nor boots he was wearing at the time of admission to the hospital were removed, tested or destroyed. Lisa Diomande chose to throw the boots out after a representative from D.O.H.M.H. said it was up to her.
Diomande’s brother- and sister-in-law were allowed to enter the apartment and take clothing to him and his wife. But all other clothing at the apartment was incinerated. At both the apartment and workspace some items were cleaned while others of similar material and composition were removed and destroyed. At the workspace irreplaceable costumes were fumigated, not washed, therefore rendering them unusable.
Among the many questions the Diomandes want answers to include: What criteria were used to determine what needed to be incinerated and what could have been successfully cleaned? Was the thoroughness of the decontamination effort warranted by the risk? What were the actual levels of contamination found in the apartment and the workspace?
For now the Diomandes are staying with Lisa’s brother Alex Harmon and his wife, Janine Coover, in Jersey City. Diomande will be in occupational, physical and respiratory therapy and will be training himself in dance and drum activity as he gets stronger.
“So far the doctors like what they see because he’s exceeding all expectations even though they have very little to go by with this disease,” Harmon told The Villager.
When Justin Kafando, a member of Diomande’s dance company and co-owner of Megastar Studios, housed on the third floor of the 2 Prince St. location, took the microphone after Diomande spoke, he could not contain his anguish. He said his life has been destroyed because of the cleanup.
“You have nothing to do with this,” he assured Diomande, adding, “Everything I’ve worked for, all my dreams have turned into a nightmare.”
Then he broke down in tears and could not continue speaking, though he answered questions later on.
Kafando’s recording studio was totally destroyed. Among items removed — worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — were speakers, microphones, all CD’s, hard drives, a G5 tower, the air conditioning unit, all software in boxes and personal documents from a cabinet. Even petty cash totaling a couple of hundred dollars was missing. Diomande told the press that 600 sealed boxes of CDs of his music were also taken away. Tradewinds, an independent contractor, was hired for the 2 Prince St. decontamination. The E.P.A. provided technical consultation, and D.O.H.M.H. had final say in decisions. The building owner had to pay for the cleanup, said to cost between $500,000 and $2 million.
Kafando was told that one speaker was contaminated; yet every expensive speaker is gone. Meanwhile, one worth about $25 wasn’t removed. Kafando related that the boom box that was in the rehearsal room was moved into the control room and set up with the cheap speaker that didn’t belong to it, so the workers could listen to music while they were decontaminating. The big, costly keyboard workstation is missing, yet the cheap one, which was back to back with it, wasn’t touched.
“Why haven’t we been given an inventory by Tradewinds, the E.P.A. or the D.O.H.M.H. of what was removed?” asked Persephone DaCosta, co-owner of Megastar Studios. “We wrote letters and called. We’re a small business. We didn’t have insurance. We could barely make the rent.”
Also present at the press conference was Norman Siegel, former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union and candidate for public advocate last year.
“We are committed to working with the people who are here today to find out why the government agencies moved in the way they did,” Siegel said. “Perhaps what happened was overkill, an overreaction, a human response to government action. Having Vado’s name become public is a violation of his privacy rights. But most important are the policy and legal questions that have come out of the situation. Perhaps a new protocol needs to be followed. Once we get all the facts, we will decide what their legal options are.”
Vado Diomande’s Kotchegna Dance Company will host a benefit for Diomande and the 2 Prince St. tenants on May 5 at the Unitarian Church of All Souls on Lexington Ave. and 80th St.
GMU prof, students fight anthrax with liquid agent
Washington Business Journal - April 7, 2006
by Ben Hammer
A spinout from George Mason University has developed a liquid that soaks up dangerous powders such as anthrax or radioactive material from dirty bombs.
Six-week-old Mineral Sciences secured $50,000 in funding from an investment arm of the university in March and plans to apply for $100,000 in funding from Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology in the coming weeks to get the business rolling.
The company will eventually go after $2.5 million in venture capital from outside investors.
Mark Krekeler, an assistant professor at GMU, co-founded Mineral Sciences in February with two undergraduate students. They have hired a financial consultant until they can recruit a CEO and raise more money to add executives, sales and manufacturing capabilities.
"We're scientists, we're not business people," Krekeler says. "We haven't made a big mistake yet, and that's a challenge."
The company's product absorbs chemical, biological, radioactive or poisonous powders through a chemical reaction. Once used, the liquid can be vacuumed, analyzed and heated to destroy biological threats or to transform radioactive and poisonous materials into bricklike form for long-term storage.
Potential customers include first responders in emergencies, airports and stadium operators. The company has a demonstration with Fairfax County officials lined up for June.
Mineral Sciences will sell a gallon of the liquid, which covers a 120-square-foot space, for about $250. For about $100,000, the company will sell a package of 15 backpacks equipped with 4-gallon tanks, a 1,000-gallon refill station and enough liquid to fill two tanker trucks that hold about 6,000 gallons each.
Mineral Sciences would also sell services such as removal, testing and storage.
Investors may be attracted to the market created by sizable homeland security budgets. Federal spending for chemical products, protective clothing and hazardous-materials diagnostics is $130 million to $150 million annually, according to McLean research company Federal Sources.
However, Department of Homeland Security contracts are hard to find and to secure, analysts say.
"It's a great product, but they need to get exposure to the agency," says Marcus Fedeli, an analyst with Reston market research firm Input. "There's only so much money to go around."
The university is helping Mineral Sciences make it to the fund-raising stage.
Krekeler has used $30,000 in research funds since December 2004, and university officials are helping with patent applications and other legal matters. Krekeler has been working out of school lab space, and the company will move into a 1,000-square-foot office on campus in the fall.
The university spinoff's seed funding comes from The Capitol Connection, a for-profit provider of limited cable TV feeds that returns profits to GMU. Mineral Sciences is Capitol Connection's first investment since it set aside $100,000 in 2004 to fund university-related ventures.
GMU is considering multiple ways to provide additional funding for faculty efforts to turn research into companies, says Jennifer Murphy, assistant vice provost for research and technology transfer.
"The problem is they're very early, so they often need to be cooked even more before an entrepreneur wants to come in and start a company," she says.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 703/312-8345
Lawyers Seek Leak Sources in Anthrax Suit
By PETE YOST , 04.11.2006, 03:01 PM
Lawyers for a scientist investigated in the 2001 anthrax killings have questioned at least two journalists and are subpoenaeing other reporters, seeking the identities of their confidential government sources.
Through a lawsuit, Steven Hatfill is trying to track down suspected leakers at the FBI and the Justice Department who made Hatfill the focus of news coverage regarding anthrax-laced letters mailed to members of the press and to two United States senators.
Hatfill's lawsuit alleges violations of the Privacy Act and his constitutional rights to due process and free speech.
Newsweek magazine reporter Michael Isikoff and ABC correspondent Brian Ross both underwent questioning by lawyers for Hatfill in recent weeks, and both refused to identify their confidential sources.
Washington Post reporter Alan Lengel has been subpoenaed by Hatfill's lawyers, who also have expressed interest in questioning the Washington bureau chief of Newsweek magazine, Dan Klaidman.
A person familiar with the lawsuit said Hatfill's lawyers also plan to question CBS News correspondent Jim Stewart. CBS News declined to comment.
Kevin Baine, a private Washington attorney representing Newsweek, confirmed the information about the two reporters at the magazine. The Post confirmed the information about Lengel, and ABC News confirmed the information about Ross. A lawyer for Hatfill, Thomas Connolly, declined to comment Tuesday.
Hatfill says he lost his job as a government contractor after he was identified publicly as a person of interest in the probe.
Five people died in the anthrax attacks and 17 people were sickened. No one has been arrested.
Hatfill is a medical doctor and scientist with expertise in issues pertaining to biological warfare, though, according to his lawsuit, he never worked with anthrax.
According to the suit, his apartment was searched in 2002 amid a spate of publicity, a week after a university professor of environmental science voiced her suspicions about him to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Letters containing anthrax had been addressed to the two senators.
"Live television coverage of the June 25, 2002 search generated a huge number of follow-up articles in which Dr. Hatfill's name was consistently and disparagingly linked with the anthrax investigations," the lawsuit says. "These follow-up articles often contained new details about the investigations that were themselves leaked in violation of the Privacy Act."
The lawsuit names 30 reporters as having been involved in stories that "appear to contain illegal disclosures."
Fort Detrick had multiple anthrax leaks in 2001-02, report finds
April 18, 2006, 6:13 PM EDT
FREDERICK, Md. -- The Army's biological weapons defense laboratory at Fort Detrick probably had multiple episodes of anthrax contamination as workers strove to process a flood of samples sent there for testing in 2001 and 2002, an internal report says.
The report obtained by The Frederick News-Post contains previously undisclosed details about the sometimes sloppy practices that allowed anthrax spores to escape from biosafety containment labs at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. No one was hurt by the released spores.
Security measures were tightened after the Army acknowledged one of the accidental releases in April 2002. No other breaches of containment _ the confirmed presence of agents where they shouldn't be _ have been reported since then.
The 361-page report was compiled by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, which oversees USAMRIID. The News-Post reported on its findings and on other aspects of USAMRIID security, in a three-day series ending Tuesday.
The report shows that evidence of anthrax spores in supposedly clean areas began appearing months before the April 8, 2002, breach as USAMRIID processed tens of thousands of items and environmental samples, including the anthrax-laced letters mailed to Sens. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in the fall of 2001. The unsolved anthrax mailings, which also targeted members of the news media in New York and Florida, killed five people and sickened 17.
In December 2001, a USAMRIID technician told Dr. Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist in USAMRIID's Division of Bacteriology, that she may have been exposed to anthrax spores when handling an anthrax-laced letter, the report says. It said Ivins tested the technician's desk area and found growth that had the earmarks of anthrax. He decontaminated her desk, computer, keypad and monitor, but didn't notify his superiors.
Ivins later told Army investigators he did the unauthorized testing because he was concerned that the powdered anthrax in the letters might not be adequately contained.
He said he again became suspicious of contamination April 8, 2002, when two researchers reported potential exposures after noticing that flasks they were working with had leaked anthrax, causing crusting on the outside of the glass. Ivins reported the concerns to USAMRIID officials, who then found spores on nasal swabs from one scientist involved in the incident. The scientist had been vaccinated and did not contract the disease.
The report says Ivins performed more unauthorized sampling of areas outside containment April 15 and found anthrax spores in his office area; in a passbox, which allows workers to safely transfer materials from labs to outside areas such as hallways; and in a room where male workers change from civilian clothing into laboratory garb.
The report says Ivins found heavy growth of Ames-strain anthrax, a pathogenic or disease-causing form of the agent, on rubber molding surrounding the noncontainment side of a passbox. His office area also tested positive for Ames anthrax spores. The changing room tested positive for Ames spores and Vollum 1B, another pathogenic form.
Subsequent official sampling found more than 200 spores of Ames near the passbox, the highest concentration found outside containment. Other contaminated areas had no more than three spores, according to the report.
Even the 200 spores found near the passbox posed little danger to USAMRIID workers or the surrounding community because a few thousand spores are necessary to infect the average person, said C.J. Peters, director for biodefense at the University of Texas Medical Branch Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases. Peters was USAMRIID's deputy commander for several years until 2000.
The report states that multiple episodes of anthrax contamination probably occurred. It says the most likely cause of the contamination found in April 2002 was an employee using old, ineffective bleach to decontaminate a container used to pass items through the passbox, and then placing the contaminated container on his desk.
The passbox contamination also may have occurred after researchers opened an anthrax-laced letter from the 2001 mailing attacks, the report states. The anthrax may have contaminated the outside of plastic bags used to transport material out of the passbox.
USAMRIID Commander Col. George Korch Jr., who was deputy commander during April 2002, said no disciplinary action was taken against scientists named in the report.
"One thing you really want to avoid is, if you find a safety violation, you want to make sure there is an openness and acceptance about not being too punitive," Col. Korch said. "You want to make people feel that they are openly contributing in a way that is not going to shut down (their) inclination to say 'Hey, this happened."'
check shows liquid anthrax missing from state lab
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 04/21/06
BY LAUREN O. KIDD
GANNETT STATE BUREAU
TRENTON --An inventory of samples stored in a state laboratory came up short a pair of two-inch test tubes containing liquid anthrax, state officials announced today. They said it's probably a paperwork problem.
The inventory, completed earlier this week, was being conducted as part of a process to move samples from one lab in the New Jersey Public Health Environmental Laboratory to a lab in an adjacent building that's deemed to be safer.
Just 11 people had security clearance to access the two samples. They would have had to get through a series of security check points to reach the test tubes, officials said.
Both Fred Jacobs, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Senior Services and state epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz said the discrepancy is likely the result of a clerical or accounting error.
"We don't believe that there is any threat to the public's health at this point in time,'' Bresnitz said in a conference call with reporters.
The state must submit a report to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by Wednesday stating what it deems happened to the anthrax samples.
The samples were originally taken from the U.S. Postal Service mail processing and distribution center in Hamilton after anthrax-laced letters were found to have moved through the facility in 2001.
State lab can't account for 2 anthrax test tubes
Saturday, April 22, 2006
By BOB GROVES
Two test tubes of anthrax stored at a state laboratory cannot be accounted for, but health officials say they do not think they were taken from the Trenton facility.
The two anthrax cultures were reported "unaccounted for" Wednesday following a three-week inventory of more than 19,000 samples that health officials took from a Hamilton Township postal facility in the months following the 2001 anthrax attacks in New Jersey and New York, Dr. Eddy Bresnitz said in a teleconference with reporters.
Bresnitz said previous inventories at the New Jersey Public Health Environmental Laboratory may have miscounted the number of tubes and that there is little reason to believe anthrax is actually missing.
"The chance that these two positive specimens are outside the lab is very small," he said.
"We don't think it's [the missing material's] going to be anywhere, because it probably didn't exist," Bresnitz said.
Anthrax spores in the capped, 2-inch-long test tubes are suspended in a liquid medium. They pose little risk of being "weaponized" because the process to do so is complicated, Bresnitz said. The spores would have to be converted from liquid to an aerosol form, which is "only possible with sophisticated equipment," he said.
"The threat to public health is very low" from the missing vials, said Bresnitz, who is deputy health commissioner and the state epidemiologist.
The anthrax samples were taken from the Trenton Postal Processing and Distribution Center in Hamilton between 2001 and 2004. The recent inventory found 350 vials instead of the 352 recorded in previous inventories. The lab is also holding thousands of samples that tested negative.
The lab is required to store the samples for use as evidence if investigators determine who was responsible for the attacks. The FBI and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control were notified of the discrepancy on Wednesday.
Anthrax, a cattle disease whose spores are also found in dirt, can cause flu-like symptoms, lung infection, internal hemorrhage and death in humans if inhaled. The attacks in 2001 killed four people across the country and sickened 17.
Governor Corzine is aware of the situation and following it closely, a statement from his office said Friday.
"It appears that the unaccounted for vials may be a result of a clerical or transcription error," the statement said. "We have no reason to think otherwise."
The inventory was taking place as the samples were about to be moved from the New Jersey Public Health Environmental Laboratory, at Warren and Market streets in Trenton, to a more secure lab in an adjacent building, Bresnitz said.
The samples are currently stored in a fifth-floor "enhanced"-safety level-2 facility that requires several access-code cards. They will be moved to a ground-floor laboratory that has a higher safety rating, level 3, in a new bioterrorism facility next door, Bresnitz said.
Now, however, state health officials must review the incident, repeat the inventory and submit a report to the CDC in Atlanta by Wednesday before taking any other action, Bresnitz said.
Eleven scientists and technicians who had access to the samples had passed background checks by the FBI, including fingerprinting, three years ago, Bresnitz said. The laboratory director, Dennis Flynn, and his staff will be interviewed for the report to the CDC, he said.
Anyone attempting to reach samples in the current storage facility must penetrate four levels of security, involving access codes, and have a key to open a padlock, officials said.
All of the anthrax was accounted for in prior inventories of the 19,000-plus samples in January 2004 and again in September-October 2005, Bresnitz said.
"At that time, no discrepancies were noted in any of those inventories," he said. Bresnitz acknowledged, however, that "both those inventories were not as comprehensive as the one" that began March 28 and ended this week.
Flynn said the examiners went back and searched the storage area, but did not find the two missing anthrax samples. Another search would be made, Bresnitz said.
Staff writers John McAlpin and Josh Gohlke contributed to this article.
inventory doesn't add up at lab
Two vials with the bacteria may be missing. State health officials said it's most likely that clerical error is to blame.
By Kristen A. Graham and Kaitlin
Two vials of a deadly bacteria may be missing from a government lab in Trenton - or officials might simply have miscounted, they said yesterday.
Over the last three weeks, officials have been readying samples from the Trenton Distribution Center - a postal facility in Hamilton where anthrax-laced letters were discovered in 2001 - for a move to a new, safer bioterrorism facility.
An inventory turned up 350 two-inch test tubes of liquid-encased anthrax spores, when 352 should have been on site at the New Jersey Public Health Environmental Laboratory where the anthrax has been stored since its removal from the postal facility.
"We think that at the end of the day, it's going to be basically a transcription error, or there wasn't an exact logging to what came in," said Eddy Bresnitz, New Jersey deputy commissioner of health and senior services. "We don't think it's going to turn out to be missing inventory."
Bresnitz and Fred Jacobs, the head of the state health department, believe that a discrepancy is likely because a more thorough count was performed in advance of the move to the new lab a short distance away.
Bresnitz said he could not explain why a more exhaustive count was not performed earlier.
For now, the state has notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI, and the public of the potentially missing vials.
"We don't think there's any threat to the public's health," Bresnitz said. "The way we have it stored, it can't be used in its current form as a weapon of mass destruction."
In order for the samples to be weaponized, a person would have to have highly specialized knowledge and equipment and take several steps, he said.
Officials said that 11 people had access to the samples, all of whom had photo ID, access cards and a padlock key. The 11 - research scientists and microbiologists - also had FBI background checks and were interviewed after the discrepancy was discovered.
The lab has a 24-hour security guard and is monitored by video cameras, as well.
Another count is under way, and state officials expect to release a report analyzing what happened to the anthrax on Wednesday.
Four letters containing anthrax were mailed through the Hamilton postal facility in September and October of 2001. Four workers at the regional processing center and one postal carrier were sickened, though all recovered.
Five people died nationwide.
Letters were sent to NBC News, the New York Post, U.S. Sens. Tom Daschle (D., S.D.) and Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), contaminating the Hart Senate Office Building.
No arrests have been made.
Fumigating and restoring the Hamilton facility cost an estimated $100 million and took more than three years.
Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 856-779-3927 or email@example.com
2 anthrax samples missing
By LAUREN O. KIDD
An inventory of more than 19,000 samples stored in a state laboratory came up short a pair of two-inch test tubes containing liquid anthrax, New Jersey officials announced Friday. They blamed the mishap on a possible paperwork error.
"It is likely that the discrepancy is an inventory or clerical error and not truly missing samples," state epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz said during a conference call with reporters. Only 350 of the listed 352 positive anthrax samples are accounted for.
Over the past three weeks, a comprehensive inventory was conducted of anthrax samples originally taken from the U.S. Postal Service mail processing and distribution center in Hamilton between 2001 and 2004. Anthrax-laced letters were found to have moved through that facility in 2001.
The latest count given to both the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wednesday was being conducted as part of a process to move samples from one lab in the New Jersey Public Health Environmental Laboratory to a new bioterrorism lab in an adjacent building that's deemed to be more secure.
The move required a "much more meticulous" counting process than prior inventories conducted in January 2004 and September and October of last year, because the samples were being moved from the fifth floor of one downtown Trenton building to the first floor of another building 50 feet away, officials said. They believe the count was inaccurate in one of the earlier inventories.
Just 11 people had security clearance to access the two vials. That staff, made up of research scientists and microbiologists, would have had to pass through four security checkpoints, requiring a series of photo identifications, coded access cards and keys, to reach the test tubes, officials said.
The state must submit a report to the CDC by Wednesday stating what it deems happened to the missing samples.
"The chance that these two positive specimens are somewhere outside of the laboratory is very small," Bresnitz said.
In its current liquid form, the unaccounted for anthrax spores are "not in a mode that we think could be used for weapons," Bresnitz said. The spores would have to be put into an aerosol form to be used as a weapon, which would take a high level of technical sophistication, Bresnitz said.
The state is obliged by the FBI to store the positive samples as potential evidence if a suspect is charged in connection to the unsolved anthrax attacks that killed five and harmed at least 17 in October 2001. The U.S. Postal Service requires the state to store the thousands of negative samples as well, officials said.
vials could be missing, but health aides play down risk
Saturday, April 22, 2006
BY KEVIN COUGHLIN
Adding yet another mystery to the unsolved anthrax killings of 2001, state health officials said yesterday two samples of deadly spores may be missing from a Trenton laboratory.
But they suggested it was a clerical error and downplayed risks.
"We don't think there is any threat to the public health," Health Commissioner Fred Jacobs told a news teleconference.
"Even though we don't really think these two samples are outside of the lab, this is not in a mode that we think could be used for weapons," said Eddy Bresnitz, the state epidemiologist.
Health officials are searching for a pair of capped 2-inch-long test tubes containing liquid meant to prevent the spores from being inhaled.
"But if someone swallowed it, there is the potential they could get gastrointestinal anthrax," said Health Department spokesman Tom Slater.
The FBI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were notified Wednesday, after a three-week inventory at the state Public Health Environmental Laboratory in downtown Trenton only accounted for 350 of 352 positive samples listed in lab records.
Those samples were among 19,251 samples collected between 2001 and 2004 from a postal center in Hamilton Township, where anthrax-laced letters were processed in October 2001. Five people died, and at least 17 were sickened by anthrax that fall.
Gov. Jon Corzine learned about the missing vials yesterday morning, spokesman Anthony Coley said. The governor immediately told health officials to go public.
"The governor is aware of the situation, and he is following it closely," Coley said. "It appears that the unaccounted for vials may be a result of a clerical or transcription error. We have no reason to think otherwise."
One administration official said Corzine was angry that health officials took two days to tell him about the vials. He has made it clear to them that he should have been informed immediately.
State officials must account for the missing samples to the CDC by Wednesday.
"A clerical error is not unlikely. They have occurred in the past" around the country, said CDC spokeswoman Bernadette Burden.
A similar controversy rocked a Newark bioterror research lab last year, when three plague-infected mice disappeared. The Public Health Research Institute suggested it was a record-keeping error; the FBI ordered tighter security measures. The mice were never found.
Rutgers University microbiologist Richard Ebright has argued that biodefense programs have spread lethal samples to too many labs since 2001, compounding the chances for trouble. He has cited researchers' accidental exposures to anthrax, tularemia and Q-fever bacteria at labs in California, Massachusetts and Colorado.
Security measures are fragmented and poorly coordinated, with no federal safety rules designed to avert accidental releases of bioweapons agents, Ebright has said.
The Trenton lab is holding the anthrax samples for the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service. The inventory was part of preparations to move the specimens to a more secure state facility next door, state health officials said. FBI officials did not immediately return calls for comment.
One of the missing samples dates to December 2001. The other is from June 2002. No discrepancies turned up during less-rigorous inventories in January 2004 and September 2005, state health officials said. They speculated the two samples in question might have gotten confused with negative samples -- those containing no anthrax.
Anthrax samples are stored under padlock in a containment area that requires two sets of identification to enter, Bresnitz said. Eleven lab employees who have passed federal background checks have access, he said.
Lab Director Dennis Flynn has interviewed them about the missing test tubes, which Jacobs called an "inventory issue." But those employees have not been interviewed by the FBI or given lie detector tests, state health officials said.
The lab is monitored around-the-clock by security guards and surveillance cameras, which also watch the parking area, officials said. They reported no signs of any unusual activities.
The CDC has four security classifications, with Level 4 being the tightest. State officials described the Trenton lab as an enhanced Level 2 facility and the new lab as a Level 3. Some areas of that lab will be "fenced in," and biometrics systems will be used to verify employee identities, officials said.
While the anthrax samples could be "weaponized," the CDC's Burden said "it is not something that could be done easily. It takes a great deal of intelligence and knowledge for that to occur."
"The worry would be if someone would have access to the kind of facilities necessary to grow larger amounts" of the germs, said microbiologist Nancy Connell, director of the Center for Biodefense at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark.
That probably would mean access to a Level 3 lab like hers, which would have safeguards to shield the grower from infection, she said.
Connell said yesterday's disclosure emphasizes the continuing need to practice and rehearse standard operating procedures.
Staff writer Jeff Whelan contributed to this report. Kevin Coughlin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 392-1763.
Anthrax stolen? FBI expresses doubt as it talks to lab workers
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Authorities do not suspect anyone stole two vials of anthrax reported missing last week at a state lab in Trenton. But the FBI is interviewing employees there just to be sure.
"There's nothing to suggest any criminal or terrorist activity at this point," FBI Special Agent Steve Siegel said yesterday. "Most likely, it looks like a clerical or accounting error. But until all the facts are in, the investigation continues."
On Friday, state Health and Senior Services Commissioner Fred Jacobs said the unaccounted-for test tubes posed little danger and probably weren't missing at all.
The samples were among those from the postal center in Hamilton Township that processed anthrax-laced letters in October 2001. Five people died and at least 17 more were sickened from anthrax that fall. The case is unsolved.
Workers at the state Public Health Environmental Laboratory in Trenton spent the weekend rechecking records and talking to the FBI, Siegel and the health department said.
The state must submit an explanation to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by tomorrow.
Lab workers finishing a three-week inventory found the discrepancy last Wednesday and reported it that day to the CDC and the FBI as required by federal law, said Gretchen Michael, a health department spokeswoman.
Top state health officials were not alerted until Thursday, however, and did not reach out to Gov. Jon Corzine until Friday morning. Corzine ordered the health department to tell the public at once.
"Looking back, certainly, the governor's office should have been notified immediately," Michael said. "I think the lab felt this was an inventory thing, and they felt nothing could be done until they went through the inventorying process again."
Attempting to explain the missing vials, Michael said inventories in 2004 and 2005 "were not as comprehensive" as the latest one. She said it's unclear if those earlier exercises "cross-checked every sample with the original logs."
The lab has been preparing to move 352 anthrax samples, along with thousands of negative samples, to a more secure facility next door. State health officials have said they were holding the samples for the FBI and the Postal Service.
Two-inch vials hold anthrax spores in liquid to prevent anyone from inhaling them, which is the most deadly form of contact with the bacteria. State and federal health agencies have stressed it would take expertise to turn these samples into a weapon.
"It happened in 2001," countered Richard Ebright, a Rutgers University microbiologist who is critical of security at biodefense labs. "Those spores can serve as the seed to produce an unlimited quantity of that material. If this does not reflect an accounting error or accidental exposure, this could produce the starting material to produce the very strain that caused hysteria in 2001."
The scientist questioned why a state health lab is holding federal evidence and why the lab's anthrax-containment area apparently lacks round-the-clock video surveillance.
"This material needs to be secure. In the overwhelming number of labs in the U.S. that hold this material, there is no video surveillance. Without that, there can be no careful accounting," Ebright said.
Last week, state health officials said the lab has video surveillance. But Michael could not say for sure yesterday if that included cameras inside the building. Eleven lab workers have access to the anthrax samples, which are padlocked in a containment area that requires two forms of identification to enter, state epidemiologist Bresnitz said Friday.
Kevin Coughlin may be reached at email@example.com or (973) 392-1763.
Plague-Infested Mice, Anthrax Missing From N.J. Labs
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
NEWARK, New Jersey — In the past year, two New Jersey laboratories have been unable to account for plague-infested mice and vials of deadly anthrax spores, and top state officials are scrambling to devise better ways to safeguard deadly material.
In both cases, authorities say they think the items in question were not actually lost, but were simply unaccounted for due to clerical errors.
They cannot say for sure — and that has a Rutgers University microbiologist predicting more trouble if such substances are not kept at a central location secured by the federal government.
"The fact that they don't know the answer means they're not running a properly secured facility," professor Richard Ebright said of both cases. "The odds are that it was an accounting error, but it is very possible that one of the persons with access to the lab has removed that material."
Last week, state health officials said they could not account for two vials of anthrax bacteria once thought to have been stored at a government laboratory in Trenton. In September, a Newark health research lab lost track of three mice infected with the bacteria responsible for bubonic plague.
The mice were never located, and officials said the rodents might have been stolen, eaten by other lab animals or just misplaced in a paperwork error.
While the FBI and state authorities are investigating the possibility that the anthrax and mice were removed from the labs, they believe that no crimes have been committed. The state Health Department plans to tell federal authorities on Wednesday it believes the anthrax case is the result of a counting error.
Samples of anthrax have been stored at the Trenton lab since shortly after the October 2001 anthrax mailings that went through a Hamilton, New Jersey, post office, killing four people across the country and sickening 17.
Richard Canas, New Jersey's Homeland Security director, said it does appear an accounting error is to blame for the latest case. But he wants better safeguards put in place, including disposing of some of the samples.
"I think the genesis was that they were inundated with samples," Canas said. "What I would like to see is bringing this number down. Let's at least cull these down into something more manageable."
Ebright, who has been critical of the nation's bioterrorism safety efforts since the anthrax attacks, said more than 300 institutions nationwide and 16,500 individuals received government clearance to possess deadly bio-agents such as anthrax as part of a plan to study and protect the specimens.
"After the mailings in 2001, the logical approach was to tightly restrict the number of institutions and officials with access to the materials," he said. "Precisely the opposite has happened, unfortunately. This is a case when we've spent money to put ourselves at greater risk."
That is not to say facilities have not taken stronger steps on their own. The Trenton lab where the anthrax spores were stored has multiple layers of security, including a padlocked containment area requiring two different sets of identification for access. Only 11 people have such clearance, and all have been questioned, authorities said.
The lab also has video monitoring and 24-hour security guards.
The Newark lab that lost track of the plague-infested mice conducts bioterrorism research for the federal government. After the incident, the facility improved its video surveillance and stopped using contracted animal handlers. Before the incident, the center relied on a single security guard.
Ebright said the U.S. should store all its hazardous bio-agents at a single, secure location rather than having them scattered across the country.
"If an adversary of the United States, such as al-Qaida, wanted to obtain this material, the most effective, simple procedure to do so is to plant a person in one of those numerous institutions that the administration has put in place working with this material," he said. "Because the number of those institutions has increased and because it happened without an increase in effective security, the risk to the United States has dramatically increased."
Officials seek reform amid search for anthrax, mice
Clerical errors cited as the likely culprit
Posted by the Asbury Park Press
NEWARK — In the past year, two New Jersey laboratories have been unable to account for plague-infested mice and vials of deadly anthrax spores, and top state officials are scrambling to devise better ways to safeguard deadly material.
In both cases, authorities say they think the items in question weren't actually lost, but were simply unaccounted for due to clerical errors.
They can't say for sure — and that has a Rutgers microbiologist predicting more trouble if such substances aren't kept at a central location.
"The fact that they don't know the answer means they're not running a properly secured facility," professor Richard Ebright said of both cases. "The odds are that it was an accounting error."
Last week, state health officials said they could not account for two vials of anthrax bacteria once thought to have been stored at a government laboratory in Trenton. In September, a Newark health research lab lost track of three mice infected with the bacteria responsible for bubonic plague.
The mice were never located, and officials said they might have been stolen, eaten by other lab animals or just misplaced in a paperwork error. While the FBI and state authorities are investigating the possibility that the anthrax and mice were removed from the labs, they believe that no crimes have been committed. The state Health Department plans to tell federal authorities today it believes the anthrax case is the result of a counting error.
Samples of anthrax have been stored at a Trenton lab since shortly after the October 2001 anthrax mailings that went through a Hamilton, N.J., post office, killing four people across the country.
Richard Canas, New Jersey's Homeland Security director, said he wants better safeguards put in place, including disposing of some of the samples.
Probe continues into 2 missing anthrax vials
Thursday, April 27, 2006
The missing anthrax is still a mystery.
"The FBI has not completed their investigation," state Health Department spokeswoman Gretchen Michael said after health officials abruptly canceled a news conference yesterday to discuss the two anthrax samples reported missing last week from a state lab.
State health officials have suggested a clerical error is the culprit. They forwarded a report yesterday to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
CDC spokesman Von Roebuck would confirm only that the report was under review, by the center's Office of Terrorism and Emergency Response.
At issue are two vials of liquid containing spores from the Hamilton Township postal center that processed anthrax-laced letters in October 2001. Anthrax killed five people and sickened 17 others that fall. The case remains unsolved.
Records at the state Public Health Environmental Laboratory in Trenton listed 352 such samples, but an inventory completed April 19 found only 350. This summer the lab plans to move the samples to a more secure facility next door. While downplaying safety risks, experts have warned that terrorists could "weaponize" the missing samples.
Michael said state officials hope to say more today. But an FBI spokesman would not predict when the bureau will wrap up.
"The investigation is still ongoing," said Special Agent Steve Siegel in Newark.
Clerical mistake remains focus of 'missing' anthrax
Thursday, April 27, 2006
By COLLEEN DISKIN
Officials continue to believe that two unaccounted-for test tubes of anthrax are not in the hands of a potential terrorist but are simply the result of sloppy record keeping at a state-run laboratory in Trenton.
The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services submitted a report to federal authorities Wednesday on the inventory review it conducted in the week since a discrepancy was discovered in the numbers of anthrax samples stored in the lab.
The department decided for the time being not to publicly disclose what it said in the report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said spokeswoman Gretchen Michael.
"The FBI has not completed its investigation yet, and we want to wait until that's finished," Michael said.
Federal and state sources said Wednesday that the state health department found no evidence in its review to suggest anything other than a clerical error. Deputy Health Commissioner Eddy Bresnitz has previously said that his department believes the record-keeping error, rather than a criminal act, had occurred.
The anthrax samples being stored at the lab were taken from a Hamilton Township postal facility that had handled anthrax-laced letters in the still-unsolved 2001 attacks that killed five people across the country and sickened 17 others.
The discrepancy was discovered on April 19, as the department was getting ready to move more than 19,000 samples taken from the Hamilton facility to a more secure laboratory in an adjacent building.
The majority of those samples were negative, but records had listed 352 of them as containing anthrax spores. However, only 350 positive samples were found in the three-week long inventory. In the past week, officials have said that the other two tubes contained negative samples that were likely mislabeled as positive.
Even if truly determined to be missing, the anthrax spores -- which were suspended in a liquid medium in 2-inch-long, capped tubes -- would pose little risk of being "weaponized," Bresnitz said last week. The spores would have to be converted to an aerosol form, which is only possible with sophisticated equipment.
But those concerned about the missing tubes pointed out that the person responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks is believed to have been someone with access to such equipment.
"The samples can be used as seed stock for any biologist," said Richard Ebright, a Rutgers microbiology professor who served on a state task force on pathogen security during the McGreevey administration.
FBI spokesman Steve Siegel said Wednesday that his agency's investigation is continuing. He could not predict when agents would be finished interviewing the 11 scientists and technicians who have access to the part of the lab where the samples are stored.
A spokesman for the CDC said federal officials are reviewing the state's report and would not comment on what federal penalties or actions could follow.
The incident is the second serious inventory lapse at a government-run laboratory. In September, a health research lab run by the University of Medicine and Dentistry admitted it could not locate three mice infected with the bacteria responsible for bubonic plague. The theory at that time was that the mice might have been eaten by other mice or that there had been a miscount.
Both incidents point to the need for more stringent controls on laboratories that handle lethal materials, Ebright said.
Ebright said he and other task force members were never told that the state lab was still storing the anthrax samples. "If we had been, we would have advised against it," Ebright said.
He expressed concern that the health departments in other states where anthrax spores were found might also still be keeping their samples, a prospect he called a "completely unnecessary risk."
If it's necessary to keep such samples for a future prosecution, Ebright argued, they should be kept at one secure federal location.
Siegel said the FBI has kept the anthrax samples it expects to need as evidence at its laboratory in Quantico, Va.
But Michael said the New Jersey health department was asked by the FBI and the Postal Service to keep all the samples it had collected. She would not comment on what potential changes the state's laboratory might make in its storage procedures, saying that would be discussed when the CDC report is released.
Anthrax error in 2004 revealed lab problems
Sunday, April 30, 2006
News staff writer
An anthrax mistake two years [ago] involving Southern Research Institute revealed gaps in the nation's system of regulating labs, and an activist organization says a comprehensive lab safety law is badly needed.
The problem occurred in 2004 when Southern Research's lab in Frederick, Md., shipped anthrax spores that were supposed to be inactivated to Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute in California for vaccine studies.
Lab animals started dying, and scientists found that the spores were still active. Nobody became ill, but the mistake sparked an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control.
The CDC found a flaw in the process used by lab workers in Frederick to inactivate anthrax spores. And they found that lab workers in Frederick failed to test cultures to ensure that the anthrax was deactivated.
Debra Sharpe, safety and security manager for Southern Research, said the process has been corrected, and safety oversight has been increased.
Procedures for inactivating anthrax or any other pathogens are now reviewed by the company's institutional biosafety committee, which oversees labs in Birmingham and Frederick, and by the CDC, she said.
But there are no laws requiring such oversight, Sharpe said. Institutional biosafety committees, which are supposed to be a cornerstone of lab safety, grew years ago out of concern about genetic engineering. They are based upon guidelines from the National Institutes of Health, which require that these committees oversee government-funded research involving recombinant DNA technology.
But the committees are not required to oversee other research, including so-called "dual use" research - legitimate scientific work with agents such as anthrax that could be misused. A government committee, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, has been meeting on the issue.
Edward Hammond, director of the U.S. office of the activist organization Sunshine Project, said the Board for Biosecurity is moving too slowly, and the nation needs stronger laws regulating lab safety, something that is being resisted by many scientists.
"We have a sort of fuzzy system," he said.
There are too many vague regulations and too much secrecy surrounding research into bioterror agents, Hammond said. Taxpayers are spending billions of dollars for this research, he said, and they have a right to know what's being done and the dangers to the community.
The CDC refuses to release specific information about which labs are performing this sensitive research. The information is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, said Von Roebuck, a CDC spokesman. "It's a security measure."
Under NIH guidelines, minutes from institutional biosafety committee meetings are public information. But Southern Research and other labs have determined that only minutes involving recombinant DNA technology have to be made public.
Sharpe said there is no law or guideline requiring full disclosure, and minutes pertaining to bioterror research include proprietary information.
Sharpe said Southern Research is open about the kind of work it's doing.
"I don't want some black cloak around what we do," she said. "We don't feel like we have anything to hide."
Sharpe agreed that a comprehensive lab safety law would clarify things, but it would be controversial. "I think it's a lot of control and a lot of Big Brother, but I believe we ought to do that."
2 anthrax samples found mislabeled in state lab cache
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
BY KEVIN COUGHLIN
Two anthrax samples reported missing last month from a state lab in Trenton have been found, mislabeled, among thousands of negative samples, a state health official said yesterday.
"There was a transcription error in the numbers when labeling them for storage," said Eddy Bresnitz, the state epidemiologist and deputy health commissioner. "We pulled the two samples from the negative racks and retested them. Those two were positive, confirming our suspicions that they were mislabeled."
They were among more than 19,000 samples gathered from the Hamilton Township postal center that processed anthrax-laced letters in October 2001. Five persons on the East Coast were killed by anthrax that fall; no suspects have been charged.
Bresnitz said there was no reason to suspect the two samples were mislabeled deliberately. But a state legislator said he won't breathe easy until the FBI completes its own investigation.
"I'm not about to believe 'The dog ate my homework,'" said Assemblyman Kevin O'Toole (R-Essex). He said he plans to request a report from the FBI, as well as a copy of a report that state health officials filed last week with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
State health officials had kept mum about the contents of that document, citing the FBI probe.
O'Toole also cited last year's disappearance of three plague-infected mice from a lab in Newark. In an interview, he expressed concerns about "a cavalier attitude" by state health officials and possible federal fines.
"We're talking anthrax, not bee pollen," the legislator said. "With anthrax, there can be zero room for error."
A union official representing postal workers in Hamilton Township called the anthrax mislabeling "very disturbing."
"The people I speak with don't have much confidence in the New Jersey Health Department, especially after this," said Bill Lewis, head of Local 1020 of the American Postal Workers Union.
"Remember, they told us we had nothing to worry about, that we had a better chance of getting hit by a bus" than becoming infected by anthrax in 2001, Lewis said.
Of the five postal workers who became ill, two have returned to their jobs, Lewis said. About 100 other workers have complained about achy joints, he said. Many blame the antibiotics they were given in 2001.
The decontaminated postal facility reopened in March 2005, after being closed for nearly 3 1/2 years. Employees were deployed elsewhere in the interim, and now are battling the Postal Service over travel compensation.
The CDC continues to review the state's report, submitted one week ago. Spokeswoman Bernadette Burden could not say whether fines or other penalties are possible.
On April 19, the state Public Health Environmental Laboratory in Trenton notified the CDC and FBI that an inventory only accounted for 350 of the 352 positive anthrax samples listed in lab records.
Bresnitz and Health Commissioner Fred Jacobs learned of the situation the next day. Gov. Jon Corzine -- to his dismay -- was not alerted until April 21. He ordered health officials to go public at once.
If there is a next time, news will travel faster, according to Bresnitz.
"I would say we have informed the appropriate people they must notify us as soon as possible if they're aware there may be a problem," he said. He could not comment on what, if any, steps are planned to ensure there is no next time.
The state lab was preparing to move the samples -- health officials say they are holding them for the FBI and Postal Service -- to a more secure building next door.
How did lab workers find a pair of positive samples in a haystack of more than 19,000 test tubes?
Bresnitz said the numbering of those two samples appeared out of sequence.
"They said these numbers don't look right," he said, adding that other mislabelings were "unlikely."
Staff writer Susan K. Livio contributed to this report.
wins $120M anthrax-vaccine contract
Washington Business Journal - 2:50 PM EDT Friday, May 5, 2006
by Neil Adler
BioPort on Friday received a $120 million contract from the federal government to supply 5 million additional doses of its anthrax vaccine as part of a national stockpile to prepare for future bioterror attacks.
Lansing, Mich.-based BioPort, which is owned by Gaithersburg-based Emergent BioSolutions, also won a contract last year to supply 5 million doses of the anthrax vaccine to the Department of Health and Human Services, which announced the additional award Friday.
With a robust supply of antibiotics already stockpiled, the extra anthrax vaccine will further diversify the medicines available in the stockpile, HHS officials say.
"We are committed to protecting the nation from the consequences of an anthrax attack," says Stewart Simonson, HHS assistant secretary for public health emergency preparedness, in a statement.
Friday's purchase agreement with BioPort is funded under Project BioShield, a $5.6 billion, 10-year program signed into law in July 2004. BioShield is designed to accelerate the development and availability of countermeasures for biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear threats.
Executives at BioPort and Emergent BioSolutions couldn't be reached for immediate comment Friday.
BioPort recently revealed plans for a new $75 million manufacturing facility on its Lansing campus. The vaccine maker, which also has a Frederick manufacturing plant it acquired in November 2004, considered Maryland for this additional expansion but ultimately chose Michigan because of incentives that economic development officials there offered.
BioPort and Emergent BioSolutions still expect to bring 300 to 400 jobs to Maryland. Emergent also holds the right to acquire another 150,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at the same site in Frederick should it need to expand. That could lead to additional jobs.
sues Enquirer for pics lost in anthrax attack
By Jeffrey Blyth
In an aftermath of the anthrax attack on the offices of the National Enquirer in Florida which five years ago took the life of British photo editor Robert Stevens, an American freelance photographer is suing for the loss of his collection of celebrity pictures which were contaminated and had to be destroyed as a result of the attack.
Greg Mathieson, who was a regular contributor to the Enquirer and sister titles The Star and The Globe, is claiming $2 million for the loss of his pictures, according to the New York Sun.
The collection included, he claims, “irreplaceable” photos of Princess Di, the Kennedys, Frank Sinatra, the Clintons, and the funeral of Jackie Onassis. There are about l,400 photos altogether. Mathieson, who now covers the White House, claims that after the attack, for which no-one was ever caught, American Media, publisher of The Enquirer, filed a claim with its insurance company for damage to its offices in Boca Raton including the loss of its equipment, files and archives which it valued altogether at over $250 million.
The insurance company ultimately paid American Media $17 million. Mathieson is now demanding reimbursement for his lost pictures which were, he says, his property not the publisher’s.
He is claming that he had a long-standing agreement with American Media’s photo department that he would be paid $l,500 for each of his photos in the event of their loss. Although American Media is claiming the figure is “grossly inflated” the photographer has testified that it is in line with industry norms. A judge has ruled that although American Media was not at fault for the loss of the pictures because the attack was an “unforeseeable criminal event”, he did give approval for the photographer to proceed with his claim.
case over; problems persist
Former postal worker lives with ailments but court rejects suits
BY TRACY BELL
MEDIA GENERAL NEWS SERVICE
Saturday, May 27, 2006
For most people, the 2001 anthrax attacks are a distant memory.
But for Stafford County resident Leroy Richmond, they've become a part of daily life.
Richmond, who was exposed to anthrax in the fall of 2001 while working at the Brentwood postal facility, said he still has health problems, including fatigue and problems with memory and concentration.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to revive lawsuits filed by former employees of the Washington postal facility who were exposed to anthrax.
Richmond, who worked for the Brentwood postal facility for 35 years, filed a $50 million lawsuit on two counts -- a total of $100 million.
Expressing disappointment in the court's decision, Richmond said there is nothing he can do beyond the decision, and that no further appeals are possible.
"I'll have to retire and find a job," said Richmond, "but I can't go back to work for the postal service because of my health."
Brentwood workers have said they were deliberately kept on the job though officials knew they had been exposed to anthrax through letters sent to Capitol Hill.
The facility was closed for 26 months while an investigation ensued and the building was decontaminated.
Postal employees filed a separate class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service.
Lead plaintiff Dena Briscoe of Clinton, Md., said the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the cases means that "no one's being held accountable."
According to Richmond, the postal facility didn't follow its standard operating procedures, which should have protected employees from remaining in harm's way.
Brentwood did not evacuate when it should have, according to Richmond, even after congressional offices closed and postal employees were hospitalized.
Anthrax-tainted letters were discovered about a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The letters were said to have targeted the news media, as well as the offices of two U.S. senators.
Two of the five people killed in the anthrax attacks were Brentwood employees.
The case remains unsolved.
Anthrax, which is said to be non-contagious, can enter the human body through ingestion, inhalation or through the skin.
Richmond's attorney, Greg Lattimer, said, "It appears that the door has been shut on us."
Now 61, Richmond lives in North Stafford with his wife and 11-year-old son. He also has two grown daughters.
Richmond said he is part of a study by the National Institutes of Health that involves the long-term effects related to anthrax.
He still speaks to people around the country who were affected by the anthrax attacks.
Richmond recalled his time in the hospital, where he spent 28 days. It was a scary time, he said, but also a time that involved heartwarming, spiritual support that served to motivate him.
"I'd like to thank my friends and family, especially in Stafford," said Richmond. "They've been so supportive of my recovery -- especially my neighbors. I also received some beautiful letters from churches and community groups while I was in the hospital, and I kept saying, 'I've got to get out of here and go back to Stafford.'"
Tracy Bell is a
staff writer at the Stafford County Sun.
Deal With Wen Ho Lee Begets Warning of Yet More Claims
BY JOSH GERSTEIN - Staff Reporter
of the Sun
A decision by five major news organizations to pay $750,000 to a nuclear scientist named in news stories as the target of an espionage investigation is prompting warnings that the unusual payment could embolden others aggrieved by government leaks and lead to more litigation involving the press.
The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, ABC, and the Associated Press announced Friday that they agreed to the settlement in order to end litigation brought by the former scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Wen Ho Lee.
"The implications of this are just staggering," a former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Jane Kirtley, said in an interview yesterday. "I think this is blood money that has been paid here."
As part of the settlement, the federal government also agreed to pay $895,000 to Lee to cover his legal costs in pursuing the case.
Ms. Kirtley said the payment from the news outlets was troubling because none of the news organizations or journalists were named as defendants in Lee's lawsuit, which accused the federal officials of violating a 1974 law, the Privacy Act. The reporters were held in contempt in the case after they refused to identify their confidential sources for stories about Lee.
"The justice of this escapes me," Ms. Kirtley said of the payment. "It's the most creative way I've seen so far to do an end run around constitutional protections and get money anyway through this collateral attack." She said the deal could encourage litigation and demands for payment in connection with mundane reports on hospital statements about those injured in crimes and accidents.
"Will it be abused by others? It will," she said.
One of the immediate beneficiaries of the settlement with Lee may be another scientist, Steven Hatfill. Mr. Hatfill filed suit against the government after he was named by federal officials as a "person of interest" in an investigation into the mailing of anthrax powder in 2001 to news organizations and to the Senate. Neither Mr. Hatfill nor anyone else has been charged with a crime in connection with the anthrax mailings.
The payment to Lee suggests that Mr. Hatfill could look to news organizations to pay some or all of the damages he contends he incurred by being publicly linked with the anthrax probe.
An attorney for Mr. Hatfill, Mark Grannis, declined to comment for this article. However, it is clear Mr. Hatfill's lawyers have been closely watching developments in Lee's case.
Last year, when journalists unsuccessfully petitioned an appeals court in Washington to set aside an order compelling their testimony, Mr. Hatfill's legal team filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Lee.
One press lawyer involved in last week's settlement said he's not certain that Mr. Hatfill will benefit from the deal. "There are different facts in that case," said the attorney, who asked not to be named.
The need to unmask sources for use in Mr. Hatfill's case may be less because some of the statements he is complaining about were on the record or attributed to specific government agencies. The attorney general at the time, John Ashcroft, referred in televised interviews to Mr. Hatfill's status as a "person of interest" in the anthrax case.
Another contrast with Lee's case is that Mr. Hatfill is suing a series of news organizations for libel. A case against Vanity Fair and Reader's Digest is pending before a federal judge in White Plains, while a suit against the New York Times and one of its columnists, Nicholas Kristof, is before a federal court in Alexandria, Va.
The settlement with Lee came as the Supreme Court was considering petitions from the news organizations asking the court to take up the dispute.
One of the reporters subpoenaed by Lee, Robert Drogin of the Los Angeles Times, said the settlement was driven by fears of an adverse ruling from the justices. "We thought there was a great risk for the press if we took it before the Supreme Court," Mr. Drogin told his newspaper. Some news organizations may also have decided they would rather take the fight to Congress, which is considering a federal shield law that would give reporters added protection.
The settlement will likely head off any involvement by the Supreme Court in the case, but the deal does not wipe from the books the appeals court decision last year upholding contempt findings against the reporters.
A lawyer involved in the settlement said the impetus came in large part from the government lawyers. "There ended up being a lot of movement on the government side," the attorney said.
In a joint statement, the news organizations said they were "reluctant" to join in the settlement but concluded "this was the best course to protect our sources and to protect our journalists."
From a strictly economic, shortterm perspective, the settlement was a good deal for the news organizations. Each journalist faced contempt fines which were to start at $500 a day and could escalate. The legal costs were also significant. CNN said the legal fees it paid for a reporter who once worked for the network, Pierre Thomas, exceeded $1 million.
The settlement also showed differences in strategy. The New York Times, which has a policy of not settling libel cases in America, agreed to pay Lee. CNN, which is quick to settle all kinds of thorny litigation, refused.
"We parted ways because we had a philosophical disagreement over whether it was appropriate to pay money to Wen Ho Lee or anyone else to get out from under a subpoena," CNN said in a statement.
In the end, Mr. Thomas's new employer, ABC, footed his portion of the bill.
Lee was arrested in 1999 and spent nine months in solitary confinement before prosecutors agreed to drop the most serious charges against him. He denied any espionage and pleaded guilty to a single felony count of improperly copying restricted data. The federal judge in the case apologized to Lee and President Clinton said he suspected the case was mishandled from the outset.
"Our aim was never to target or punish journalists," an attorney for Lee, Betsy Miller, said. "It was to vindicate the injuries suffered by Dr. Lee resulting from unlawful leaks by government officials who disregarded their obligations under the Privacy Act in favor of pursuing their own political agendas."
magazine: press box: Media criticism.
Wen Ho Ho Ho Lee Gets Last Laugh
Gauging the fallout from the legal settlement.
By Jack Shafer
Posted Wednesday, June 7, 2006, at 7:08 PM ET
The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, ABC News, and the Associated Press pooled $750,000 last Friday to buy their way out of a civil suit in which they weren't even defendants. The cash went to former nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, who had subpoenaed the news organizations' reporters to divulge their confidential sources in the Privacy Act suit Lee filed in 1999 against the federal government. As part of the mediated settlement, Lee also got $895,000 from the government.
In public, the news organizations treated the settlement as if they'd ordered the least-nasty entrée from a bad restaurant at which they were compelled to dine. And they denied that their chow-down set any precedent. "I don't see this as any type of incentive for attorneys to get money out of the media," George Freeman, New York Times Co. assistant general counsel, told Editor & Publisher's Joe Strupp. AP Managing Editor Mike Silverman and Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. salvaged a victory of sorts from the settlement by noting to E&P that it rescued them from either surrendering their confidential sources to Lee's attorneys or seeing their reporters jailed on contempt charges.
But in private, I'll bet editors and their attorneys are as sick as dogs over all this.
As Freeman says, the outcome won't necessarily encourage gold-digger plaintiffs—$750,000 split among five deep-pocketed media organizations is chump change. But the money isn't the issue. A greater danger is that the Wen Ho Lee settlement may signal to plaintiffs' attorneys that newsrooms are becoming soft touches when it comes to subpoena defenses. That wasn't really true in this case—the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, ABC News, and the Associated Press reportedly spent millions to repel Lee's subpoenas. Still, in the end, they caved.
How many plaintiffs' attorneys in federal civil cases will now be encouraged to subpoena reporters to 1) gather evidence cheaply and efficiently for their cases or 2) bleed press coffers by throwing subpoenas at it? As many commentators have pointed out, $150,000 for a settlement isn't small change for small media. It costs only a few billable hours to prepare a subpoena and a nominal fee to file. If this were a battlefield, we'd call it asymmetrical warfare in favor of plaintiffs.
In-house counsels at newsrooms had best be re-educating reporters about legal exposure this week. The Supreme Court's issued a post-settlement decision rejecting the Wen Ho Lee subpoena defense. That and the court's previous wave-off of the Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller appeal skywrites a message to every news organization: In the absence of a federal shield law, subpoenaed reporters can't realistically expect to protect confidential sources unless they're ready to go jail on contempt charges.
First Amendment avatar Bruce Sanford predicted one likely upshot of the Wen Ho Lee appeals and settlement Monday night on The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.
"I think journalism based on confidential sources is going to be done more carefully, more surgically—certainly more thoughtfully—than ever before, because this settlement raises, potentially, the cost of publishing or broadcasting a story based on confidential sources," Sanford told reporter Jeffrey Brown.
The "surgical care and thoughtfulness" to which Sanford alludes probably includes discussions between reporters and confidential sources of how far reporters will go in the future to protect source anonymity. If the reporter is prepared to go to jail, he should tell his source that. If he's going to give up the source to a lawful subpoena, he should say so, too.
Conversations between reporters and editors about what anonymous sources belong in news stories should also be in the offing. Critics of the coverage of the Wen Ho Lee investigation argue that the government used confidential leaks to the press to intimidate him. Indeed, before Lee's December 1999 indictment, anonymous government sources gave the media damning information that pointed to his guilt, evidence that did not hold up. At the risk of being branded a journalistic pariah, the Lee settlement will be worth every penny if it prevents reporters from convicting suspects based on calculated anonymous leaks.
Enjoyed the skinning of big media? A sort of Wen Ho Lee sequel is in the works, Josh Gerstein reports in the New York Sun. The cases aren't completely analogous, but Stephen Hatfill, named a "person of interest" in the anthrax-mailings investigation, has his own Privacy Act suit against the government and has subpoenaed journalists about their confidential sources.
"The payment to Lee suggests that Mr. Hatfill could look to news organizations to pay some or all of the damages he contends he incurred by being publicly linked with the anthrax probe," Gerstein writes.
York Daily News
A dancer beats drum & anthrax
BY NANCY DILLON
He has regained 40 of the 45 pounds he lost during his near-fatal battle with anthrax, and now miracle man Vado Diomande is ready to dance again.
"I'm very happy and strong. Right now I don't feel any different from before," said Diomande, 44, who is expected to make his return to the stage Saturday at the annual Djoniba Dance & Drum Centre show.
"I know I'm lucky to be alive," added the performer, who is believed to have contracted anthrax from inhaling spores while making African drums out of contaminated animal hides at his Brooklyn studio.
In the first lengthy interview since his phenomenal recovery, Diomande said he can pinpoint the moment he nearly died from the disease that ravaged his muscular dancer's body.
It was Friday, Feb. 24 - a week after his collapse in Pennsylvania.
"The tubes were closing my throat. I didn't know how to breathe," the immigrant from Ivory Coast said. "Death - it would have been easy to take that road. It was as open as a freeway."
But, he said with a wry smile, "Something told me 'No, don't take that side. Go this way.'"
With a combination of dance-inspired breathing techniques and powerful antibiotics, Diomande left the hospital in late March.
In the weeks that followed, he worked through pain to resume drumming and dancing, thoughts of returning to the stage keeping him going.
Now "flat broke" and living with his wife's family in New Jersey, Diomande said he hopes to find a new apartment and drum-making studio so he can resume work and send money to his four children - ages 13 to 28 - in West Africa.
Diomande will take to the stage Saturday at the Design Theatre at 1075 Second Ave. at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $25.
"I hope people come to see me," he said. "I want them to know African dance makes you strong. It saved my life."
Chronicle & Sentinel
June 14, 2006
In our view, the huge expansion of bioweapons facilities on the emerging National Interagency Biodefense Campus (NIBC) at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, should be opposed. President Bush's $7 billion annual budget for bioweapons research will incite a brand-new bioweapons arms race, besides being a colossal waste of taxpayers' money. Please consider:
THERE IS NO CREDIBLE BIOTERROR
THERE IS NO MEDICAL PRIORITY
THERE IS NO MONEY
THERE IS NOT ENOUGH WATER
THERE IS NO LEGALITY
THERE IS NO SECURITY
THERE IS NO LIMIT
THERE IS NO INTEGRITY
THERE IS NO OVERSIGHT OF CIA ACCESS
TO SCIENTIFIC INFORMATION
from The Frederick News-Post
OPINION : ELIZABETH MARSH CUPINO
Now, I realize that our government would never lie to us about the nature or purpose of weapons or warfare, but the huge build-out coming to Fort Detrick has got me a little on edge.
I have been researching these so-called "Defensive Biological Weapons," but for some reason everybody laughs at me when I say DBWs. What's so darn funny? It's just a little acronym I made up to save time. Big whoop. The feds make up acronyms all the time. The Army practically invented them -- MREs, IEDs, FUBAR. I think they do it deliberately, for the express purpose of confusing and confounding us. My theory is: The shakier the story, the thicker the fog of acronyms they release into the air ... so to speak.
Now, the NIBC (National Interagency Biodefense Campus) will be America's largest center dedicated to "predicting and fighting biothreats" and will cost an astounding $1.2 billion. That's a lot of Michelin Man bio-hazard gear. I hope they bring enough for everyone.
NIBC will also bring jobs to town ... for 120 bio-brainiacs, fumbling with foaming test tubes through a plexiglass wall. I'm not great with math. Is this $100 million for each employee? Must be a sweet benefits package!
Anyway, on the NIBC you'll find the NBACC (National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center), and the NBAC (National Bioforensic Analysis Center), and the BTCC (Biological Threat Characterization Center). We're not sure whether these new centers will abide by the rules of the BTWC (Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention), but we do know that the FredPAC (Frederick Progressive Action Coalition) thinks it's the beginning of a huge NADBAR (New And Dangerous Bio-Arms Race), and they are saying NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).
I'm saying whee-doggies! And also HTHDTH (How The Heck Did This Happen?). I Googled DBWs and found a bonanza of creepy information about Fort Detrick! The nexus of biological warfare research since World War II, Frederick has quite a reputation, and stories that will curl your hair -- from CIA murders and cover-ups to the (conspiracy) theory that the HIV virus was deliberately manufactured in the laboratories on Seventh Street. Years ago, when a flu bug circulated around DC, people always said that the wind blew it down from Fort Detrick.
At first I scoffed at the idea of a "defensive weapon," but they actually do exist. Your basic strategic missile defense systems, for example. They blast stuff out of the sky before it can reach the earth, and that's always a plus in my book. Then you've got your defensive pepper spray, and your defensive baseball bats, knives, guns, and nun-chucks. These serve reasonably well when you're attacked by muggers who want to steal your purse.
Apparently the U.S. Army feels we need to develop the large-scale, biological version of a baseball bat for terrorist anthrax attacks, and who am I to argue?
But why in the world would they locate the nation's biggest bio-threat research facility smack-dab in the middle of our town? Noodling around with deadly biological WMDs in the middle of "a great place to raise a family" seems dumber than a bag of $80 hammers.
Or maybe a SNAFU.
Volume 76, Number 5 | June 21 - 27 2006
Dancer is riding high after recovery from anthrax
By Bonnie Rosenstock
In his first public performance since recovering from anthrax, Vado Diomande wowed the overflow crowd at the High School of Art and Design Theater on E. 57th St. on June 10, with an exuberant, life-affirming dance on mountainous stilts. Accompanied by the electrifying rhythms of three drummers, members of his Kotchegna Dance Company, Diomande, masked and covered from head to toe in colorful African regalia personifying the West African god of the sacred forest, hopped, jumped, gyrated, twisted and cartwheeled as if his life depended on it. Which apparently it does.
In a preshow interview, the soft-spoken Diomande, 44, who feels uncomfortable with words, said that he felt fine, “because I’m performing today. It’s like food for me. I did not eat long time. Now I will eat today. I don’t talk a lot. My body talking for me,” he declared in broken, heavily accented English.
Diomande’s wife, Lisa, seconded the motion.
“He’s very, very excited,” she said. “He’s been really dying to get back to work. I shouldn’t say ‘dying,’ ” she laughed. “He’s been living to get back to work.”
The occasion for Diomande’s dazzling dance display was the Djoniba Dance & Drum Centre’s annual Dance and Drum Festival, a fundraiser as well as a showcase for the school’s students to show off their talents in dance styles as diverse as African, Brazilian, Cuban, Haitian, salsa, belly dance and hip-hop. Since its founding by Djoniba Mouflet in 1993, the nonprofit cultural organization, at 37 E. 18th St., has provided dance scholarships for more than 800 children from shelters and low-income families. However, a portion of the recent benefit will also go to support Diomande.
Mouflet is from Martinique, but grew up in Senegal, and has known Diomande, who is from the Ivory Coast, since he first arrived in New York eight years ago.
Diomande planned to teach the following day and get back to his full schedule.
“A week after he was released from the hospital, he was back drumming with us five days a week,” noted Michelle Mitchum, the dance center’s marketing director. “He’s an amazing man. He was in top physical condition before he took ill, and I think he’s just driven,” she said.
Diomande, who was felled with anthrax in February and spent more than a month in a Pennsylvania hospital, finished his medication treatment two months ago. His therapy these days consists of taking dance classes and working privately with several physical therapists. He and Lisa have been living with her brother and his wife in Jersey City since his release. They are looking for an apartment in Brooklyn with a backyard in order to keep his drum-making business at home because they can’t afford the rent on two spaces. His decontaminated windowless workspace in Brooklyn was cleared out.
Their possessions are in storage or still in their abandoned Village apartment at 31 Downing St. The landlady has been very kind and hasn’t asked for any money, Lisa Diomande said.
“But we haven’t gone back yet because we don’t have space to put the apartment stuff,” she said. “There is still some furniture, books, pots and pans that have been heavily bleached that I have to get out of there. We don’t know what is salvageable. Maybe after a couple of months of sitting there the bleach will have worn off,” she said hopefully.
Many of Diomande’s costumes were destroyed by the fumigation, but others, along with his drums, were salvaged.
“At least it was an attempt to help him by the decontamination company [Tradewinds], which was overseen by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene,” said Lisa Diomande. “There was a lot of pressure brought to bear to save Vado’s costumes. He got them all back.”
However, Vado Diomande is quite upset that he lost many things that his father gave him that he had hoped to pass on to his future offspring.
“It’s the things that have no price, because it’s spiritual,” he said. “They took masks, lots of stuff that I bring here. Now everything gone,” he lamented.
As far as they know, D.O.H. hasn’t found the source of the anthrax. Speculation is it was in the four goatskin hides that Diomande brought back from the Ivory Coast or possibly the cowhides he purchased from a local New York supplier or some still unknown origin. Lisa Diomande said they are planning to file a Freedom of Information Law request to get the results of all the tests. In addition, they have filed notices of claims against the city, the state and D.O.H. for “reckless and wanton conduct, gross negligence — actually a whole paragraph of legal terms,” she said, and are looking for lawyers to represent them. Hearings are expected in July.
disputes keep Boca Raton AMI building sealed off
By Luis F. Perez
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani came to town. The site of the country's first anthrax attack buzzed with hundreds people.
And then a big red generator started pumping chlorine dioxide gas into the former American Media Inc. building in Boca Raton. It was intended to be the death knell for the spores that left one man dead in 2001 and put a nation on edge. Those at the site looked to the future, free of an anthrax-laden building.
That was two years ago Tuesday. Today, the building at 5401 Broken Sound Boulevard in the Arvida Park of Commerce remains sealed tight. Two office trailers sit in an otherwise empty parking lot. And vines cover part of the chain-link fence surrounding it. Sitting starkly vacant beside a golf course amid a busy office park, the former home of supermarket tabloids including the National Enquirer, Star and Weekly World News has an otherworldly feel.
Public health, building and city officials all thought the aftermath of the anthrax attack would be behind them by now. But a series of conflicts, including a contract dispute and the threat of a lawsuit, slowed progress. Now public health officials say the last building in the country still quarantined due to anthrax won't open for at least six more months.
"It looks like we're picking up speed now," said David Rustine, the Boca Raton businessman who bought the 67,500-square-foot building in 2003 for $40,000. Before the anthrax, it was valued at $5 million, not including the $7 million AMI spent on improvements. "We're rounding third and heading toward home."
It has been a long way around the bases for Rustine, and even more so for local public health officials and elected leaders who have been dealing with a contaminated building for close to five years.
"I expected it to be open a long time ago," said Dr. Jean Malecki, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department.
In the days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, anthrax-laced letters started arriving at the offices of media organizations and the U.S. Congress. Robert Stevens, an AMI photo editor, died Oct. 5, becoming the first fatality attributed to the biological assault. Two days later, public health officials sealed the building where Stevens and Ernesto Blanco, a mailroom employee, were exposed to and sickened by the toxin.
Local, state and federal officials struggled for two years trying to figure out how to clean up the contaminated building. In stepped Rustine, who took a gamble buying the building and all its contents.
He hired a big-name firm called Bio-ONE, partly owned by Giuliani. The company had helped clean up anthrax from Capitol office buildings and at mail facilities in Washington D.C. and New Jersey. Amid much fanfare, Bio-ONE pumped chlorine dioxide into the building. Company officials said the fumigation was successful and that they planned to move into the building by the end of 2004.
But then, as the company moved to incinerate the building's boxed-up contents, rumblings of a dispute over who owned a treasure trove of tabloid picture history inside the boxes stopped the project. Rustine refused to deal with the issue, said Karen Cavanagh, Bio-ONE's chief operating officer and general counsel.
At one point, the company created a 144-foot long, 16-foot wide decontamination chamber in the building's basement to gas the contents and save the pictures. But the company's contract expired. Bio-ONE and Rustine couldn't agree on "economic terms," company officials said. So Bio-ONE walked away May 31, 2005 with all of the cleanup data it had collected.
A month later, Rustine hired Marcor Remediation Inc. to decontaminate the boxes. The new company had to come up with a new plan for the boxes. It took months for the company to develop the plan and for public health officials to approve it.
In the meantime, Greg Mathieson, a freelance photographer, sued AMI, claiming the company owed him up to $2 million for 1,400 of his pictures -- of such luminaries as Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren, Bruce Willis, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Princess Diana and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Mark Journey, Mathieson's lawyer, said last week that that lawsuit is still winding its way through the courts.
Marcor finished decontaminating the boxes in January and moved them off site. Rustine said he has the boxes, but he doesn't know what's in them. And he doesn't have any plans for them.
Malecki couldn't lift the quarantine since Bio-ONE won't allow Rustine to use its data showing the building is anthrax free. So "we had to go back to square one," she said. And even though Bio-ONE publicly declared the building clean, Marcor had to come up with a plan to re-check the previous company's work.
"There's no reason to doubt Bio-ONE," Malecki said. "But they own the data."
It has cost the building owner "many, many thousands of dollars," Rustine said. However, he said, he didn't know exactly how much.
Cavanagh recalled that day in July two years ago fondly, calling it "one of the best days in the long and short history of the company."
Mayor Steven Abrams, whose wife Debbie Abrams works for Bio-ONE, said city officials are comfortable that the building is decontaminated.
"I would like nothing more than to walk into that building and close this chapter," he said.
Luis F. Perez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6641.
Saskatchewan man infected with skin anthrax expected to make full recovery
10:57:00 EDT Jul 14, 2006
REGINA (CP) - A Saskatchewan man from the Melfort area has contracted a case of skin anthrax.
Cutaneous or skin anthrax is the least serious form of the disease and is usually associated with agricultural outbreaks.
Saskatchewan Health says the man is being treated with antibiotics as an outpatient and is expected to make a full recovery.
The Melfort area is experiencing an outbreak of anthrax among livestock - mainly cattle - caused by environmental conditions that favour exposure to spores in the soil.
Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Ross Findlater says anthrax is not transmitted from person to person.
Skin anthrax is usually contracted when there is a break in the skin, such as a cut or abrasion, which comes into direct unprotected contact with anthrax spores on a sick or dead animal.