Terror alert on anthrax
By PAUL DALEY
DEFENCE CORRESPONDENT CANBERRA
Sunday 4 June 2000
Australian and international intelligence agencies are increasingly alarmed at the emergence throughout South and South-East Asia of terrorist groups linked to Osama bin Laden, amid new evidence that the multi-millionaire Saudi extremist has bought biological weapons from a former Soviet state.
Confirmation to The Sunday Age from intelligence sources that bin Laden associates recently bought the deadly anthrax and plague viruses from arms dealers in Kazakhstan comes as Australian authorities prepare for the massive task of securing the Olympics from terrorism.
While Australian security analysts still rate the risk of terrorist attack at the Sydney Games as low, they nonetheless believe any terrorist violence would represent an intelligence failure that could only be dealt with reactively and "largely medically".
"Essentially the fight against this sort of terrorism is preventive - it comes down to the agencies stopping the people who do this sort of thing from coming in," an Australian source said.
` "If there is a flaw in intelligence and this sort of (biological) attack happens, we can do little but react and try to minimise the human damage."
As part of the pre-Games anti-terrorism campaign, Australian security agencies are investigating phone calls made to numerous New South Wales addresses in late 1992 and early 1993 by convicted Islamic extremists linked to the February 26, 1993, bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York that killed six people and injured 2000.
In separate trials in mid-1990s, nine bin Laden-linked Islamic terrorists were convicted of the Trade Centre bombing, of planning a day of anti-American terror and of murdering Rabbi Meir Kahane, a US-based radical Jewish leader in 1990.
The Sunday Age has been provided with the telephone records of several of the convicted terrorists and their colleagues, which show the extremists had extensive contact with possible associates in Australia before and after the New York bombing.
The records show that one of the terrorists, Ibrahim El-Gabrowny, made two telephone calls lasting 19 minutes and nine minutes to a business in Dean Park, NSW, early on August 24, 1992. He made two more calls to another business in Yagoona, NSW, on March 20 and 21, 1993 - less than a month after the Trade Centre bombing.
El-Gabrowny was originally charged with conspiracy in the bombing but was later convicted as an accessory to the murder of Rabbi Kahane.
The phone records also show that Mahmud Aboulahimi - one of the bombers who was sentenced to life in jail - and another associate also made numerous calls to NSW before and after the bombing.
While some people who were resident at the NSW addresses have since moved, it is believed that the telephone records have formed the basis of a massive pre-Games Australian surveillance operation by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation with help from police and other intelligence agencies.
The Sunday Age also has documentary evidence that shows that another convicted Trade Centre bomber, Mohammed Salameh, was preparing to apply for migration to Australia about the time of the crime.
Meanwhile, sources maintain that Australian security and intelligence agencies are increasingly concerned about bin Laden's growing links with extreme Islamic groups throughout South and South-East Asia.
While international intelligence agencies have established that Muslim rebels in the Philippines - who are currently holding 21 hostages - are getting financial support from bin Laden, there is growing concern that the terrorist mastermind could also be funding separatist Islamic groups in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and Ambon.
"That is a suspicion based on some evidence that is yet to be conclusively proven," an Australian source told The Sunday Age.
"It would be consistent with the spread of bin Laden funding throughout Asia as this guy looks for more swamps (hiding places) that are less detectable to the US."
In April this year the US State Department identified Afghanistan and Pakistan as a new international hub of Muslim extremism.
The department said that while the US was once threatened by state-launched terrorism, the new global terrorist threat was expected to come from small networks of religiously and ideologically motivated groups.
While Australian authorities, including the Federal Government, have repeatedly said there is "no specific threat" against the Olym-pics, sources maintain that a judgment has already been made that any terrorist threat is likely to come from bin Laden-funded groups.
Australian and international security analysts are interpreting the significance of the purchase of biological weapons - including the deadly anthrax and plague viruses - from Kazakhstan arms dealers by bin Laden associates.
"The world has long been afraid of the biological warfare threat, but Islamic terrorist groups have not to date used such weapons against the West," an Australian source said.
"The very fact that it has been established, without doubt, that bin Laden now has these weapons is, by its very nature, of significant concern."
Disclosures that bin Laden associates now have biological weapons coincides with a warning from a leading US infectious-disease expert that the US is ill-equipped to deal with such an attack.
"It is not a question of if such an event will occur, but rather when, as well as which agent will be used and how extensive the damage will be," warned Michael Osterholm, who heads the private Minnesota-based Infection Control Advisory Network.
"Given the enormity of what is possible, we must prepare for a potential nightmare."
The Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence and ASIO are coordinating criminal intelligence assessments before and during the Olympics.
It is believed that they are receiving extensive help from law enforcement and intelligence agencies from several countries, including the United States and Israel.
September 20, 2001
Experts say Jersey City is a breeding ground for terrorist cells
By TOBY ECKERT
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Standing
outside the Al Tawheed Islamic Center, in a neighborhood under suspicion,
Ahmed Abdelsayed described himself as an
The distinction is important these days because, for the second time in eight years, authorities have linked Arab men from Jersey City to an attack on the World Trade Center.
Terrorism experts say Jersey City has become a hotbed of radical Islam and a breeding ground for the type of terrorist cells thought to have carried out the Sept. 11 attacks that killed thousands.
Local Muslims deny that, saying that most Muslims here are peaceful and moderate, and that the attacks were executed by a handful of outlaws.
At least five men who lived in an apartment building in the city's Journal Square neighborhood have been detained in connection with last week's devastating strikes.
Two of the men, arrested in Texas, reportedly were booked on a flight the day of the attack and carried box cutters like those wielded by the hijackers who crashed two jetliners into the trade center.
The men were part of the congregation at the nearby Masjid Al-Salam mosque, authorities say.
Four others connected to the mosque, including blind Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, were convicted of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which killed six people.
"If I had to name any place that was instrumental in forming these networks across the United States, (Jersey City) would be it," said Harvey Kushner, chairman of the criminal justice department at Long Island University.
"The spiritual guidance from local imams comes out of that area, and a lot of fund raising," contended Kushner, who has been a consultant on terrorism to several government agencies. "They have been operational in that area for 15 years, at least."
Yesterday, the Star-Ledger of Newark reported that investigators believe New Jersey was the financial hub of the terrorist operation. Authorities suspect the attack was masterminded by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be in Afghanistan.
Muslims who live in the area say outsiders are unfairly stereotyping their entire community.
"I'm sure, 100 percent, that's not true Muslims," another man standing outside the Al Tawheed Islamic Center said of the terrorists. "It's a peaceful religion, very peaceful."
Most Arabs come to the United States to find work or escape political repression in their homelands, not to harm it, he said, taking time out from sprucing up the center for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"If we break this country, we break ourselves," said Abdelsayed, who is from Egypt.
A few blocks away on bustling Kennedy Street, men poured into the Al-Salam mosque, a nondescript walk-up squeezed between a jewelry store and a nail salon, for afternoon prayers.
They respectfully removed their shoes and stacked them neatly on a shelf before heading upstairs, referring all questions about the detained worshippers to a spokesman, who was absent.
Around the corner, on residential Tonnele Avenue, two longtime residents of the neighborhood recalled last weekend's police raid on a brownstone apartment building on the block. Three men were led away in handcuffs, they said.
Two other men who lived there -- Ayub Ali Khan and Mohammed Jaweed Azmath -- were arrested in Texas last week. They had been booked on a flight from Newark to San Antonio that departed around the same time as other jetliners that smashed into the trade center and the Pentagon.
When the flight was diverted to St. Louis, they boarded an Amtrak train bound for Texas. They were arrested in Fort Worth after police found them carrying box cutters, hair dye and cash during what authorities said was a routine drug search.
Bioterrorism: The Next Threat?
Monday, Sep. 24, 2001
By MICHAEL D. LEMONICK
It was the ultimate war game for armchair strategists. A dozen experts gathered at Andrews Air Force Base for two days in June for a germ-warfare assault on America's heartland. The exercise was called Dark Winter. The scenario: Oklahoma, Georgia and Pennsylvania have been deliberately targeted with smallpox virus. The mission: to marshal the full resources of the Federal Government and limit the damage. But even though the players included seasoned leaders--former Senator Sam Nunn acting as the President, former presidential adviser David Gergen as National Security Adviser, Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating playing himself--the situation got quickly out of hand. Within two weeks, 16,000 Americans were infected, and 6,000 were dead or dying.
Dismal as that performance was, it all seemed rather theoretical at the time. Not anymore. In the aftermath of the attack two weeks ago, the idea that weapons of mass destruction might be trained on the U.S.--not by such rogue nations as Iraq but by rogues like Osama bin Laden--suddenly seems a lot less unthinkable. Ordinary Americans are waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares about poisoned water supplies and miniature nuclear weapons set off in city streets.
But the chances of such an attack happening anytime soon are remote, most of the terrorism experts consulted by TIME agree. For starters, it takes a lot more money to build, research or steal a weapon of mass destruction than to hijack a plane or unleash a truck bomb. It also takes a lot more brainpower. Says Amy Smithson, a chemical and biological weapons expert at the Henry Stimson Center in Washington: "I can sit here and dream up thousands of nightmare scenarios, but there are a lot of technical and logistical hurdles that stand between us and those scenarios."
The experts also agree, however, that they must rethink their assumptions. The Sept. 11 attacks took patient planning and training; no terrorist group had ever carried out so complex a mission. "I was not at all alarmist about this threat based on the historical record," says Jonathan Tucker of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Washington, "but given what happened, we need to reassess the threat."
Of the three major types of weapons of mass destruction, biological agents may pose the greatest potential threat, followed by nuclear bombs and chemical weapons. Here's how our experts gauge the relative dangers:
Indeed, the most devastating nonmilitary chemical attack ever, by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Tokyo in 1995, killed only a dozen people. One reason is that the delivery method was crude: cultists dropped plastic bags of sarin (smuggled in lunch boxes and soft-drink containers) on a subway platform and pierced them with umbrella tips. Also the amounts were relatively small. Says Smithson: "Any bozo can make a chemical agent in a beaker, but producing tons and tons is difficult." Aum Shinrikyo tried to make the stuff in bulk, recruiting scientists and spending at least $10 million, but it failed.
Terrorists could try to tap into the more ample supplies of chemical arms believed to be stockpiled by Iraq and other outlaw states. But Tucker points out that the leaders of such countries would probably be reluctant to let weapons banned by international treaty out of their direct control; if they were traced back it could lead to swift retaliation. "We know Saddam Hussein is ruthless," he says, "but generally he is not reckless."
But that assumes you could manufacture the bomb and put it into position. A terrorist would first have to get hold of some sort of fissionable material--ideally, says Princeton University nuclear proliferation expert Frank von Hippel, enriched uranium. North Korea, Iraq and Libya are believed to have uranium stockpiles but would probably be loath to let them go. A more likely source is the former Soviet Union, where bombmaking supplies are plentiful, the economy is in upheaval, and security has collapsed.
Bin Laden reportedly tried to obtain uranium from the breakaway Soviet states, but his sources bilked him, offering instead low-grade reactor fuel and radioactive garbage. Even if he had been successful, says von Hippel, it would take at least 150 lbs. of uranium plus hundreds of pounds of casing and machinery to make a weapon. "Nobody's going to be carrying a bomb around in a suitcase," he says.
Far likelier is an attack on a nuclear power plant with conventional explosives--a fact recognized by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has staged mock commando raids on U.S. plants for years. Alarmingly, these war-game assaults have often succeeded, sometimes "releasing" more radiation than Chernobyl (an accident, it's worth remembering, that by some estimates caused 30,000 deaths).
During the cold war, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union began developing anthrax as a biological weapon. Today 17 nations are believed to have biological weapons programs, many of which involve anthrax. Officially, the only sources of smallpox are small quantities in the labs of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and at Vector in Koltsovo, Russia. But experts believe that Russia, Iraq and North Korea have all experimented with the virus and that significant secret stashes remain. Even more worrisome are reports that Russia used genetic engineering to try to make anthrax and smallpox more lethal and resistant to antibiotics and vaccines. (The U.S. put a similar program on hold.)
Whatever form the next attack takes, all evidence suggests that the nation is still largely unprepared. That's beginning to change. The NRC has plans to beef up already heightened security at power plants, and public health officials are beginning to get serious about staving off biological assaults. Last year, for example, the CDC authorized a private company to cook up 40 million additional doses of smallpox vaccine to add to the U.S. stockpile--a job that will take several years. "We also need to develop new drugs and vaccines against other organisms that might be a threat," says Dr. Margaret Hamburg of the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative. "And we need to do research to better understand how some of these organisms cause disease."
Why not just vaccinate every American against every possible germ-warfare agent? That would be impractical, if not impossible, and the side effects of the inoculations would pose a significant health risk. Instead, says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, we should strengthen the country's public health system. After Sept. 11, hospitals in New York City were asked to report any outbreaks of unusual symptoms. Health experts know that in the event of biological attack, the earlier an epidemic is detected, the easier it is to contain.
Experts in antiterrorism share their concern. At the turn of the past century, says Brian Jenkins of the Rand Corp., epidemics of diseases like yellow fever and cholera kept health workers on their toes. Now, after a decade of cutbacks, "our ability to treat large numbers of casualties has been reduced," he says. "The notion of reinvesting to create a muscular public health system is not a bad idea, even if there is no terrorism."
September 27, 2001
Anthrax ground zero
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and a report that one of the terrorists trained on a crop-dusting plane, the media has increasingly turned its speculation of future horror to chemical and biological warfare.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote last Wednesday, September 19:
"With a dusting of anthrax spores from a helicopter or a mist of nerve gas in a subway ventilation system, terrorists could carry out a stealthy chemical or biological strike as lethal as the World Trade Center suicide mission."Fortunately, in central Ohio, we have the Battelle Memorial Institute here to protect us.
On September 4, the New York Times reported that since 1979, Battelle has increased its employees involved in chemical and biological warfare research from 500 to 800 at its King Avenue and West Jefferson laboratories.
In order to keep us safe from "terrorist attacks," Battelle is involved in manufacturing a more deadly strain of anthrax, the Times reported. As Battelle explained to the Columbus Dispatch, you have to develop the more deadly lethal strain so that a vaccine can be found. It's termed "defensive" work.
The Times also reported that to keep us safe from terrorism, the Central Intelligence Agency once replicated a Soviet-era biological bomb to study how well it would disperse biological agents like anthrax under varying atmospheric conditions. The Times said two sets of tests were conducted at Battelle.
The United States is reported to have the largest inventory of biological and chemical agents in the world. All are officially for defensive purposes. Assisting Battelle in its "defensive" biological weapons program is Dr. Kenneth Alibek, described in a 1998 Dispatch article as a former "top official in a massive Soviet effort to develop biological weapons for possible use against American forces."
The Dispatch reported that "Alibek was first Deputy Director Biopreparat, the civilian arm of the Soviet biological-weapons program." He supervised 3,200 workers in over 40 facilities. Following World War II, various former Nazi scientists reportedly worked at Battelle as a byproduct of Operation Paper Clip, a Cold War operation to secure Hitler's best and brightest before the Soviets snatched them.
The Russian government has charged that Battelle's activity violates a 1972 global treaty banning secret research on biological weapons. The 1972 protocol specifically forbids nations from developing or acquiring weapons that spread disease, but allows work on vaccines and other "protective measures." Since the CIA bomb was built and tested for purely "defensive" measures, the military denies it's violating the treaty.
The Jefferson Township Fire Department has assured West Jefferson and central Ohio residents that everything is safe. Fire Lieutenant Timothy Stainer told the Dayton Daily News, "We have had training specific to anthrax." The training drills occur four times a year.
Battelle's website notes, "The United States Department of Defense openly acknowledges the capacity of both potential adversaries and terrorists to employ weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical and biological (CB) weapons Battelle's CB defense product line is organized to support these programs."
I haven't felt this reassured about my safety since Ronald Reagan named our nuclear missiles "Peacekeepers." If Americans can't tell the difference between freedom-loving defensive anthrax and evil terroristic bin Laden-type anthrax, then they ought to just get the hell out of central Ohio.
biology of terrorism
by Michelle Ratliff
Iowa State Daily
October 2, 2001
As fears of a follow-up terrorist attack spread across the nation, experts warn that bioterrorism could be the next weapon in the terrorist arsenal.
And they say the question is not if it will happen, but when and where.
Though bioterrorism can take many forms, Robert Wallace, an expert in biological warfare, said people have become more concerned with the ground-transported threat.
Wallace, professor of biology at Ripon College in Ripon, Wis., said anthrax is the most likely biological killer terrorists might use.
Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, www.cdc.gov.
Only 1 billionth of a gram of anthrax, the size of a speck of dust, is lethal, he said.
“Anthrax is naturally occurring in soils,” Wallace said. “Any decent microbiologist could isolate and grow up a supply.”
The difficulty of delivering the supply is a major detriment, he said.
“You would have to be able to grow it, place it in spores and deliver it,” Wallace said, “all without becoming infected yourself.”
But people who don’t mind the risks and will die for their cause are out there, he said.
A second possible threat is the smallpox virus, Wallace said. It would be much more difficult, though not impossible, for a terrorist to acquire the smallpox virus, he said.
Smallpox is a viral disease unique to humans. It survives by passing among people, spread by the inhalation of air droplets or aerosols, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.
“The United States still has samples of the virus at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga.,” Wallace said. “Although, I don’t think you would be able to get a hold of it if you wanted to.”
He said he knows of an incident regarding a man who used to work at the center who left and began working for Iraq.
“There was speculation as well as concern that he may have stolen a vial,” Wallace said. “It is my gut instinct that no one walked off with anything.”
The vials have been counted, he said, and the right people know if anything is missing.
“Although I am not sure that we would know if anything were missing,” Wallace said, “It would cause too much of a panic to release that kind of information.”
Wallace thinks the United States used the stored amount of the virus to develop a vaccination to quell a possible outbreak.
Wallace said he had heard of the development of smallpox and anthrax weapons that could be lobbed into the United States on intercontinental missiles by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He is aware of the existence of an unknown amount of the smallpox virus at the Russian Academy of Sciences institute for viral research in Moscow.
“Although the supply of smallpox may be available, it is very difficult to get a hold of, and even more difficult to do significant damage with,” Wallace said.
An attack on life
Helen Jensen, ISU professor of economics, is a member of the National Research Council’s Committee on Biological Threats to Agricultural Plants and Animals. She said she isn’t positive what the exact threat to plants and animals is at this time, but she said terrorists could try to harm the United States’ food supply.
“We are not as prepared as we would like to be, but the level of awareness is now higher,” Jensen said.
Wallace and Jensen said they believe Americans are already being terrorized just by the concern about the possibility of these events taking place.
“The terrorists are not trying to destroy our infrastructure,” Wallace said. “What they want to do is stop the way we do business.”
The Sept. 11 tragedy took lives and shook the economy, he said, but that was not the terrorists’ main goal.
“What it really did was stop people from living normal lives,” Wallace said.
The threat of bioterrorism is causing people to go out and buy gas masks, stockpile antibiotics and alter the way they lead their normal lives.
“You can’t wear a gas mask 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Wallace said. “Besides that, who’s to say a gas mask will be helpful anyway?”
He said most people don’t know the particulars of wearing a mask, and if the mask is old, doesn’t fit right or is worn improperly, it is ineffective.
But despite this fact, Ames residents are stocking up.
Marshal Toms, employee at Ames Surplus, 4723 Lincoln Way, said its gas masks have been sold out since Sept. 14.
“We have 50 on the way, all of which are spoken for,” he said, “and another 50 people [are] on a list who want one.”
- Updated 10:12 AM ET
On the trail of anthrax: A detective story
By Steve Sternberg, USA TODAY
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Early on Oct. 2, an ailing 63-year-old tabloid photo editor named Bob Stevens lapsed into a coma in a Lantana, Fla., hospital. Doctors there suspected meningitis, and infectious-disease expert Larry Bush expected to confirm their diagnosis by studying Stevens' spinal fluid. What Bush saw in the microscope's glowing circular field would set off alarms from Tallahassee to Washington, D.C., and send shock waves nationwide.
Stevens' spinal fluid teemed with "large, blue rods," soon to be confirmed as Bacillus anthracis, an ancient plague of cattle, goats and sheep. Anthrax virtually never strikes humans unless they work in slaughterhouses or have other close contact with grazing animals. Stevens worked in an office park.
"Why would I be seeing anthrax," Bush remembers wondering. "Did something happen with this man that I'm not aware of?"
What had happened, federal experts have concluded, was the first lethal biological attack on the USA. The attack provided the first test of the nation's defenses against the insidious weapons of bioterrorists, weapons that in this case appear to have arrived in the mail and were detonated by simply tearing open an envelope.
Since Stevens' death three days later, seven of his co-workers at American Media Inc., the publisher of several popular supermarket tabloids, also have tested positive for exposure to anthrax. In New York, two NBC news employees, a police officer and two lab technicians also have developed symptoms. In Reno, an undisclosed number of employees of a local Microsoft office may have been exposed to anthrax-laced pornographic pictures mailed from Malaysia.
The scope of the investigation will continue to challenge the resourcefulness of public health experts, lab workers, doctors, and police charged with protecting the public. The lessons learned in Florida already are being applied in New York, Reno and dozens of communities nationwide dealing with anthrax scares.
"What we're seeing here is a pretty good test of the public health system," says David Fleming, deputy director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is playing the lead role in the public health probe. "What we've seen so far is pretty good."
Bush of JFK Memorial in Lantana agrees. "The criticism I hear is that we're not prepared," he says. "I think it's just the opposite. Federal, state and local governments have geared up for this. You have to remember, it's a work in progress. There have been no cases of bioterrorism or anthrax like this."
A mystery unfolds
In the last days of a visit to North Carolina, Bob Stevens thought he might be coming down with a severe case of the flu. Driving home to Lantana with his wife, Maureen, Stevens found himself so feverish and so bone-weary he couldn't wait to get home to bed.
After arriving home on Monday, Oct. 1, he went to bed early, only to wake up a few hours later, vomiting, confused and with a fever of 102. Between 2:00 and 2:30 a.m., doctors say, his worried wife drove him to the emergency room of JFK Memorial Hospital, just a few blocks away. By morning, his condition had grown so much worse that doctors were forced to put him on a ventilator to help him breathe.
Suspecting that Stevens had spinal meningitis, doctors there drew a sample of his spinal fluid for analysis. It seemed at first to confirm their fears. Spinal fluid is ordinarily clear as spring water; Stevens' spinal fluid was cloudy and packed with white blood cells, a sure sign of infection. Concerned, his doctors called infectious-disease specialist Bush sometime between 6:30 and 7 a.m., while he was en route to the hospital for a meeting.
Bush took the spinal fluid to the hospital's microbiology lab and looked at it under a microscope. What he saw puzzled him. Bush saw large, loaf-shaped blue rods, which aren't ordinarily a cause of meningitis. "They could be bacilli, which I wouldn't expect to cause such a severe infection in an (otherwise) healthy individual," he says he reflected at the time. "Not many bacilli can do that."
One of the few is anthrax. But anthrax, typically an occupational disease of people who work with susceptible animals, made no sense. Doctors had diagnosed fewer than 20 cases of the most deadly form of anthrax in the last century. "Why would I be seeing a case of anthrax," he asked himself, "when they haven't been seen in years?"
Bush ordered four preliminary tests to rule out anthrax as a cause of Steven's illness, but none of them clearly eliminated the possibility. Bush notified the director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, Jean Malecki, about the case. "I didn't want rumors coming out of the hospital that we had a case of anthrax and have her hear it on the street.
"I also thought I might need her help."
On Tuesday, Oct. 2, with Malecki's approval, he shipped samples of Steven's blood and spinal fluid by overnight courier to the state microbiology lab in Jacksonville. By then, Bush felt "pretty sure" his patient had anthrax, but the state's tests also were inconclusive. By the next night, state microbiologists had conducted their own tests. One test seemed to indicate anthrax; a second test did not. None of the tests, however, pointed at another cause.
That night, microbiologists at the state lab contacted the CDC. The Atlanta-based agency sent a plane to Jacksonville to fetch samples and rush them back to a CDC lab for further testing. The samples arrived Thursday morning. Without waiting for the results, the CDC sent 10 epidemiologists and two lab experts to Florida, and two epidemiologists to North Carolina.
Bradley Perkins, of the CDC, deployed the Florida team. Some epidemiologists traced Stevens' movements and contacts; others started calling hospitals to ask about other cases of anthrax. The lab workers continued on to a state lab in Miami to help test an expected flood of samples. On the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 4., after the field investigation was well underway, the CDC and the state's Jacksonville lab confirmed Bush's worst suspicions: Stevens had become the first American diagnosed with the deadliest form of anthrax since 1978.
'An isolated case'
Florida Secretary of Health John Agwunobi made the first public announcement on the case at a press conference Thursday, Oct. 4. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson quickly followed up with an announcement at a White House press conference that day, saying Stevens appeared to be "an isolated case."
Stevens' condition continued to get worse. Late Thursday night, Stevens' kidneys failed. On Friday, doctors placed him on dialysis, but to no avail. On Friday afternoon another organ would go: Stevens' heart. "We weren't able to resuscitate him," Bush says.
On Sunday, Oct. 7, the investigation reached a crucial turning point. Medical tests disclosed that one of Stevens' co-workers, mailroom worker Ernesto Blanco, 73, also had been exposed to anthrax bacteria. He had not yet come down with the disease, however, and could be effectively treated with antibiotics. And tests of Stevens' workplace detected a stray spore of anthrax bacterium on his computer keyboard.
Those findings prompted the county to shut down the AMI building. It also shifted the focus of the investigation from the Stevens' visit to North Carolina to AMI headquarters in Lantana. The CDC shipped enough antibiotics to Palm Beach County to treat more than 1,000 people.
And they dispatched three public health advisers to help AMI executives and Palm Beach County health workers gather more than 770 people who had visited the tabloid headquarters since Aug. 1 for anthrax testing and counseling.
By Monday, health workers were swabbing noses to detect anthrax spores. They interviewed employees, counseled them and gave them a 15-day supply of antibiotics. Experts at the state's branch laboratory in Miami and at the CDC were soon working around the clock. Many of the state experts were fresh from a CDC training course on the lab identification of germ warfare agents.
By the end of last week, tests had identified six other AMI employees who had been exposed to anthrax bacteria. One of those, Stephanie Daily, 36, also worked in the mailroom. The identities and work assignments of the other five AMI workers have not been disclosed.
The team leader, Perkins, says that environmental testing found anthrax bacteria in an employee's mailbox, but the FBI has asked the CDC to withhold the employee's name while the criminal investigation is pending.
On the night of Wednesday, Oct. 10, Miami-based U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis announced that, although no evidence had turned up to link the Florida crisis to international bioterrorists, " we are now conducting a criminal investigation of this matter." Florida Health Secretary Agwunobi added: "All the evidence to date indicates that the anthrax issue we face is limited to the AMI building."
Two days later, CDC officials would announce they had begun to investigate similar incidents in New York and Reno. "I didn't think we'd have another situation like this for a long, long time," Perkins says. "But we're better prepared for future events because of it. Some of the folks who worked on this investigation are already involved in New York."
Los Angeles Times [via Newsday]
Tracing Tainted Letters Is Daunting Detective Work
Search: Investigators have many tools, but postal experts say a major break will be needed to find senders.
By ROBERT A. ROSENBLATT and JOSH
MEYER | Times Staff Writers
WASHINGTON - Postal inspectors hunting for the senders of anthrax-laden mail have a number of tools to figure out when and where a letter was mailed. But their techniques may be insufficient to find the individuals who sent the envelopes that have generated anxiety among the public and postal workers, according to current and former postal authorities.
Unless there is a major break--such as figuring out where the anthrax was produced or lifting a matching fingerprint from an envelope--the odds are long that law enforcement investigators will track down the culprits.
"I would say if you sent a letter, you will have a reasonable expectation that you will not get caught," said a former top Postal Inspection Service security administrator. "It's just too hard to track them down."
Working closely with the FBI, postal investigators Monday were trying to lift fingerprints from the letters, including one sent to the office of the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), and to take DNA samples from any saliva found on the envelopes.
Meanwhile, the Postal Service announced Monday that it will furnish gloves and filtering face masks to employees who request them. The agency also announced the formation of a special task force of management, union and major corporate mailers to discuss the threat of biological and chemical materials sent through the mail.
Postmaster General Jack Potter urged Americans to combine vigilance with calm. "We have mobilized our military, but we also must mobilize our common sense," he said. "Panic must not defeat us." He told his agency's workers: "If you see a suspicious package or letter, leave it alone. Don't shake it or bump it. Isolate it, and call for help."
Postal inspectors have had success catching those who send bombs through the mail, but few arrests have been made in incidents in which someone sends a threatening letter, whether the letter actually contained hazardous materials or simply claimed to have dangerous contents, officials acknowledged Monday.
After the Unabomber case, in which explosive devices were sent through the mail, the Postal Service changed its rules, banning any packages weighing more than 16 ounces from being dropped into mailboxes. In such cases, they are returned to the sender or examined by postal authorities. Packages heavier than a pound must be handed directly to a clerk at a post office, who can look for anything suspicious and demand to see the mailer's identification.
But there have been no new special security rules for the vast bulk of the mail flow--the envelopes containing bills, letters and greeting cards. The intricate system--which moves 608 million pieces of mail each day--relies on machines to read virtually all addresses and ZIP codes--even hand-scrawled envelopes--and relatively few workers touch an envelope during the sorting process unless it becomes jammed in a machine.
However, employees handle the mail before and after the machines sort it and read the ZIP codes. They unload volumes of mail picked up at boxes, load the trays feeding the sorting machines and prepare the mail for distribution by carriers, who drive and walk the routes to hand-deliver the mail at homes and businesses.
In investigating the anthrax reports in three states and on Capitol Hill, authorities did handwriting analysis on the letters and scrutinized the envelopes to see if they bore any special characteristics that would help determine where they were sold and who bought them, postal and FBI officials said. Authorities are also trying to determine if the packages containing anthrax are from the same source.
And they spent the day trying to "back trace" the mail to see where it came from, and when.
In some cases, it may be possible to tell which particular mail drop was used. Authorities also will be able to determine when a letter was dropped off within a few hours, since U.S. postmarks bear an "a.m." or "p.m." stamp. That "window" can further be identified based on the time of day that mail is picked up in that jurisdiction, the particular routes taken by mail carriers and when the letter was received at a central processing center, according to Bill Hall, acting inspector in charge of the Southern California division of the Postal Service inspectors unit.
In rare cases, it may be possible to get video footage of the sender, since some mail drops are situated near businesses that operate video cameras, such as gas stations and banks.
But they also cautioned that the odds are great that they will not be able to back trace the anthrax-ridden mail to its original senders, especially if the senders took steps to cover their tracks.
"The chances of figuring out where they came from are slim and none," said the former Postal Service investigator.
In the past, many threatening letters turned out to be hoaxes. During 1999 and 2000, there were 178 letters mailed in the United States with threats that they contained anthrax, Hall said. But none of the letters actually contained anthrax, "so we didn't back trace" many of the letters, Hall said. There were 60 threatening letters before the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, none of them legitimate.
In its announcement Monday, the Postal Service sought to reassure its anxious workers, promising the gloves and masks on request, and offering nitrile gloves to those who might be allergic to conventional latex ones. Some workers concerned with the possible health threats from dust in mail processing plants or from the solvents used in inks already had been using masks or gloves.
The Postal Service has promised its unions a nationwide video conference today "giving better and hopefully more specific management instructions and guidance on this issue," said Tom Fahey, a spokesman with the American Postal Workers Union, which represents 366,000 employees.
The former postal investigator said that postal carriers have become terrified of handling the mail despite assurances that anthrax is usually spread only when a letter is opened. The drumbeat of news about more and more anthrax-laden letters is causing waves of near-panic at post offices around the nation, he said.
"Postal inspectors are getting calls from mail rooms all over the place, asking, 'What do we do? They want to know how to identify it,' " said the former administrator, who remains as a consultant to the Postal Service.
Fecha: 17 de octubre de 2001
Fuente: Reporteros Sin Fronteras (RSF)
(RSF/IFEX) - The following is an RSF press release:
Anthrax: Reporters Without Borders concerned about threats against the press
Reporters Without Borders is deeply concerned about the death from anthrax, on 5 October, of an American journalist, and about the disclosure afterwards of twelve more cases of the same disease - all of them connected to the press or to the inquiry into the anthrax issue. Our organization remains cautious about the meaning of this very issue, because so far, no inquiry has been able to show a link between the origin of the bacillus and the identity of its senders. Besides, for several cases, the exact circumstances of the contamination are unclear. Moreover, the presence of the bacillus in two letters sent to a Democratic Party leader in the Senate and a Microsoft branch in Reno (Nevada) excludes the hypothesis of an attack specifically targeting the media.
Robert Stevens, a photographer for The Sun, a publication of American Media Inc. (AMI), in Boca Raton (Florida), died on 5 October after contracting a pulmonary form of anthrax. A few days later, Ernesto Blanco, responsible for the mail service in the AMI building, proved to be contaminated by the same bacillus. His colleague, Stephanie Dalley, working at the same service, turned out to be a healthy germ carrier. On 14 October it was disclosed that five other persons working for AMI had been in contact with the bacillus, but without catching the disease. So far, the circumstances of the contamination of the press group employees is unknown. Several publications of the group had previously described Ossama Bin Laden in an outrageous way.
Furthermore, tests on Erin O'Connor, from the NBC television network, based in New York City, revealed on 12 October that the journalist was suffering a cutaneous form of anthrax, less dangerous than the pulmonary one. The journalist could have been contaminated after opening a letter addressed to Tom Brokaw, a star TV news presenter. The letter, sent on 18 October from Trenton (New Jersey), contained several brown granules revealing traces of anthrax. In the following days, a police officer and two employees of a laboratory investigating the suspicious substance were declared to be healthy germ carriers. Meanwhile, another NBC employee showed signs of infection from anthrax.
On 15 October, Dave Westin, ABC News president, disclosed during a press conference that an ABC employee's seven-month-old baby had caught a cutaneous form of the disease. The baby had been taken to the ABC office on 28 September. Meanwhile, according to Bernard Kerik, the New York City police chief, nothing could prove that he had been infected at ABC.
On 12 October, the Governor of Nevada announced that traces of the bacillus had been discovered in a letter received by a branch of Microsoft in Reno (Nevada). Nobody has been infected, however. On 15 October, tests on a letter addressed to Tom Daschle, leader of Democrat senators, showed traces of anthrax. The people who were present when the letter was opened were not infected, Daschle stated on 16 October.
Investigators have still not ascertained who the senders of these infected letters are. Although President George Bush stated for the first time, on 15 October, that some links between the head of the Al Qaida network and the 11 September attacks were likely, he acknowledged that he had no accurate proof. As for the bacillus found in Florida, it allegedly came from an Iowa laboratory which sent it to other laboratories worldwide.
tests for anthrax not always the most accurate
By ELIZABETH SHOGREN
WASHINGTON -- Pornographic material mailed to a Microsoft office in Reno, Nev., tested positive for anthrax on an initial screening. A second, more sophisticated test came out negative, but a third test -- all at the same Nevada State Lab -- showed positive results.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is now looking at the material, and a spokesman says preliminary indications are that the sample is negative.
The flip-flopping results highlight how unreliable tests for the deadly bacterium can be -- both for suspect substances and the people who may have been exposed to them.
Experts say field tests are particularly error-prone and can produce false positive or false negative results. More extensive laboratory procedures have their own limitations. And accurate tests for bacterium in people are even more problematic.
The inconclusive results have heightened the agony for the people involved and the nation watching their plight so carefully.
But public health officials involved in the anthrax scare and experts around the country say certainty is not possible given the fallibility of the tests.
"It's confusing to the public but it's not confusing to us, because we know there can be equivocal testing that needs to be verified," said Bob Salcido, a Nevada investigator who worked on the case.
Even when the stakes are high, conclusive findings take time. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office discovered a suspicious letter about 10:30 a.m. Monday, but Capitol Police did not get final confirmation that the substance was anthrax until late that evening.
"This certainly warranted rapid response. Tom Daschle's office would get the fastest analysis available," said Calvin Chue, a research scientist for Johns Hopkins University's Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies in Baltimore.
Investigators on the scene of an anthrax scare can do preliminary field tests with a simple device that resembles a home pregnancy tests or with high-tech, suitcase-sized DNA scanners -- the gold standard for field tests. Both have limitations.
"None of the rapid tests can be considered a final confirmation," Chue said. "The trade-off for being very rapid is it's not 100 percent accurate. There is no single test that is 100 percent."
A false positive can result if the test is fooled by another member of the bacillus family, which includes anthrax and a large number of less threatening bugs.
"These tests are very fast but they do have a tendency for false positives," said Gary Andersen, a senior scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.
False negatives are possible if there was simply not enough bacteria in the sample that was tested.
"This is why a sample may test negative a couple times, but a more sensitive third test would pick it up and you can say the test is positive," Chue said.
Back in the lab, scientists spread a specimen in a petri dish and place it in an incubator for 18 to 24 hours at body temperature to see if the anthrax bacterium grows. Once the bacterial colonies appear, several different tests are used to try to confirm the presence of anthrax.
In the Nevada case, two of these tests came out positive and another -- a direct fluorescent antibody test -- was negative, according to Salcido, who works at the state emergency operations center.
The final verdict lies with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has the ability to perform sophisticated DNA tests as well as more advanced bacterial culture analysis.
"The one we have is looking like it's going to be negative," said Lisa Swenarski of the CDC.
"The bottom line is that's not going to determine whether someone needs treatment or not. Even if you test negative you need to stay on the antibiotics."
The incubation period may be as long as 50 days for anthrax spores that have been inhaled. That is why people are given 60-day regimes of antibiotics.
Friday, October 19, 2001
Postal Carrier Contracts Anthrax
By PETE YOST, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Federal investigators are trying to track anthrax-laden letters back to their point of origin as a New Jersey postal carrier who may have handled the envelopes tested positive for the disease.
Authorities offered $1 million for information leading to the arrest of those who sent the anthrax.
The female letter carrier who may have handled the envelopes sent to NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw in New York City and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in Washington worked out of the West Trenton, N.J., local post office facility. She and a CBS News employee who opens Dan Rather's mail in New York brought to six the number of people infected with the disease since Oct. 4, including a Florida man who died.
The Washington Post reported in Friday's editions that FBI agents were tracing the mail route of the female letter carrier, who had contracted cutaneous, or the skin form, of anthrax, suggesting the anthrax-laced letters may have come from her route.
The Post also said a worker at a Washington facility that delivers mail to Congress had tested positive for anthrax exposure, the first case off the grounds of the Capitol that appeared associated with the letter to Daschle, officials said.
Officials were almost certain that a maintenance worker who serviced mail-sorting machines at the Trenton post office's regional distribution center in Hamilton, N.J., has anthrax, the Postal Inspection Service reported.
Another postal worker at the Hamilton facility was being tested for possible exposure to anthrax. The two employees were being treated and taking antibiotics, Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco said. Customers who visited the West Trenton post office in the past three weeks were urged to see a doctor if they had any symptoms of illness or a rash.
As reports of new anthrax exposures came in, Bush administration officials tried to assure a jittery nation that authorities were on the alert for terrorist acts.
``Our antennae are up for all conceivable risks,'' said Tom Ridge, the new chief of homeland security. While saying there was no specific threat, the government notified doctors nationwide that they should watch for possible cases of smallpox, food poisoning and deadly viruses like Ebola.
Surgeon General David Satcher said stockpiles of antibiotics were sufficient to respond to the anthrax threat.
Congressional activity was largely shut down by the anthrax scare — the House officially in recess because of the threat, the Senate in session but with its sprawling complex of three office buildings closed.
Officials said they had received laboratory results for hundreds of people at the Capitol, but no additional reports of positive tests for anthrax exposure beyond the 31 congressional workers disclosed on Wednesday. Those exposed included 23 aides to Daschle, five police officers and three aides to Sen. Russell Feingold, who occupies a Senate office building suite adjoining Daschle's.
CBS officials said the aide to Rather, Claire Fletcher, 27, was recovering. ``She's doing fine,'' network news president Andrew Heyward said. ``Her prognosis is excellent.''
Federal investigators, meanwhile, pressed for evidence at research labs and universities that may have access to anthrax and questioned pharmacies to see if anyone tried to buy large amounts of antibiotics before the nationwide anthrax scare.
One scenario being explored is whether someone living in the United States might have worked with a foreign country or an overseas domestic terrorist group with enhanced biochemical capabilities, officials said.
``We think it may be ill-advised to think about the situation in terms of an either-or matrix,'' Attorney General John Ashcroft said. He also raised the possibility that the anthrax attacks could be the work of more than one homegrown terrorist.
``It might well be that we have opportunists in the United States or terrorists in the United States who are acting in ways that are unrelated,'' the attorney general added.
Ashcroft said that he could not rule out a connection between the anthrax attacks and the events of Sept. 11.
Tests have concluded that the anthrax in the letter sent to Brokaw was of the same strain as the anthrax sent to an American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., where one man died.
Investigators were intrigued by the fact that the anthrax sent to NBC in September was in a heavy granular substance that would not likely go airborne while the anthrax found in the later Daschle letter was professionally made and more likely to float into the air.
Given that the similar handwriting and envelopes suggested a single sender, the differing anthrax specimens suggest the sender may have received sophisticated assistance in between the Brokaw and Daschle letters, government officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Some of the traditional evidence-gathering was slowed because the envelopes were contaminated with anthrax, making tests such as fingerprinting, DNA analysis and saliva more risky for lab technicians.
In other developments:
—Preliminary tests at two more Florida post offices that handled mail for the American Media publisher where anthrax was first found have a ``minuscule'' amount of anthrax, state health officials said. The facilities in Boca Raton and Lake Worth were to be cleaned and reopened Friday.
—Final tests on a letter in a Microsoft office in Reno, Nevada, came back negative for anthrax, Gov. Kenny Guinn said.
October 24, 2001
shrugs off anthrax claims
MOSCOW - Russia has dismissed claims that the anthrax outbreaks in the United States are linked to the legacy of the Soviet biological warfare program, but ordinary Russians are not convinced by Moscow's reassurances that they are safe.
Allegations of a Soviet connection to the US anthrax cases have been rampant since beginning of the scare. A former Biopreparat factory employee, Ken Alibek, alias Kanajan Alibekov, claimed that anthrax spores discovered in the United States had been produced at a factory in Kazakhstan, at Stepnogorsk.
Denying the claims, Biopreparat factory deputy director Valentin Yevstigneyev told Kazakh state-run television on October 22 that his facility had no connection whatsoever with anthrax spores discovered in the US. "Alibekov, a former Biopreparat employee, is either uninformed or is making deliberately libellous allegations," he said. Yevstigneyev said there had been projects to develop biological weapons in Stepnogorsk but the projects were shut down after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. By embarking on the project, the Soviet Union had violated the Biological Weapons Convention that it signed in 1972.
Russia's Defense Ministry also dismissed media speculation about a possible "Russian connection" with the US cases. "Any attempts to find evidence linking the US anthrax outbreaks to Russia are absolutely groundless," the ministry said in a statement on October 19. "All anti-bio-warfare units of the Defense Ministry do not pose any environmental hazard, while Russia's anti-bio-warfare troops possess all necessary means to deal with any threat," the statement added.
On April 2, 1979, an anthrax outbreak infected 94 people and killed at least 64 in Sverdlovsk, now called Ekaterinburg, some 1,360 kilometers east of the capital, Moscow. The government claimed the deaths were caused by anthrax from infected meat, but even now some Russian officials find the version of the Soviet government unbelievable.
Eyewitnesses, too, refused to subscribe to the government's version. "The roofs and walls of our houses were washed twice by people in masks," said Zinaida Vikulova, a survivor. Thousands of people were vaccinated and treated with antibiotics. Nina Berdyugina, former chief therapist in Sverdlovsk, said: "It was not meat poisoning, it was something else. The KGB secret service investigated the incident."
US officials have long suspected that the outbreak was caused by an accidental release of anthrax spores from a Soviet biological weapons facility located in the city.
After the demise of the Soviet Union, President Yeltsin Boris admitted, without going into details, that the anthrax outbreak was the result of military activity. He also signed a decree banning work on biological weapons and officially acknowledging that the Soviet Union had violated the 1972 Convention.
In April 1994, Yeltsin signed a decree to compensate survivors of the Sverdlovsk incident. However, according to Lev Fedorov, chairperson of Russia's Chemical Safety Union, the decree stipulated that only those who had been infected at their work places would be compensated. "As a result, people infected outdoors or at their homes, in other words most of the victims, received no compensation," he said.
In a 1999 book on the Soviet biological weapons program, Biohazard, Ken Alibek indicated that a missing air filter in an exhaust system was to blame for the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak. The incident remains the only case of inhaled anthrax on record in the former Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union's biological weapons program included a network of germ factories, which produced hundreds of tonnes of anthrax spores, according to researchers. Military researchers were engaged in attempts to create lab-designed lethal bugs, and researchers were dispatched to Africa and Asia to collect rare local bacteria and viruses.
"During the Cold War, the two foes [the Soviet Union and the United States] prepared weapons of destruction," said Beniamin Cherkassky, a bacteriologist at the Russian Academy. Referring to the mail scare in the US, he said: "Mail delivery is not the most efficient way of employing biological weapons, while letters were arguably designed to cause panic by attacking media outlets."
Russia has lived with anthrax for centuries. In the 19th century up to 15,000 Russians contracted anthrax and 3,000 died of it each year. Even now some 15-20 people still contract anthrax each year, according to health authorities. Some 35,000 burial sites for cattle infected with natural anthrax exist in Russia, and 15,000 sites can be found in other former Soviet states.
Despite all the evidence, Russian officials still try to convince the public that there is nothing to fear about anthrax. There will be no bio-war because "tens of tonnes" of anthrax powder are needed to cause mass outbreaks, Russia's chief veterinary official, Guennady Onischenko, said, adding that Russia produces two million doses of anthrax vaccine per year. Officials also dismiss the possibility of new germ leaks. Nikolai Urakov, head of Russia's State Biological Research Center in Obolensk, south of Moscow, told RTR television that stocks of deadly germs were being guarded as tightly as nuclear facilities.
But ordinary Russians are not convinced. According to a recent opinion poll, 64 percent of Russians fear accidental leaks of dangerous substances rather than bio-terrorism, which is dreaded by 36 percent of the respondents.
Although mass vaccination is not contemplated, caution is required in Russia, Onischenko said. "On October 17, we informed regional health authorities to be vigilant with 'odd letters'," he said.
Russia, too, has become subject to an anthrax scare. On October 23, the Tomsk region in Siberia introduced extra measures against anthrax. Farit Astakhov, head of the regional mail service, ordered his employees to sort mail in gloves and respirators. Tomsk experienced an anthrax outbreak in 1977, when seven people were infected.
(Inter Press Service)
Tests reveal ‘Iraqi’ chemical in anthrax
Washington, October 27 
Initial tests on anthrax sent to Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle found a chemical additive that keeps the spores airborne and is a trademark of Iraq’s biological weapons programme, ABC News has reported.
Three well-placed but separate sources told ABC News World News Tonight yesterday that the chemical agent, called bentonite, was discovered during a series of tests on the Daschle letter performed at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and at other sites.
The substance helps keep the tiny anthrax particles in mid-air by preventing them from sticking together.
Bentonite is a trademark of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons programme, the report said, although ABC noted that it could be used by other countries.
The White House quickly denied that tests on the letter to Daschle had shown the presence of bentonite.
“It’s not true,” spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
ABC reported that government officials were performing several supplemental rounds of tests to verify the initial findings because of the significance of the bentonite discovery.
Meanwhile, experts said it was possible that someone else had produced the bentonite using the Iraqi technique, according to ABC.
The ABC report says that the substance is found in soil around the world, including in the USA and in Iraq.
But officials cautioned that even if Iraq or maverick Iraqi scientists were the source of the anthrax, it remained to be seen who had actually sent the tainted letters.
Fourteen persons have now contracted either inhalation anthrax or the less serious manifestation of the disease, skin anthrax, in the USA but officials have not established who is behind the scare. Three persons have already died.
Meanwhile, trace amounts of anthrax bacteria have been found in the offices of three members of the US House of Representatives in a government building next to the US Capitol, the police said yesterday night.
Lt Dan Nichols of the US Capitol police said the anthrax had been detected on the sixth and seventh floors of Longworth House Office Building, in the offices of Democratic Reps. John Baldacci of Maine and Rush Holt of New Jersey and Republican Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana.
Nichols said authorities were still awaiting the results of tests taken in other parts of Longworth Building, one of three large structures that contain the offices of House members.
US health officials have decided to issue anthrax vaccines for investigators and others at high risk of exposure to the dangerous germ warfare agent, CNN said.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is saying today it has decided to administer the anthrax vaccine to certain high-risk workers,’’ said CNN yesterday, citing CDC officials.
It said criminal investigators and decontamination personnel were seen as “high-risk’’ workers best suited for the vaccine.
The vaccine, its use now restricted to certain laboratory workers and members of the US armed forces, could later be extended to some postal workers.
Meanwhile, former UN weapons inspector Timothy Trevan said “It means to me that Iraq becomes the prime suspect as the source of the anthrax used in these letters,”
In the process of destroying much of Iraq’s biological arsenal, UN teams first discovered Iraq was using bentonite.
“That discovery was proof positive of how they were using bentonite to make small particles,” former UN weapons inspector Richard Spertzel told ABC.
PTI, AFP, Reuters
SATURDAY OCTOBER 27 2001
Hijacker 'given anthrax flask by Iraqi agent'
BY DANIEL MCGRORY
INTELLIGENCE agents from Prague to Swansea are uncovering a trail of clues that point to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq having a hand in al-Qaeda’s terrorist missions.
Iraqi ministers have spent the week protesting Baghdad’s innocence to the United Nations, but will not say why some of its diplomats who met Mohammed Atta, one of the suspected September 11 hijackers, disappeared from their European posts after that date.
Nor will Baghdad explain why Saddam’s agents were spotted at various times this year with Atta in Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic.
Many in the Pentagon are sure Saddam helped to orchestrate the simultaneous hijackings and the anthrax attacks, but President Bush and Tony Blair have yet to be convinced. To get proof of the Baghdad connection, senior officials in the Bush Administration even sent a former CIA Director to Britain on a covert mission.
Intelligence officers in Washington have deliberately leaked the testimony of an Iraqi defector hiding in Turkey who said that Saddam set up a terrorist training school on the outskirts of Istanbul to practice hijacking a Boeing passenger aircraft. The CIA says that it is assessing the claims.
Meanwhile, a special FBI team sent to Europe to uncover al-Qaeda cells say that they are studying a report from Prague that anthrax spores were given to Atta during his last meeting in Prague in April with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the Iraqi consul. “If it can be shown that Atta was given a flask of anthrax,” a Western intelligence official said, “then the link will have been made with Osama bin Laden and with Iraq.”
What is known is that Atta made at least four visits to the Czech Republic to see Mr al-Ani. Czech intelligence officers who saw them embrace at Ruzyne Airport admit that they had no idea who the man greeting Saddam’s envoy was. When they were followed to the headquarters of Radio Free Europe the suspicion was that they may have been plotting to bomb it.
Yesterday the German newspaper Bild suggested a more sinister motive for their meetings. The claim, according to Israeli security sources, is that Atta was handed a vacuum flask of anthrax by his Iraqi contact. From Prague, it is believed Atta flew to Newark. From New Jersey, letters laced with anthrax were sent to broadcasters and politicians in New York, Washington and Florida. Czech officials have been to Washington to reveal all they know, but they can’t question the Iraqi envoy because Mr al-Ani was deported from Prague in April for “activities incompatible with his status as a diplomat”.
Stanislav Gross, the Czech Interior Minister, confirmed yesterday a meeting in Prague between Atta and Mr al-Ani just weeks before the envoy was expelled.
US scientists believe the anthrax spores sent to Tom Daschle, the Senate Majority Leader, had been treated with a sophisticated chemical additive only three countries can manufacture: Russia, America and possibly Iraq.
Former UN weapons inspectors suggest that Saddam could have helped bin Laden to get nuclear material. Critics of the Pentagon’s view say that Iraq would not share its nuclear secrets, but might watch for others trying to buy on the black market.
Italian police say they are investigating how Saddam also used his Embassy in Rome to foster his partnership with al-Qaeda. One of Saddam’s intelligence agents, Habib Faris Abdullah al-Mamouri, was sent to be the new headmaster of a school for Iraqi diplomats in Italy. The bogus headmaster has not been seen in Rome since July, shortly after he also met Atta. The pair are also said to have been together in Hamburg and Prague.
There is no proof the men were in direct contact, but as one intelligence source in Madrid said: “They chose a strange time and place to take a holiday.” The Rome daily Il Messaggero, quoting Western intelligence sources, said of Mr al-Mamouri that “he spent more time pursuing contacts helpful to the Iraqi regime among fundamentalist Islamic groups than he had on his supposed teaching duties”.
Italian officials say that Mr al-Mamouri held the rank of general in the Iraqi secret service, and from 1982 to 1990 worked in the Special Operations Branch forging Baghdad’s links with Islamic fundamentalist groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Gulf and Sudan. He was transferred to his “teaching duties” in 1998, although all the Iraqi Embassy will say of his sudden departure is that “he had money problems”.
Although Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, and others in his department are sceptical of Saddam’s involvement, there are many influential figures in US intelligence who claim that Iraq’s links with bin Laden go back to the early Nineties.
Desperate for allies after the Gulf War, Saddam sent Faruq Hijazi, his secret service director, to Sudan in 1994, where bin Laden then had his headquarters. The meetings were brokered by Hassan al-Tourabi, the Sudanese Muslim leader, who was bin Laden’s protector. The Sudanese belatedly offered to show the CIA all they knew about bin Laden and his visits, to ingratiate themselves back into the international fold, but the Americans scorned the approach.
The Iraqi connection with bin Laden continued when the terrorist leader moved to Afghanistan. Mr Hijazi, who is now Saddam’s envoy in Turkey, reportedly met the al-Qaeda leader at his fortified home in Kandahar and in Kabul.
Mr Hijazi also disappeared from his embassy last month after the first reports of his meetings with al-Qaeda, and he is believed to have slipped back into Ankara earlier this week. The Foreign Ministry in Turkey says it has not been told that the Ambassador had returned, although the Iraqi Embassy says that he is “resting”. What puzzles Turkish officials is that there are no airport records of his return.
US Intelligence says Saddam cultivated the relationship with al-Qaeda at the start of 1998 by inviting the man regarded as bin Laden’s deputy — Ayman Zawahiri — to dine with Taha Yasin Ramadan, the Iraqi Vice-President. That was such a success that a delegation from al-Qaeda attended Saddam’s birthday celebrations that April, and it was during this trip that arrangements were made for bin Laden recruits to receive the sort of advanced weapons training they could not get in their camps in Afghanistan.
The hand-picked bin Laden agents found themselves under the supervision of Saddam’s violent son, Uday, who wanted to conscript some of bin Laden’s skilled fighters into his own militia. Bin Laden reciprocated by dispatching “400 Afghan Arabs” to Iraq to fight Kurds.
The most curious attempt to implicate Saddam was in South Wales last month when James Woolsey, the former CIA Director, is reported to have visited a Swansea college. The hope was that the testimony of college lecturers and recollections of former students could be used to convince sceptics in the US Administration and Downing Street that Saddam has helped to provide agents to carry out al-Qaeda attacks.
Mr Woolsey, who refuses to give details of his British itinerary, has always believed that the Iraqi leader masterminded the 1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Centre.
The trip to the Swansea Institute was to establish the true identity of one of bin Laden’s bombers, who claims to have studied computer-aided engineering in South Wales.
Additional reporting by Roger Boyes in Berlin; Richard Owen in Rome and Andrew Finkel in Istanbul
on ABC's 'This Week'
Sunday, October 28, 2001
Guests: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw; Dr. David Franz, former commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases; Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Washington Post columnist George Will; and George Stephanopoulos.
DONALDSON: This morning, war on two fronts. In Afghanistan, after the heaviest round of bombing so far, U.S. forces are still struggling to destroy the Taliban. With winter and Ramadan fast approaching, is the operation succeeding? We'll ask Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
ROBERTS: Plus, the unseen enemy at home. As the anthrax scare spreads through Washington, where is it coming from, and can it be controlled? We'll ask Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institutes of Health and bioterrorism expert Dr. David Franz.
ANNOUNCER: That's This Week, featuring George Will and George Stephanopoulos. And joining the round table, ABC News White House correspondent Terry Moran.
Now, from Washington, Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts.
DONALDSON: Welcome to our program.
And Cokie, welcome back.
ROBERTS: Good to be back, Sam, thank you.
DONALDSON: Well, on the battle front overseas, almost seven weeks into the war against terrorism, U.S. war planes are now striking at the Taliban front lines in northern Afghanistan, perhaps a prelude to a push by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance forces toward Kabul.
And heavy bombing of Kabul itself continues. Pictures from Al Jazeera, Arab television, reportedly show civilian casualties caused by the latest U.S. raids. These 10 civilians were killed, according to witness reports. U.S. officials say great care is taken to avoid civilian casualties, but the Taliban are seeking to exploit mistakes in a propaganda war aimed at turning the Arab world against the U.S. campaign.
Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, tells ``The London Telegraph'' his country is not producing anthrax and calls that charge ridiculous, but says it is only a matter of time before the United States and Britain attack Iraq.
Here on the home front, the effort to prevent further cases of anthrax and to find its source continues.
Our chief investigative reporter, Brian Ross, has the latest from New York.
BRIAN ROSS, ABC CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Sam. As two Postal Service workers were buried this weekend, victims of the deadly inhalation anthrax, more than 10,000 people remained on antibiotics, from postal employees to justices of the Supreme Court. The fact is, investigators simply do not know if there are other, as-yet-undiscovered anthrax letters somewhere in the system.
To be on the safe side, authorities continue to expand the circle of people who should take antibiotics, and the post office in Princeton, New Jersey, was closed after what was reported as the discovery of just one spore of anthrax.
The trail remains cold for investigators in New Jersey, who are left hoping the $1 million reward will turn up something, but so far it has not. And despite continued White House denials, now four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the U.S. Army at Fort Dietrich, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica, which many experts say are trademarks, although from hard evidence, of the Iraqi biological weapons program.
At the same time those results were coming in, officials in the Czech Republic confirmed that hijacked ringleader Mohamed Atta had met at least once with a senior Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague, raising what authorities consider some extremely provocative questions.
And this weekend, FBI agents are conducting anthrax tests on two cars Mohamed Atta had owned, tests an FBI spokesperson said no one had previously thought were necessary.
ROBERTS: Thank you, Brian.
And now joining us is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Thank you so much for being with us, Mr. Secretary.
RUMSFELD: Thank you.
ROBERTS: I want to get to that question about Iraq later. But first, the war. There've been stories over the weekend that give the perception that this war after three weeks is not going very well, that the Taliban is getting stronger, that Osama bin Laden is still at large, that one of the chief opposition leaders has been assassinated, and that the Red Cross warehouse has been hit by U.S. bombs.
Is the war just not going as well as you had hoped it would at this point?
RUMSFELD: Oh, no, quite the contrary. It's going very much the way we expected when it began. Three weeks is not a very long time if one thinks about it. And the progress has been measurable. We feel that the air campaign has been effective.
The fact that for a period we did not have good targets has now shifted, because we are getting much better information from the ground in terms of targets. Also, the pressure that has been put on fairly continuously these past weeks has forced people to move and to change locations in a way that gives additional targeting opportunities.
ROBERTS: Did the military help Abdul Haq, the opposition leader who was assassinated Friday?
RUMSFELD: My understanding of that situation was that he had decided to come back in the country on a--in a form and manner of his own choosing, and that he did request assistance, and that he received some assistance. The assistance unfortunately was from the air, and he was on the ground. And regrettably, he was killed.
ROBERTS: But he did receive assistance from the U.S. military.
RUMSFELD: That's my understanding. No, I didn't say that. I said he requested assistance and received it.
ROBERTS: But not from the U.S. military?
RUMSFELD: No, it was from another agency.
ROBERTS: OK. From an intelligence agency, I would take it.
RUMSFELD: It was from another element of the government.
ROBERTS: OK. The question of victory is one that is some question of definition, and I think that polling generally shows that getting Osama bin Laden is considered an important part of this campaign. And I want to show you some things that you said over the last week about this question.
You said, ``The military role will be over there when the Taliban and the Al Qaeda are gone, gone, and that is what this is all about.'' Then you said of Osama, ``He's got a lot of money, he's got a lot of people who support him, and I just don't know whether we'll be successful.'' And finally, ``Until you have him, you do not have him.''
So what is the progress? Until he's no longer functioning as a terrorist, he is functioning as a terrorist. That sounds like you think that he is still the problem, and until we get him, we've not won, but we might not get him.
RUMSFELD: Well, those are a few of the things I've said on the subject. I've said a great many things on the subject. I've also said there's--I have every reason to believe we will find him. I've also said that I don't think that he's the whole problem.
This is not about a single person, it is about the problem of terrorism. He is one element of Al Qaeda. There are a lot of leaders. If he were--disappeared today off the face of the earth, there would still be the Al Qaeda network, there would still be other terrorist networks, and there still would be worldwide terrorism that would need to be dealt with.
So I think that it makes--it's a mistake to too great an extent to try to personalize what's going on in this world. We lost thousands of people here in the United States. The president has declared war on international terrorism. He is hard at taking the war to them, because there's no way to defend everywhere in the world against terrorists. You simply must go find them and root out those networks.
That is what the--is under way. To think only about one man, I think, is a mistake. Will we get him? I think we will. And I certainly hope so.
ROBERTS: Why not put in massive ground troops now to go in and find the elements of Al Qaeda and hopefully also Osama?
RUMSFELD: Well, we've not ruled out the use of ground troops.
ROBERTS: And is the possibility that they will go in and go in soon?
RUMSFELD: Well, I think if one hasn't ruled them--I didn't say soon, but I think if someone has not ruled out the use of ground troops, there certainly is that possibility.
ROBERTS: But you're not saying they're going to go in any time soon. And in great numbers?
RUMSFELD: Well, that wouldn't be very wise of me, would it, to...
RUMSFELD: ... to say that we think something's going to happen in the period immediately ahead. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to talk about what we might or might not do.
ROBERTS: The question of timetable, you've also said, is important not to have a timetable, that it has to go according to how the war goes. But you heard over the weekend that President Musharraf of Pakistan used the echo word from Vietnam, ``quagmire.'' And then he said there does need to be a timetable.
Here's what he said. ``Military action must be brought to an end as soon as possible, and if it is unable to achieve its military goals in a certain time, we need to switch to a political strategy.''
Problems with the coalition falling apart?
RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, there's nothing in that statement that anyone could disagree with. No one would want a military campaign to go on longer than necessary. And he said it should be as--brought to an end as soon as possible. Everyone would want it to be--end as soon as possible.
Second, there is no coalition. There are multiple coalitions. And we have said that from the very beginning. We are getting all kinds of different assistance from different countries all across the globe. And the--about, oh, a week or two ago, I said, You know, some day in the next period, someone's going to say, Oh, the coalition's falling apart, the implication being, if one country decides they don't want to participate in one element of what it is we're doing, that therefore, quote, ``the coalition'' is falling apart.
We have said from day one, there is no single coalition, there are multiple coalitions. Countries are going to help us in the way they feel best. And we are getting enormous support from all across the world.
ROBERTS: But--so you're saying if Pakistan pulls out, that that's OK?
RUMSFELD: Pakistan's not going to pull out. The president of Pakistan has a very difficult situation. One has to appreciate how difficult that is. He is doing a terrific job, in my personal view, in managing that very difficult situation. And he is being exceedingly cooperative with us.
ROBERTS: Now, there is a perception, certainly, here in Washington that part of the reason that this war is not widened to go--you talked about going after terrorism all over the world--to go into Iraq, and you heard Brian Ross's report that the confirmation that Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official, and this suspicion about anthrax and Iraq, and that this administration doesn't want o say the word ``Iraq'' for fear of having to go in, and that then the Arab world could fall apart.
RUMSFELD: This administration is not afraid of saying the word ``Iraq.'' Iraq's been on the terrorist list for years. There is no question but that Iraq is a state that has committed terrorist acts and has sponsored terrorist acts.
ROBERTS: Do you think it was--the meeting with Mohamed Atta was significant in terms of September 11?
RUMSFELD: I--we will know that only after the proper law enforcement people investigate that. Clearly, the meeting is not nothing, it is something notable.
ROBERTS: And the reports that the anthrax could have been tampered with by this bentonite that is Iraqi based?
RUMSFELD: Yes, I am really not into could-haves and might-haves. I think that in a position of responsibility in a government, I've got an obligation to talk about what I know about and to not speculate about those things, and I know that serious people are looking at both of those matters seriously.
ROBERTS: In the military.
RUMSFELD: In the United States government.
ROBERTS: And if, in fact, it turns out that it was Iraq that infiltrated the anthrax, what do we do?
RUMSFELD: Well, that is a hypothetical question that is--what--the kind of thing that ends up on the president of the United States' desk frequently, and those are tough decisions, and we'll just have to see.
ROBERTS: There's a sense, of course, that the coalition that was the--there for the Gulf War kept the United States from going after Saddam at the time. As you know better than I, there are a lot of people in this administration, in your Defense Department, who think that that was a mistake and that we should do it now.
RUMSFELD: There is--there's no question but that there's been a debate in the world as to how that conflict might have ended differently, and there's also no question but that Saddam is still a threat to his neighbors. He is a threat to the Kurds in the north of his country, he's a threat to the Shia in the south, he's a threat to his neighbors in Iran, and he's a threat to...
ROBERTS: Is he a threat to us?
RUMSFELD: ... Jordan. And he clearly, as a terrorist state, is a threat to other countries in the world, including the United States.
He has been contained to some extent because of Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch, where the United States and coalition aircraft fly missions to prevent him from getting a head start to try to impose his will on his neighbors again.
It is a--it is true there are people around, in and out of government, who wish he weren't there, and certainly I'm one of them.
ROBERTS: But no plans to go after him at the moment.
RUMSFELD: We're doing what we're doing, and I will say this, the president has said this is a war against terrorist networks across the globe. There are many more than just Al Qaeda. They are in many more countries beyond Afghanistan. And it is something that we as a country and the many countries assisting us are currently doing.
It--we have to remember that what we see is only part of what's happening. The number of people who've been arrested, the number of bank accounts that have been frozen, the amount of intelligence that's been gathered, the law enforcement work that's going on, is in addition every bit as important as the military part that's taking place.
ROBERTS: Let me just ask you about something you just said, and we're about out of time. But what we see is just part of what's happening. There's some sense that we're losing the propaganda war, and those pictures we saw of those children at the beginning of the program have taken the place in our minds of the pictures of the World Trade Center being blown up.
Why not allow more press access so that the United States press can show pictures that fight the Arab press?
RUMSFELD: The--I don't--I'm not an expert on this subject, but my understanding is that the United States government during this period, with respect to the military element, has been enormously forthcoming, and the press has been involved in as many aspects as I believe has ever been the case of things where it's humanly possible.
The press has not been parachuting in on Special Operations activities into hostile environment in Afghanistan, to be sure. But I don't think they want to, nor do I think it would be safe for the troops trying to protect them once they got in there.
There are press people all over Afghanistan, and the ones that are following the Taliban are, of course, allowed to go where the Taliban wants, and they're being told what the Taliban wants. And the Al Jazeera television network has a pattern of putting out Al Qaeda propaganda. That's just a fact.
Now, you're right, it makes it very difficult. If one side lies, and they have lied repeatedly--they're using mosques, for example, for command and control, for ammunition storage. They are clearly not telling the truth about these casualties, we know that of certain knowledge.
Now, are people going to be killed in a war? You bet. And there are plenty of people throwing ordinance around in Afghanistan besides the United States. It's coming down--we're bombing from the air, but the opposition forces are in fact fighting against the Taliban. The Taliban's fighting against us and the opposition forces.
So when someone dies, it could have come from any one of those four locations.
ROBERTS: Right, OK.
Mr. Secretary, have you been vaccinated against anthrax?
ROBERTS: OK. Thank you. Thank you...
RUMSFELD: Have you?
ROBERTS: No. Thank you very much. Thank you for being here.
Later in the program, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will give his view of the military campaign and other weapons in the war against terrorism.
But first, two prominent members of the medical community answer the life-and-death questions on anthrax and other forms of bioterrorism. Drs. Anthony Fauci and David Franz, after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM RIDGE, DIRECTOR OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Clearly we are up against a shadow enemy, shadow soldiers, people who have no regard for human life. They are determined to murder innocent people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DONALDSON: Joining us now are Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Welcome, Dr. Fauci.
FAUCI: Nice to be here, Sam.
DONALDSON: And Dr. David Franz, former commander of the U.S. Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Good to see you, Dr. Franz.
Number of questions for you about who may have made this particular anthrax that we're dealing with here in the United States.
But first I want to talk about who should be taking medication at this point. And a new medication, a generic drug, is now being substituted for Cipro. Is that correct?
FAUCI: That's correct.
DONALDSON: Tell us about that.
FAUCI: Well, first of all, the medication is doxycycline. We know now from the examination of the material, the anthrax, that it is sensitive to most of the standard antibiotics that you would expect it to be sensitive to. So the original studies in animals that guided the medical community toward ciprofloxacin and the concern that there would be genetic engineering of the microbe to make it resistant doesn't appear to be the case.
So now you have a much greater spectrum of antibiotics that you can use, including doxycycline.
DONALDSON: And this is not just because it might be cheaper than Cipro?
FAUCI: No, no, absolutely not. It happens to be cheaper, there happens to be a lot of it. But the real reason is that the microbe is sensitive to doxycycline as with the other--as well as other antibiotics.
DONALDSON: The Brentwood facility here where the letter to Senator Daschle came through and which has been closed now, downstream from that...
DONALDSON: ... are some 4,000 mail rooms.
FAUCI: Right, right.
DONALDSON: Should all of the people who have been in those mail rooms be immediately put on one of these drugs?
FAUCI: Well, you have to look at what the strategy of risk-benefit is. It's very clear that if you're in what we'll call a primary facility like Brentwood, that those people need to be treated. The concern about a secondary facility, which was the Sterling facility in Virginia, and those that directly get bulk mail from the Brentwood facility, since there was documentation that disease can occur in those settings, it was clear that individuals were being put on therapy.
So the obvious question now is, what about, as you say, Sam, downstream? And the philosophy has been to test people. If there's--if--not only people, but the environment--if there's positivity, then those people need to get treated.
If you have a situation where there's a high suspicion that there is contamination, you test and treat for a limited period of time. If the testing comes back negative, you stop. That's where we get the 10-day phenomenon that people might be confused about.
DONALDSON: But your answer seems to be that all of these people shouldn't immediately be put on the drug.
FAUCI: Well, the question is, should you just give it to every post person--every postal worker who's anywhere directly or indirectly connected? And the answer would be, unless there is a concern and risk that there was a contamination from one to the other.
So primary and secondary, there's no question it's yes. If something directly comes from Brentwood, that decision has been made that those individuals need to be tested.
DONALDSON: That Daschle letter...
FAUCI: I mean treated, not tested.
DONALDSON: Right. That Daschle letter must have contaminated other mail.
FAUCI: Right, right.
DONALDSON: That's the theory now. Am I correct?
FAUCI: Right. The theory is that either that letter contaminated other mail, or, as the director of the CDC said yesterday, the possibility that there may be another letter.
DONALDSON: But if other mail or another letter contaminated mail, it went to someone else.
DONALDSON: Are they at risk?
FAUCI: Well, well, yes, the answer would have to be, what kind of a risk? Because I know where you're going, and it's a question everybody's asking out there, Sam.
DONALDSON: Lot of mail went through Brentwood that day...
FAUCI: Right-o. If it--we're talking about bulk mail, and I'll just give you the basis upon which the decision was made. If there's bulk mail that comes from Brentwood, then where that bulk mail went is a risk to the postal workers. And that's why they're being treated.
DONALDSON: But to the recipient.
FAUCI: Right. At that point, there has been no indication that the recipient of that mail has been--is at risk. If someone gets infected in a household that you could trace back, then you have a much, much broader spectrum of treating. But at this point in time, the decision has been made that the recipient of a mail, a piece of mail from that, has not gotten sick yet, therefore the risk, at least at the present time, is not enough to have people broadly treat everyone who's gotten a letter.
DONALDSON: Dr. Franz, bentonite, that's the Iraqi signature in making anthrax for terrorism uses, for military uses, is it not?
FRANZ: Bentonite was used by the Iraqis in producing the anthrax that they produced, in producing the bacillus thuringiensis (ph) that they used as a model in developing this technology to produce anthrax, we believe.
However, bentonite is found throughout the world. Bentonite is found in the U.S., it's found wherever there was ever an active volcano, probably.
DONALDSON: Well, you know about the struggle going on. Our Brian Ross reports that he has four sources, ABC News does, that says that bentonite has been found in the Daschle anthrax. The U.S. government says no. Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesperson, told our White House correspondent yesterday that as of that time, no bentonite had been found.
What do you think's going on here?
FRANZ: Well, I think someone probably knows whether there's bentonite there or not. I don't happen to know. But even if we have definitive proof that we have bentonite in a sample from the Daschle letter, in my mind, that's just another piece of the puzzle, it's not the final piece of the puzzle.
DONALDSON: Well, you said it could be found all over the world. Are you telling us that people other than the Iraqis could, and if they're in the United States and have sophisticated knowledge of this, make an anthrax with the bentonite in it to try to help that anthrax be airborne?
FRANZ: Certainly. Bentonite is available from chemical companies, a number of them, in the U.S. and throughout the world. There are some interesting characteristics of bentonite. It's made typically--made up typically of silicon dioxide and some metal oxides. And they're in various formulations and various ratios in bentonite from various parts of the world.
So there's possibly another clue there to see where, if this was bentonite in the Daschle sample, where that bentonite came from.
But like all of the other issues related to biology, just because it's Ames strain doesn't mean it came from Ames. It may have come from someplace else, because these things can be moved around.
It's not like the bullet and rifling relationship in ballistic forensics. It's not like when you have a bullet with the marks on it from a specific barrel, you've got a definitive answer. That's not the way biology works.
DONALDSON: Let's talk smallpox. The U.S. government is now beginning a crash program to increase our supply of smallpox. Do you expect a smallpox outbreak, doctor, or is this simply an ounce of prevention?
FAUCI: This is total preparation. Whether we expect it or not, what we're doing, we have to do. We have to have smallpox vaccinations...
DONALDSON: Should we all...
FAUCI: ... (inaudible)...
DONALDSON: ... be vaccinated now?
FAUCI: At this point in time, no. But as we get the material, where we are in the position to make that decision, you measure the risk and benefits based on a lot of things, intelligence about whether or not there is smallpox that might be used as a bioterrorism weapon, or, certainly, if a smallpox case or cases spring up, that changes the whole landscape.
DONALDSON: Well, is (inaudible)...
FAUCI: But you've got to be prepared, you have to have the materials.
DONALDSON: As I understand it, there might be a three-week period before a person who has been infected begins to show the signs, and only then can infect someone else. But at that point, isn't it too late? Can't it spread like wildfire?
FAUCI: Well, certainly it can spread and that was one of the reasons why this has been historically such a devastating disease.
There are a couple of philosophies of how you approach smallpox. If you have an index case comes up, you quarantine, you isolate, you contact trace and then you vaccinate around that area. If you have multi-focal cases, then clearly you've got to do that a lot and in the essence, you're vaccinating everyone.
But there has to be an open discussion and debate about the risks and benefits right now or when we get the store of doing that because of the rare, but nonetheless serious, toxicities that are associated with the smallpox vaccination.
DONALDSON: Dr. Franz, what governments have this germ, this bacteria rather? how can it be spread?
FRANZ: The legal, the legal stashes of smallpox are in Atlanta and in Novasibirsk. I'm not concerned about those.
However, most of us turned in our samples of smallpox in the late '70s, and there were already some bad actors in the world at that time. I am concerned about those.
However, I believe that, were a terrorist to go to a leader of one of those countries, that leader would go to his virologist and say, ``I'd like some smallpox because I want to give it to a terrorist to use against the Americans.'' I think that virologist would probably say, ``You know, Mr. Leader, we better be careful what we do here because the Americans have a lot better public health system. They're better prepared to deal with this than we are, and maybe we better think twice.''
DONALDSON: So you're hoping that they wouldn't turn it over.
FRANZ: I'm hoping that they wouldn't.
DONALDSON: But hope isn't a certainty.
FRANZ: Nothing's certain in biology.
FAUCI: And that's why we're making the smallpox vaccine.
DONALDSON: Dr. David Franz, Dr. Anthony Fauci, thank you both for being with us today.
When we come back, how crucial a role are British troops playing in the Afghan campaign. George Stephanopoulos joins us from London for an interview with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain after this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Here in London, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced on Friday that elite British ground troops would join U.S. special forces prepared to land in Afghanistan.
For more from America's closest ally in the global war on terrorism, I sat down earlier this morning with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and asked him if the three weeks of bombing had brought the coalition any closer to the goal of crippling Al Qaeda.
STRAW: There have already been clear, relative military successes. For example, the terrorist capability, the air capability of Al Qaeda and the Taliban has been completely degraded. And it's only because of that that it's now possible to infiltrate ground troops into Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. So those things have already happened.
But what I'd also say, George, is that we said right from the beginning that this was going to take some time. Can't say exactly how long, but we certainly--nobody thought for a second it would only take a matter of two or three weeks. And we do have to ask people to be patient, to keep their nerve and to keep remembering why we have taken this action in the first place.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are we talking months or years?
STRAW: You can't say for certain. In Kosovo, the action--the only time scale they could say for that action was that it was going to go indefinitely. Couldn't say for certain until it had finished. That's what we have to say here. ``Indefinitely'' may mean a matter of weeks, it may mean a matter of months, it may mean a bit longer.
It is not possible when you're taking this kind of military action to say, ``Look, it's going to start at 10 o'clock on a Sunday, and it's going to finish at 5 o'clock on a Friday.'' Life is not like that.
We are following this war on quite a number of fronts. We're actually--we're fighting it in Afghanistan. We're also fighting for people's hearts and minds. But also, there's a--fighting a continual challenge of trying to meet media expectations, which are, frankly, unmeetable.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not just media expectations, it's expectations in the Muslim world. Just this week, President Mubarak and President Musharraf both said the war had to be short.
Are you confident the coalition can hold together if the bombing continues through Ramadan and then into next year?
STRAW: I think it will. My own view is that the coalition has held up remarkably well so far.
But why are people like President Musharraf, President Mubarak facing problems in the streets? Partly they're facing problems in the street because the way the international media are reporting this and of their impatience. And we have to keep saying to people, ``Look, this will almost certainly take longer than you think, but not longer than we said at the beginning of this operation.''
STEPHANOPOULOS: The immediate goal is bring Osama bin Laden to justice. In your view, will justice be better served, and will the West's relations with the Muslim world be better served, if Osama bin Laden is killed or if he's captured and brought to trial?
STRAW: In the real world, we're not going to get that kind of alternative. He'll either be killed or he'll be captured. If he's captured, he should certainly be kept alive. And it would be better if he were captured than killed. But, I mean, I don't think we're going to be offered...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But how do you bring him to trial? How can that be done in a way...
STRAW: Well, I don't know. that be a matter for the United States because--but I'm not--there's no--I don't think, George, there's any point getting down that track. We're not likely to be offered the luxury of that choice, in truth.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The effort to build a post-war government in Afghanistan also seems to have stalled this week. And while there seems to be wide agreement over the goals--a broad-based government in Afghanistan, an international effort to rebuild Afghanistan--there's disputes over the means.
For example, the United States and Pakistan say the Taliban could be included in a post-war government. Russia, India and the Northern Alliance say no. How do you bridge that gap?
STRAW: Well, with all due respect to you, I don't accept for a second that the diplomatic efforts have stalled. The diplomatic efforts are accelerating.
Now let me deal with the point you raised, which is, should it have representatives of the Taliban? I think that this principally boils down to kind of a linguistic issue. No one is arguing that the core people, the ugly, unpleasant terrorists at the heart of the Taliban, should be in an future government--not the United States, not President Musharraf.
Everybody, however, accepts, I believe, that the Pashtun, who support--at the moment are supporting the Taliban, that the moderate Pashtuns, some of whom may have been on the fringes of the Taliban government for their own survival, they should be.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You believe Russia and the Northern Alliance agree with that?
STRAW: When, I've talked to--I've not talked to the Northern Alliance. But when I've talked to Russia, they've accepted the idea of it being broad-based. They've--of course, they've accepted the fact that it's got to be a government which includes the Pashtun, the 40 percent group in the south and west of Afghanistan.
And everybody knows that, given the reign of terror which has existed inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, there will be plenty of people who are not signed up to the Taliban as fanatics but have had to go along with it for simple reasons of personal survival.
STEPHANOPOULOS: There have also been real questions about the composition of a future peacekeeping force. Do you think in the end it's going to be necessary for the United States and the United Kingdom to form the core of that force. No other nations have come forward.
STRAW: Well, there are nations who have indicated their interest in providing forces in certain cases.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Like who?
STRAW: Well, I can--for example, like Turkey, for one.
But it depends entirely on the circumstances. And there are a lot of work going on at the moment as to the nature of any peacekeeping force. Should it be peacekeeping? Should it be policing?
My own best guest is that the nature of any external forces in Afghanistan will vary from area to area. It'll obviously be easier in the north where the Northern Alliance are in control where the circumstances are fairly benign than it will in the south.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, there is a great debate in the United States right now over whether or not to broaden out the battlefield to include Iraq. And this morning, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz says he thinks Iraq has already been targeted and it's just a matter of time before the United States and United Kingdom attack. Do you agree?
STRAW: No, I don't, because I can tell you that Iraq has not been targeted. You only take military action where there is the clearest possible evidence of culpability and where military action is the only option left. I have seen no evidence which links the Iraqi regime to Osama bin Laden's guilt--Al Qaeda's guilt for what happened on the 11th of September.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But what do you say to those who argue that Iraqi culpability in the assassination attempt on former President Bush and their continued efforts to build weapons of mass destruction are justification enough to target them?
STRAW: Well, what I say is that what we need is an international consensus about effective sanctions on Iraq. We've been interested--and it's perfectly public in--and so have the United States, in tighter, more focused sanctions, but sanctions which also ensure that the civilian population in need can have that need relieved. We hope for an international consensus on that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
STRAW: Thank you.
State Departement Briefing
29 October 2001
Original URL: http://usinfo.org/USIA/usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01102911.htm
Tom Ridge, Other Federal Officials
Brief on Anthrax
The federal government is continuing a "very aggressive" investigation into the source of anthrax tainted letters, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told reporters at the White House October 29.
"The belief within the administration is to basically leave no stone unturned," he said.
"It continues to be a very aggressive, ongoing investigation. There are a lot of theories out there; we just need some facts to turn a theory into reality," said Ridge.
The newest building found to be contaminated is the Cohen Building in Washington located at the foot of Capitol Hill, he said. It houses the Federal Drug Administration and the Voice of America.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said the Cohen building has "been presumptively positively tested for anthrax" and all the individuals in the mail room are on antibiotics and the mail rooms there have been closed down.
Presumptive positive, he said, means that the environmental testing will now go to laboratories at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, for further tests. Results from those tests will be sent back within the next 24 to 48 hours, he said.
The United States Postal Service continues to work "on a 24-hour pace to isolate, treat and remediate any and all contaminated sites," Ridge said. They are also working with the White House "as rapidly as possible to restore service to the affected areas and to clean up any mail that may have been contaminated," he said.
Tom Day of the U.S. Postal Service said "in the D.C.-Baltimore area, we have over 6,000 employees on antibiotics; and in the New York-New Jersey area, nearly 7,000 employees on antibiotics."
The Postal Service started this past weekend in Lima, Ohio to irradiate the mail, said Day. "We've been working closely with the President's Office of Science and Technology to coordinate with other federal agencies to ensure that the level of irradiation that we're applying to this mail can give us a high degree of confidence that we're dealing with the threat," he said.
Pat Meehan, a CDC physician said results so far in the ongoing investigation "suggests to us that it's starting to look like non-governmental mail was minimally affected by this so far.
"As of this morning," Meehan said, "we continue to have 12 confirmed cases of anthrax; six suspect cases. And the good news is that there have been no new confirmed cases in the last couple of days. Although, I have to tell you that one of the suspect cases in New Jersey is of concern to us and could move to the confirmed category in the near future."
Following is the White House transcript:
Governor Ridge: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to today's briefing on homeland security. One of the things that you'll note in the President's schedule today is that he will be meeting with the homeland security team, the principals, later on this afternoon.
You should know that during the past several weeks I have been meeting on a daily basis, along with individual members of the homeland security team, but we have begun to formalize that process. And even though the President has been in touch with us on a constant basis, we decided to formalize it. And we'll probably have some action items coming out of today's homeland security meeting, so stay tuned; we'll probably be back to you later on this afternoon.
The President has been conducting a 24-hour war on terrorism, not just with our troops located in Afghanistan, and with the eyes of this country toward Afghanistan, but it's been a 24-hour a day war on terrorism here in the United States. And there have been so many elements and so many agencies that have been involved in this process.
And what we intend to do in the days and the weeks ahead are to bring some of these major players to this briefing room from time to time on a regular basis to deal with the questions that you might have. As I said before, as we continue our round-the-clock war on terrorism at home, we think it's very appropriate to bring some of these principals together on a regular basis to respond to questions that you might have and, obviously, some questions that people in America have, as well.
Today, joining me from the Department of Health and Human Services is my friend and former colleague, Tommy Thompson. And he is joined by Dr. Pat Meehan, the Director of Emergency Environmental Services with the Center for Disease Control. And I've asked them to give you an update this morning.
Secretary Thompson: Thank you very much, Tom. And good morning to all the reporters here. I just would like to briefly update you on the efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services. And currently, the Department of Health and Human Services has 575 individuals in the field, responding to acts of threats of bioterrorism. And these wonderful, dedicated employees are helping state and local officials in Washington and New York, New Jersey and Florida.
And as officials in these affected communities know, more resources and help are only a phone call away.
We're going to be very aggressive, as possible, in responding to acts of threats or bioterrorism. We understand that people are very concerned about anthrax. And we're going to continue to respond with the personnel, the expertise and the medicine necessary to deal with these acts and threats of bioterrorism. We're going to err on the side of caution. We're doing our best to get help to those at risk of anthrax exposure as quickly as possible.
And we're also working as aggressively as we can to strengthen our response capabilities. We know we have to get stronger, and we're working with the Congress to ramp up as quickly as possible. Americans should know that we have the best scientists, the best doctors and bioterrorism experts in the country helping us in this endeavor. We're learning more each and every day, and we're becoming stronger each and every day. And we're going to keep working our hardest to tackle this new challenge facing our country. We are determined, and we will not be deterred in our efforts.
We appreciate the hard work and dedication of our partners at the state and local level, as well. And as the medical community, they're doing a good job of identifying cases that might be anthrax, so that precautionary measures can be taken, and that we might respond as quickly as possible.
We also have reached an agreement with all those individuals dealing with the flu vaccine, and it will be delivered on time, and we will have an increased amount of about 5 million doses. So we will have 85 million doses of vaccine for flu that will be sent out to the clinics and to the hospitals in the month of November, and hopefully all will be sent by the first week in December.
In regards to the most recent update on anthrax, the Cohen building has been presumptively positively tested for anthrax this past couple days, and all the individuals in the mail room are on antibiotics. And we are letting all the individuals know the mail rooms have been closed down. But presumptive positive means that the next -- the environmental testing will now go to the CDC labs in Atlanta, and that conclusion of those -- of that information will be sent back within the next 24 to 48 hours.
With that, I'd introduce Pat Meehan.
Dr. Meehan: Good morning. As of this morning, we continue to have 12 confirmed cases of anthrax; six suspect cases. And the good news is that there have been no new confirmed cases in the last couple of days. Although, I have to tell you that one of the suspect cases in New Jersey is of concern to us and could move to the confirmed category in the near future.
Governor Ridge: Now, our partners in the United States Postal Service continue to work, likewise, on a 24-hour pace to isolate, treat and remediate any and all contaminated sites. They are also working with as rapidly as possible to restore service to the affected areas and to clean up any mail that may have been contaminated.
The United States Postal Service had a difficult weekend, as they laid to rest two of their own members. A very difficult weekend for the family and the larger family, the Postal Service community. So we remember them in our prayers and, likewise, ask Tom Day, who is Vice President for Engineering, to join us, from the Postal Service, to give you an update.
MR. DAY: From the Postal Service standpoint, we have continued our downstream testing of facilities. In the D.C.-Baltimore area, we have over 6,000 employees on antibiotics; and in the New York-New Jersey area, nearly 7,000 employees on antibiotics.
As our testing does find any hot spots, and that has been limited, we then move forward to decontaminate those facilities. Nothing to add in terms of new hot spots found.
In terms of irradiation of the mail, we started this past weekend in Lima, Ohio, to irradiate. We've been working closely with the President's Office of Science and Technology to coordinate with other federal agencies to ensure that the level of irradiation that we're applying to this mail can give us a high degree of confidence that we're dealing with the threat.
We'll continue to work towards that and study it. The mail is a very -- various products that go through there, so it does not have the homogeneity that you might find in some of the testing that's been done with both food processing and medical sterility. And up to this point, that's where that type of technology has been used.
So we'll work closely with them. We've set a very high dose level that we believe gives a high degree of confidence. And we're also doing extensive quality assurance with the company that what they are applying does prove to be very effective.
Also with the same company, we have contracted for eight of those systems. We are looking to deploy them to facilities where we can then put the mail through and not have to transport it great distances outside of this area. And we're looking to get even more capacity, if possible, to increase the ability to irradiate mail.
Governor Ridge: Joining us today, as well, in case you have any questions -- I think some of you have been with us before when we've had Major General John Parker, Commanding General of the United States Army Medical Research and Materiel Command Center. But we also have Dr. John Marburger, the Science Advisor to the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Question: Governor, let me ask you something. First it started out that the medicine of choice was Cipro. Then we heard doxycycline is also as effective. I want to ask you about, how about regular penicillin? Can anybody say? Are there three interchangeable --
Governor Ridge: I will defer to a medical expert to give you the answer on that.
Dr. Meehan: Generally, the two top drugs that we recommend are ciprofloxacin or another drug in that category, but specifically ciprofloxacin and doxycycline. After the organism is isolated and we do antibiotic sensitivities, we can ascertain, we can figure out if the particular organism is sensitive to a broad range or not. We tend to go to doxycycline because of the simpler dosing, and because that is what we have lots of in the national pharmaceutical stockpile and we can make it available to people readily for rapid implementation of treatment clinics.
What we have done is figured out that the isolates so far have entirely been sensitive to doxycycline, so that, essentially, ciprofloxacin and doxycycline are interchangeable.
Question: But penicillin does not have the same effect?
Dr. Meehan: Penicillin, I would need to look at the antibiotic sensitivity profile on these. Penicillin may work fine for these. I've only concentrated on those two because that's the two that we're offering on a regular basis to people.
Question: Governor Ridge, Dr. Koplan from the CDC said late last week that it was his belief, given the pattern of exposure of anthrax, that there had to be another letter that had not been discovered yet, making its way through the postal system. I'd like your thoughts on that. And also, what can you tell us about the possible presence of bentonite or aluminum silicon in the sample of anthrax that was discovered at Senator Daschle's office?
Governor Ridge: With regard to the investigation surrounding the Brentwood Post Office and the one letter to Senator Daschle's office, the FBI has secured its own independent facility to run the mail that had been basically sequestered, after we discovered that they had -- there was anthrax contained in one letter. And they are in the process of investigating to determine whether or not there are additional letters.
With regard to your second question, I'm going to ask General Parker to give you an update. There is, just to give you -- there has been one test that has been completed, and other tests are being conducted. And I will let the General explain to you the science of both.
Major General Parker: Good morning. I won't go through what we already know. There seems to be a lot of questions about bentonite. I'm not sure where they're coming from, or their importance. But if you ask what is bentonite, it's a volcanic clay. And one of its principle ingredients is aluminum. And it varies in percentage of aluminum. And we have subjected the New York Post sample and the Daschle sample to very high energy x-ray studies, and I will say to you that we see no aluminum presence in the sample.
And, therefore, if you go back to the definition, MERK Index, the Internet, and geology centers all over this country, we can say that there is no bentonite in the New York Post sample or the Daschle sample.
Question: To follow up, what does that say about the level of sophistication, and obviously connected to that, the level of expertise needed to -- for something like this, if it doesn't have --
Major General Parker: Bentonite is a lubricant. That's all I know about it by reading, just like you read. It's a hydroscopic compound. I don't know what its significance is, and I've been asked to study the samples thoroughly, from A to Z, to know what's in the sample, what's the character of that anthrax, what its family lineage is, and what it's antibiotic sensitivities are. And I feel very strongly that the scientific data that I'm giving to you this morning is all I know.
Question: Does that suggest then that there was no additive, there's been nothing in the spores to make them more -- or nothing added to the spores to make them more easily aerosolized?
Major General Parker: Complicated question. We do know that we found silica in the samples. Now, we don't know what that motive would be, or why it would be there, or anything. But there is silica in the samples. And that led us to be absolutely sure that there was no aluminum in the sample, because the combination of a silicate, plus aluminum, is sort of the major ingredients of bentonite.
But the significance is -- I don't know what the significance is.
Question: Is silica negatively charged, do you know?
Major General Parker: I don't know that. It would depend on what form it would be in. I suppose you could do all sorts of things with it.
Question: Sir, is there anything other than bentonite that can make anthrax less inclined to clump together and more able to float freely?
Major General Parker: Not to my knowledge -- and that's very limited, of course. You understand that, I'm not the expert. I hope there are people that could probably answer your question much more articulately.
Question: John, you've told us a bit about what's not in the Daschle anthrax. From your briefing the other day, could you update us on what you do know about the characteristics of this anthrax?
Major General Parker: May I repeat what I said? The Daschle sample is very fine and powdery. It appears that -- and I'm talking gross, looking at the specimen grossly, not under the microscope. The New York Post sample is very granular, by comparison. And when you look at the two samples under the microscope, the Daschle sample is very pure and densely compact with spores. And so is the New York Post sample, but not quite as dense -- I'm talking magnitudes of, you know, times 10 difference, maybe, between the density of the two samples. Both samples are densely populated with anthrax spores.
Question: I just thought in four days, you would have found out something new about it?
Major General Parker: There's not much more to learn about anthrax. You know, the spore, itself, has been around a long, long time. It dates back into biblical times; we know it's not a good organism to have in your body.
Question: Would further tests show whether bentonite was there? Ari earlier suggested there may be other tests would identify it. Does this, what you're doing rule out bentonite, in your opinion?
Major General Parker: Sir, in my opinion, it rules it out. If I can't find aluminum, I can't say it's bentonite.
Question: Will there be other ways to look for the composition of this additive? Are there other ways, aside from high energy x-rays, to go about looking for --
Major General Parker: The scientists are pursuing that, they're discussing it and are trying to characterize this right down to the point where we know everything about these samples. But you have to know that we don't have much sample, and so doing comparison is very, very difficult and people have to think about it before we destroy more sample to maybe run down a wrong road. So there's a lot of discussion about what is needed.
Question: And in that discussion, is there essentially a debate as to whether or not this additive indicates a foreign source, or whether or not this additive indicates a domestic --
Major General Parker: Sir, I'm not aware of a debate. I'm not aware of a debate.
Question: Governor Ridge, I have another question. You can refer it out as you see appropriate. The issue of a second letter you've already spoken to. What is the latest theory as to the nature of these additional hot spots within the Brentwood facility, and how cross-contamination might have occurred? In other words, is other mail affected that's now being sterilized as a precaution? Or -- and all going to the point of whether or not there's mail arriving at people's home, particular in this city, that might somehow be tainted?
Governor Ridge: The belief within the administration is that we need to isolate all the mail that was on the Hill to determine whether there was more than one letter, and that process is being done and that's part of the investigation that the FBI is running. The belief in the commitment within the administration is to do as much environmental testing as we possibly can to determine whether or not there are other environmental indications of anthrax. And then we would proceed accordingly to determine its medical sufficiency in dealing with people who may have been exposed to it.
The belief within the administration is to basically leave no stone un-turned. There will be additional tests on the remaining anthrax samples that we have. They're going to be looking at the letters at another facility, at another venue. This is -- it continues to be a very aggressive, ongoing investigation. There are a lot of theories out there; we just need some facts to turn a theory into reality.
Question: Can I follow on one point? In other words, what I'm asking is almost mechanically, what would happen -- in other words, if nobody within Daschle's office got the inhaled form of anthrax, is that because once it aerosolizes, your biggest hot spot is going to be within the processing center or where it's going through various equipment, and so forth?
Governor Ridge: It seems to me that the inhalation anthrax that took the lives of a couple postal workers came at a point where there was obviously maximum exposure. What caused it, whether or not it was spraying the strappers with -- again, it's an investigation dealing with, frankly, perhaps a universe of unknowns that we're trying to narrow down. But I would ask any of my colleagues -- Dr. Meehan or Mr. Day, if you care to elaborate on that.
Dr. Meehan: I'd be happy to, Governor Ridge. At this point, the epidemiologic data point to a situation where the Daschle letter probably went through the Brentwood facility, was processed by a machine, some aerosolization occurred of the spores. The people who were working in the facility were exposed to aerosolized spores, and developed inhalation anthrax.
We think -- we believe very strongly that people that live -- the individuals who receive mail in the Washington, D.C. area, are at extremely -- are essentially at no risk of inhalation anthrax. They are not in a situation where they're going to be agitating letters that have spores. If there's a remote possibility that a letter has a few spores on it, because it was in the Brentwood facility at the same time, those people may have a very, very small risk of cutaneous type anthrax.
But it's important to remember that we're doing very aggressive surveillance and case finding, working with Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., and have seen no cases of this so far. So it makes us feel good that people are really at essentially --
Question: But are you also in touch with large businesses, say in downtown Washington, that may get mail in bulk from Brentwood -- law firms, other --
Dr. Meehan: We have recommended that their mail handlers, the ones that get mail -- in the rooms that get mail directly from Brentwood, be on preventive therapy right now. But let me tell you that having tested now -- having results back from -- I believe it's 22 post offices where non-governmental mail was going through -- out of almost 300 samples, we only have one positive. And that suggests to us that it's starting to look like non-governmental mail was minimally affected by this so far.
Question: Governor Ridge, what accounts for the positive hits at these off site facilities, like the CIA, at the State Department, the Supreme Court? Is it additional contaminated mail may have also gone through those facilities, or is it cross-contamination from Brentwood?
Governor Ridge: I'll let the folks at the CDC or the post office, but I believe that that theory is cross-contamination. But, again, you don't eliminate anything at this point. Does anybody care to respond to that?
Dr. Meehan: I'm sorry, could you restate the question?
Question: The contamination at some of these off-site mail facilities that service the Justice Department, the Supreme Court -- what's the working theory on that, is it that it's cross-contamination --
Dr. Meehan: We think probably in most cases it's mail that was processed at the same time as the Daschle letter, that was cross-contaminated by it.
Question: Doctor, in that regard, we have been using the terminology "hot spots." And I'm wondering if you could comparatively tell us how hot or not hot some of these places are? I mean, are we talking about very, very small spore samples that are of almost no particular danger at some of these off site facilities, and we should sort of think of them in a different way then all being hot spots?
Dr. Meehan: Right. It's important to realize that these are facilities where we're taking wipe samples. So these are spores that are on the surfaces of things. It's highly unlikely that they would be re-aerosolized in sufficient quantity to cause anybody to get inhalation anthrax. So our level of concern is quite low, but we still want people to be taking antibiotics.
Question: On a follow up, could you talk about the CDC recommendation on Friday that some high risk workers begin, at some point when it's available, to receive the anthrax vaccination? Be these contamination workers, others who are working in mail facilities in investigatory capacity, and at some point possibly postal workers?
Dr. Meehan: I'm sorry, what is the question?
Question: Well, can you talk about why that's necessary, when the vaccine will be available, what will be the methods to work that out?
Dr. Meehan: Those are some very preliminary discussions that are going on right now, looking at if we were to expand vaccine availability, if we were to recommend that, which groups would we recommend it for. And as -- I believe it was Dr. Fleming, from CDC, said, those are the initial groups that we would certainly look at.
Question: But you're saying that's not a final determination yet?
Dr. Meehan: No, sir.
Question: That's not a policy. Can you stand on that, Secretary Thompson?
Secretary Thompson: It's not final. It's very preliminary -- it's being discussed, and it's not final in any way.
Question: I just wanted to clarify. You mentioned the Cohen room.
Secretary Thompson: The Cohen Building.
Question: Or, building, rather. Is that a new site, or -- I mean, is that --
Secretary Thompson: That's the new site.
Question: What is the Cohen Building?
Secretary Thompson: Sorry?
Question: What is that building?
Secretary Thompson: It's the Health and Human Service Building, right next to the Humphrey Building. There's a lot of -- Voice of America is in there, Food and Drug is in there, and some of our other --
Question: There was a report this morning that there had been a possible anthrax at the State Department. Is that accurate?
Secretary Thompson: That, I don't know about. All I know is about the Cohen Building.
Governor Ridge: That report about the State Department I believe is accurate.
Question: Main building?
Governor Ridge: Main building, I'm not sure. But it is.
Question: Will you be briefing like this every day or Monday, Wednesday and Friday? What are your plans?
Governor Ridge: Well, at least Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But as -- again, there's probably a pretty good chance you will see us tomorrow, because we found a new site in the Cohen Building. We anticipate you'll want to know more about that. So I suspect that throughout this week, you will probably see us daily. It may not always be at 11:00 a.m., but right now, tentatively 11:00 a.m.
Question: And the whole lineup?
Governor Ridge: That may vary from time to time, depending on the information that we gain over the next 24 hours, as it relates to either the Post Office, CDC. It's an interchangeable lineup. Everybody's on the same team. We just don't bring the entire team at the same time.
Question: Is this in response to some of the criticism that the administration received last week, that it was -- had a very ragged response to the anthrax and homeland security?
Governor Ridge: Actually, if you recall the first press conference that I think we held over a week ago, we brought out -- we've taken the same approach, and we're going to continue to take the same approach, with me speaking much less on matters of science and medicine and bringing the experts along with me.
That's it. Thank you very much.
End 12:20 P.M. EST
Silica grains detected in anthrax letter are tiny clues
- Sabin Russell, Chronicle Medical Writer
Tuesday, October 30, 2001
Yesterday's disclosure that silica powder was found in the anthrax- laced letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle does little to narrow the search for a source: Silica is as common as dirt.
Sand, to be precise.
Still, forensic investigators could glean useful information from the sample. Thousands of silica products each have a unique signature. Under microscopic and chemical analysis, the silica powder found with the anthrax might yield clues to its origin.
Size and shape of particles, method of production, and impurities may point toward a specific manufacturer, possibly even a specific batch of product.
"It is very common, but it doesn't mean they couldn't track it," said Andrew Wexler, a specialist in airborne pollutants at University of California at Davis, and an editor of the journal Aerosol Science and Technology.
Forensic geologists have solved murder cases by tracing dirt found at a crime scene to a specific place where chemically identical components are found.
Silica is made of the same ingredient as sand, silicon dioxide. It's related to the same ubiquitous stuff that forms the basis of electronic chips; the silicon of Silicon Valley. Worldwide, 45 manufactures each year produce one million tons of it.
Some of it has found its way into the hands of a terrorist. "There is silica in the samples," said Major General Jon Parker, of the Army Medical Research Command, in a White House briefing for reporters.
Contrary to earlier press reports, there was no bentonite in the anthrax letters, Parker said. Bentonite is a drying agent thought to be used by Iraqi bioweapons researchers to keep anthrax spores from clumping. It is made of tiny particles of volcanic clay. In less refined form, it is also the principal ingredient of kitty litter.
Anthrax terrorists may have picked silica also for its qualities as a drying agent. Consumers are familiar with little packets of it, shipped in granular or gel-form, that appear in new electronic products from computers to cameras. They suck up moisture, preventing mildew and rust.
Commercially, silica powders are used to keep cake mixes from clumping, to clarify fruit drinks and beer, to help newspaper absorb ink, and to give toothpaste its grit.
"It is a very inert, very safe material," said Bill Cocoran, spokesman for WR Grace & Co., of Columbia, Md., which manufactures 150 tons of it a year.
Yet the silica found in the Daschle letter, which contained a high concentration of anthrax spores and had a milled appearance, could account for its efficient spread.
When spores are dry and lubricated enough to stay in clumps smaller than 5 microns, they can remain airborne and reach deep into the lung. A trail of spores, which could have easily passed through the 10 micron pores of the paper of an envelope, was left at mail handling facilities from Trenton to Washington, D.C., where two postal workers died of inhalational anthrax.
E-mail Sabin Russell at email@example.com.
News (New York)
October 30, 2001
SAMPLES ARE SCARCE
By BOB PORT DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
WASHINGTON - Anthrax may seem
like it's everywhere these days, but federal
The scientific detective work has ruled out that the deadly spores were coated with bentonite - which could have pointed toward involvement by Iraq.
The Army, which is conducting tests on the anthrax, is hampered by the small amount of spores investigators were able to retrieve from the crime scenes.
"We don't have much sample," Maj.
Gen. John Parker, commander of the Army's
"And so doing comparison is very, very difficult. People have to think about it before we destroy more sample to maybe run down a wrong road."
Parker said, however, that researchers have ruled out the presence of bentonite in the anthrax sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and to the New York Post.
The presence of bentonite would have been a clue that the anthrax was specially prepared for use as a weapon, using techniques familiar to biological weapons experts in Russia and Iraq.
Bentonite, a volcanic clay mineral, is used to coat the tiny anthrax spores so they lose their normal static charge. Instead of being attracted to surfaces, the coated spores are easily sent airborne, where they can be inhaled. Army shoots down reports Several published reports had cited sources saying bentonite was found in the Daschle and Post anthrax. But the Army insisted its tests were incomplete. Yesterday, the Army said those reports were wrong.
Parker did disclose that the anthrax in question contained silica, a common substance found in sand and quartz.
"I don't know what the significance of it is," Parker said.
One expert said the presence of silica is significant, but he declined to say why, citing national security concerns.
"I don't think I want to give people - terrorists - any information to help them," said Dr. Charles Bailey, a scientist at Advanced Biosystems Inc. and former commander of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
Bailey and other scientists said one key avenue of investigation for the Army is the precise genetic makeup of the anthrax.
Officials have described it as coming from the Ames strain, named for where it was identified decades ago - Ames, Iowa. However, there are many descendants of the Ames strain with subtle genetic mutations that distinguish each one - like a fingerprint.
The Ames strain has "been distributed all over the world," Bailey said. "There's ways of breaking it down even further than just the broad category of Ames."
The Army could compare the terrorist anthrax with anthrax from other stocks, but such a comparison would take time.
Parker, leading the Army's scientific investigation, suggested that just that kind of chase is underway. "I've been asked to study the samples thoroughly from A to Z, to know . . . what its family lineage is," he said.
Comment | posted October 25, 2001 (November 12, 2001 issue)
Press Watch: Seven Days in October
A month ago, when thirty-seven neoconservatives, led by William Kristol, William Bennett and Jeane Kirkpatrick, signed an open letter warning George Bush that failure to attack Iraq would "constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism," they were widely dismissed as extremists. But in one short week, the extreme became the mainstream, thanks largely to the anthrax scare and to the media's role in fanning it.
On Tuesday, October 16, Senator Tom Daschle announced that the anthrax discovered in a letter sent to his office was of a "very potent" form. On Wednesday, the headlines blared. "Sign of Escalating Threat," the New York Times declared atop a story by Stephen Engelberg and Judith Miller. This "high grade" anthrax, they wrote, "finely milled so that it would float a considerable distance on the smallest of air currents," suggested that "for the first time in history a sophisticated form of anthrax has been developed and used as a weapon in warfare or bioterrorism." It also suggested that "somewhere, someone has access to the sort of germ weapons capable of inflicting huge casualties." A prime suspect, Engelberg and Miller noted, was Iraq. But, they cautioned, it was too early to say for sure whether Iraq was responsible.
On the next day's Op-Ed pages, even that caveat was missing. In the Times, Richard Butler, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, wrote that, based on his visits to Iraq from 1997 to 1999, he had concluded that "biological weapons are closest to President Hussein's heart because it was in this area that his resistance to our work reached its height." Noting reports that hijacker Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague last year, Butler observed that this "may have been an occasion on which anthrax was provided" to him.
In the same day's Wall Street Journal, former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey held forth about "The Iraq Connection," as the headline put it. The "professionally prepared and precisely sized anthrax spores" that closed down the Capitol, he wrote, made it essential to determine with whom we are "at war." Offering various bits of circumstantial evidence against Saddam Hussein, including that Mohamed Atta meeting in Prague, Woolsey urged the Bush Administration to move against Baghdad.
Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen, in a column headlined "Public Enemy No. 2," noted that while it was not yet clear whether Saddam was responsible for the anthrax in Daschle's office, it didn't really matter. "Neither the United States nor the rest of the world should countenance any state--especially a rogue one--developing weapons of mass destruction," Cohen wrote. "Saddam and his bloody bugs have to go."
The next day, Tom Ridge, the director of the Office of Homeland Security, announced that further testing showed that the strain of anthrax in Daschle's mail was indistinguishable from that found in the offices of NBC in Manhattan and the National Enquirer in Florida, and, moreover, that the tests "have shown that these strains have not been, quote, unquote, weaponized."
Then, on Saturday, the Times, in a story filed by John Tagliabue from Prague, reported that Czech officials, upon investigation, had concluded that Atta had not met with an Iraqi intelligence official during his stop in Prague.
Buried on page B6, the Times story received little attention. One person who noticed it, however, was George Stephanopoulos, and he brought it up in an exchange with George Will on ABC's This Week on Sunday morning. "Iraq's fingerprints were all over the '93 bombing of the World Trade Center," said Will, one of the most vocal proponents of going after Saddam Hussein. "We know that Mohamed Atta met in Prague with Iraqi agents----"
"We actually don't know that," Stephanopoulos interrupted. "The Prague intelligence services have said they can't confirm that. They're still working on it."
"As Rumsfeld says, 'The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence,'" Will sniffed. "The fact is, there's lots of reports of contacts in Sudan and Afghanistan and in Prague that suggest that Iraq is involved. And there is a large constituency in this town desperate not to see that because it then does dictate action." In other words, Will seemed to say, Don't bother me with the facts.
Will's was not the only voice raised against Iraq on the Sunday morning talk shows. On NBC's Meet the Press, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman urged the Administration to attack Saddam. On CBS's Face the Nation, Dr. Richard Spertzel, a former UN biochemical weapons inspector in Iraq, said that he did in fact believe the anthrax found in Daschle's office was weapons grade and that "most likely" it came "from some other country." Spertzel was followed by Jim Hoagland, a Washington Post columnist who has also vigorously advocated attacking Iraq. While we don't yet have the evidence that Iraq was involved in the anthrax incidents, Hoagland said, they "should bring home to us the danger of having a regime in place" that has the motivation.
Taking in all this, I was struck by how monolithic and unquestioning coverage had become. Because anthrax had been discovered in New York and Washington, the political and journalistic establishment suddenly seems united in wanting to attack Iraq. Here and there I found a few notes of skepticism. In the London Guardian, for instance, in a piece headlined, "Don't Blame Saddam for This One," Scott Ritter, another former weapons inspector in Iraq, observed that Iraq's main biological weapons facility was destroyed as part of the inspection process and that all the tests before the inspectors were kicked out had produced "no evidence of anthrax or any other biological agent." And Sharon Begley, in a fine article in Newsweek, noted that "thousands of scientists around the world have learned how to turn anthrax into a weapon" and that the equipment needed to do so is "not hard to acquire."
None of this, of course, rules out the possibility that Iraq does indeed have a bioterrorism capability. For the most part, though, the press seems uninterested in reporting on this or other key questions. What is the evidence of Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda? What did the UN inspectors find in Iraq, and what has been taking place there since they stopped visiting? If Iraq is shown to have ties to the anthrax attacks, or to September 11, what practically could the United States do about it? If, as the hawks seem to want, we did invade Iraq, what would the consequences be? Clearly, it's time for more facts and less opinion.
Medical News Service
Volume 3 Issue 209 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 1-Nov-2001
Anthrax, Made In The USA
As anthrax continues to turn up in US postal facilities, and postal workers, evidence is emerging that it is an American product. Not only are the bacteria genetically close to the strain the US used in its own anthrax weapons in the 1960s, but New Scientist Magazine reports that it has evidence that the spores also seem to have been prepared according to the secret US "weaponisation" recipe.
This is troubling, say bioterrorism specialists. While the terrorists behind the anthrax-laced mail US might have got hold of the strain of anthrax in several laboratories around the world, the method the US developed for turning a wet bacterial culture into a dangerous, dry powder is a closely-guarded secret.
Its apparent use in the current spate of attacks could mean the secret is out. An alternative is that someone is using anthrax produced by the old US biological weapons program that ended in 1969 - in which case the scope for further attacks could be limited. Experiments to determine which is true are underway now in the US.
Analysis of the physical form of the anthrax powder used in the attacks has lagged behind the genetic analysis. Bacteria from patients or contaminated surfaces can be multiplied up to provide enough DNA for analysis. But a physical examination requires a sample of the actual powder, and so far, only two are known. One is from the letter opened in Senator Tom Daschle's office in Washington on 15 October, the other from a letter sent to the New York Post.
Last week, US Senator Bill Frist announced that the powder in the Daschle letter was in particles 1.5 to 3.0 microns wide, a very narrow size range. The results of the physical analysis of the New York Post letter are not yet known.
The actual bacterial spore is ovoid and around half a micron wide. The whole trick to making anthrax weapons, says Ken Alibek, the former deputy head of the Soviet Union's bioweapons program, is to turn wet cultures of bacteria into dry clumps of spores that are each between one and five microns wide, the optimal size to penetrate a human lung and stay there.
But dried spores tend to form larger particles, with a static electric charge that makes them cling doggedly to surfaces rather than floating through the air where they can be inhaled.
The Soviet Union got around this by grinding dried cultures along with chemicals that cause the particles to remain separate. Iraq is the only other state known to have tried making such a weapon, and it dried anthrax cultures along with bentonite, a clay used as a fluidising agent in powders. But last week the White House said there was no bentonite in the Daschle letter.
For its weapon, say informed sources, the US added various molecules, including surfactants, to the wet spores so that when they were dried, they broke up into fine particles within a very narrow size range of a few microns. There was no need to grind the powder further. Chemical tests are now being conducted to see if any traces of the US additives are present.
Grinding was considered the most likely way for terrorists to create anthrax powders, as the milling machinery is not hard to obtain. But it results in a wider range of particle sizes. Large particles can be filtered out, but smaller ones remain. The Daschle anthrax, say sources, looks instead like it was made according to the US recipe.
The question is, when? At its peak, the US bioweapons program made 900 kilograms of dry anthrax powder per year at a plant in Arkansas. That stockpile was destroyed when the US renounced bioweapons in 1969. But small samples might have been saved without being noticed.
Experiments are now underway in the US to determine how many bacterial generations separate the anthrax being used in the attacks from the most closely related strains in a reference collection of anthrax, which includes the US weapons strain.
If the number is very small, and the anthrax closely resembles the weapons strain genetically, it could be a leftover from weapons production before 1969.
If, however, the bacteria have gone through many cell divisions since the most closely related strain was frozen, they might have been produced more recently. That would mean someone has obtained not only a virulent strain of anthrax, but the know-how to turn it into what was probably the most sophisticated anthrax weapon ever produced.
The Mystery Deepens
By MICHAEL D. LEMONICK
Monday, Nov. 05, 2001
The theory about how the country's anthrax attack unfolded last month seemed pretty plausible. Yes, the story had loose ends, but the basic idea was that anyone who'd come down with the disease had either been in direct contact with letters laced with spores or had been in a room that a letter passed through.
Thursday, Oct. 25, the Vietnamese-born hospital worker came down with chills and muscle aches. She went to work Thursday and Friday at the stockroom of the Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital on Manhattan's Upper East Side. But the symptoms worsened, and on Sunday she was hospitalized with severe breathing problems, fluid in her lungs, sputum tinged with blood and a 102[degree]F fever. By last Wednesday, Nguyen had succumbed to a galloping case of inhalational anthrax. She was 61.
What makes Nguyen's case so baffling is that she didn't fit any of the profiles of a potential anthrax victim. She didn't work in a post office or for the media, which have been the targets of at least three anthrax-laden letters. The stockroom where she worked adjoins the mailroom, and she did occasionally handle mail. But no suspicious letters turned up at the hospital. And tests have found no signs of anthrax either at her workplace or her apartment in the Bronx, where she lived alone. Nasal swabs of people who worked with or near Nguyen have come back negative as well.
In fact, after 17 cases and four deaths, officials are coming to the realization that they know little about anthrax in general and about this attack in particular. Anthrax spores have been detected at a widening list of sites. In the past week they showed up for the first time at a mailroom in the Washington, D.C., V.A. Medical Center; a postal facility in Kansas City, Mo.; a shop in Indianapolis, Ind., that repairs postal machines; a third New Jersey post office and a sixth in Florida; in four mailrooms at the Food and Drug Administration in Rockville, Md.; at a newspaper in Pakistan; and at the U.S. embassies in Peru and Lithuania.
But at the same time, the number of new anthrax infections has grown by only three--Nguyen's, and cases of skin anthrax that struck a New Jersey woman and a New York Post employee. Because the first two people evidently had no direct exposure to any of the known anthrax letters, nor were they known to have spent significant periods of time in the post offices that handled them, it has become increasingly hard to figure out what's going on. Maybe it's a lot easier to get the disease than the experts thought, or maybe some individuals are particularly susceptible. Maybe more letters went out than the authorities yet know about. Or maybe both women are the first victims of an entirely new form of attack that has nothing to do with the mail.
According to the conventional wisdom about anthrax, it takes 8,000 to 10,000 spores to trigger a case of inhalational anthrax. And while the letter that arrived at Senator Tom Daschle's office probably contained billions of spores, they would have to be aerosolized first--puffed into an inhalable cloud. That's easy enough to do in an envelope if there is even a small opening and enough pressure, such as that generated by a mail-sorting machine. Any gaps in the tape that sealed the Daschle letter, or even the porosity of the envelope, therefore, could explain the inhalational-anthrax cases at the post offices the Daschle letter passed through.
But that doesn't explain how a postal worker in the State Department mail-processing center got the disease or how Nguyen contracted it. Anthrax puffed from an envelope could easily settle on mail-processing machines--where spores have been found--or on other surfaces. They could also have settled on other letters, in what's known as cross-contamination. Anyone touching a cross-contaminated letter, especially someone with an open cut, would be at risk for skin anthrax--and in fact, the New Jersey woman's mailbox tested positive late last week, suggesting that this might be what happened to her.
But in order to be inhaled, cross-contaminated spores would have to be re-aerosolized, and that is hard to imagine, says William Patrick, a longtime Army biological-weapons researcher. "There's an electrostatic bond between the spore and the envelope," he says. "It takes a lot of energy to break the bond. They're just not going to be re-aerosolized in large enough quantities to provide an inhalation case." That would suggest that more than the three known letters have passed through the system. And given the tens of thousands of pieces of mail still impounded in Washington and New Jersey, some of them could still be there.
But it's also possible that the conventional wisdom is wrong. The only hard data on how many spores it takes to cause inhalational anthrax come from studies the Army did on monkeys in the 1950s. When the dose was 8,000 to 10,000 spores per animal, about half the monkeys died. But that doesn't prove that a lot fewer spores won't cause an infection. Says Philip Brachman, a professor of public health at Emory University who investigated a naturally occurring 1957 outbreak in Manchester, N.H., among millworkers who handled infected animal hides: "We don't know for certain what dosage of the organisms causes inhalation anthrax."
In fact, says Harvard's Matthew Meselson, a Nobel-prizewinning biologist who did an in-depth study of an anthrax accident at a Soviet bioweapons plant in Sverdlovsk in 1979, "there is no theoretical or experimental basis to believe in any sort of minimum threshold." A dozen or even fewer spores could be sufficient to kill, he suspects, under the right circumstances.
What those might be is also anybody's guess. "There have been cases," says Meselson, "where a man works in a factory with anthrax spores and doesn't get sick, but comes home, takes off his clothes, and his wife gets inhalation anthrax. There are also cases where a person waiting for a bus some distance away from a factory where spores are known to exist gets inhalation anthrax, although not all workers in the factory do." It may have to do with how deeply an individual breathes in the spores or with his or her overall respiratory health. It might even be related to age. So far, the vast majority of fatal inhalational-anthrax cases, both in the past few weeks and in the Soviet accident, occurred in victims who were at least 40 years old.
Another confounding factor has to do with the behavior of anthrax particles. Ken Alibek, who ran the Soviet and Russian biological-weapons program until 1992 and later defected to the U.S., says that aerosolized anthrax can travel in unpredictable ways. The weapons-grade powder he worked with, he recalls, kept turning up in odd places in the labs. This also seems to be happening at the Brentwood mail facility outside Washington, which processed the Daschle letter. The CDC's contamination map of the building reveals several different locations where anthrax was found, in no discernible pattern.
Yet another question is the incubation period of the spores. Evidence from the Sverdlovsk accident indicates that victims can develop symptoms as long as 45 days after exposure--suggesting that more victims could still show up in the U.S.
If anthrax really can move around erratically and cause disease at very low concentrations, Kathy Nguyen's death becomes far easier to explain. Her mail might have passed through the Morgan postal station in New York City, for example, where letters to NBC and the New York Post were handled, or she might have had some sort of contact with someone who worked there. On the other hand, some FBI agents are convinced that their best lead in the case is lurking somewhere in the last weeks of Nguyen's life. "This is the hot one," says an agent. "If we can figure out what's staring us in the face, it'll break it. It's got to be an apartment near her, or somebody where she worked or someplace she went."
Unfortunately, it won't be easy to reconstruct Nguyen's movements over the past few weeks: by the time her disease was diagnosed she was on a respirator and heavily sedated. She died before she could be questioned.
Meanwhile, scientists are making the best use of the data pouring in. "This is new ground," says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "Years from now, people will look at our experience and say, 'Ah, we know spores can do A, B, C, D and E, but in October 2001, they weren't sure of that.'" Like many experts, Fauci is willing to consider that anthrax may be far easier to catch than anyone thought--but like his counterparts on the criminal side of the investigation, he's also open to the idea that terrorists have been releasing spores in other ways.
Meanwhile, Meselson and others believe there might be a pattern in the attacks so far. Focusing on the three letters postmarked Trenton, N.J., they note that the first two, mailed Sept. 18, contained a relatively crude form of anthrax and caused mostly skin infections. The third, mailed to Daschle on Oct. 9, carried more potent spores; infections plausibly caused by that letter were mostly inhaled. Meselson has proposed that the initial mailings could represent the first two tentative steps in a diabolical experiment that's not over yet.
If so, a third and potentially far more lethal step could still be in the works. Even experienced bioweapons experts were surprised to learn how much weapons-grade anthrax showed up in Daschle's office; they don't even want to guess how many people might have been infected if it had got into the building's ventilation system. For now, authorities are keeping their eyes on crop dusters and skyscraper air vents, but if someone managed to puff a good-size cloud of anthrax into a large, enclosed area--a basketball arena, say, or a city subway system--the death toll could be in the hundreds or even thousands.
With reporting by Reported by Andrea Dorfman, Stephen Handelman and Alice Park/New York City and Elaine Shannon and Andrew Goldstein/Washington
THE AMES STRAIN
How a sick cow in Iowa may have helped to create a lethal bioweapon.
by PETER J. BOYER
The New Yorker
Issue of 2001-11-12
On the evening of October 12th, a group of scientists and academics at Iowa State University's veterinary college, in Ames, Iowa, gathered in one of the school's laboratories for a procedure involving the university's collection of Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes the disease anthrax. The school's anthrax collection was noteworthy both for what was known about it and for what was merely speculated. What was known was that over the years Iowa State's veterinary microbiologists had accumulated more than a hundred vials containing various strains of anthrax, some dating back to 1928. In 1978, a fondly remembered professor named R. Allen Packer had uncorked one of the fifty-year-old vials and, after a couple of tries, was able to coax the bacillus back to life. The experiment, a testament to the remarkable durability of anthrax spores, had lent a certain distinction to the collection.
What was speculated about the Iowa State anthrax was even more compelling. One week earlier, on October 5th, a Florida photo editor named Bob Stevens, at American Media Inc., had died of anthrax, the first bioterror fatality in what has come to be known as "the homeland." Early news reports suggested that the F.B.I. had traced the anthrax to a laboratory in Ames, from which the bacteria had perhaps been stolen or otherwise obtained by terrorists.
The reports of an Ames connection to the anthrax terrors caused much excitement in Iowa, and the College of Veterinary Medicine was suddenly fielding scores of calls from reporters wanting to know about the deadly "Ames strain" of anthrax. The trouble was, nobody at the school knew anything about an "Ames strain"—whether it was the strain of anthrax infecting the mail, whether the Iowa State lab had ever possessed it, or even whether there was such a thing as an "Ames strain." None of the vials were identified as "Ames," but then the labels were cryptic, some bearing only numbers or dates.
The scientists and teachers at Iowa State's veterinary school had not been incautious with their anthrax specimens, but neither had they been obsessed with security. The school's anthrax collection had been stored in cabinets in the teaching laboratory, the doors of which were routinely locked at night. In the context of the academy, this relative casualness was not unusual, especially in the heart of the farm belt, where science was employed as a plowshare rather than as a sword. When an associated laboratory nearby, run by the United States Department of Agriculture, had outgrown its building space a few years earlier, it had moved some of its work on anthrax and mad-cow disease to a rented space in an Ames strip mall. But all of that was before the Florida incident.
On October 10th, Governor Tom Vilsack ordered law-enforcement officers to stand guard over the Iowa State laboratory and at the state's other labs with anthrax (including the Agriculture Department's lab in Ames and labs at the University of Iowa). The Iowa State anthrax collection was beginning to seem like more trouble than it was worth, and the college's dean, Norman F. Cheville, after consultation with the lab's director and a school health-and-safety group, decided to do something about it.
Around 5:30 P.M. on October 12th, college staff members wearing biosafety gloves removed the anthrax specimens from the laboratory cabinet and placed them in an autoclave, a steam sterilizer about the size of a filing cabinet. The scientists knew that an hour or so in the autoclave would do the trick, but they let the machine run all night. At eight-thirty the following morning, the bacilli, although certainly dead, were placed in an incinerator for good measure. Some of the biologists and academics who attended the destruction felt a trace of regret. "We said to each other, 'This is kind of sad we have to destroy this,' " Dr. Jim Roth, an assistant dean for international programs at the school, recalls. "Especially the cultures we'd had since 1928."
Less than two weeks later, Tom Ridge, the director of Homeland Security, announced at a Washington press conference that investigators had identified the anthrax that had been sent through the mail as belonging to the Ames strain. It now seemed likely that there was an Iowa State connection to the Ames strain, and that the original culture of the Ames isolate was sterilized and incinerated with the rest of the veterinary school's collection. Jim Roth had wondered about that possibility, and the school had contacted the F.B.I. and the Centers for Disease Control before killing the specimens. Both agencies approved the destruction. "They may be having some second thoughts about that, but it's too late now," Roth says.
In its way, the uncertainty about the Iowa State anthrax reflects the larger puzzlement facing federal officials as they have tried to work out the provenance of the anthrax that killed Bob Stevens and at least three others. As investigators try to determine who is behind the bioterror, alternating between theories that its source is foreign or domestic, state-sponsored or freelance, Dr. Roth and his colleagues in Iowa have tried to unravel the problem of the origins of the Ames strain.
What they do know is that it all began with a sick cow, probably somewhere in a pasture in the western part of Iowa, probably in 1979. In all likelihood, a farmer encountered his stricken beast after it was already dead, and had not been witness to the sudden fever, the clumsy staggering, the trembling, and, finally, the convulsions that preceded the animal's death. Anthrax seizes and consumes its victims quickly. The farmer might have suspected anthrax, a diagnosis probably confirmed by his veterinarian immediately upon encountering the carcass. In most ways, the beast would have looked good, even healthy, except for the blood streaming from its nostrils, ears, and rectum.
The recommended procedure in Iowa, as elsewhere, is not to disturb the carcass of an animal killed by anthrax. Veterinarians almost never perform an autopsy, because opening the beast's body would expose the bacteria to air, triggering the organism's self-preservation mechanism. Bacillus anthracis is a spore-forming bacterium, which is to say that, when faced with an environmental challenge, it forms a kind of shell, allowing it, acornlike, to lie dormant for years, even decades. When Professor Packer opened that 1928 vial of anthrax at Iowa State, the jellylike medium inside the tube had turned hard and crusty, but the anthrax spores inside were still alive. (Packer had put the anthrax in a fresh medium, sealed it back up, and left instructions for some future Iowa State microbiologist to try to revive it again in 2028.)
The stricken Iowa cow had probably contracted anthrax by consuming spores that had settled into the Iowa soil, perhaps after an anthrax outbreak in 1950-52, caused by feeding contaminated bonemeal to livestock. The spores from those afflicted animals had gone to ground, until they were ingested, probably with a clump of grass, by the cow in 1979. Once inside the warm, moist environment of the cow's digestive system, the spores came back to life, releasing their bacteria, which grow at phenomenal rates—each organism replicating itself every fifteen to twenty minutes. As the bacteria grew, they excreted a toxin that, in essence, caused the animal's immune system to go into hyperdrive, leading to shock and near-instant death.
The veterinarian would have disposed of the carcass immediately, either by burning it or, if it could be moved without rupture, by burying it after covering it with quicklime. In either case, before disposal, the vet salvaged a specimen from the diseased animal, either cutting off an ear and sealing it in a bag or drawing blood from the cow's jugular. The vet would have sent that specimen to the nearest state veterinary diagnostic center, which in this case was almost certainly the lab at Iowa State's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Iowa State microbiologists would have seen under the microscope big, rod-shaped bacteria that turned blue when introduced to an identifying substance called a Gram stain. Further biochemical tests would have proved positive for anthrax. At that point, a subculture would have been grown and sent down the street to the Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratory for confirmation. The original culture was probably put in a vial, which somehow found its way to the cabinet that held the Iowa State collection.
Here the story of the Ames strain leaves the realm of speculation, because what happened next is precisely known.
The National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames serves as the diagnostic center for the entire nation; it is a repository for all manner of germs and diseases that afflict American livestock. That is why the U.S. Army wrote to the N.V.S.L. in late 1980 requesting a sample of an anthrax culture. The Ames lab made a subculture of the anthrax and sent it to the Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases—USAMRIID—at Fort Detrick, near Frederick, Maryland, along with the information that the isolate had come from a dead cow. The Army named it the Ames strain.
USAMRIID has long been familiar with anthrax, as far back as the days when it was the Army Medical Unit and was associated with the Biological Warfare Laboratories at Fort Detrick. The mighty lethality of anthrax has been appreciated by mankind since classical times, and its potential as a weapon has been intuited by warriors since 1876, when the bacteriologist Robert Koch discovered that the disease had a bacterial cause. During the First World War, German agents were injecting anthrax into American livestock. In the nineteen-thirties, Japan tested anthrax as a weapon in Manchuria. In the forties, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union also took up the challenge of weaponizing anthrax.
But if anthrax is the perfect killer, silent and invisible, it is not, as it exists in nature, a perfect weapon. It is a livestock disease, and when humans contract it under normal conditions it is through contact with diseased animals or their hides. The commonest form of human infection (ninety-five per cent) is through skin contact—cutaneous anthrax. Lesions form, followed by a black scab, but, while potentially deadly, cutaneous anthrax is highly treatable by antibiotics. For people, by far the deadliest form of anthrax is that which is contracted by breathing spores into the lungs—inhalation anthrax. But, as the spores are not airborne under natural conditions, inhalation anthrax has been a rarity. According to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, between 1900 and 1978 only eighteen cases of inhalation anthrax were reported in the United States, and two of those were contracted in a laboratory.
What happens to a human being who does develop inhalation anthrax, however, is what inspired bioweaponeers. Once someone has breathed anthrax spores deep into the lungs, symptoms soon appear that seem very much like those of the common flu. There is a fever, cough, and aches, at which point aggressive antibiotic treatment can still offer patients a fighting chance. Otherwise, the fever suddenly elevates, breathing becomes labored, and shock seizes the body. After the onset of this severe stage, it is almost always too late for a cure.
Broadly posed, the trick of weaponizing anthrax is to make it breathable. A clump of infected soil might contain billions of anthrax spores, but a clump of soil is unlikely to be inhaled. So the first task in weaponizing anthrax is to purify it, producing a concentration of spores. This is done by creating a suspension, in which the anthrax spores are separated from the material surrounding them in the sample—water, material from the growth medium, and so on. No particle of anything much bigger than five microns is likely to get past the mucous membranes and reach deep into the lungs, and each anthrax spore is itself less than two microns in size. Purifying and concentrating the spores requires real laboratory skill.
Purification and concentration, however, is not enough. In even the purest concentrate, anthrax spores, like most small particles, will clump together, owing to natural electrostatic force. "If you just grow up spores in a test tube and then you remove the liquid, you'll have a kind of a clump," says Philip S. Brachman, a legendary epidemiologist and an old anthrax hand. "Now, that clump won't go anywhere—it'll fall to the ground." The next grand step in weaponizing anthrax is to cause those purified spores to separate, like individual sprinkles of a fine powder, so they can linger in the air and be inhaled.
Such anthrax becomes a weapon of unfathomable potency, but for years bioweapons scientists searched vainly for an efficient means by which to turn clumpy anthrax spores into airy, inhalable anthrax. Finally, in the early nineteen-sixties, a man named William C. (Bill) Patrick III, chief of product development for the American biowarfare program, found the answer. Patrick discovered that a certain combination of ingredients formed a handy anti-caking material, which, when combined with anthrax spores, allowed the spores to separate into a fine dry mist of unagglomerated poisons. "You want a free-flowing powder containing the agent that is electrostatic-free, so that it flows very nicely," Patrick explains calmly, as if he had developed a product to keep laundry static-free in a clothes dryer. "And when energy is applied to the powder, it breaks up into small particles."
A single gram of powdered anthrax can contain as many as a hundred billion anthrax spores. Conventional medical wisdom holds that inhalation of just eight to ten thousand spores is needed to trigger infection. The letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office last month contained two grams of purified, powdery anthrax spores—potentially enough to kill twenty-five million people if it were efficiently distributed.
A letter sent through the mail is not a maximally efficient means of distribution, although, as government officials were surprised to discover, the automatic sorting machines at postal centers can, in jostling a tainted letter, cause a lot of human damage. Two postal workers at a mail-distribution center near Washington have died of inhalation anthrax. "When a person opens a letter, that represents the munition," Patrick says. "When letters go through that high-speed sorting-out process in the post office, you are talking about a huge amount of energy. And you really have a munition."
Patrick's process for making static-free anthrax spores was secretly patented by the government, but he switched over to defensive work when Richard Nixon announced, in 1969, that the nation would unilaterally end its biological-warfare programs. Two and a half years later, the United States—and ultimately some hundred and fifty other nations—became a signatory to the international Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. By most accounts, the United States actually did stop making these weapons, although the Soviet Union continued with a huge program of germ- and chemical-weapon development until at least 1992. Iraq, another signatory to the convention, admitted in 1995 to having produced two thousand gallons of liquid anthrax, and is believed to have an ongoing biowarfare program. Israel never signed the accord. Patrick says, "I think that the Israelis, if truth be known, have an extremely advanced program in biological warfare, because it's too good a weapons system to give up."
After the American program ended, the research on biological and chemical weaponry was taken up by the Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. The unit's chief purpose turned from making biological weapons to devising defenses against them, through such means as developing and testing vaccines.
It was an Army scientist, George Wright, who developed the human anthrax vaccine, which was field-tested in the nineteen-fifties by Philip Brachman. To test the vaccine, Brachman went to the one place in the country where human anthrax infection, including the inhalation form, was most likely to occur—the animal-hide-processing industry in New England. (Anthrax was once called woolsorter's disease.) Brachman recruited volunteers from four mills whose workers regularly contracted anthrax at a rate much higher than the average population—an annual rate of 1.2 infections for every hundred workers. He divided the volunteers into two groups, vaccinated one group, and administered a placebo to the other. The results proved the efficacy of the vaccine. That same formula is, in its essence, the vaccine now administered to the American armed forces and other people at risk, and the one that the government intends to make available to the broader public. (Before that can happen, the private firm in Lansing, Michigan, that holds the license on the formula must meet requirements imposed by the F.D.A.)
Over the years, the Army and civilian scientists at USAMRIID have tested new variations of the vaccine, and it was for just such a test that the Army requested a strain of anthrax from the Department of Agriculture lab in Ames in 1980. What they received was a subculture of the anthrax that had killed the cow in western Iowa the year before.
In working with their new isolate, the scientists discovered something remarkable about it: the Ames strain excreted an especially potent toxin. Ames became known as a "hot," or highly virulent, strain, and by the late nineteen-eighties it had become the gold standard for anthrax strains. "It's hot, so people like to challenge their animals with the Ames to determine how well their vaccine or their treatment modality is working," Patrick says.
The Ames strain's reputation among laboratory scientists created a demand for it, and the demand was handily met. Philip Brachman says that if he had wanted to get hold of an anthrax strain, he could have simply written to a laboratory that had it and they would have sent it to him. Germ banks around the world maintain and sell from collections of bacteria, and hundreds of university and research laboratories freely exchange strains of various organisms. There are some limitations, particularly in the United States. The 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act requires that anyone dealing in dangerous pathogens must show a legitimate scientific purpose and must register with the Centers for Disease Control. But the law does not prohibit possession of those dangerous pathogens by non-scientists. Nor are background checks, such as those required before the purchase of a handgun, conducted upon the hiring of technicians who have access to pathogens in laboratories.
In any event, restrictions can be avoided through private exchanges between scientists. With anthrax, there is plenty to share. "You streak it out on a petri dish until there's one individual live bacterium at a particular spot on the plate," Jim Roth explains. "You grow it overnight, one bacterium turns into millions."
"It is an isolated case," Tommy Thompson, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, said after Bob Stevens died of anthrax on October 5th. "There is no terrorism." Such dissonance, which has characterized official pronouncements about the unfolding bioterrorism, is both alarming and, in a way, understandable. In recent weeks, even medical professionals have been made to realize how little they know about anthrax. The military establishment's research centers have been out of the bioweapons business for so long that they have had to rely partly on the advice of the last generation with real hands-on experience.
When anthrax outbreaks in New York, New Jersey, and Washington made it clear that the Florida occurrence was not an isolated case, it became imperative to determine the provenance of the bacteria that was being sent through the mail. A particular strain cannot be identified merely by peering at it through a microscope—all bacilli anthracis look more or less the same on a slide. To establish the genealogy of the poison-letter anthrax, the government turned to a young civilian scientist named Paul Keim, who is associated with Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, and whose wizardry in the field of DNA sequencing is fabled. It was Keim who determined that the unsuccessful anthrax attacks mounted by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Tokyo in 1993 failed partly because the bacteria used by the terrorists was of the Sterne strain—an avirulent (nontoxic) bacteria that is used in an anthrax vaccine.
Keim has assisted American intelligence for some time, though he refuses to talk about it. He and an associate, Martin Hugh-Jones, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University, have compiled a formidable collection of pathogens. "It was set up way back when, 'To be ready for . . .' " Hugh-Jones says. "It went from 'Let's look at thirty samples' to 'Gosh, do you think we could get two hundred?' to now we have something like between twelve hundred and thirteen hundred."
Samples from the anthrax letters were sent to Keim at his laboratory in Flagstaff, where he put the bacteria through genetic-sequencing tests and compared them to known strains. Soon, he had a match: it was the Ames strain.
When Tom Ridge announced, on October 25th, that the strain had been identified, it seemed like a breakthrough. Officials now knew that they were dealing with a highly toxic strain. This, in turn, suggested something more ominous. "The fact that they have selected the Ames strain, a hot strain of anthrax, indicates to me that they know what the hell they are doing," Bill Patrick says.
But, in a way, identifying the anthrax only clouded the picture. Because of its popularity in laboratories, Ames had become a sort of stock strain, untraceable through its genetics alone to any particular source. "Being Ames doesn't tell me anything, except that somebody got ahold of a stock strain without any difficulty," Philip Brachman says.
There are other ways to trace the bacteria's source. The anthrax sent to Senator Daschle's office was weaponized—that is, it had been pulverized by the method that Bill Patrick pioneered almost forty years ago. (Twenty-eight of the forty people in the area where the letter was opened tested positive for anthrax exposure.) The fact that it was weaponized means that the powder contained not only anthrax spores but the anti-caking material that allows the spores to float free. Identifying that material—which has been described as a fine, brownish particulate—could help to pinpoint the source.
Early analyses suggested that Iraq could be the source of the anthrax. Bill Patrick says that when he was in Iraq as a member of the United Nations Special Commission charged with dismantling Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, he saw batches of a substance called bentonite—a readily available material, brownish in color, that can be used to separate the anthrax spores into powdery particles. "It's not the material that we added to our weaponized agent, because we added a much better material," Patrick says. "But it will prevent, to a certain degree, sticking of the spores."
By last week, though, the head of the U.S. Army lab had ruled out bentonite as an ingredient in the anthrax letters. This seemed to rule out Iraq, even as the Czech government confirmed that the presumed lead hijacker in the September 11th attacks, Mohamed Atta, had met with an Iraqi spy in Prague last April.
In announcing the discovery that an anti-cling agent had been added to the anthrax sent through the mail, intelligence officials declared that only three nations in the world had the capacity to weaponize anthrax in that manner: the United States, the former Soviet Union, and Iraq. According to the Washington Post, an unnamed government official also said that "the totality of the evidence in hand suggests that it is unlikely that the spores were originally produced in the former Soviet Union or Iraq."
To Bill Patrick, the assertion that only three nations are capable of producing weaponized anthrax is laughable. "How in the hell he arrived at that conclusion I don't know," Patrick says. "I think the Iranians have a very advanced program in biological warfare. The Israelis . . . And we feel that China has an advanced program."
However, close parsing of the official's statement, an exercise that may be warranted just now, reveals that his pronouncement is literally true: the "spores" were not "originally produced" in the Soviet Union or Iraq; they were produced in the belly of a cow in western Iowa.
But the larger implication was somewhat puzzling. If the anthrax sent to Daschle came from one of three state-sponsored bioweapons programs, and if the former Soviet Union and Iraq are discounted as suspects, that leaves the biowarfare program of the United States, which officially ended its biological weapons program in 1969. At that time, government scientists destroyed their stores of weaponized anthrax, kept in Arkansas and Utah, by putting them through autoclaves, just as Iowa State killed its anthrax collection. Also, the Ames strain wasn't isolated until nearly a decade after the American program was supposed to have ended.
In a sense, Army scientists at USAMRIID have, in recent years, "weaponized" the Ames strain whenever they have tested anthrax vaccines on monkeys. They make an aerosol of the Ames strain, spray it into the monkeys' containment area, and await the results. But after each experiment, according to Caree Vander Linden, a USAMRIID spokeswoman, the aerosolized anthrax not inhaled by the monkeys is destroyed. "The aerosolized sample is contained within an airtight cabinet," she explained. "The air and the cabinet are decontaminated after the exposure to destroy all spores that were not inhaled. Any spores that are not inhaled are trapped by an all-glass impinger of water"—and destroyed.
The notion that only a state-sponsored biological-weapons program could produce the dangerous, powdery anthrax is one of the assumptions now being seriously challenged. The White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said last week that the anthrax may have been produced by "a Ph.D. microbiologist" and that "it could be derived at a small, well-equipped microbiology lab"—the nutty-professor scenario. Fleischer may be right. The scientific know-how involved in weaponizing anthrax is formidable, but it is out there, and the technology is available. One of the steps in making a powdered, airy form of anthrax is freeze-drying the spores, along with the anti-caking material, in a lyophilizer, or freeze-drying machine. A new-model tabletop lyophilizer can be bought for less than eight thousand dollars.
"It's very easy to do on a lab scale," Patrick says. "Small production. We're talking about milligram quantities, as opposed to when you expand your process to get industrial-sized production."
It may be that Paul Keim can answer the state-sponsorship-or-lone-terrorist question through DNA sequencing, which might be capable of determining whether the anthrax was part of a small batch (the handgun scenario) or a vast store (the biological equivalent of a nuke).
One of the paradoxes of scientific inquiry in such circumstances, especially in the early stages, is that each answer only poses new questions. Paul Keim's DNA sequencing established that the terror anthrax is natively American—the Ames strain—but this knowledge seemed to widen the range of possible suspects rather than narrowing it, because Ames is now so common. Similarly, the discovery that an additive had been applied to anthrax spores would prove little, even if it had turned out to be bentonite, the material identified with the Iraqi program. Bentonite is a common substance with a wide range of uses, both in the laboratory and in household products, including cat litter.
At such a moment, even a man like Bill Patrick, who knows so much, really wishes he knew more. "Sometimes, I feel that a disgruntled professor who didn't get tenure is working at night in his little laboratory and producing this crud," Patrick says. "But I can't discount the possibility that it could be coming in by diplomatic pouch from a large supply. I can't answer it. I can't make up my mind. I really don't know. "
Update on Anthrax Investigations with Drs. Jeffrey Koplan and Julie Gerberding
November 7, 2001
CDC MODERATOR: Thank you. And good afternoon to all the reporters listening in on the call. I'd like to introduce our two speakers today. Dr. Jeffrey Koplan is director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and also with us is Dr. Julie Gerberding, acting deputy director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases here at CDC.
Dr. Koplan has just a few brief comments, and then we'll get started with the Q and A. Thank you.
DR. KOPLAN: Thanks, Tom. Good afternoon, all of you. We are still dealing with a case count of 17 confirmed cases and five suspect cases in four sites. We still have investigative teams out in all of those sites doing a variety of different tasks including continued case detection, investigations, and a wide variety of activities as we've described before. And probably the best thing to do now is just to use the time for your questions.
CDC MODERATOR: John, let's go ahead and start with the questions, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: Certainly. And just as a quick reminder, ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question at this time, please press the one. Our first question is from the line of Andrew Rafkin with The New York Times. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello, everybody, and thanks again for keeping at this even when it doesn't seem like much is happening.
I have a couple of sort of hygiene questions. One is that in the case in New York City, one of the only things that distinguishes her from the others obviously is that she worked in a hospital where the other inhalation cases worked in mail facilities, for the most part.
Is it possible or have you explored whether the hospital hygiene routine, meaning some janitor coming through the mail room, stock room, et cetera, every night and spritzing everything or wiping everything could have wiped away traces of spores [inaudible]?
DR. KOPLAN: Thanks, Andrew. There is clean-up that goes on in the hospital, sweeping, et cetera, but not at a level that would have eliminated what we think would have been the type of exposure that could have led to an inhalation anthrax case.
QUESTION: And the follow-up is have you--obviously this is all emerging science, but do you yet have a sense of the probability of her simply being one of the unlucky outliers who could contract this fatal inhalation case while only inhaling a few spores?
DR. KOPLAN: Well, we don't rule out anything, but we just don't have evidence for enough of that. And there's really--you have to be way out on the outlier for a few spores, so that, you know, given the numbers that have been postulated from animal experiments, given--given other physical attributes of spores that might make for a lower LD-50, a lower lethal dose, a dose that would cause inhalation anthrax, still it would be a lot more than a few, and we still have no exposure explanation that would account for that in what we see at her work, her home, or what we've learned about her daily habits.
QUESTION: Who is that who was just speaking, by the way?
DR. KOPLAN: This is Dr. Jeffrey Koplan.
QUESTION: Okay. Great.
CDC MODERATOR: Next question, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: Thank you. That's from Jerry Maniere with The Chicago Tribune. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks very much. I was wondering if you could maybe shed some more light on what came up at the hearing yesterday with Senator Feinstein. She asked, you know, if we know which labs have dealt with anthrax, and other CDC auditors select agents that are transferred from lab to lab and you have to register for that. Do we know what labs do that? Do we know which labs just possess these kind of agents? And how confident are we that the transfer even is being regulated effectively?
DR. KOPLAN: Well, as you indicated, what we do is we register labs that mail to us agents, not ones that possess them. More labs possess them than mail them, and we know some of those, but we don't have a registry. Our role in the select agent is determined by legislation. There's laws that, you know, instruct us what to do and that's what we perform. So I couldn't give you a number or certainly the names of all the others that have it.
CDC MODERATOR: Next question, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: Thank you. That's from Peter Slevin with The Washington Post. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, thanks very much. Turning to the AMI case in Florida for a minute, can you please tell us what you learned from the two rounds of blood tests of AMI employees, particularly from an epidemiological perspective? I know there's an interest in trying to track the course of any potential letter through the building, and I'm wondering if you've been able to shed some light on that with [inaudible].
DR. KOPLAN: Sure. Thank you. First of all, the serology, the blood test that's being done for anthrax is really quite new in use in this setting. Its previous use has been largely to determine whether people have converted to vaccination, so that when laboratory workers who work with anthrax all the time receive--you know, there are certain numbers of doses, they then can get their blood tested so that they have some greater confidence that the vaccine had a successful immunologic conversion as they work with these deadly agents in the lab.
In this--as you indicated, in the AMI outbreak in Florida, for a variety of reasons there was value in seeing, for one--you know, we didn't have a letter in hand. We were able to track exposure seemingly through a mail-related route, but we never got a letter or a package in hand, and so there was value in looking at a variety of different ways to see how many people might have been exposed in this setting with different tools, and that's where nasal swabs were used as a surrogate for the environment and environmental specimens were taken. And in addition, blood specimens were taken.
But certainly we did not--we could not bank on an experience to say how to interpret those findings when the blood results came back.
I would turn it over now to Dr. Gerberding who is closer to the results of these two collections.
DR. GERBERDING: Yeah, and again, as Dr. Koplan said, those tests are not validated as a diagnostic test for anthrax at this point in time, but we are trying to learn as much about its performance as we can.
What we can say is that in people who have anthrax disease, the test often is position and antibody [inaudible] may increase, but these are people who have all of the clinical signs and symptoms of illness.
We don't have any information to suggest that it's useful in evaluating exposure, and that's why we're no longer using it as a routine component of exposure assessment, because it's not positive unless somebody has infection.
CDC MODERATOR: Next question, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: Thank you, and that's from Adam Marcus with Health Scale. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. I'd like to follow up on something that was raised last week about possible underlying lung diseases that might predispose somebody to getting inhalation anthrax. Do you have any more information about the smoke status, asthma status, or COPD status of any of the patients?
DR. GERBERDING: Some of the patients have smoking histories, but some of them have no smoking history. We might have hypothesized that smoking would be bad because it would decrease the capacity of the lungs to clear the anthrax spores that might be deposited there, but so far with the limited number of cases that we're examining, we haven't been able to say one way or another whether it's related to disease.
DR. KOPLAN: But let me add that not one of your readers should need any more reasons to determine that tobacco is bad for your health.
CDC MODERATOR: Next question, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: Thank you, and that's from Cheryl Folberg with The New York Times. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Hi, Dr. Koplan. I'm sure you know that Senator Feinstein is sponsoring legislation that would tighten up laboratory security, and at the same time this bill is concerning some microbiologists who feel that we don't want to make security too tight. I wonder what your feeling is about how laboratory security should work, how tight should the--should it be, and how do you feel about the bill?
DR. KOPLAN: I'm not familiar with the details of the bill itself, but I think in general it is a bit of a balancing act there. You know, we and others want, you know, secure laboratories for both safety--from safety of the workers' perspective, from the surrounding community perspective, and then from obviously folks having access with criminal intent to the agents' use therein.
I think a key element for us in this is that we are not a regulatory agency, and don't profess to any expertise or much experience in that at all, and so our role in this is much more issuing guidelines to labs on how to maintain the safety of their workers, and working with them in that mode. So that should there be legislation, we would not be the best players in a regulatory reaction.
CDC MODERATOR: Next question, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: Thank you, and that's from Daniel DeNine with Web MD. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I'd like to go beyond anthrax for a moment and ask about CDC and Federal plans to deal with any kind of smallpox outbreak or attack. Specifically can you address the plan to vaccinate first-response workers? And can you talk a little bit about what might happen in terms of a small focused outbreak immediately as opposed to what you would like to do to build up to later on? Thank you.
DR. KOPLAN: There are several different pieces there. One is what would we do with a small focused outbreak immediately, and we would react much as we've done with anthrax or any of the other dozens of naturally-occurring outbreaks or reports we get almost weekly here, which is that we would work first with the local or state health authorities and determine what they had done, what they had found, what lab tests they'd found, what was their clinical appraisal.
We would then follow that with either an on-site field team or person, depending on what the disease is or how large it was, to investigate, including the taking of specimens or sharing of specimens with the state or the confirmation of findings that the state had done or planned to do, and then mount a response commensurate with what the scope of the problem was.
So if the parallel is with anthrax, in Florida, we had the specimen within hours, the results within hours of getting it, and had a team on the way there before the confirmation had occurred, and a similar level of speedy, intense response would certainly occur, even in a focal smallpox outbreak.
In terms of general preparedness, this is--again it's something we have been working on for years here, and we--our preparedness extends both to laboratory and to epidemiologic capabilities, and to working with state and local health departments so that folks can try to recognize that early case of rash illness, a skin rash with fever or something unusual, so that we can detect a smallpox case as early as possible, should one occur.
Up here at CDC we have also increased the number of folks we have here who could respond to such a suspect case or cases, both in terms of diagnostic capability, epidemiologic investigation, lab back-up, immunization approaches, et cetera.
And then going backwards through your question, I think the first part involved what are our plans for first responders, I think was your question. And what we're doing is we're working closely with state and local health authorities and their umbrella organizations now to work with them to determine who are those most at risk, what would be the best use, if any, at this stage of various preventive modalities and try to--we have a smallpox plan that would be into play that the states have also been reviewing, and have given us feedback on.
It's operational today, we could use it today if need be, but we are also trying to continue to improve it with input from state-level health departments, so that in that it includes the issue of who would be best immunized early on in this, and we're trying to get the states and local health departments to think through that with us as that decision would get made.
CDC MODERATOR: Next question, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: Thank you, and that's from Ridgely Oaks with Newsday. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. I have two somewhat unrelated questions. The first is do you feel comfortable saying now that the second wave or cluster of anthrax cases is probably over, the one that could be traced to Senator Daschle's office? And the second has to do with the international letters, sort of where we're at with that.
DR. KOPLAN: Okay. On the first one, you know, we again look at epidemics all the time and have for a long period of time. And while it's a good thing in any naturally-occurring outbreak to see a downward slope to the curve of cases, that has little meaning when a criminal act has been performed and someone is out there potentially with the will and the tools to do this again. So we--our level of vigilance and concern is undiminished.
Sorry. International letters. We've gotten a pretty regular stream of reports of these. As you'd imagine, some are hard to assess the real threat of some of them because it's very hard to get a handle on the laboratory tests being done in different places. Some of them, we've been told, are on the way to us for study, although I'm--I haven't yet seen one in hand yet, not that I'd have it in hand, but figuratively speaking, our lab hasn't received one yet to do the studies with yet.
I think as an aside, it's another good argument for having had a long-standing interest in global health issues, and our own view of the borders for threats out there don't stop, you know, at our national boundaries. So that in many of these places, we either have folks we've worked with before or we can--or we have folks that have been assigned there, and those have been very helpful in getting some better sense of the quality of these reports.
CDC MODERATOR: Next question, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: Thank you, and that's from Charles Seabrook with The Atlanta Journal. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Dr. Koplan, I have two questions, if I may. One is could you tell me any more about the President's visit to CDC tomorrow? And number two is yesterday I didn't hear you very well because of technical glitches, but it was mentioned about lessons learned so far, and if you could speak to that briefly, I would appreciate it.
DR. KOPLAN: On the President's visit, that's an easy answer, Charlie, which is that we understand he's coming, and--but--and we are eager to have him. This will be the first time an acting--a sitting president has visited CDC, so we're delighted.
I think our hope, and I think his intent, from what we understand, is that he wants to meet the folks who are doing the work on this, and we've got a lot of them, and it's great to have them see the President and get positive reinforcement from him directly. So a lot of folks have been working hard, long hours, and it will be very meaningful for them to get this show of appreciation.
On the other question of what we've learned so far, I'll turn it over to Dr. Gerberding.
DR. GERBERDING: Thank you. There are a lot of lessons learned, and we are learning them every day, but I think two of the big lessons that stick out in my mind are, number one, how critically important the clinicians have been as the first detector of the cases and the evolving problem. It really is the astute capacity of various front line and infectious disease specialists who really recognized that this was not an ordinary infectious disease, that it did in fact represent anthrax, and the steps they took early on not only to diagnose and treat the patient but also to report the patient to the local and state health authorities and initiate the whole chain of response that you've seen.
I think the related lesson to
that is how critically important laboratory and laboratory capacity really
is in this, both in terms of identifying and managing
Maybe a third component of that, that has been new to us, is the relationship we had with the FBI and the criminal component of the investigation, which really is an ongoing process. We're working side-by-side with the FBI, and I think we're learning some tools that they use, they're learning some tools that we use, and together we are making progress.
CDC MODERATOR: Next question, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: Thank you. And that's from David Caravello with CBS News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Good morning, doctors. Earlier today your staff--
CDC MODERATOR: David, you're distant.
QUESTION: How is this? Can you hear me, Doctor?
DR. KOPLAN: Right now we can.
QUESTION: Earlier today your staff helped me understand a little more about select agents, and I think the role of CDC in that. What is the agency of jurisdiction or is there a loophole when we have a situation with potentially commingled waste, per se? Many of the media companies may have had garbage contaminated with anthrax spores, and that garbage is just carted off. Is there a procedure that would dictate how that's dealt with as the select agents are dictated with CDC's role?
DR. GERBERDING: I'm not sure we could actually hear your entire question, but--
QUESTION: Do we have, Doctor, contaminated waste that is commingled with anthrax spores in any of the media companies that has been taken away, not been treated? Does it need to be taken away if it's not treated by a registered agent, as the registered agents who transport anthrax spores between labs do or is there a loophole here?
DR. GERBERDING: I believe the EPA is doing the clean-up in most of the places where there has been profound contamination. And as [inaudible] said, this is again a new area, where they're having to set new guidelines for how to deal with this. In places where there has been contaminated material that we've seen, those have been treated or dealt with in a way that would decontaminate them before they got placed anywhere else, largely, through the use of bleach, a diluted bleach. Chlorine is an effective sporicide. So that is the approach that is being taken in all of the places that we have been involved in, but again, EPA will probably be coming out with some larger scale guidelines that can be used in many of these spots.
CDC MODERATOR: Next question, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: Thank you. That is from Sean Loughlin [ph] with CNN. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, Doctors. I have two questions. First, is there anything at all that you've learned in your analysis of the bacteria that killed Ms. Nguyen, anything at all that helps you determine how, just where she might have gotten it, how the case is different? Are you any further along in understanding this case than you were last week?
DR. KOPLAN: We have learned a few more things about her, and her life, and work, and home, and it has not helped us determine what the source of exposure was for her.
QUESTION: Secondly, we understand from New York that there was some evidence of anthrax contamination in a mail room at ABC. Were you involved in the tests for that or no--the ABC mail room in New York?
DR. GERBERDING: The New York City Health Department has the lead for the investigations in New York, and we were involved in evaluating the environment there, but the results of that investigation are really in the jurisdiction of that health department.
CDC MODERATOR: Next question, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: And that is from Kevin McCoy with USA Today. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks again for holding these briefings.
To get back to Ms. Nguyen in New York, Dr. Perkins said the other day that there was some indication that she might have worked in a restaurant. Have you managed to confirm that either way?
And, also, in your checking of her route to and from work on the subway, is it possible that any anthrax that was there in the subway was dispersed by the time the tests were taken?
DR. KOPLAN: Let me comment about those. In terms of the woman with inhalation anthrax in New York, yes, there were earlier reports that she worked part time in a restaurant, and then there were reports that she liked to frequent that restaurant. As best we can determine, again, in consultation with law-enforcement colleagues, she had friends who had a restaurant, and she went there. Whether she helped them out or worked there, remains unclear, but we have been able to identify individuals who were associated with the restaurant.
The comment that she had other either work or frequented restaurants have been very hard to track down because of the people who know her either at work or in other places, they're unable to identify a specific restaurant, other than it had an Asian food cuisine served, and our colleagues in New York tell us that that limits it to several thousand restaurants in areas that she might have gone to. So it really hasn't been very helpful.
We continue to try to pursue every one of these leads and issues, but I am struck at how difficult it is to get the kind of detailed information we need on day-to-day, hour-to-hour activities when someone lives alone and didn't have a lot of close confidants.
And on the second part of your question, what we think is a more effective way to monitor for subway exposure is we've been doing very careful monitoring of subway workers who one would expect would be the most likely to be exposed in the event of an event or an exposure in subways, and we've been doing that for quite some time now and have not seen any increase in illness in them.
CDC MODERATOR: John, we'll make this the last question, please.
AT&T MODERATOR: And that will be from the line of Bob Port with the New York Daily News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you for these briefings. I hope you can hear me. I'm on a cell phone on a street in Washington.
DR. KOPLAN: You're loud and clear. Don't move.
QUESTION: Very good. I just would like to say I don't think you could give New Yorkers enough details about the Kathy Nguyen case. Her picture is in the subways, and there's a great thirst for information.
What I'd like to ask you is I've gotten the feeling that the investigators pursuing this have to look at the mail as one theory, the subway as another theory of how she inhaled anthrax. Could you just list for us, with some explanation, the different possibilities that you have to consider.
DR. KOPLAN: Sure. First of all, it's like where you start or where we start--is there a potential for a naturally occurring case? I mean, you may say, well, that's impossible here. Well, we say let's just spread the net broadly. And obviously there's no occupational exposure, there's no evidence of a hobby or a pastime that did it, so that's way down, if not off the table.
In the past episodes in this criminal case of anthrax release, it has been via the mail or mail-related route, so that was where we started, and again we could not find an incriminating letter, likely target, had no evidence of anthrax in the testing of surfaces in places where she might have had mail, such as in her place at work, which at one point was shared with the mail room, or her home. So that hasn't been productive as showing where the exposure was.
Other possibilities are--was her home, that something happened in the neighborhood or in her home that might have caused an exposure. Again, the studies there or investigations there have involved looking in her neighborhood, interviewing people around there, an extensive study of her house or environmental specimens or anything else that might suggest something happened there, and that hasn't revealed anything.
The next step is in the course of her day, between home and work, and whatever other things she does, was she in a place where she could have been exposed to this? That can be either as an innocent bystander or something going on, as someone who was an inadvertent participant in something. And in no way am I indicating any sense of wrongdoing at all by this individual, but one has to look at every possibility of how someone might have gotten this exposure.
And so key to the investigation, without attributing any motive, lack of motive or what happened is just knowing where she was. That's the crucial thing. And so all of the posters you see out at churches, and on the streets, and elsewhere and on TV, the intent is did someone know her even casually? Did someone every now and then do something socially with her that might be able to say, you know, every Tuesday and Thursday she liked to go here or do this or she really, no one else knew it, but she liked to shop in this particular place, and it involved a fairly round-about-route to get there, but she really liked this particular food item.
You get the gist. There are things that any one of us do that aren't necessarily predictable, and you can't account for, and that's the stuff we need, and we need it for a 2-week period, and so that's what's going on, and that's the way our thinking is. We try to think our thinking as wide and bride as possible because, as you are all aware, we've learned something new with each piece of this investigation, and we don't want to narrow in too quickly or shut off possibilities, but that's where we are.
Sorry for the long answer.
CDC MODERATOR: This concludes our briefing. On behalf of Drs. Koplan and Gerberding, we want to thank everybody for participating. It is very likely that tomorrow's MNWR [ph] will contain additional information on the anthrax situation, and we will be having another briefing tomorrow at noon. And so the CDC Press Office will be sending out an announcement regarding that briefing in the morning.
Thank you very much.
AT&T MODERATOR: And, ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude your conference. You may now disconnect.
[Whereupon, the CDC teleconference briefing concluded.]
Evidence Shows Saddam Is Behind Anthrax Attacks
Editor's note: This is the conclusion of a two-part interview with Laurie Mylroie, publisher of the online newsletter Iraq News and author of "Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War against America." See part one, Saddam Is Behind the Terrorist Attacks.
NewsMax: What’s the evidence that Saddam is also behind the anthrax attacks?
Mylroie: ABC News reported on October 29th that at least two labs have concluded that the anthrax used in the U.S. was coated with two additives linked to Iraq’s biological weapons program: bentonite and silica. These additives make anthrax particularly lethal by preventing spores from sticking together, enabling them to float and making anthrax easily inhalable.
Bentonite is a trademark of the Iraqi weapons program. Iraq is the only country in the world that uses it.
The German newspaper Bild also reports that according to Israeli security, Mohamed Atta, who organized the 9/11 attacks, was given a vacuum flask of anthrax when he met with the Iraqi counsel in the Czech Republic.
We also know that Saddam has enormous quantities of anthrax. In 1995, before U.N. weapons inspectors were expelled from Iraq, they estimated that he had produced 2,000 gallons of anthrax – enough to kill every person on earth. God knows how much he has now, in addition to his weaponized smallpox and other deadly biological weapons.
NewsMax: So why haven’t we seen massive biological attacks on the U.S. so far?
Mylroie: Saddam know that the only way he can survive is if others are blamed for the terrorist attacks on America, at least for now. So initial attacks have been small, but much larger attacks are being planned.
The Iraqi newspaper Babil, published by Saddam’s son, clearly spells out their strategy. The September 20th edition predicted a three-stage American war on Afghanistan: 1) air attacks, 2) escalating air attacks and ground troops, and 3) a Vietnam-style quagmire and growing Muslim counterattacks.
Babil says during the first two stages Iraq will not publicly involve itself in the war because "[Americans] will watch Iraq accurately and seriously. If we do anything, Iraq will be attacked, not just like the attack of 1998, but perhaps like the attack of 1991 [the Gulf War].”
However, once we reach stage 3 – a Vietnam-style quagmire – Babil warns, "At this stage, it is possible to turn to biological attack, where a small can, not bigger than the size of the hand, can be used to release viruses that affect everything.”
Again, this is what an official Iraqi newspaper was saying on September 20th – before the first anthrax attacks.
Also consider that the anthrax attacks we’ve seen have been progressively more lethal. The first attacks didn’t kill any postal workers, just people in the vicinity of the letter. Then postal workers and bystanders were infected, and we have a more sophisticated form of anthrax that floats around.
The next stage could be antibiotic- resistant anthrax, which Iraq can easily make. The attacks are getting more and more sophisticated. It’s a clear progression, testing our defenses.
NewsMax: Does Saddam also have nuclear weapons?
Mylroie: He has everything he needs to make several nuclear weapons, perhaps more, with the possible exception of fissionable material – plutonium or U-235. And he’s doing everything possible to get them.
NewsMax: Under what circumstances would Saddam use nuclear weapons.
Mylroie: If his back is to the wall. It’s called the "Samson strategy.” If Saddam knows he can’t win, he will kill as many of his enemies as possible before he dies.
That’s also when Saddam would attack Israel with his Jerusalem Army.
NewsMax: How would you respond to this threat if you were president of the United States?
Mylroie: First, I’d do everything possible to minimize casualties and risk. I’d ground all crop dusters and round up everyone who might be responsible. Then I’d go after Iraq.
I’d bomb the Special Republican Guard that keeps Saddam in power. I’d bomb his 40 palaces and anyplace else he might be. I’d work with the Iraqi resistance to get rid of his corrupt regime. I’d do whatever it takes to put Saddam in his grave.
The State Department doesn’t want to do it. Bush doesn’t want to do. But we have to do it, and the sooner the better. The only alternative is to wait until Saddam launches a massive biological or nuclear attack on the U.S. that kills millions.
November 10, 2001.
THE ANTHRAX THREAT
By ERIC LICHTBLAU and MEGAN GARVEY, TIMES STAFF WRITERS
WASHINGTON -- The FBI is increasingly convinced that the person behind the recent anthrax attacks is a lone wolf within the United States who has no links to terrorist groups but is an opportunist using the Sept. 11 hijackings to vent his rage, investigators said Friday.
Based on case studies, handwriting and linguistic analysis, forensic data and other evidence, authorities do not believe at this point in their five-week investigation that Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network was behind the anthrax attacks, FBI officials said.
Instead, FBI investigators said at a news briefing that they are probably looking for an adult male with at least limited scientific expertise who was able to use laboratory equipment easily obtained for as little as $2,500 to produce high-quality anthrax. FBI officials, in offering their most expansive public assessment to date of their probe, are hoping that the rough profile they have developed of the anthrax culprit could produce a redux of their 1996 capture of the infamous Unabomber.
In that case, an 18-year rampage of bombings led authorities to Theodore Kaczynski only after his brother recognized his writing style in a lengthy manifesto that was released publicly.
In the anthrax case, the FBI is hoping its portrait of the perpetrator--as an antisocial loner with some peculiar mannerisms in his handwriting and phrasing--will help lead them to whoever mailed at least three anthrax-laced letters and killed four people.
Authorities have offered $1.25 million in reward money, and leads from the public "will play an integral role perhaps in identifying this individual," said James R. Fitzgerald, an FBI profiler who worked on the Unabomber case.
Even as authorities sought the public's help, Homeland Security Director Thomas J. Ridge acknowledged at the White House on Friday that progress in the probe has been frustratingly slow. "We're still no closer to identifying specifically the origin of the anthrax and / or the perpetrators of that challenge that's confronted America," he said.
FBI officials acknowledge that psychological profiling, the stuff of "Silence of the Lambs," is at best a rough science and it is not used often in soliciting tips from the public. But they insist they may have some telltale signs to follow by combining histories of serial bombers such as Kaczynski with handwriting and chemical evidence from three anthrax-laced letters sent in September and October to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), NBC anchor Tom Brokaw and the New York Post.
Investigators suspect, for instance, that whoever mailed the anthrax has little contact with the public and carries deep-seated resentments but does not like direct confrontation.
The individual demonstrates the same tendencies as serial bombers, who "don't really enjoy face-to-face confrontation with someone to iron out a problem. They choose to do it long-distance," Fitzgerald said.
All three letters were postmarked from Trenton, N.J., but postal officials indicated Friday that they no longer believe the letters were mailed from a residential postal route in Ewing, N.J., just outside the Trenton city limits.
They have broadened their search to a wider region in the Trenton area, but FBI officials said there is no assurance that whoever mailed the anthrax letters had any direct connection to that area. Fitzgerald noted that Kaczynski traveled 1,500 miles by bus from Montana to San Francisco in order to send several explosive packages.
Investigators believe the anthrax attacker had at least a limited background in science, is perhaps someone with a doctorate, a lab technician "or somewhere in between," Fitzgerald said.
"He's shown us he knows anthrax," said an FBI supervisor who spoke on condition of anonymity. And forensic analysis indicates that the anthrax in the Oct. 9 letter sent to Daschle was much more highly refined than what was contained in the two letters sent to the media Sept. 18, officials said.
That refinement process would require only "basic laboratory equipment"--including a microscope, a centrifuge and a milling device. The equipment would be available in many labs or could be purchased for as little as $2,500, officials said. "You could do it on a shoestring," the FBI supervisor said.
FBI investigators said they are tracking recent purchases of milling and other equipment and are also curious about whether the mailing of the three letters on Tuesdays--Sept. 18 and Oct. 9--could indicate something about the attacker's work schedule or access to a lab. But investigators said the relative ease of getting the processing equipment--and the lack of information about what labs and research centers even possess anthrax--have hindered their efforts.
Although early speculation indicated the highly refined strain of anthrax could only have been produced by labs in the United States, Iraq or Russia, investigators now believe "it could be from anywhere," one senior FBI official said.
Investigators are not ruling out overseas possibilities, but current evidence points to "no direct or clear linkage" to any known terrorist cells, Fitzgerald said. That would mean it was not linked to Bin Laden, Iraq's Saddam Hussein or other Middle Easterners with known interest in bioterrorism.
One sign leading investigators away from the prospect of an Islamic fundamentalist is the use of the phrase "Allah is great" to close all three letters. Fitzgerald said the phrasing and the absence of Arabic text do not jibe with past terrorist attacks, and he suggested the author may have been trying to falsely cast suspicion on Middle Easterners.
All three notes also began with the date "09-11-01." But again, Fitzgerald said there is a strong possibility the attacker was hiding behind the date of the Sept. 11 hijackings as subterfuge. The attacker appears to be "an opportunist [who] took advantage" of the mayhem surrounding the hijackings to pursue his own agenda, Fitzgerald said.
The pattern of evidence points to a home-grown terrorist, investigators said. "We're certainly looking in that direction right now as far as someone domestic," the FBI supervisor said.
The FBI is also hoping that oddities in the three letters, which authorities released last month, could jog the memory of someone else who has gotten a letter from the same author. The letters were written in distinctive block lettering with a downward slope, for instance, and the author used distinctive "1" numerals, along with dashes to write the "09-11-01" date instead of slashes, investigators noted. The author spelled penicillin incorrectly in the line "take penacilin now," but Fitzgerald said this may have been an attempt to falsely "dumb down" the letter to throw investigators off the trail.
Postal authorities on Friday also revised their assessment of how a Hamilton, N.J., letter carrier may have contracted anthrax.
The FBI then believed Teresa Heller, 45, had probably handled one of the anthrax-laced letters. But once no anthrax spores were found at the small West Trenton postal branch where Heller worked, authorities were forced to reexamine the theory.
While anthrax hot spots have continued to be found at outlying New Jersey postal facilities, officials blamed the findings on cross-contamination and said the discoveries have been of little help in the investigation.
Times staff writers Edwin Chen, Robert A. Rosenblatt and Robin Wright in Washington and Janet Wilson in New York contributed to this report.
Laden denies anthrax attacks
Leader claims he has nuclear weapons
Rory McCarthy in Islamabad
A Pakistani newspaper editor who met Osama bin Laden for a rare interview said yesterday that America's most wanted man denied he was behind the anthrax letter attacks which have shaken the US.
Western intelligence officials will be poring over every word that Hamid Mir has written since his two-hour meeting with Bin Laden on Thursday at a secret location inside Afghanistan. It was the first interview the Saudi dissident has given since the World Trade Centre bombings and appears to hold precious clues about his current hideout.
Mr Mir said he asked Bin Laden if his al-Qaida network was involved in the letter attacks in America, which have claimed four lives. "He laughed and said: 'We don't know anything about it,'" Mr Mir wrote in his Daily Ausaf newspaper yesterday.
US investigators have been baffled by the anthrax attacks, which targeted media groups in New York and Florida and forced the closure of several government offices in Washington. Although it was at first suggested that Bin Laden or even Iraq might be responsible for the anthrax-laced letters, attention now appears to be turning to a US source.
Bin Laden was reported yesterday to have made a separate statement in which he gives the first open admission that his network carried out the September 11 attacks. A videotape said to have been circulating for two weeks among al-Qaida supporters shows him giving his account of the attacks in which he refers to the Twin Towers as "legitimate targets" and the suicide hijackers as "blessed by Allah to destroy America's economic and military landmarks".
The tape will form the focus of a batch of new evidence of Bin Laden's guilt to be unveiled this week.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, Bin Laden is unashamed about killing civilians. "If avenging the killing of our people is terrorism then history should be a witness that we are terrorists. Yes, we kill their innocents."
He also issued direct threats against President George Bush and Tony Blair. "Bush and Blair don't understand anything but the power of force. Every time they kill us, we kill them, so the balance of terror can be achieved."
Mr Mir's encounter with the world's most wanted man took place early last week when the Pakistani editor, who is known to have close links with Bin Laden and has interviewed him twice before, was invited to Kabul for a clandestine meeting. He was picked up in the city on Wednesday night by Arab fighters, blindfolded, wrapped in a blanket and driven in the back of a jeep along rough roads for five hours.
When his blindfold was removed early on Thursday morning Mr Mir found himself in a dark room. The temperature was low, suggesting he was high in the mountains. Minutes later Bin Laden arrived with his deputy, Ayman el-Zawahiri, the leader of Egyptian jihad. Both carried Kalashnikov rifles. They stared blankly at the camera as they posed for photographs.
"The floor of the room showed that this was a mud house arranged temporarily for the interview," Mr Mir wrote in his Urdu-language newspaper yesterday. "On regular intervals one could hear anti-aircraft guns, so it was not difficult to guess that it was close to the frontline. Osama bin Laden looked confident, healthy and fresh."
Mr Mir said the Saudi appeared undaunted by the military campaign. "He told me five times that 'maybe this place will be bombed now and both of us will be killed,' and 'I'm not scared of death,'" he said.
Bin Laden also promised to fight on even if major Afghan cities fell. "We will move to the mountains. We will continue our guerrilla warfare against the Americans," he told Mr Mir.
In his first accounts of the meeting, the Pakistani editor described how Bin Laden had claimed he possessed nuclear and chemical weapons and might use them against the US. "We have the weapons as deterrent," he quoted Bin Laden as saying.
Yesterday he said Bin Laden refused to say where he obtained the weapons but said he suspected US forces were using chemical weapons. "Bodies of mojahedin found from a site in Kabul had all turned black," he told Mr Mir.
The defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, said he doubted that Bin Laden had the ability to produce nuclear bombs, though he conceded that al-Qaida was probably in possession of nuclear materials.
US officials believe Bin Laden may have had more success in developing chemical weapons. One site at Derunta, near the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, is thought to have been a chemical weapons research laboratory. Yesterday the New York Times said that al-Qaida may have produced cyanide gas at Derunta in small quantities.
US intelligence officials are also concerned about a fertilizer plant in Mazar-i-Sharif, which had been run by al-Qaida and the Taliban until the Northern Alliance captured the area on Friday.
Equipment at the site could be used to make biological or chemical weapons, the paper said. Another site in Kabul which made anthrax vaccine and was used by the Taliban was also a worry for intelligence analysts because of the equipment it contained. None of the sites has been bombed.
Chilling evidence in the ruins of Kabul
Economist, Nov. 22, 2001
AMERICAN officials increasingly believe the anthrax attacks since September 11th were not carried out by people connected to al-Qaeda, but may have been the work of a lone American madman. To avert future attacks, though, perhaps they should look harder.
They might start, for example, in a nondescript house in the wealthiest district of Kabul, where a Pakistani NGO called Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN) once had its offices. UTN's president is Bashiruddin Mahmood, one of Pakistan's leading nuclear scientists and a specialist in plutonium technology. Last month Mr Mahmood was arrested by the Pakistani authorities and interrogated on his links to the Taliban, with whom he has had frequent contact for, he insists, humanitarian reasons. Mr Mahmood was released again soon afterwards. The Taliban has denied any "abnormal" links between Mr Mahmood and Mr bin Laden, and he himself says he has never met the man.
In public, UTN helped Afghans with flourmills, school textbooks and road-upgrading schemes. But its offices suggest that this may have been a cover for something far more sinister. According to their neighbours, the Pakistanis who lived and worked there fled Kabul along with the Taliban, but the evidence they left behind suggests that they were working on a plan to build an anthrax bomb.
An upstairs room of the house had been used as a workshop. What appeared to be a Russian rocket had been disassembled, and a canister labelled "helium" had been left on the worktop. On the floor were multiple copies of documents about anthrax downloaded from the Internet, and details about the American army's vaccination plans for its troops. The number of copies suggests that seminars were also taking place there.
One of the downloaded documents featured a small picture of the former American defence secretary, William Cohen, holding a five-pound bag of sugar. It noted that he was doing this "to show the amount of the biological weapon anthrax that could destroy half the population of Washington, DC."
On the floor was a small bag of white powder, which this correspondent decided not to inspect. It may have contained nothing more deadly than icing sugar, but that could be useful for experiments in how to scatter powder containing anthrax spores from a great height over a city, or to show students how to do this. The living room contained two boxes of gas masks and filters.
On a desk was a cassette box labelled "Jihad", with the name of Osama bin Laden hand-written along the spine. Most chilling of all, however, were the mass of calculations and drawings in felt pen that filled up a white board of the sort used in classrooms. There were several designs for a long thin balloon, something like a weather balloon, with lines and arrows indicating a suggested height of 10km (33,000 feet). There was also a sketch of a jet fighter flying towards the balloon alongside the words: "Your days are limited! Bang." This, like the documents, was written in English.
Since UTN was run by one of Pakistan's top scientists, a man with close links to the Taliban and, it is said, close ideological affinities with Mr bin Laden, the circumstantial evidence points to only one conclusion. Whoever fled this house when the Taliban fell was working on a plan to build a helium-powered balloon bomb carrying anthrax. Whether it was detonated with a timer or shot down by a fighter, the result would have been the same: the showering of deadly airborne anthrax spores over an area as wide as half of New York city or Washington, DC.
After the September 11th attacks, it was generally agreed that western intelligence agencies had failed through lack of "human intelligence"--men on the ground, as opposed to spy satellites and computers monitoring phone calls and e-mails. This failure was to be rectified. Yet since the fall of Kabul on November 13th, journalists have been fanning out across the city. They have stripped houses such as this one, and others directly connected to the al-Qaeda network, of all sorts of documents and other valuable evidence. These have included the names and addresses of al-Qaeda contacts in the West. For the West's intelligence agencies, September 11th was Black Tuesday. There may be no words with which to describe their failure in the week since the fall of Kabul.
2001 Iowa State Daily via U-Wire
December 11, 2001
Raymond Sidharta, an international student from Indonesia, said he was questioned by a federal agent Wednesday for about an hour in his apartment.
"They were asking us a lot of basic questions," said Sidharta, sophomore in electrical engineering. "They started by asking really basic stuff like 'What do your parents do at home' and if you knew any victims from Sept. 11."
The questions then turned much more serious, he said.
"Eventually, they started asking questions like 'Have you ever had flying lessons?' and 'Do you know anyone who has access to the microbiology lab on campus,'" Sidharta said.
"They also asked if I had ever gotten mail from Indonesia that didn't have a return address."
James Dickson, associate professor and chairman of microbiology, said the microbiology question probably was asked in connection to the threat of bioterrorism. One interested in bioterrorism would have to have access to a microbiologist, Dickson said.
"They would have to have the potential biowarfare components and somebody that knew what they were doing," he said.
No potential ingredients for biological
weapons exist in the ISU Microbiology building, he said.
Sidharta said the agents also checked his passport, visa and overstay privileges before finishing the questioning.
"I wasn't really that nervous," he said. "I knew that I wasn't guilty of anything."
Several Indonesian students are being surveyed, Sidharta said.
"Most of the people I know who
are being surveyed were called by the FBI before they came," he said. "They
called me a couple of days beforehand to ask if they could conduct the
"They were just simple things like 'Have you ever visited any other countries besides the United States?'" said Widharta, sophomore in electrical engineering. "They also asked me things like if I knew anybody who supported the Taliban, or if I knew anybody who supports terrorism."
FBI agents were at his apartment
about 45 minutes before the survey was over, he said.
"I already knew that they were going to come because some people I know had already talked to them."
Permias, the ISU Indonesian Student Association, sent an e-mail to its members telling about the surveys, he said.
"The e-mail didn't really say too much," Widharta said. "It was basically just telling people that the FBI was on campus and preparing people for what kinds of questions they were going to ask."
Both Sidharta and Widharta said they believe people are being surveyed as a result of the public being worried about further terrorists attacks.
Jerry Stewart, interim director of the Department of Public Safety, said the department took no part in the surveys.
"We are aware that federal officials are conducting investigations in the Ames area, but we are not directly involved with those investigations," Stewart said.
Dennis Peterson, director of ISU International Education Services, said he was aware the federal agents were on campus, but he could not elaborate.
Kevin Curran, agent-in-charge of the Des Moines FBI field office, declined to comment on any actions that were being taken by the FBI in Ames or surrounding areas.
(C) 2001 Iowa State Daily via
- Updated 10:17 PM ET
Probe reportedly focuses on Army test facility
By Laura Parker, Kevin Johnson
and Steve Sternberg,
An Army test facility in Utah has emerged as a focal point of the anthrax investigation, as the FBI tries to find the source of the anthrax sent by mail that has killed five people. Dugway Proving Ground is "an important place," a senior law enforcement official said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We're still looking at Dugway. We've been there for a while, and we will continue to be there."
But federal agents declined to characterize any of the Army scientists at the Dugway Proving Ground as a suspect. They emphasized that the facility is only one of dozens of U.S. laboratories that have come under scrutiny in the search for a culprit.
Investigators were drawn to Dugway because Army scientists there have been quietly producing small amounts of "weapons grade," or powdered, anthrax as part of a series of biological warfare experiments since the Persian Gulf War.
Investigators in the anthrax investigation are trying to determine whether the anthrax sent to news media outlets and two prominent Democratic senators matches the anthrax produced at Dugway. There have been conflicting reports in the news media about whether the anthrax matches.
The Army, in a statement, said all of the anthrax used at Dugway "has been accounted for."
But the statement did not address whether the spores produced at Dugway are similar to those found in the letters sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Bioweapons experts say evidence disclosed thus far doesn't conclusively point to any lab.
C.J. Peters, a former Army biological defense researcher who now heads the Center for Biodefense at the University of Texas-Galveston, said, "The case has not been made convincingly" that the anthrax in the letters matches the anthrax made at Dugway.
Col. Arthur Anderson, chief of pathology at the Army's biodefense lab at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., said a genetic comparison of the anthrax made at Dugway and the anthrax that was mailed was too superficial to prove a match.
Dugway, located in the desert about 80 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, is the Army facility that has tested the effectiveness of equipment against biological attacks. In its statement, the Army said the anthrax produced at Dugway sometimes required that it be made into an aerosol, meaning a powdered form that could travel through the air.
The anthrax was shipped in paste form to where it was irradiated and rendered harmless. The anthrax was then returned to Dugway so that the tests could be conducted without risk.
The Army said Dugway never shipped dry, or powdered, anthrax by commercial carrier.
"Anthrax in paste form cannot be the source of contamination for the anthrax letters mailed after Sept. 11, and Dugway has never shipped any dry anthrax by commercial carrier," the Army's statement said.
As a sign of how difficult the investigation has become, the FBI announced Thursday that the Postal Service is sending out fliers to residents in the Philadelphia and Trenton, N.J., areas. Four anthrax-laced letters were postmarked in Trenton. Two, to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and the New York Post were postmarked Sept. 18. The letters to the senators were postmarked Oct. 9.
The fliers may include details from the FBI profile about the suspect and a handwriting sample from the letters.
links Porton Down to anthrax attacks
By Ben Fenton in Washington
THE FBI is concentrating its hunt for the source of the anthrax used to terrorise America on laboratories used by the CIA and British government scientists.
Only five laboratories, including the defence science and technology laboratories at Porton Down, Salisbury, have been found to have spores of anthrax identical to the bacteria sent through the post to two Democratic senators and news organisations in New York and Florida.
But frustrated FBI agents say they have not been able to find enough information about security at Porton Down - one of the most secretive establishments in Britain - to decide whether it could be the source of the terrorists' anthrax.
Another focus of the FBI inquiry is the CIA, which has been conducting experiments on anthrax in the interests of defence from germ warfare.
Both Porton Down, directly, and the CIA, indirectly, received their samples of the particular anthrax spores used in the attacks from the US army medical research institute of infectious diseases at Fort Detrick, about 50 miles north of Washington.
Sources in the FBI said the CIA was under investigation because of the bureau's "interest" in a contractor which used to work for the agency in its anthrax project.
The FBI believes the attacks, which have killed five people, to be the work of a domestic terrorist, although they have not ruled out links with Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa'eda network.
anthrax spores to a lab in Texas
All Things Considered (NPR), JAN 30, 2002
Database: Newspaper Source
Profile: Tracing anthrax spores to a lab in Texas
9:00-10:00 PM , The anthrax spores that were sent through the mail this fall belong to what is called the Ames strain, but the strain turns not to have come from Ames, Iowa. Researchers have traced it back to a cow that died in Texas. NPR's David Kestenbaum reports that the mix-up goes back to confusion over a return mailing address.
Iowa has received a lot of unwanted attention since this whole thing started. There was concern the anthrax spores used in the letters might have been stolen from a lab there. And at one point, Iowa's governor sent out the National Guard to make sure anthrax samples were secure.
But oddly, no one seemed to know exactly where the Ames strain came from, or when it was taken from the wild. Ames gets mentioned in Army research papers from the 1980s, but another paper suggested Ames might date back to 1932. A few weeks ago, a phone rang far from Iowa, in College Station, Texas, at Texas A&M University. Conrad Eugster is director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab there.
Mr. CONRAD EUGSTER (Director, Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, Texas A&M University): We got the call from the federal government, the USDA, the National Veterinary Service Lab in Ames, Iowa, asking for a record on a 1981 case where we isolated anthrax.
KESTENBAUM: Eugster's colleague went back to records that had on microfiche and, yes, there was a case marked `C255414.'(ph)
Do you have the case there?
Mr. EUGSTER: Let me--just a moment. Let me make sure. Can you hold a second?
KESTENBAUM: The file described a cow 14 months old, 700 pounds.
Mr. EUGSTER: (Reading) `This heifer was in excellent flesh, and was found in the morning unable to rise. By noon, she was dead.'
KESTENBAUM: This Texas cow, in 1981, would turn out to be the origin of the laboratory Ames strain. Around that time, the Army's biodefense lab at Ft. Detrick, Maryland, had been asking around for samples of anthrax bacteria. So Texas A&M packed this one up, double-bagged it and shipped it off, on ice, in a Styrofoam box. Eugster says they either sent it directly to Ft. Detrick or to the USDA in Ames, which sent it along. Either way, when it arrived at Ft. Detrick, the return address read `Ames.' From that point on, it was known as the Ames strain, even though it came from Texas.
Ms. THERESA KOEHLER (University of Texas Medical School at Houston): That's cute and interesting and, you know--unfortunately, I don't think it's going to help in the investigation very much.
KESTENBAUM: Theresa Koehler is an anthrax researcher at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.
Ms. KOEHLER: Because Ames is used by investigators all over the world, does it matter if originally the strain came from Texas or came from Iowa? I don't think so.
KESTENBAUM: But knowing where the laboratory Ames strain originally came from does limit things somewhat. Ft. Detrick did pass Ames on to a number of labs, but Conrad Eugster at Texas A&M says he has no record of his samples being sent to anyone else. And, he says, his lab destroyed what was left. Martin Hugh-Jones is an anthrax researcher at Louisiana State University.
Mr. MARTIN HUGH-JONES (Louisiana State University): I think the most important point is that we didn't have Ames in this country in anybody's collection prior to 1980. I think that's very, very clear. And I think that limits the list of possible suspects quite considerably.
KESTENBAUM: Except for this nagging possibility: Is the Ames strain still in the ground in Texas? Could the culprit have simply gotten it from a dead animal instead of a lab? The answer appears to be yes. Hugh-Jones has this story from July of 1997, 16 years after the Ames strain turned up in the cow. It takes place on a Texas goat farm outside Dallas.
Mr. HUGH-JONES: This goat rancher had found a number of his goats dying. And he'd called up his vet and his vet came out, and he asked the rancher, `Do you have any more of the--you know, any other cases?' and the rancher said, `Yeah, I've got this young kid in the freezer, planning to barbecue him this weekend.' And so they pulled this carcass out of the freezer, and it turned out that it had actually had anthrax when it died or was killed.
KESTENBAUM: The anthrax was of the Ames strain. Hugh-Jones suspects it is still there in the Texas soil.
Mr. HUGH-JONES: The thing that I find intriguing is that it's persisting so well. A lot of these industrial strains that we saw occurred, they blossomed and--(makes noise)--we haven't seen them since.
KESTENBAUM: Martin Hugh-Jones also has an answer to the mystery of why one paper listed the Ames strain as dating back to 1932. He was an author on that paper. When his team got the Ames sample, it was labeled `10/32,' which turns out to have meant `Sample number 10 out of 32.' But they interpreted it as October 1932. David Kestenbaum, NPR News, Washington.
anthrax famous, but strain from other state
By Sara Tennessen
Iowa State Daily (Iowa State U.)
(U-WIRE) AMES, Iowa -- On Jan. 13, 1928, in an Iowa State University laboratory, Ival Merchant, professor of veterinary microbiology and preventative medicine, sealed four vials with cotton and wax. Each contained a sample of one the world's deadliest diseases.
They were the first of hundreds of vials that would soon become Iowa State's anthrax collection.
Two of the vials were opened again 50 years later, in 1978, by R. Allen Packer, chairman of the ISU veterinary microbiology and preventative medicine department. The contents of the glass tubes had become crystalline, but he placed the dried spores in a new medium and they flourished, as deadly as they had been after killing a cow half a century ago.
On Oct. 11, 2001, 83 years after the vial was first corked, it was destroyed.
All because of a false alarm.
Ames had made national news two days earlier after the Miami Herald and NBC claimed the Oct. 5 death of Bob Stevens, a photo editor of a tabloid newspaper in Florida, was caused by the "Ames Strain" of anthrax, harvested or manufactured in an ISU lab.
The dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine was thrown into a frenzy.
"It was a crazy day," said Norman Cheville, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine office. "In that two-day period, we had over 140 interviews and over nine television interviews."
At first, it was unknown whether Iowa State still had anthrax, said James Roth, distinguished professor of veterinary microbiology and preventative medicine.
"This building has over 1,000 rooms in it and probably a dozen microbiology labs," he said. "It took a bit to find out if we had some [anthrax]."
Eventually, the professor in charge of the lab area where the anthrax was stored affirmed that Iowa State did, indeed, possess anthrax.
"And there really wasn't much of a story there," Cheville said. "We didn't have an Ames Strain here. What we had were some old cultures that were isolated as far back as 1928."
What was being called the Ames Strain by the media was a genetically stable strain of anthrax. This means it maintains its virulence when grown in a lab, not that it was "manufactured" in any way, Cheville said. It was a popular, strong strain that was used in labs across the country.
According to the original reports, the Ames Strain came from a cow that died in an outbreak of anthrax in the early 1950s. It was later traced to a sample sent to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md. The sample's label said it was from Ames, Iowa.
But according to an article published Wednesday by the Washington Post, the Ames Strain had never once touched Iowa soil. It was originally isolated at the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostics Laboratory at Texas A&M University. The Ames reference came from the label on the special container used to ship the sample in 1980. The USDA Veterinary Services Laboratory supplies hundreds of the containers to labs across the country and had supplied the container to Texas A&M. The containers are marked with the Ames lab's address.
Which is why Roth, who now supervises the collection of animal bacteria pathogens, couldn't find the original strain.
"We didn't know what the Ames Strain was, either," he said. "We didn't name it the Ames Strain."
When the questions began, the collection was taken out of the drawer where it had been stored.
It was examined in a biological safety cabinet by two members of the ISU environmental health and safety unit. Although some labels were incomplete or cryptic, none of the more than 100 tubes were labeled "Ames Strain."
In a 1985 publication, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases referred to the strain, now known to be from Texas, as the Ames Strain. The report also referred to the strain as being isolated in 1980, another reason Roth had doubts about the Iowa connection.
"It says it came from a cow in 1980. No one here remembers a case of anthrax in 1980, but we do remember a case in 1979," he said.
But even though they weren't sure how Iowa State got roped into the anthrax situation, the College of Veterinary Medicine decided it wouldn't happen again.
KILLING A KILLER
Cheville, Roth and Dr. Donald Reynolds, associate dean of research for Veterinary Medicine, gathered on Oct. 11 to discuss the fate of the ISU anthrax collection. They called the FBI, the Center for Disease Control and the USDA labs and asked them if they should destroy their originals. All said yes.
"We went through a logical thought process," Cheville said. "Were these strains that we had important in the criminal investigation in the terror event?"
The FBI said no.
"Would any other repository in the U.S. want these cultures?"
No -- all the genetic material had been sent to the national repository already.
"Was there any educational value to the cultures? Students were interested by these old cultures, but the government offices were going to require that they be guarded 24 hours a day. That was going to cost $30,000 a month and we'd rather spend that money on students," Cheville said.
So, at 5:30 p.m. that evening, every strain in Iowa State's collection was placed in pink plastic autoclave bags and pushed into the autoclave, a steam oven that heats up to 120 degrees Celsius and creates 15 pounds of pressure.
"For most bacteria, 15 minutes is plenty," Roth said.
The anthrax was steamed all night. The next day, all the vials were incinerated.
The only items saved were the metal can the original 1928 vials had been stored in and the handwritten, lead-pencil notes made by Packer in 1978. Both are now kept under glass at the Merchant Museum in the Vet Med College.
"We would do it again because there wasn't any reason to keep them," Cheville said. "Of course, we thoroughly and very clearly thought out what we wanted to do. If there had been any thought that these would have been useful to someone, we wouldn't have destroyed them, but there weren't."
SAFE ALL ALONG
Had the Ames Strain come from Iowa, there was never any chance of it being stolen from the ISU lab, Roth said.
"Nothing was stolen or borrowed," he said. "The lab is locked routinely. The particular cabinet was locked. We weren't paranoid about it because we were taking the normal precautions."
And what Iowa State had in October was not pathogenic or virulent.
"It makes no sense that they could have gotten it from us," Roth said. "The Ames Strain is a highly virulent strain, and none of ours fit that description."
LIVING WITH THE AMES STRAIN
Few people panicked when they heard they might have been living in a town that originated the terrorism on the East Coast, Roth said.
"We didn't hear too much reaction," he said. "[Vet Med students] are trained in bacteriology. They know it's not dangerous."
In the first weeks after the news broke, the Thomas B. Thielen Student Health Center received inquiries about anthrax vaccinations and information, said Lauri Dusselier, health promotion supervisor.
"We really didn't have requests about testing," she said. "A few asked about the vaccine, and it's not available through us -- it's only available for military personnel."
ISU President Gregory Geoffroy was not directly involved with the decision to destroy the anthrax, but he said he approved of the way it was handled.
Although the publicity was not all flattering, it helped increase the awareness about Iowa State, he said.
"I think that more folks know about Ames, Iowa, than they did before," Geoffroy said. "Any time they know more about your location, it's to your benefit, especially since I think all the bad info was corrected."
a U.S. bioweapons scientist behind last fall's anthrax attacks?
A growing number of scientific experts have come to this conclusion. But the FBI seems strangely reluctant to zero in on the most likely suspects.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Feb. 8, 2002 | WASHINGTON -- When Arthur O. Anderson, chief of clinical pathology at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), saw the anthrax sent to Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., last October, he was amazed.
"There was nothing there except spores," he told Salon. "Normally, if you take a crude preparation of anthrax spores, you see parts of degenerated bacteria. But this stuff was highly refined."
Another former Army lab scientist characterized the sample as "very, very good."
"Only a very small group of people could have made this," said David Franz, a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq and biodefense scientist at USAMRIID, who now works for the Southern Research Institute, a defense contractor. "If you look at the sample from the standpoint of biology, it tells me this person [who made the anthrax] was very good at what they do. And this wasn't the first batch they've made. They've done this for years. The concentration was a trillion spores [on anthrax] per gram. That's incredibly concentrated."
Anderson and Franz aren't drawing conclusions about where the anthrax came from -- perhaps in part because the subject is deeply sensitive at the U.S. Army's own biodefense lab, which could find itself at the center of the investigation. But conversations with dozens of scientists and experienced biodefense hands reveal a growing belief that last fall's anthrax letter culprit is most likely an experienced bioweapons scientist. And while Franz and others note that there are Iraqi and Russian scientists with the skills to pull off the complex anthrax-mail attack, many experts now believe the culprit worked at a U.S. bioweapons facility.
Only a few dozen individuals in the U.S. possess the expertise to produce the sophisticated anthrax specimen sent to Daschle, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy and at least three media outlets last fall. There may be as many as 200 Russian scientists capable of such work, and perhaps 10 Iraqis. But certain clues have convinced many -- though not all -- bioweapons experts who've followed the FBI investigation closely that the anthrax in the letters most likely came from a U.S. lab. That's chiefly because Ames strain anthrax, the type used in the letters, has been distributed by USAMRIID to about 20 U.S labs since 1981. Of those, only four facilities are believed to have the ability to produce the highly lethal, dry powder form of the Ames strain anthrax the lethal letters contained.
But despite signs that this should narrow the list of anthrax suspects to a few dozen people, the FBI appears to be casting a wider net in its investigation, which seems to have made fairly limited progress since the first victim, American Media Inc. photo editor Bob Stevens, died of anthrax inhalation four months ago.
Just two weeks ago, for instance, the FBI blanketed New Jersey, where at least four of the anthrax letters were mailed from, with fliers asking anyone who might have any knowledge of the culprit to contact the Bureau. This week, a University of Illinois law professor said that his university was one of dozens that recently received FBI subpoenas demanding that they turn over all documents relating to anthrax. And last week, the American Society for Microbiology in Washington announced that, at the request of the FBI, it had e-mailed its 40,000 members asking for possible clues. A spokesman for the group said that while they happily complied, they found the FBI request a bit perplexing. "As we understand, it's not just microbiology needed to create [the anthrax that was in the letters]," said the microbiology society's spokesman, who asked not to be named. "You need the microbiology skills to grow it, but to process it, you need a totally different set of skills," such as advanced chemical engineering training, he said.
The wide net cast by the FBI also baffles many scientists and other weapons nonproliferation experts familiar with the anthrax investigation, who think federal authorities could make more progress identifying the anthrax attacker by focusing on a much narrower group.
"If you want to see the intersection of the two talents -- the microbiologic ability to obtain and safely grow lots of anthrax, and the industrial ability to turn it into a dry powder -- then that would suggest to me that the person did indeed have some experience with the biological warfare program," says C.J. Peters, who, as a doctor specializing in hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola, worked at USAMRIID from 1977 to 1990, and later at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He now heads a new center for biodefense at the University of Texas at Galveston.
"Frankly, I find it puzzling," says Elisa D. Harris, who served as director of nonproliferation issues at the National Security Council from 1993 until 2001, and is currently a resident scholar at the University of Maryland. "Given what's been reported about the nature and quality of the anthrax material in the Daschle and Leahy letters, that the material itself almost certainly originated in the U.S. biological weapons program, they ought to be able to narrow the investigation to a fairly limited number of facilities. That number is certainly less than 20. So I find it puzzling that the FBI has approached all 40,000 members of the American Society of Microbiologists. I don't understand why they seem to be casting the net so widely."
The FBI says it is pursuing all avenues.
"We are continuing to investigate the source of the anthrax, and who might be responsible for sending it," an FBI spokesman told Salon. "That investigation is very thorough and very exhaustive and we have not ruled anything out. We have pursued thousands of leads."
Perhaps responding to a growing chorus of criticism, on Thursday unnamed FBI sources were quoted telling the Wall Street Journal that they are in fact zeroing in on U.S. weapons labs in their anthrax investigation. But the article also revealed a startling fact: The FBI has not yet subpoenaed employee records of the labs where Ames strain anthrax is worked with. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a biological arms control expert at the State University of New York at Purchase and chair of a bioweapons working group at the independent Federation of American Scientists, believes the FBI has intentionally dragged its heels on the weapons-lab angle, most likely for political reasons.
"For more than three months now the FBI has known that the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks is American," Rosenberg wrote to Salon on Tuesday. "This conclusion must have been based on the perpetrator's evident connection to the U.S. biodefense program."
Rosenberg has become convinced that the FBI knows who sent out the anthrax letters, but isn't arresting him, because he has been involved in secret biological weapons research that the U.S. does not want revealed. "This guy knows too much, and knows things the U.S. isn't very anxious to publicize," Rosenberg said in an interview. "Therefore, they don't want to get too close."
Other experts aren't ready to make that leap. Some suggest that the FBI may just be moving slowly and carefully to gather incriminating evidence that can stand up in court. Some blame simple incompetence. "Barbara says the FBI's been told to look for things, and they haven't," says Milton Leitenberg, a biological arms control expert at the University of Maryland. "I don't know. I think they [the FBI] are doing a half-assed job of it myself. But maybe other people would have done as bad a job, who knows."
But Jonathan A. King, a professor of microbiology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says he, too, is suspicious of the government's handling of the investigation.
"The first place one would have looked for the anthrax perpetrator is at the U.S. facilities where people have grants from the government to do biological defense research," King said in an interview. "But for months, there was no statement from any federal authorities naming these laboratories as under suspicion. It's extraordinary."
Although Rosenberg goes further than most experts in criticizing the FBI's anthrax investigation, her analysis of the case has become must reading for scientists and congressional staffers concerned about biodefense issues. (An FBI spokesman contacted by phone Thursday says the agency, too, is reading her work, but won't comment on it.) A microbiologist by training, Rosenberg worked as a cancer researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and as a professor of biochemistry at Cornell Medical College. A decade ago, she founded the Federation of American Scientists' biological and chemical weapons program, which she now heads.
In her analysis of the details known about the anthrax attacks to date, she has built a persuasive and disturbing case that the anthrax culprit is a deep insider to the U.S. government's biological weapons program. Her conclusion is based on a collection of facts that point to a smaller and smaller number of individuals who could have met all the criteria for producing, handling and sending out the anthrax letters. The perpetrator seemed to have advanced expertise and experience in biological weapons like anthrax, for instance, and access to the technology to produce and refine it. He or she (but most think it's a he) probably would have had to have access to the anthrax vaccine, which is not widely available, in order not to succumb to the disease himself -- which means records of anthrax vaccinations, which require a yearly booster shot, would be available to further help identify the person.
In addition, the perpetrator used a highly sophisticated, lethal powder form of the Ames strain of anthrax. Although the strain itself came into the possession of USAMRIID in 1981, and was distributed from there for research purposes to about 20 labs, only about four facilities in the U.S. are believed to have the capability for "weaponizing" dry anthrax -- which basically means refining or cultivating a pure sample whose spores are so tiny and uniform they can easily be inhaled into the lungs.
Even the FBI seems to acknowledge the anthrax suspect has technical expertise in biology. In the letter sent to the 40,000 members of the American Society for Microbiology, Van Harp, assistant director of the FBI's Washington field office, told recipients: "It is very likely that one or more of you know this individual. A review of the information to date in this matter leads investigators to believe that a single person is most likely responsible for these mailings. This person is experienced working in a laboratory. Based on his or her selection of the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis, one would expect that this individual has or had legitimate access to select biological agents at some time.
"This person has the technical knowledge and/or expertise to produce a highly refined and deadly product," the letter continued. "This person has exhibited a clear, rational thought process and appears to be very organized in the production and mailing of these letters. The perpetrator might be described as 'stand-offish' and likely prefers to work in isolation as opposed to a group/team setting. It is possible this person used off-hours in a laboratory or may have even established an improvised or concealed facility comprised of sufficient equipment to produce the anthrax."
Rosenberg says the perpetrator has dangled plenty of clues in front of investigators. One of those clues, she says, is a letter sent to the military police at the Quantico, Va., Marine base (and forwarded to the FBI) in late September -- well before the public was aware that anthrax was being sent in the mail -- that tried to frame a former U.S. biowarfare researcher as a bioterrorist. That anonymous letter stated that the writer had worked with the man, Dr. Ayaad Assaad, and had details about him that only an insider would know (although some details in the letter turned out to be incorrect.) The FBI has cleared Assaad of any possible connection to the case, but Assaad himself has criticized the agency for not zeroing in on his accuser as a likely culprit, since that person seemed to have foreknowledge about the anthrax attacks.
"The perpetrator has left multiple, blatant clues, seemingly on purpose," Rosenberg writes. "Second letters, addressed similarly to the anthrax letters and containing [talc] powder ... The postal addresses and dates of these letters map out an itinerary of the perpetrator(s) ... which single out the perpetrator from the other likely suspects."
Rosenberg also says three senior U.S. biodefense officials have given the same name of a likely suspect to the FBI. She would not reveal that person's name, but said he is a former USAMRIID scientist, who she understands is working for a defense or CIA contractor in the Washington metropolitan area. Rosenberg says that the FBI has questioned the individual, along with many other former biodefense scientists.
Interestingly, William C. Patrick III, the founder of the U.S. military's biological weapons program, and the man who taught the folks at the Army's Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah how to make dry anthrax (using a harmless anthrax substitute, though), is no longer willing to talk to the press. Contacted by Salon Thursday, Patrick said that he has been misquoted in the media, and doesn't wish to comment on the investigation anymore. Rosenberg believes that the anthrax perpetrator may know Patrick, because the attack resembles a classified study that Patrick wrote for a CIA contractor a couple of years ago, which tried to predict how an anthrax attack through the mail would work.
Based on all the evidence, Rosenberg sums up her conclusions this way: The perpetrator, she believes, is "angry at some biodefense agency or component, and he is driven to demonstrate, in a spectacular way, his capabilities and the government's inability to respond. He is cocksure that he can get away with it. Does he know something that he believes to be sufficiently damaging to the United States to make him untouchable by the FBI?"
But C.J. Peters, the former USAMRIID and CDC doctor, says the FBI's dragnet to date is just standard operating procedure, and he doubts that it's been a ploy to hide secret weapons research.
"The FBI throws the net as wide as they possibly can," Peters said. "They put hundreds of people on this case and turn the crank and look for little clues and putting A and B together. I could imagine that maybe, just maybe, there might be someone in the Defense Department who says, I don't want this to be traced back to Dugway [the Army proving grounds in Utah]. I could imagine a person thinking that. But I couldn't imagine that the FBI would care if it were traced back to Dugway. The FBI guy's thinking, 'Hey, man, I got them. I am going to be famous now. We are going to be heroes, we found it.' I don't believe it's a grand government-wide conspiracy." That said, Peters does have concerns about the FBI's ability to use the scientific information the physical anthrax provides.
"I'm not sure the FBI understands how to use the biological information," Peters added. "They think they are going to solve this the way they solve all other crimes. But it also seems possible to me they may be overlooking some helpful hints from the biology of the anthrax itself. I wonder if they are making full use of everything that's known about the biology." And while few other scientists admit to sharing Rosenberg's dark conclusions about why the FBI has been slow to solve the anthrax case, some believe that casting the net widely served multiple political purposes for the Bush administration.
"From the moment one saw that it was highly concentrated Ames strain anthrax, the first lead candidate should have been a U.S. laboratory with a military contract," says MIT's Jonathan King. "Instead, we heard no such public admission. Immediately they were talking about Iraq and al-Qaida, when the largest such facilities are in the U.S. That leads me to think two things: the U.S. government is covering up the fact that the most likely source of the anthrax was not al-Qaida, was not foreign terrorists, but was a home-grown individual. And secondly, it was turned into part of the anti-terrorist propaganda."
Indeed, while in the early days of the anthrax letter scare, U.S. political leaders said they were actively looking to see if there was a connection between the anthrax and Iraq and al-Qaida, those views are now in the minority. On Dec. 17, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that it is "increasingly looking like it was a domestic source." On Jan. 13, Homeland Defense Director Thomas Ridge told media, "the primary direction of the investigation is turned inward." Two weeks ago, at a New Jersey press conference, an FBI official said the investigation was focusing on a U.S. government scientist.
It would be easier to dismiss Rosenberg's fears of a high-level U.S. coverup as cloak-and-dagger paranoia if it weren't for the fact that U.S. bioweapons programs are so secretive and mysterious. There is growing evidence that the programs, which are governed by international law and are supposed to be under congressional oversight, are more widespread and ambitious than officials have admitted.
Many experts are still angry that the U.S. walked out of the Biological Weapons Convention conference this past July in Geneva, after the Bush administration rejected language that would have subjected signatory nations, including the U.S., to inspections to make sure they're not engaging in any prohibited offensive bioweapons development. "They [U.S. government officials] don't want the treaty to be tighter, and they don't want people coming here and investigating our facilities and stockpiles," says Meryl Nass, an MIT-trained physician who has long advocated for stricter arms control. "So it turns out that the U.S. did have this dry weaponized anthrax after all, and that was a big secret. But no one has really discussed the implications of this. They completely avoided the issue. But the rest of the biodefense establishment around the world knew exactly what it meant. They knew the U.S. had basically transgressed the weapons convention."
And even if the FBI isn't intentionally trying to protect bioweapons secrets from being revealed, some experts worry that the proliferation of bioweapons programs -- some of them still secret -- could be hampering the FBI's anthrax investigation.
"I think a number of us were surprised by some of the revelations" of secret bioweapons programs, says Elisa D. Harris, the former Clinton administration NSC official. Harris thinks it's possible the FBI itself is not aware of all of the biodefense work being contracted out by the U.S. government, because it is such a highly secretive and compartmentalized program.
Harris says she was shocked to read in the New York Times last September about biodefense research programs that she herself had not known about, although she had served for eight years in the White House as the point person for weapons of mass destruction nonproliferation issues.
On Sept. 4, 2001 -- just a week before the Sept. 11 attacks, the Times reported that from 1997-2000, the CIA conducted a program called Clear Vision, to build a model of a Soviet germ bomblet. The program was carried out at the West Jefferson, Ohio, labs of Battelle Memorial Institute, a defense and CIA contractor. In addition, the Times story reported, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's intelligence arm, hired Battelle last year to create a type of genetically enhanced version of anthrax, a "superbug," to see if the anthrax vaccine currently in use by the Pentagon was effective against it. A second Pentagon program, called Bacchus, involved building a germ factory in the Nevada desert from scratch, but reportedly did not use real germs, but simulants that mimic their dispersal.
"I was only aware of one of those three programs," Harris says. "I was never told by the Defense Department about the other two. I was also not aware that since the early 1990s, the U.S. Army has apparently been producing small quantities of dry, very potent Ames strain anthrax."
An FBI spokesman said he knew of no effort tohamper the bureau's investigation. But whatever is stalling the investigation -- the forensic complexity of the case, bureaucratic resistance to FBI scrutiny, or a darker scenario of the sort Rosenberg describes -- Harris and others say it's now clear the U.S. biodefense program lacks proper oversight. And some experts even think it could take a congressional investigation to get to the bottom of what has stalled the anthrax investigation -- especially to answer questions about why the FBI didn't beat a quicker path to U.S. bioweapons labs.
"If it turns out that the anthrax that killed 5 people and injured a dozen and resulted in tens of thousands of people having to take antibiotics, if that anthrax came from the U.S. biodefense program, that just underscores the importance of the Congress looking into this program and getting a really comprehensive picture about what has been taking place.
"There has been no real serious oversight of the U.S. biological defense program for a very long time," Harris added. "And I think this is a good moment, given the impact of the anthrax attacks, for Congress to take responsibility."
[Note: This story has been corrected since it was first published.]
Federal Bureau of Investigation, January 23, 2002.
Joint press release by FBI Newark and the United States Postal Inspection Service:
A nationally-coordinated criminal investigative effort, under the direction of FBI Washington Field Office Assistant Director Van Harp and Chief Postal Inspector Kenneth C. Weaver, involving the FBI and the United States Postal Inspection Service in Trenton, NJ; Washington, D.C.; Miami, FL; New York, NY; and Oxford, CT, continues to address the anthrax tainted letters which were postmarked in Trenton, NJ. To date, a total of five (5) innocent people have died as a result of their unsuspecting exposure to Anthrax.
In furtherance of this investigation, the United States Postal Service will begin delivery of a flyer which requests the continued assistance of the American public in this case. The initial delivery of this flyer will be to postal customers of the Trenton, NJ area and to adjacent communities of Bucks County, PA. Additionally, the flyers will be distributed to New Jersey area pharmaceutical companies and transportation depots servicing the Trenton area.
These flyers contain a photograph of the four envelopes and information that may characterize the person(s) who prepared and mailed them. These envelopes are not standard business size, but are pre stamped, smaller-sized envelopes measuring 6 1/4" x 3 ½", and would have been sold at United States Post Offices and authorized retail outlets. The flyer also indicates that the person(s) responsible for the five deaths caused by the mailings is "likely to have a scientific background/work history which may include a specific familiarity with anthrax." Also, "this individual has a comfort level in and around the Trenton, NJ area due to present or prior association."
The reward for information has been increased up to $2,500,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for mailing the four (4) Anthrax letters. $2,000,000 is being offered by the FBI and US Postal Service and $500,000 by ADVO, Inc.
This investigation in New Jersey is being conducted by a task force, composed of numerous federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies as well as public health agencies from all levels. The task force has received a tremendous amount of information from the general public. As a result of this outstanding response, thousands of leads have been vigorously followed to their logical conclusion.
The task force is continuing to request the public's assistance in this complex investigation which involves both public health concerns and a criminal investigation. We have reason to believe there are individuals who may have information pertinent to this investigation who have yet to come forward.
"Those responsible for the anthrax-tainted letters must be brought to justice," New Jersey Governor James E. McGreevey said. "To this end, I urge the citizens of New Jersey to cooperate fully with the FBI, Postal Service, and state and local law enforcement."
Information about suspicious person(s) or any other issue(s) deemed out of the ordinary concerning this investigation could be extremely important to the investigative team. Even if you think that your information is unimportant, or that someone else may have already reported what you know, please contact us immediately. Your call may be the one that provides us with the one piece of information needed to solve this case. Please, do not assume that your information has already been provided.
"The mailings on September 18, 2001 and October 9, 2001 were an unprecedented attack on our nation's mail system. Although many of the initial investigative resources were concentrated in New Jersey, we continue to broaden the scope of the investigation and try different techniques, such as this flyer, to bring this to a successful conclusion," stated Chief Postal Inspector Kenneth C. Weaver.
"We thank the individuals who have reached out and provided information since the inception and hope that these flyers and the newly augmented reward will encourage others to contact us," said FBI Assistant Director Van Harp.
1-800-CRIME TV (1-800-274-6388)
Scientist 02 March 2002.
Get on the case
Why is the FBI ignoring vital clues in the hunt for the anthrax attacker?
The attacker who sent anthrax spores through the US mail last autumn may not have stolen the powder made by the US Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. If so, the attacker must have known how to "weaponise" the bug.
That's the implication of what New Scientist has learned about the latest attempts to distinguish between the anthrax cultures held by different labs. But astonishingly, it appears that federal investigators have not yet collected all the samples that could tell them where the attacker got the bacteria in the first place.
Distinguishing between different labs' holdings, or accessions, of the Ames strain used in the attacks is extremely difficult. There's very little genetic difference even between different strains of anthrax, so spotting differences within a strain is harder still.
Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University at Flagstaff, who has been leading the genetic analysis of the anthrax since the first victim was diagnosed, has been focusing on regions in the bacterial genome where there are varying numbers of repeats. This at first turned up no differences between the Ames lineages ( New Scientist, 9 February p 8) . But Keim told a conference on microbial genomes in Las Vegas last month that he has discovered a repeat region that does vary. "We can distinguish among different Ames accessions," Keim told New Scientist.
Keim is not allowed to say what labs are involved. But his collection includes samples from the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland, and from Dugway. Keim's team has been unable to distinguish between the attacker's bacteria and a sample that came from the British biodefence laboratory at Porton Down, which in turn acquired the bacteria from USAMRIID.
That suggests that differences have emerged between the attacker's anthrax and samples from Dugway-the only lab known to have recently produced the kind of fine, floating spore powder used in the attack. So if Dugway's bacteria are genetically different from the attacker's, it seems likely that he or she acquired a culture, possibly from USAMRIID, and weaponised it. That narrows the field to someone with access to fairly specialised equipment.
It will be impossible to home in on the source, however, until Keim's team has been able to compare samples from the over 20 labs known to have acquired the Ames strain from USAMRIID. But so far, the team has analysed only bacteria from the victims of the attack-which have all been identical-and from the few labs that had provided samples for Keim's collection before the attacks.
"No one knows of anyone who has been subpoenaed by the FBI to provide copies of cultures in their care," says Martin Hugh-Jones of Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, who helped compile the collection of cultures used by Keim. Various labs have received subpoenas for records of cultures and people who had access to them. But the FBI has not demanded actual bacteria for analysis.
Fri 15 Mar 2002
attacks may have been CIA test gone wrong
AN AMERICAN expert last night claimed last autumn’s anthrax attacks may have been the result of CIA research which went disastrously wrong.
At the same time, health ministers of the G7 countries and Mexico met in London and agreed to carry out an international exercise to test reactions to a biological, chemical or radio-nuclear terrorist incident.
Barbara Rosenberg, the director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Chemical and Biological Weapons Program, raised the possibility that the CIA could have ordered a “field trial” on the possible effects of delivering anthrax through the mail and the contents could have been used by whoever was responsible for the anthrax attacks.
Dr Rosenberg told the BBC’s Newsnight: “Some very expert field person would have been given this job and it would have been left to him to decide exactly how to carry it out.
“The result might have been a project gone badly awry if he decided to use it for his own purposes and target the media and the Senate for his own motives as not intended by the government project.”
Dr Rosenberg claimed the culprit had knowledge both of the law and of the detective work it would need for him to be caught. She said: “This person knows a lot about forensic matters, knows exactly what he can be prosecuted for and what he can get away with and I think he had some personal matters that he might have wanted to settle, but I think in addition that he felt that bio-defence was being underemphasised for some time in the past.”
This article: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/international.cfm?id=288522002
Last updated: 15-Mar-02 02:37 BST
British Suggest Anthrax Attacks Were CIA Backed
March 20, 2002 | 01:34 AM ET
A British news program is suggesting that the anthrax attacks on American soil since September 11th may be the product of a government-sanctioned experiment gone terribly, tragically awry.
A Newsnight investigation suggests
that there may have been a secret CIA project
September 11th, 2001. A shocked and horrified America struggles to cope with the tragedy before them while waiting for the other shoe to drop. They do not have to wait long. Still reeling with the raw and painful knowledge that our cities may not be safe havens anymore, people across the country suddenly had to grapple with the sanctity of their homes being violated as they realized that their very own mailboxes and living rooms and kitchen tables might not be safe any more, either.
At first the investigation focused mostly on the probability that some Middle Eastern influence was at work. When that didn't pan out, attention shifted to the possibility of a domestic terrorist and then finally to the horrifying possibility that the mastermind behind the anthrax attacks was someone on the inside of the very industry that was supposed to be protecting us against those very kinds of attacks in the first place.
Strangely, the investigation seems to have gone mostly underground at this point. Coverage in the media is fleeting and vague, sprinkled with assurances that things are really continuing to be methodically gone through and followed up on, but strangely lacking in details on progress.
Dr. Barbara Rosenberg from the Federation of American Scientists believes that theory is very plausible. Milton Leitenberg from the Center for International & Security Studies agrees. Only someone with years of experience and the "cowboy mentality" to match his bravado could have pulled something like this off. If you're looking for someone with qualifications like that, all roads seem to lead to Fort Detrick.
Colonel David Franz agrees, this is someone who knew what they were doing, not someone who downloaded instructions from the Internet or found a book in the local library that would teach them how to pull it off if they read carefully and took notes. He believes that the person behind this has spent a significant amount of time in the lab working with a spore former that knew how to grow, how to purify, and how to dry.
Someone working at Fort Detrick would have easy access to all that and more, it seems. Former employees have come quietly forward with tales of lax protocols and even lax-er security in the lab there, where apparently there was no system of accountability or checks and balances.
The Government is so certain that the best chance for answers lies at Fort Detrick that they have reportedly hired expert genomic analyst Craig Venter to have him create a genetic "blueprint" of the deadly anthrax spores that can then be compared to the others as they are found at other military sites to determine if they have a common origin.
This is the first time genomic analysis has been used for microbial forensics...Tim Read is one of the world's leading authorities on the genetic make-up of anthrax. He compared the fingerprint of the Florida strain with that of samples originating at Fort Detrick. The results are not yet published -- so he's being careful what he says. He will go as far as to say that the strain from Florida and the strain from Fort Detrick are "…closely related to each other" but he stops carefully short of declaring they are one and the same for now.
Once the report is published and he can comment on it freely, it will be very interesting indeed to see if his opinions become more clearly defined.
FBI Denies That Hijacker Had Skin Anthrax
A doctor treated the terrorist for a leg lesion last summer. Biodefense experts say he probably had the disease.
By Elizabeth Shogren And Josh Meyer, The Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON -- FBI officials said Saturday that a report that one of the Sept. 11 terrorists may have had a case of cutaneous anthrax last summer is just one of many dead-end leads that have bedeviled investigators.
A Florida doctor who treated Ahmed Ibrahim A. Al Haznawi for a dark lesion on his leg in June now believes that wound may have been caused by exposure to anthrax, according to experts at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies. The case was first reported Saturday by the New York Times.
That information persuaded the bioterrorism experts that there may be a link between the terrorists--who hijacked four planes Sept. 11, crashing two into the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon--and the subsequent mailings of anthrax-laced letters.
After interviewing Dr. Christos Tsonas, who treated Haznawi at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, the experts concluded that cutaneous anthrax was "the most probable and coherent interpretation of the data available," they wrote in a recent memorandum that has circulated among federal investigators.
But Saturday, FBI officials said they still believe the 19 hijackers never came into contact with anthrax, noting that authorities scoured their cars, apartments and personal effects for traces of the deadly bacteria and found none.
"This was fully investigated and widely vetted among multiple agencies several months ago," FBI chief spokesman John E. Collingwood said in a statement in response to the report. "Exhaustive testing did not support that anthrax was present anywhere the hijackers had been."
"While we always welcome new information, nothing new has in fact developed," said Collingwood, an FBI assistant director. Another FBI official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the anthrax case is ongoing, confirmed that one of the hijackers had been treated at a South Florida hospital for a "leg lesion" and that the suspected lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta, had sought treatment for skin irritation on at least one of his hands.
Those incidents, coupled with the hijackers' reported interest in gaining access to crop dusters, would appear to give some credence to the theory that the Sept. 11 attacks could be somehow linked to the anthrax mailings, the FBI official acknowledged.
But the official said FBI agents, a battery of specially trained scientists and other biochemical experts all had aggressively investigated the issue and found no connections.
"We did look into this some time ago. This was fully investigated," said the FBI official. "It's a theory, but there's no evidence. It's just not there. We just have no evidence to feed the speculation that any of those guys came into contact with anthrax."
The FBI hypothesizes that the anthrax mailings are the work of a disgruntled American male loner with some kind of scientific expertise, access to anthrax and a laboratory, and some kind of grudge against the government.
One senior Justice Department official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said recently that authorities are so stumped by who may have sent the envelopes that investigators fear they may be in for a "Unabomber-type investigation," in which it may take years--and a lucky break--to determine who was responsible.
FBI agents believe their most promising avenue for solving the mystery may be a scientific breakthrough that can distinguish between stocks of the virulent Ames strain of anthrax, which was used to kill five people and sicken at least 13 others last fall.
Tsonas could not be reached for comment Saturday. A spokeswoman for Holy Cross Hospital said it is cooperating with authorities but, at their request, would not discuss the matter.
Tsonas said Haznawi came to the Holy Cross emergency room with another man, believed to have been hijacker Ziad Samir Jarrah, according to the New York Times. Haznawi told Tsonas that he developed the sore after bumping into a suitcase. Tsonas cleaned the lesion and prescribed an antibiotic. He never considered that the infection was anthrax--a rarely seen disease at that point -- until he reviewed the case in October at investigators' request.
Steven M. Block, a professor of biology and applied physics at Stanford University who has advised the government on bioterrorism, cautioned against making assumptions based on the report that Haznawi may have had an anthrax lesion.
"This may or may not be related to the anthrax letters that killed Bob Stevens and four others," he said, referring to the first anthrax victim, a photo editor at American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla. "There are lots of possibilities here," Block said. "One shouldn't jump to conclusions."
April 9, 2002.
'Thousands' could be anthrax suspects
By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON -- Potential suspects with the scientific expertise to carry out last year's deadly anthrax attacks are believed to number in the "thousands," far more than the dozens previously reported, a senior federal law enforcement official said Monday.
Continued study of samples of the deadly bacteria has convinced investigators that initial suspicions that the attacks that killed five Americans last fall were carried out by a disgruntled lab employee with limited scientific know-how now must be revised.
The sophisticated nature of the anthrax, especially a finely milled sample mailed to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., last November, has led investigators to focus on the laboratories capable of turning out such specimens.
There may be hundreds of such labs in the country, the FBI has concluded.
Federal authorities said Monday that the investigation remains focused in the USA, though they have not ruled out the possible involvement of a foreign laboratory or researchers.
Earlier this year, investigators believed that the anthrax attacks likely were carried out by a person of lesser professional expertise, perhaps a technician or researcher with access to the bacteria and only basic knowledge about how to handle it without infecting oneself.
For a time, investigators studied personnel records of present and former lab workers, searching for persons with a motive to mail the deadly powder.
Authorities say they do not expect the case to be solved soon.
Five Americans believed to have been exposed to anthrax-tainted mail in Florida, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Connecticut died after being infected last October and November. Another 22 recovered from anthrax infections.
Of the thousands who may possess the knowledge to handle the bacteria, authorities declined to say exactly how many have drawn closer scrutiny. Federal officials continue to say it is unlikely that the anthrax attacks were linked to the terrorist strikes on Sept. 11. The Leahy anthrax continues to receive special attention from investigators. It caused no injuries but was said to be potentially even more deadly than samples that were mailed a month earlier.
I'm ready for my close-up, Sen. Daschle
A leading FBI critic with her own theories about post-9/11 anthrax attacks makes a quiet visit to Capitol Hill.
By Anthony York
June 21, 2002 | The scientist who has been a persistent thorn in the FBI's side over its handling of the anthrax investigation finally got her audience in Congress this week. As the FBI continues to investigate who was behind domestic anthrax attacks last fall, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg came to Capitol Hill to brief Senate staff members about her own widely disseminated theories of who may be responsible -- and how the FBI has botched the search for the anthrax mailer.
Rosenberg, who chairs the Federation of American Scientists' Chemical and Biological Arms Control Project, met with staff members for senators Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing anthrax investigation. Anthrax was mailed to the offices of Daschle and Leahy and to several media outlets last fall. The attacks killed two Washington-area postal workers who were apparently exposed when spores from the Daschle letter seeped through the envelope. A Connecticut woman, a New York City hospital worker, and the photo editor of the Sun, a tabloid in Boca Raton, Fla., also died from anthrax spores. No arrests have yet been made in the case.
The meeting, which was requested by Rosenberg, lasted about 90 minutes. After Rosenberg left, Senate staff talked to FBI representatives for an additional 45 minutes.
"They discussed her letter, which has been online for sometime," said one Senate source, referring to writings posted on the FAS Web site. "She answered questions from the staff members and the FBI, but she was not asked, and did not identify, any individual in conjunction with her letter."
Rosenberg did not return repeated calls from Salon seeking comment.
Rosenberg has written that the anthrax mailed last fall originated from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. Rosenberg has pinpointed, but not named, a microbiologist who used to work at Fort Detrick as the prime suspect, someone whom she characterizes as depressed and who has already been questioned by the FBI.
In general terms, the FBI's profile of the suspect and Rosenberg's are similar. In January, the FBI said the anthrax suspect "might be described as 'standoffish' and likely prefers to work in isolation as opposed to a group/team setting," it said. "It is possible this person used off-hours in a laboratory or [borrowed] equipment to produce the anthrax."
That meshes with Rosenberg's profile of the anthrax mailer, which she last updated on the FAS Web site in February. "He must be angry at some biodefense agency or component, and he is driven to demonstrate, in a spectacular way, his capabilities and the government's inability to respond," she wrote. "He is cocksure that he can get away with it. Does he know something that he believes to be sufficiently damaging to the United States to make him untouchable by the FBI?" Rosenberg also believes the person who sent the anthrax is the same person who tried to frame an Egyptian-born scientist, Ayaad Assaad, who was once a biowarfare researcher at the lab.
Though she remains coy in her February commentary, the scientific community all understands Rosenberg's implication -- perhaps the anthrax mailer has evidence that the United States has produced high-grade anthrax for offensive use in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention Treaty. There has been much speculation about American compliance with the treaty since the anthrax letters were discovered, but there is no proof the United States has violated the treaty.
While some have scoffed at her claims, the FBI may be coming around to her assessment -- if not of the specific person responsible for mailing the anthrax, then at least that the mailing was generated by a Fort Detrick insider. Government scientists interviewed by the Hartford Courant last week said the FBI appeared to believe that the anthrax originated at Fort Detrich, as Rosenberg has long charged, and that someone with access to the government's labs may have been the mailer.
Rosenberg also writes that she has learned that the FBI agents have searched the house and computer of the scientist Rosenberg believes mailed the anthrax. In her February letter, Rosenberg had harsh words for the FBI and the way it was conducting its investigation. "Blanketing Central New Jersey with fliers showing handwriting that was obviously disguised can't possibly evoke useful information, nor can letters to 32,000 American microbiologists, 31,800 of whom live in a different world from the perpetrator. This is no way to instill public confidence in the competence of the FBI," she wrote. "Most importantly, the apparent lack of action is sending a dangerous message to potential bioterrorists."
Rosenberg has also openly speculated that the anthrax mailer is a contract worker for the CIA, and that the letters were some kind of CIA-approved experiment to test how the United States would react to a biological attack.
Steven Block, a professor of biological sciences and applied physics at Stanford University and a bioterrorism expert who has monitored the speculation, says, "I'm hoping Barbara turns out to be wrong, because if she's not, it says something very bad about what's been going on in the United States government."
"Personally I find that theory hard to believe," Block says. "But then again, I also find it hard to believe the FBI hasn't made any progress at all in this investigation."
Rosenberg has her critics. The Weekly Standard ridiculed her "sensational pronouncements" and "surprisingly unscientific, even Oliver Stone-scale, incaution about the 'facts' at her disposal." When asked if Rosenberg was considered a credible source, one Senate staffer said, "That's what we're trying to figure out."
But Block says Rosenberg is highly regarded in the bioterrorism scientific community and cannot be easily dismissed. "She has an excellent reputation by and large," Block says. "People need to take her seriously. Her arguments are reasoned. She has had an excellent reputation and has certainly made a name for herself in this area before any of the anthrax attacks. She is by no means a crackpot or a kook, nor is she a conspiracy theorist."
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson refused to comment on Rosenberg's writings. "The anthrax investigation is still an active investigation," he said. "We are not in a position to comment with respect to potential suspects in the case or what specific investigative steps have been taken along the way."
security may not prevent anthrax theft
By Steve Mitchell
UPI Medical Correspondent
Published 8/3/2002 8:20 PM
Although last fall's anthrax letters spurred the federal government to tighten up security at laboratories that work with the deadly bacteria, this may not be enough to prevent someone from removing anthrax from a lab illegally and launching another attack, experts told United Press International.
An FBI official who requested anonymity said since the anthrax mailings the agency has been "working very closely with (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and any other entity and we have done all that we can to secure any of these labs -- as have the labs themselves."
The official added, "We are working closely with any and all authorities that have anything to do with anthrax strains or anthrax studies." The official declined to give details about the steps taken to secure anthrax labs because doing so could compromise the ongoing investigation to identify the culprit responsible for the attacks.
As reported by UPI, FBI agents investigating the anthrax attacks searched the apartment of Steven Hatfill for a second time last week. Hatfill, who has not been charged or called a suspect in the case, is a former employee at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) -- the military's main facility for conducting biowarfare research -- and had access to anthrax spores similar to the ones used in the attacks last fall, which killed five people.
The CDC, which is charged with tracking labs with access to anthrax and other potential bioweapon agents, has taken steps to ensure those labs are increasing their security, agency spokeswoman Karen Hunter told UPI, noting "security issues changed after last fall's events."
One change since the anthrax mailings is all labs now are required to register a form with the CDC stating whether or not they work with bioweapons agents, although this list is not made available to the public for security reasons, Hunter said.
The CDC also is developing a plan detailing security responsibilities for laboratories and the agency alike, Hunter said, but this is far from being finalized and a draft version will not be available for "several months down the road."
However, Stephen Prior, a bioterrorism expert with The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank in Arlington, Va., said securing anthrax sources, although important, will not preclude someone with devious intentions from acquiring the bacteria. Security at anthrax-containing facilities has improved since the mailings, but anyone who thinks the beefed-up security measures are sufficient to prevent further unauthorized removals "is kidding themselves," he said.
"We're not going to find the one thing that stops people from doing it," Prior said.
Gigi Kwik, an immunologist who previously held a position at USAMRIID and now is a fellow at Johns Hopkins University's Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies in Baltimore, agreed with Prior, saying tightening lab security "wouldn't prevent (an anthrax mailing) from happening again if somebody was determined."
Although Kwik was impressed with the amount of security at USAMRIID -- which includes controlled access to certain rooms and cameras in some labs -- she said people "probably could still take (anthrax) out of the lab."
David Franz, vice president of chemical and biological defense at Southern Research Institute in Birmingham, Ala., and a former commander of USAMRIID for 11 years, said the primary reason for the security difficulties is the quantity needed could "fit under your fingernail or a small vial." The only way to prevent this would be to conduct body searches every time somebody left a lab, which is not practical or feasible, he said.
Franz, who said security at USAMRIID was perhaps among the best in the nation, noted although the anthrax used in the mailings could not have been created at the facility, a person there with access to anthrax could have taken it from the lab and modified it elsewhere. One thing that might have prevented this is an assurity program -- a process involving background checks and psychological evaluations.
Such measures already are in place at Department of Defense facilities handling chemical and nuclear weapons, Franz said, but as yet no governmental facility working with dangerous biological agents has established an assurity program. That should change, he said, because there was talk of this even prior to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but it is unclear whether it would be prudent to install them at university or hospital labs that handle less dangerous forms of these agents. The decision may have to be made on a case-by-case basis, he said.
Another deterrent to terror-minded individuals is the newly increased vigilance of scientists working with these agents, who have become more aware of the inherent danger, Franz said. Prior to the anthrax mailings, "scientists didn't think about the potential that someone might try to steal something from their lab. So now they may be more aware of keeping an eye out for unusual activity."
Kwik agreed, saying, "This incidence may have been all that was needed for scientists to become more careful."
Even if anthrax falls into the wrong hands, turning it into an effective bioweapon is not an easy process. Federal law enforcement authorities long have stated they suspect the culprit responsible for last fall's anthrax attacks had sophisticated scientific training because the spores were finely milled and coated to increase their lethality.
Prior noted specific scientific equipment is needed to work with anthrax and monitoring people who have this equipment could help alert authorities to those who would be capable of using the bacteria as a weapon.
An organization called the Australia Group -- an informal network of 33 countries that consult on their export licensing measures for potential chemical and biological agents -- aims to prevent any inadvertent contribution to such weapons programs. The group lists several pieces of equipment that should be regulated, including large fermenters, centrifugal separators, protective suits and freeze-drying equipment.
"Somebody who has anthrax and doesn't have access to those things probably can't do a lot," Prior said.
In addition, he said, a person needs the technical know-how to work with anthrax. Most labs have "wet anthrax," which is quite different from the weaponized anthrax used in the mailing attacks. "There's a number of steps in having anthrax and having anthrax that you could use in that way," Prior said.
However, Kwik said it is not known with any certainty just how difficult it is to modify anthrax to a weaponized form. Many people have speculated weaponizing anthrax is "some super-sophisticated thing," she said, but scientists do not conduct research along those lines because of its sensitive nature. "It may not be that difficult, but we really have no idea," she said.
(Australia) Morning Herald
Anthrax scientists under microscope
August 10 2002
Herald Correspondent Caroline Overington reports from Washington on a key strand of America's anthrax investigation.
It is not easy to kill people with anthrax. Not, at least, without killing yourself in the process. The stuff is so lethal that the FBI thinks only 20 people in the United States would know how to handle it.
Martin Hugh-Jones is one of those people. As a professor of veterinary medicine at Louisiana State University, he is an expert on the disease and, ever since somebody sent it through the mail last October and killed five people, he has been wondering how it was done.
"I think I know a way," Professor Hugh-Jones said.
"Let's speak hypothetically. It's 6am on a cool day, with no wind. You could go into your garden and, provided there was only a slight breeze, running from left to right, but not from behind, because that would create turbulence, I think you could open the jar.
"Once you'd done that I think you could stick one of those wooden spatulas you get in coffee shops into the jar, scoop some out and tip it off, into an envelope. Then you'd have to seal the envelope, using a wet cotton ball; you wouldn't want to put your face near the envelope. Some of it would get airborne, for sure, but provided you hosed everything down, provided you really knew what you were doing, I think you'd be OK."
It sounds simple, but it's really complicated enough to be deadly.
"Handling anthrax is very difficult," Professor Hugh-Jones said. "And whoever killed those people had access to good quality, fine anthrax in powder form, and there would be only six to a dozen people in the United States with access to that."
Professor Hugh-Jones says he is not one of them. He nevertheless suspects the FBI is keeping an eye on him while it continues a year-long investigation into the letters laced with anthrax. "They record my calls," he said, and he is also sure that the FBI is reading his email. "I don't mind. They don't think I did it. They are just interested in what I think."
And what is that?
"Well, basically, I agree with the FBI. I think it must be somebody with scientific knowledge."
And would one of those people be his colleague, Steven Hatfill? Professor Hugh-Jones will not say.
"I have never met the man. If you have questions about that, you will have to ask him."
That, unfortunately, is impossible. Dr Hatfill does not speak to journalists. Not any more, anyway. He used to talk about anthrax all the time, but that was before he became a "person of interest" in the FBI's investigation into the letters that were sent to reporters and politicians in the tense months after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The dust escaped from the envelopes, infecting 18 people. Five of them, including two postal workers, died.
The FBI's investigation into the case, and into Dr Hatfill, appeared until recently to have stalled. Then, in a flurry of activity that coincided with the looming first anniversary of the first death, the bureau suddenly took bloodhounds into his flat to try to find evidence to link him to the crime.
The bureau's interest in Dr Hatfill was prompted early in the case, by his interesting resume, which shows he was born in St Louis but that he got his medical degree at a university in Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, in the 1970s. Dr Hatfill claims to have fought black rebels during the civil war there. (Curiously, the world's largest outbreak of human anthrax occurred from 1978 to 1980 in rural Southern Rhodesia, where 10,738 cases were recorded and 182 people died. There is evidence that this outbreak was the result of covert action by Rhodesian security forces.)
Dr Hatfill also has access to anthrax, and is vaccinated against it. About two years ago he took a job at the US Army's Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID. The lab does research on deadly biological agents, and grows them to make vaccines. After leaving USAMRIID, he went to work for Science Applications International, and while he was there he commissioned a report about what would happen if anthrax was sent through the mail.
The FBI has also noted that when Dr Hatfill was studying in Zimbabwe he lived in Greendale, which is a suburb of Harare. The return address on the anthrax letters was "Greendale School, New Jersey", which does not exist. The FBI has also suggested that he is loose with the truth. (Dr Hatfill has reportedly told colleagues that he once flew fighter jets for the US military, but his record shows he never progressed above the rank of private).
Dr Hatfill denies he is the anthrax terrorist. He has taken a lie detector test and agreed to let the FBI search his home and car.
In one of his last public comments, which he left on a newspaper editor's answering machine, Dr Hatfill expressed dismay that, after a lifetime "of working until 3am to combat this weapon of mass destruction ... sir, my career is over at this time".
Dr Hatfill's supporters are similarly dismayed, not least because they think the FBI's focus on him distracts them from the theory that the outbreak was linked to the September 11 terrorist attacks. There is some evidence for this, too. In March last year, just six months before those attacks, one of the hijackers, Ahmed al-Haznawi, was treated at a Florida hospital for a severe black lesion on his leg. He told nurses he had bumped into a suitcase, and was treated with antibiotics.
However, the doctor who treated him is now convinced that al-Haznawi had anthrax. In the tense weeks after September 11 the doctor asked an anthrax expert, Dr Tara O'Toole, director of the Centre for Civilian Biodefence at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, to look at al-Haznawi's file. She did, then passed it on to a colleague, who is also a germ expert. Both concluded that the "most probable and coherent" diagnosis was anthrax.
If that could be proven, then the outbreak would almost certainly be linked to events on that day. But it cannot be proven: al-Haznawi died on one of the hijacked aircraft.
For his part, Professor Hugh-Jones does not buy the "international terrorism theory. I think it was domestic."
Dr Hatfill is right in thinking that his career is probably over. He lost his last job, at Science Applications International, after he failed a lie detector test unrelated to this case. Shortly after, the publicity about his possible involvement reached a peak, and he found himself unemployed for almost a year. Then, on July 1,
he was finally hired for a new, $US150,000-a-year job as associate director at, of all places, Louisiana State University's National Centre for Biomedical Research and Training. The centre gets $US11 million
($20 million) a year to teach FBI agents and other law enforcement officials to deal with things like, say, an anthrax outbreak.
But how could a "person of interest" in the anthrax case get a job funded by the Justice Department to teach FBI agents about anthrax?
A university spokesman said he could not really explain it, but he denied reports that Dr Hatfill had FBI agents in his class, even though most of those reports quoted the head of the centre saying exactly that.
"Dr Hatfill conducted one really short course before being put on leave with pay, and now we're checking out various things about him and then we'll decide what to do," the spokesman said.
The university had known Dr Hatfill was a person of interest to the case when they employed him, "but that's not unusual. His background is in anthrax, that's his area of expertise, and they are interviewing a number of people in that situation, so that wouldn't unduly concern us."
So why put him on leave? "I can't really say much, except we're reviewing a number of issues."
Borough mailbox near Holder Hall removed after FBI finds anthrax trace
By David Robinson - Senior Writer
Published: Wednesday, September 11th, 2002
The FBI investigation of last fall's anthrax attacks made a visible return to downtown Princeton this summer when agents removed a mailbox across the street from Holder Hall.
In a search of more than 600 area mailboxes, agents said, the box at the corner of Nassau and Bank streets was the only one to test positive. The FBI did not explain why it waited nearly a year to test area mailboxes. The contaminated mailbox was replaced, and state health officials said they consider the health risks minimal.
The finding does not conclusively tie the anthrax mailings to Princeton, leaving the FBI still unable to answer the most basic questions like where the letters entered the postal system, let alone who sent the letters, spokesmen have said.
The box in which spores were found was used to store sorted incoming mail and outbound letters, leading some to speculate that a letter addressed to an area resident might have picked up spores on contaminated sorting equipment before arriving in Princeton.
After the test, agents canvassed the area with a photograph of Stephen Hatfill, a biologist who who investigators believe may have been involved in the attacks, local business owners said.
Hatfill does not live in Princeton and has denied involvement in the attacks.
Agents have declined to describe Hatfill as a suspect in the probe and have not charged him with a crime. Hatfill and a number of civil liberties experts have questioned the propriety of the FBI's apparent focus on him, noting that he has not been linked to any physical evidence of the anthrax mailings.
These frequent visits by FBI investigators have led some to believe that the Princeton area is connected to the mailings.
"There is probably more than a casual coincidence," said Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed, whose office has been repeatedly questioned by FBI investigators.
Four of the anthrax letters were processed at the Hamilton postal complex, about a 30-minute drive from campus. Investigators have explained the letters could have come from anywhere within the large area served by the Hamilton facility — an area that includes the University.
In November, the FBI questioned University molecular biology faculty members as part of its effort to find out which labs might have generated the anthrax used in the letters. Agents also made test copies on University photocopiers. They hoped to match faults on the copier drum to those visible on the letters to identify which copier was used to make the letters.
In late October, a suspicious powder found in the Frist Campus Center became a focal point for campus concern. The powder tested negative for anthrax, but the University came under fire for its handling of the matter.
While waiting for the test results, health officials initially failed to warn students to be on the lookout for the flu-like symptoms that accompany an anthrax infection. Some outside experts worried that if the powder were anthrax, infections could progress to an untreatable stage before test results became available.
The University offered the flu vaccine to students and staff at no charge for the first time last fall. Pamela Bowen, health services director at the time, explained that the vaccine, designed to prevent flu infection, could also make it easier for doctors to spot anthrax infection, which has flu-like symptoms in its early stages.
The Palmer Square post office was also briefly closed last fall after a single spore of anthrax was found in a container inside the building.