Thursday, September 9, 2004 · Last updated 2:39 p.m. PT
Panel urges sharing of data on germs
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID
WASHINGTON -- The value of freely sharing data on dangerous germs so vaccines and treatments can be developed outweighs the danger that bioterrorists may use the information to do harm, a scientific panel concluded Thursday.
Scientists and policy-makers have struggled to balance the needs of researchers for all available information with worries their work might somehow be turned against the public. That concern has increased since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But times have changed since the World War II secrecy dictum that "loose lips sink ships." Thus, a committee convened by the National Research Council concluded that allowing scientists and the public full access to genome data on germs should continue.
"I think we all felt that ultimately, national security needs are best served by facilitating downstream work to develop new diagnostics, new detection devices, new vaccines, new antimicrobial and antiviral compounds, and we just didn't see any way to do that other than continuing with the current open access," said one committee member, Claire M. Fraser.
The committee chairman, Stanley Falkow, said "open access is essential if we are to maintain the progress needed to stay ahead of those who would attempt to cause harm." Falkow is a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge disagreed with the findings, saying that he does not think making such information openly available is a good idea.
"I want to take a look at the report. But from my point of view, laying out recipes for the creation of systems or weapons of mass effect, I'm not sure the restriction on that is necessarily the infringement of free speech," Ridge said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health's infectious disease chief, said he strongly agreed with keeping the current open system.
"The benefits to get 'the good guys' actively involved in developing counter measures far outweigh ... the perceived advantage you might be giving to a terrorist organization, given the fact that these are the kinds of things that, if somebody really wants to get the data anyway, they will get it," Fauci said in a telephone interview.
The committee did suggest creation of an advisory board to review future research and report on any security implications.
Under current law, almost all genome data produced in federally funded research has to be made public.
Some federal agencies had raised concerns that, by using that data on pathogens, terrorists might be able to engineer even deadlier versions of diseases.
Those agencies asked the council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, advise them about whether the material should continue to be made public.
Fraser, president of the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., pointed out the information, "for the most part, is already in the public domain and it would probably be difficult, if not impossible, to try and remove."
The complete genome sequences of more than 100 germs - including those for smallpox, anthrax, and Ebola hemorrhagic fever - are available to the public in Internet-accessible databases. Hundreds more pathogens are expected to be sequenced in the next few years.
Genome sequences describe the genes of each germ and are essentially the biologic programs that drive the germs and viruses.
"There was also a sense that the international scientific community may not be on the same page, and if the U.S. was to implement new guidelines, restrictions, if it wasn't something that was going to be adopted worldwide, it really would be of limited value," Fraser said in a telephone interview.
She said that individuals, terrorist groups or countries "interested in doing harm could certainly do that with existing strains or isolates that are available," without the need to use genomic information to develop new germs.
The 2001 anthrax-by-mail attacks that killed five people are an example of such a use of currently available pathogens.
Ridge, however, argued that terrorists are sophisticated and can make use of new scientific findings.
"Make no mistake about it," he said. "If we put it out on the Internet, if we put it out in the newspaper, if we put it out in the nightly news, somebody's watching, somebody's recording, and somebody's reporting it and it ultimately gets back to somebody who may or may not use it. It's just the world we live in. It's the globalization of information."
A council report last year focused on how to reduce the potential for misuse of scientific findings without limiting research. The report recommended improved screening of experiments before they are conducted. Also suggested was educating scientists to be aware of the risks and benefits associated with their research.
The new report was prepared at the request of the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, the Homeland Security Department and the CIA.
The academy is a private institution that provides scientific advice under a congressional charter.
Thursday, September 9, 2004 · Last updated 9:14 p.m. PT
GAO: U.S. underestimated risks of anthrax
By DONNA DE LA CRUZ
WASHINGTON -- Public health officials underestimated the health risks when letters containing anthrax spores were handled in five U.S. Postal Service facilities in 2001, delaying medical help to employees, a report released Thursday concluded.
The report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said the Postal Service must revise its guidelines on how it handles future anthrax threats. Two postal workers died from the attack.
"The response to anthrax contamination revealed several lessons, the most important of which is that agencies need to choose a course of action that poses the least risk of harm when considering actions to protect people from uncertain and potentially life-threatening health risks," the report said.
The GAO recommended that the Postal Service clarify the actions it would take under various scenarios, such as when it receives a preliminary report of anthrax contamination or when an employee is diagnosed with anthrax.
Postal Service spokesman Gerry McKiernan said the agency continues to refine its guidelines to be in the best position possible to handle any future anthrax attacks.
The Postal Service relied on public health agencies to assess the health risks to its employees, and the agencies deemed the risks minimal, the GAO said. It was not until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that several postal employees had anthrax that two post offices were closed, in Hamilton, N.J., and the Brentwood location in Washington D.C., the report said.
The GAO's review focused on those two facilities and three others where at least four letters containing anthrax spores were handled in September and October 2001. The contaminated letters resulted in 22 cases of anthrax among the public and postal workers, five of them fatal.
The three other facilities studied were processing and distribution centers in West Palm Beach, Fla., New York City's Morgan location and Wallingford, Conn.
The four letters were mailed to the news media and two U.S. senators, Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. No one has been arrested in the cases.
Last month, the Postal Service issued its own report that said repeat testing for anthrax was unnecessary in facilities decontaminated following the 2001 anthrax attacks. The Postal Service worked on that report with several federal, health, safety and security agencies.
Continued illness tracking by the Postal Service and federal, state and local health agencies found no evidence of inhalation or cutaneous anthrax in postal employees or customers since November 2001, the Postal Service report said.
The Postal Service is installing anthrax detection equipment in mail handling facilities across the country in hopes of detecting any future attack early and preventing spread of the disease.
Years after the Anthrax Letters, Are We Safer?
By Edward R. Winstead
One of the gravest fears about terrorist threats against the United States is that enemies will use biological weapons. We know anthrax is in the terrorist arsenal. Quite likely, plague is too. But three years after the as yet unsolved case of the anthrax letters, whose senders remain unknown, there is not enough reliable intelligence about how to detect or disarm biological weapons of war.
On this point everyone agrees. Therefore, the United States government is spending billions to generate information about a long list of lethal pathogens. In the research community, business is booming for those scientists who may be able to develop tools for identifying microbial pathogens and the drugs or vaccines to render them harmless.
At the National Institutes of Health alone, the budget for biodefense research topped $1.6 billion for the fiscal year 2004, and spending on all types of anthrax research will be $144 million.
Anthrax is perhaps the most interesting case to date, partly because there was a real episode and because scientists have now developed a genomic model for investigating the pathogen that can be applied to other agents of biological war—and possibly help in the unsolved letters case.
So are we more prepared for a biological attack today than we were three years ago, when someone sent letters laced with anthrax to government offices and the media, killing five people and injuring about two dozen others?
In some respects the answer is “perhaps,” but in a broader sense, the fact is there’s a long way to go.
Still, while nothing would prevent someone from dropping an anthrax letter in a mailbox today, the technology exists to detect anthrax in at least some buildings and post offices. And if anthrax from a research laboratory were used in an attack today, there’s a good chance investigators would identify the source laboratory in a matter of days or weeks.
That’s because anthrax researchers cooperating with the FBI on the letters case have developed an experimental system for rapidly identifying anthrax strains. It can be used to match a sample of anthrax DNA to any known strain or to its nearest genetic relatives, according to a new study that appears in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.
“The goal was to develop DNA signatures of the anthrax bacterium that could be used in forensic studies,” says Paul Keim, a researcher at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and also at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGEN) in Phoenix.
Keim was one of the few researchers who had money to study anthrax prior to 9/11, and his laboratory may have the world’s largest collection of anthrax. By studying five genetically diverse strains in great detail, he and his colleagues laid the foundation for the new identification system.
“We were able to identify very rare genetic differences among the strains, and this will enable us to come up with really effective diagnostic tools,” Keim says. “Certainly the only time you would use this information is if you were investigating an anthrax case or using it in a clinic to see what kind of anthrax a person has.”
With funding from the Department of Homeland Security, Keim’s laboratory is developing new detection technology that he says could be used in buildings to distinguish between anthrax and one of its harmless cousins, thereby preventing potentially expensive false alarms.
“Let’s imagine you have a detector in a post office today that’s monitoring DNA in spores of anthrax,” says Keim. “It could be that a relative of Bacillus anthracis is floating around in there, and it isn’t pathogenic—but it may still set off a false positive in the post office. The ramification is that the nation’s entire network of post offices could be shut down—so you need the detector to be sensitive.”
Prototypes of the detectors are in his laboratory today, he says, and if all goes as planned the detectors could be in post offices next year. “Sooner,” he adds, “if there’s a crisis.”
Asked whether he feels safer today, Keim is a bit evasive, saying that the science today is light years ahead of where it was two and a half years ago and that the new knowledge and forensic tools will make it easier to deal with a crisis. And it may serve as a deterrent.
“Whoever perpetrated the first crime must realize that we have the capability to identify material and to track the material back to its source,” he says. “Whoever did this is presumably aware of what’s going on, and if the person is a scientist, they can read the study.”
“Hopefully,” Keim adds, “the person is out there thinking: When am I going to get caught?”
Anthrax from Around the World
Keim’s laboratory has more than 1,200 anthrax “isolates” from around the world. The main architect of the collection is Hugh Martin-Jones, a veterinary epidemiologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge who since the mid-nineties has obtained anthrax from North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.
The collection started after Martin-Jones traveled to the former Soviet Union with the team investigating an anthrax outbreak that occurred in 1979 because a secret factory producing biological weapons accidentally released anthrax spores into the air. Sixty-six people in the city of Svredlovsk died.
Today Martin-Jones is helping map anthrax outbreaks in Kazakhstan and expects to receive 20 cultures soon. Over the years he’s persuaded colleagues around the world to share their cultures. Samples have arrived in “dribs and drabs,” with 200 strains coming from China at one point.
The major holes in the collection are India, West Africa, and Russia, whose scientists are forbidden by the government to share strains. India, he says, will not share strains with “anyone, anywhere, at any time and this has held them back when they’ve had an outbreak of disease” among animals.
“Anthrax is basically an animal disease and if it gets into humans it’s basically due to veterinary stupidity or because people are slaughtering infected animals,” he says. “Those of us who deal with anthrax know how to handle it.”
As long as humans have been trading animal hides and products made of animal bones, Bacillus anthracis has moved around the globe, as genetic analyses can show. Anthrax can exist in spore form for long periods of time before reproducing and causing an outbreak.
“Lots of people think you can go out and pick up anthrax anywhere, and I tell them, ‘Hey, it’s not like that,’” says Martin-Jones. “The easiest place to get anthrax is in the refrigerator of a laboratory.” The “Ames” strain linked to the letter attacks was widely used to develop vaccines, he notes.
The Ames strain was initially recovered from a dead cow in Texas in 1981 and sent to College Station, Texas, for analysis. At about the same time, the US Army Medical Research Institute in Fort Detrick, Maryland, was looking for anthrax for its program on “defensive” biological weapons.
The strain came to be associated with a town in Iowa because the Texas researchers sent it to Fort Detrick in a prepaid envelope that said “Ames” on it. The strain was subsequently sent to other laboratories in the U.S. and Europe. Tests have shown that the anthrax used in the letter attacks is related to Ames.
Asked whether we are safer today than we were three years ago, Martin-Jones responds that the cumulative effect of all the activity in recent years “has been to make the situation more dangerous than it was at the beginning.”
Apart from some clever diagnostic tests like the ones Keim is developing, he’s not impressed by the new research he’s seen and thinks that the vaccine they’ve been using for years is still probably the best.
When Martin-Jones started working on anthrax eight or nine years ago, everyone in the field knew each other by their first names. “There were no more than ten labs in the nation working with the organism, and now it’s about 310—and they all want virulent strains,” he says.
“In the old days virtually everyone was paid by Department of Defense to do their research because that’s the only place where money came from because the organism wasn’t thought to be of economic importance,” he says. “Now that it’s a bioterrorist threat and money’s available for research, experts have come out of the walls.”
“The whole damn thing is bizarre.”
Sequencing Anthrax Genomes
Back in the fall of 2001, Keim’s collaborators on the anthrax work, scientists at The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Maryland, were sequencing the anthrax genome. Soon after the attacks they received federal money to sequence the strain that killed a photo editor in Florida.
The project was an experiment to see if they could get useful information from a more comprehensive analysis that looked at the entire genome rather than just regions. When the answer turned out to be yes, they embarked on the project with Keim to develop a picture of the genetic diversity of the species.
Anthrax is one of the most genetically similar species known, and surveying the entire genome—all five million letters of DNA—was the only practical way to pick up rare genetic differences.
“We could only have done this through genome sequencing because we never would have found the differences any other way,” says Jacques Ravel, who led the sequencing at TIGR. The project was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is the main distributor of biodefense dollars within the National Institutes of Health.
After sequencing the five strains, Ravel and his colleagues identified about 1,000 genetic differences among the strains. The differences are sites in the genome where a single genetic letter differs from the norm—what’s called a single nucleotide polymorphism or SNP (pronounced “snip”).
These were sent to Keim’s laboratory, where his team boiled them down to the 24 most informative markers. As a demonstration, the researchers used the markers to accurately place 26 diverse strains on the anthrax family tree.
“Before the study we had a pretty good idea of how different strains were related to each other, but this work provided much greater detail with much more confidence,” says Talima Pearson, a colleague of Keim’s at the University of Northern Arizona who worked on the study.
The study shows that a small panel of markers can provide a great deal of diagnostic information, and this will make it a model for research on other organisms, says Pearson.
Making an Example Out of Anthrax
In the coming months TIGR will use the same strategy in projects on plague and the influenza virus.
“We’re taking the anthrax paradigm and repeating it for other pathogens,” says Claire M. Fraser, president of TIGR. “The more we do this the more convinced we are that you can’t begin to answer questions about these organisms with just one genome sequence.”
And others are likely to follow their example, according to Maria Y. Giovanni, NIAID’s assistant director for microbial genomics and advanced technologies. “What’s important about the anthrax study is that we can now use it as a model for other organisms, whether they are bioterrorism threats or not,” she says.
Keim has already been in touch with scientists who are drafting proposals for genome projects on pathogens, and he tells them that the key is to select diverse strains for sequencing at the outset, because this determines the utility of genetic markers in forensics.
The genetic differences need to be representative of all the branches of the family tree, he says. If you select closely related strains at the beginning, then you’ll miss signature differences in more distantly related strains.
“In the field of genomics we think this insight will be widely appreciated,” Keim says.
The insight comes as NIAID-funded microbial sequencing centers at TIGR and the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are churning out data on pathogens to be used by the larger scientific community.
“Our big push is to make tools available for the scientific community so they can develop the drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics that we desperately need,” says Giovanni.
Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea to make the genome sequences of anthrax and plague public. But last week a panel of scientists that included Keim and Fraser issued a report that urged the U.S. government to continue its policy of open access to genomic information.
The panel argued that more good than harm would come from keeping genomic information in the hands of scientists everywhere who are working on drugs and vaccines despite the risk that the information could be misappropriated for other ends.
A National Center for Biodefense
Although the researchers are under a court order not to talk about the anthrax case, they are cooperating with the FBI so it’s safe to assume that their new tools and information have been in the hands of investigators.
Similarly, the researchers are almost certainly working with the new National Bioforensics Analysis Center at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, which is supposed to be a hub of resources for dealing with biological attacks. The center will eventually house genomic data and materials for conducting forensic tests, among other things.
Just the sort of thing that Keim’s team has developed, with help from TIGR.
If their system had been in place three years ago, would the case of the letters be solved by now?
Again the answer is “perhaps.”
Investigators certainly would have had better leads, but sequencing a few anthrax genomes isn’t going to reveal a killer. In the end, it seems, police work still matters.
Exposé Is On Despite Reported Inoculation
by Steven Zeitchik, PW NewsLine -- 9/23/2004
A title from Basic about anthrax that's likely to cause controversy is going ahead "full-steam" according to the publisher, after a source late last week said the book's publication was in question.
Vaccine A: The Covert Government Experiment That's Killing American Soldiers by Gary Matsumoto, has been touted as one of the publisher's lead titles, with an embargo, a one-day laydown and 100,000 copies ordered. Though details in the book are being kept under tight wraps, it is thought to condemn the government's distribution of the controversial anthrax vaccine to soldiers and describe a public health threat in which "GI's are only the first victims" if the vaccine is distributed widely, according to catalog copy. It is also expected that the book will condemn the vaccine's manufacturer, the hot-button Michigan company BioPort. Matsumoto is a reporter who's done work for ABC News, Fox News and Science on this and other biotech stories.
But perhaps fittingly, the book's publishing story comes with its own share of mystery. Originally scheduling the book for last Tuesday, the house earlier this season pushed it back to October 19. The book has also appeared and then disappeared from online venues, and at press time was not listed on Amazon nor on the Basic Books site. Last week a source inside the company provided a zinger: the book had been pulled, with no word of when, or whether, it would be reinstated. (The title was also changed from the previous In the Name of Defense, though as part of what was said to be an ordinary, if robust, marketing debate.)
But in an interview yesterday Basic Books publisher Elizabeth Maguire said Vaccine A was on track and had already been shipped to the printer. She said that there had been no delays, only some "small editing" changes, and that the changes were not brought on by sensitivity concerns. "[They] were not anything substantive because of legal reads," she said, adding that Matsumoto and editor Bill Frucht had simply "worked out some final context." She suggested that the source's report of a suspension of publication "might be a misinterpretation of what was happening." Maguire attributed the Basic Web omission to a site redesign and said she hadn't been aware of any Amazon problems.
Maguire also dismissed any speculation that delays had been brought about because of any entanglements involving Perseus LLC's other holdings--Perseus LLC, which finances Basic parent Perseus Books, also serves as an investor to more than a dozen biotech firms--as nonsense. "It's never been a concern," she said. "We publish all kinds of controversial books. We publish a range of political ideologies. We never have had any interference from our investors."
The book has excited booksellers because it promises, in an age of bioterror and unconventional weapons, to offer a scathing look at a vaccine that has been argued is both unproven and dangerous. It has also been suggested that the vaccine may have a role in Gulf War syndrome. Maguire said the book will be shipped to media under embargo and that reporters are being asked to sign NDAs.
strife blamed on anthrax probe
Doctor says he hit his kin because of investigation and publicity
Saturday, October 02, 2004
The attorney for a doctor whose homes were searched in connection with the unsolved 2001 anthrax attacks said yesterday his client hit his wife and two stepchildren because of the strain of the federal probe.
Yesterday's municipal court appearance in Point Pleasant Beach on the assault charges against Kenneth M. Berry was postponed because the former emergency room physician filed countercharges against those family members, said his attorney, Clifford Lazzaro of Newark.
Berry slipped out of the courtroom without comment, but his attorney, who criticized the federal government's handling of the search, insisted his client will be cleared of any wrongdoing in the anthrax probe. He said the domestic dispute was the culmination of the strain the family was under.
"The great pressure of being scrutinized by the federal government as a responsible party for the anthrax mailings ... I think would be enough to destroy the average citizen and cause cracks to open in that citizen's marriage," Lazzaro said.
Berry, who founded an organization that trains medical professionals to respond to chemical and biological attacks, was jailed Aug. 5 in a strange outgrowth of searches of his home in Wellsville, N.Y., and his parents' summer home in Dover Township.
He has not been charged in the anthrax investigation.
Police charged Berry, 46, with attacking his wife and two of his stepdaughters as the family was checking into a Point Pleasant Beach hotel, where they relocated while federal agents scoured his parents' bungalow.
Lazzaro said Berry also was attacked, which was why he filed assault charges last week.
After the fight, his wife, Tana, obtained a temporary court order restraining him from having any contact with her or the children. A hearing to make that order permanent is scheduled for Monday in Superior Court in Toms River, Lazzaro said.
Yesterday, the FBI refused to discuss the Berry case specifically, but a spokesman said the investigation into the anthrax mailings is "intensely active."
Five people died and at least 17 fell ill after anthrax-laced letters were mailed in the fall of 2001 to two Democratic senators and to media organizations. The incidents alarmed a country still shocked from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In addition to still being under a cloud of investigation, Berry is facing a crumbling marriage and was fired from his job as an emergency room physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Lazzaro said his client expects to be cleared in a matter of months and then would seek a written letter of apology from the FBI. He said Berry also hopes for a reconciliation with his wife, who lives in their upstate New York home while Berry lives in New Jersey.
Lazzaro and Washington, D.C., attorney John Moustakas, who is representing Berry in the anthrax investigation, said the intense media coverage -- which they said they suspect stemmed from a deliberate leak -- wreaked havoc on their client's private life.
Earlier in the summer, Berry had refused to voluntarily let the FBI search his New York home, and three months later he found himself the subject of a search that was publicized nationwide, Lazzaro said.
"The search warrants could have been conducted in a lawful and legal manner without the press being present," he said. "Is it vindictive? You'd have to ask the government."
UPMC doctor appears in court
By Richard Byrne Reilly
POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. -- Dr. Kenneth Berry, a former physician for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, lost his job, his family and -- police say-- his temper after he became entangled in the FBI's anthrax investigation in August.
"A lesser person would have gone bananas months ago," said Dennis Trotman, who has vacationed for years on the same street in Ocean Beach as Berry's parents.
Berry said nothing yesterday during a hearing in Point Pleasant Beach Municipal Court on charges he assaulted his wife and stepdaughter after the FBI in August searched Berry's homes in New York and his parents' Ocean Beach summer home for any possible link to the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people. Agents also searched Berry's car parked at the Connellsville Airport in Fayette County, where his former wife and two children live, and questioned his former neighbors there.
Berry's lawyer, Clifford Lazzaro, maintained in a complaint filed yesterday that Berry, a emergency room physician previously employed at the UPMC McKeesport hospital, was the victim of an assault by his wife and stepdaughter.
"The great pressure of being scrutinized by the federal government as a responsible party for the anthrax mailings I think would be enough to cause stress for the average citizen," said Lazzaro.
Berry left court yesterday without being called before the judge. He made no public statement and retreated to the beachfront home of his parents, where some neighbors remember him from the time he was a child.
"I've told him that he needs to take one thing at a time. Resolving this domestic issue first should be his first priority," said Trotman, who said he has known Berry since they were kids.
"He's had a run of bad luck, but this a man who has always tried to do good."
Berry founded PREEMPT Medical Counter-Terrorism in 1997, an organization that trains medical professionals to respond to chemical and biological attacks. The FBI has not commented on Berry's status in the investigation.
The scrutiny, though, has "caused the family to crack," Lazzaro said.
Berry was arrested in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., on Aug. 5 on domestic charges. Authorities said he had been fighting with four family members at a motel, and the family members required medical treatment. He was released on $10,000 bail.
A hearing is scheduled Monday in Ocean County Superior Court on a temporary restraining order issued Aug. 5, the day of the alleged assault. Berry's wife and stepdaughters are asking that it become permanent.
Lazzaro said Berry hopes to reconcile with his wife, who is living in the family's Upstate New York home.
Five people died and 17 were sickened by the anthrax mailings, which occurred after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Richard Byrne Reilly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 380-5625.
probe a blow to doctor's career, marriage, says lawyer
Published in the Asbury Park Press
POINT PLEASANT BEACH -- The FBI anthrax investigation and searches of Dr. Kenneth M. Berry's home and Shore vacation cottage have nearly destroyed his career and threaten to do the same to his marriage, the physician's lawyer said after a brief court appearance yesterday.
"The great pressure of being scrutinized by the federal government . . . would be enough to destroy the average citizen," lawyer Clifford E. Lazzaro told reporters outside Municipal Court, minutes after Berry made a first appearance to answer charges by borough police that he assaulted his wife and stepdaughters at a local motel on Aug. 5.
"Dr. Berry is innocent, (and) he's innocent in the anthrax investigation," Lazzaro said. Berry himself said nothing during yesterday's appearance.
The Berry family's houses in Wellsville, N.Y., and the Ocean Beach III section of Dover Township were searched simultaneously on Aug. 5, in connection with the 3-year-old FBI investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks that killed five people and sickened 17.
So far, the FBI has not taken further action against Berry, Lazzaro said, and he predicted the government will ultimately admit it has no evidence to link Berry to the attacks.
Berry had been a consultant to the government in the past, and is founder of the Planned Response Exercises and Emergency Medical Preparedness Training (PREEMPT), an organization that trains emergency medical personnel to respond to terrorist attacks using chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
"Now, his financial position has been completely compromised" after the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center fired Berry from his job as an emergency room doctor, Lazzaro said.
"The hospital terminated him without cause" and is continuing his employment benefits only into November, Lazzaro said. Berry "would be happy with a government statement down the road that completely exonerates him," he added.
A hearing before Judge James A. Liguori must be rescheduled, because Berry, 48, last week filed nearly identical complaints of simple assault against his wife and two stepdaughters, aged 18 and 16, Lazzaro said.
In addition, there's a hearing scheduled next week in state Superior Court, Family Division, in Toms River, on a temporary restraining order obtained in August by his wife.
"I think, quite frankly, the family cracked under the strain of the great invasiveness of the search," Lazzaro said.
The searches came three months after Berry had refused, on the advice of his lawyers, FBI agents who wanted his consent for a voluntary search of his home in Wellsville, N.Y., Lazzaro said.
On Aug. 5, the couple and four children had been escorted by the FBI to the White Sands Motel in Point Pleasant Beach while agents searched the cottage on Sailfish Way in the Ocean Beach III section of Dover Township, several miles south on Route 35.
As the family checked in, police said, a fight erupted over a cell phone and spilled into the motel lobby, where officers arrived to find Berry being restrained by a motel worker and off-duty Chatham Township Police Chief Elizabeth Goeckel, who was there on vacation.
While police arrested only Berry, Lazzaro said, "there were bruises to go around" and the doctor's injuries showed he was struck, too.
"He's lost his job, I can only hope he doesn't lose his marriage," Lazzaro said.
Lazzaro said Berry hopes to reconcile with his wife, who is living in an upstate New York home the family owns. Berry remains in New Jersey, but his lawyer would not say where.
Berry's wife is being represented in family court by Ocean-Monmouth Legal Services but the group is not representing her or her daughters in municipal court.
Lazzaro suggested the FBI has been investigating others with connections to Department of Defense chemical and biological defense programs, but without the degree of publicity that's fallen on Berry.
"The searches could have been conducted in a legal and lawful method . . . without the press being present," Lazzaro said. Without the publicity, he said, Berry "would still be working as an emergency room physician."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
slip-ups raise fears about planned biolabs
By Dan Vergano and Steve Sternberg
Posted 10/13/2004 10:29 PM
Bruce Ivins was troubled by the dust, dirt and clutter on his officemate's desk, and not just because it looked messy. He suspected the dust was laced with anthrax.
And he was in a position to know. Ivins, a biodefense expert, and his officemate were deeply involved in Operation Noble Eagle — the government's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed almost 3,000 Americans and the anthrax attacks that killed five more less than a month later.
It was December 2001. Ivins, an authority on anthrax, was one of the handful of researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Md., who prepared spores of the deadly bacteria to test anthrax vaccines in animals. He knew enough to grow alarmed when his officemate complained, as she had frequently of late, about sloppy handling of samples coming into the lab that could be tainted with anthrax.
"I swabbed approximately 20 areas of (her) desk, including the telephone computer and desktop," Ivins later reported to Army investigators. Half of the samples, he found, "were suspicious for anthrax," betraying the clumpy brown appearance of anthrax colonies under a microscope.
Rather than reporting contamination to his superiors, Ivins said, he disinfected the desk. "I had no desire to cry wolf," he later told an Army investigator.
Months later, Army investigators would see Ivins' desk cleanup as the first sign of an alarming anthrax contamination at the nation's most renowned biodefense laboratory. A 361-page U.S. Army report on the events of that winter and the following spring, recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, opens a rare window into the government's guarded biodefense establishment. (Related: Where labs are located or planned)
Today, the view from that window frightens critics of the government's plans to establish similar labs in urban centers throughout the country. They say it's too dangerous to bring deadly microbes into populated areas. In July, hundreds of Boston-area scientists and activists marched to oppose plans to construct a biodefense lab at Boston University. Supporters say such facilities are needed to fight bioterrorism.
But the new safety concerns echo fears expressed in late 2001 and early 2002 after anthrax spores, too small for the naked eye to see, escaped from a supposedly secure lab suite and into the scientists' offices. Within USAMRIID, 88 people were eventually tested for exposure to anthrax. The incident also raised fears that anthrax had leaked into nearby Frederick, Md.
Anthrax spores are infectious, and they're potentially deadly for years. When spores get into the skin, they cause pus-filled blisters that burst to form black scabs. Hence the name anthrax, from the Greek word for anthracite coal. Untreated skin infections are fatal about 25% of the time. Spores can be ingested in spoiled meat or inhaled in the air. Without prompt treatment, gastrointestinal and inhalation anthrax will kill you.
Researchers express relief that no one was hurt or killed in the episode, but Stephanie Loranger of the Federation of American Scientists asks, "Fort Detrick is one of the premier biodefense labs, and if they have problems, what does it mean for all the others?"
A TIME OF TURMOIL
December 2001 was almost two months after the inhalation-anthrax death of tabloid photo editor Bob Stevens in Atlantis, Fla. Stevens' death was the first from five anthrax-laced letters that infected 22 people, hobbled the U.S. postal system and shut down the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington after Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., received one of the letters. The person who sent the deadly envelopes has never been caught.
It was a frantic time at the biodefense lab. The criminal investigation, dubbed Amerithrax by the FBI, was in full swing and USAMRIID was the only national laboratory giving authorities round-the-clock biodefense analysis, spokeswoman Caree Vander-Linden says.
The six-member team that worked in the lab equipped to handle anthrax had swollen to a staff of 85. Most had to learn how to handle the bacteria "on the fly," says USAMRIID's commander Col. Erik Henchal, who headed the forensic effort. As many as 70 researchers slept in cars or on cots as they scrambled to keep up with a deluge of specimens flooding the lab.
Over roughly eight months, USAMRIID researchers ran tests on 30,000 suspect envelopes, packages and other items that arrived at the lab.
They also tested about 320,000 environmental samples from such places as the Hart Senate Office Building and Washington, D.C.'s Brentwood postal center, which lost two employees exposed to the lethal letters. (In addition to the Florida victim and the postal workers, an elderly woman from Oxford, Conn., and a Vietnamese immigrant from New York City were killed.)
"They were running just fantastic numbers of (anthrax) samples," says biodefense expert D.A. Henderson of the University of Pittsburgh. "I'm not sure what they have accomplished is appreciated."
In April 2002, four months after Ivin's initial suspicions, the contamination resurfaced. A microbiologist spotted the liquid slurry in which anthrax is grown leaking from flasks inside a secure lab suite. He reported the episode up the chain of command, which set off alarms throughout the lab. Ivins did more tests.
This time he found that three strains of anthrax had escaped the supposedly secure "Biosafety Level 3," or BL-3, laboratory, which is designed to enable scientists to safely work with deadly microbes. Two of the strains were used in biodefense work. One of them may have come from the envelope sent the previous October to Daschle's office.
Powdered anthrax from the Daschle envelope so readily surfed currents of air that it frightened USAMRIID experts who opened the envelope.
"The good news is nobody got the disease," says Alan Zelicoff, a biodefense expert who is now a consultant at ARES Corp., a risk analysis firm. "The bad news is that nobody got the disease because just about everybody near the BL-3 suite had been vaccinated."
It was during that period, as the anthrax investigation gained momentum, that Ivins' officemate "repeatedly expressed concern to (Ivins) that she may have been exposed to anthrax spores when handling powder," according to the Army's report.
The leak inside the BL-3 lab was found on April 8. Over the next two weeks, Ivins and other researchers tested lab surfaces to confirm the extent of the contamination. Eighteen lab workers were tested for anthrax exposure. Nasal swabs from one of them tested positive for anthrax. Army officials acknowledged the incident in an April 19 press release.
Anthrax was found in three places outside the containment lab. Colonies of two anthrax strains were found in the "clean change room" where male scientists disrobe before showering and donning sterile suits to enter the secure lab suite. The strains were Sterne, a benign form used in inoculations, and Vollum 1B, once Fort Detrick's signature bioweapons strain. Vollum 1B was grown from the blood of lab microbiologist William Boyle, who died after inhaling anthrax in a 1951 lab accident, hence the B in the name.
Further away from the lab suite, researchers found three strains of anthrax in the office called B-19 that Ivins and his colleague shared: Sterne, Vollum 1B and Ames. Ames is now the preferred strain for biodefense research and was the strain found in the Daschle letter.
Their tests also found more than 200 colonies of Ames strain on the lab's "passbox." The passbox is a 2-foot-square ultraviolet-bathed portal — a blue glow emanating around the edges of its door — used for safely passing potentially contaminated material into and out of the laboratory suite.
FEARS IN THE COMMUNITY
As the investigation continued, word was leaking out. On April 20, USAMRIID officials got irate calls from Frederick's mayor and a visit from local U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who told Army investigators that he thought the incident was being "blown out of proportion" and "gives the terrorists an advantage."
Bartlett also wanted his nearby horse farm tested for anthrax. One day later he showed up at the lab, bearing a soil sample from his farm, which turned out to be negative for anthrax. He now says the public was never at risk and the lessons learned from the episode have made USAMRIID's safety standards stronger.
Fear that spores had escaped into the community in USAMRIID's dirty laundry prompted officials to dispatch technicians to the base's laundry at the Jeanne Bussard Center, a rehabilitation center for the developmentally disabled in Frederick.
One laundry worker's doctor had already called the base to query about the exposure risk. On April 20, the team collected 32 samples to test for possible anthrax contamination. Nothing was found.
The formal probe of how the contamination occurred began April 24, led by an Army investigator from Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. In 20 interviews over two weeks, investigators learned that some lab workers had been concerned about possible exposure for months, beginning with the botched handling of the Daschle letter that sent 16 people to the infirmary for preventive antibiotics.
By the time the investigation drew to a close, about 1,120 sites in the lab, the off-site laundry and the laundry's delivery vans had been tested. About 90 people had been evaluated for exposure, and many of them treated with preventive antibiotics. No one became ill and no other traces of anthrax were found.
Military investigators concluded that the Sterne and Vollum 1B colonies had probably persisted in Building 1425 for years, perhaps as far back as the U.S. offensive biowarfare program ended by President Richard Nixon in 1969. The Ames strain likely escaped the lab because workers didn't thoroughly decontaminate shipping containers with fresh bleach. USAMRIID's Henchal suspects that a researcher who handled a poorly decontaminated container may have spread the Ames spores outside of the containment area.
A question the report leaves unanswered is whether that Ames strain came from the Daschle letter, which would elevate the episode to a higher level of concern. "It is a little ambiguous," says C.J. Peters, of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, formerly one of USAMRIID's experts on deadly microbes. "If this is from the (Daschle) powder, it could be re-aerosolized and somebody could get hurt really bad. If it's from ordinary culture, it's not that dangerous."
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Adamovicz, who was then deputy chief of bacteriology at USAMRIID, says it's unlikely that the contamination stemmed from aerosolized spores, noting that spores would have been found in air filters throughout the building. They were not.
Henchal insists that the contaminating anthrax never posed an airborne threat to anyone. Despite acknowledging that the FBI has genetically typed the Ames strain found outside the containment lab, as well as the Daschle letter anthrax, Henchal declined to say whether the two were the same. "I'm not convinced I know the source of the contamination," he says.
No one was disciplined for the contamination. Ivins couldn't be reached for comment. USAMRIID declined to permit interviews with staff mentioned in the report. Henchal says lessons from the incident have been used in a revamped biosecurity program. "We're not going to take any shortcuts on safety," he says.
BROADER SAFETY CONCERNS
That such a slip-up occurred in the research center that pioneered safety procedures now used worldwide to deal with lethal microbes raises broader questions, experts say.
"The message here from a scientific and policy standpoint is profound," Zelicoff says. "Facilities that are medical and microbiological may not be suitably equipped for dealing with aerosolized versions of the organisms that they otherwise deal with in great safety. ... These facilities probably ought not be located in a heavily populated area. How do you contain smoke?"
About 50 maximum-containment labs nationwide harbor the deadliest of bacteria, viruses and toxins. Forty more biodefense research labs are planned in cities such as Atlanta and Boston. In addition to the furor over the plans in Boston, opponents have also taken aim at a lab to be built at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, citing concerns about excessive secrecy and biosafety.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is building its own facility at Fort Detrick, notes that accidents are rare and that planned labs are unlikely to be as deluged with the flood of samples that arrived at USAMRIID as part of the anthrax investigation.
"Most scientists do things in a very careful way," Fauci says. "The chance that they'll be working in the same rushed atmosphere they faced at Fort Detrick is very small."
Ultimately, the unsolved 2001 anthrax killings still shadow Fort Detrick. The Ames strain of anthrax used in the letters, and found in the contamination incident, was first used in biodefense studies there.
For that reason, the FBI briefly shut down parts of the lab this July to look for more clues, searching for stray spores that might match those used in the attack. In August, FBI investigators carted away more lab equipment for analysis, looking for clues that may reveal a link of some kind between the lab and the attacks that can be presented to a grand jury.
Army investigators concluded that years of sloppy practices at the lab resulted from neglect of safety procedures, compounded by the pressure of a high-profile criminal case. One researcher described a common room in the lab area as a "rats' nest." And experts say the "sloppiness" documented in the report may complicate prosecution if the anthrax killer is ever caught, especially if defense lawyers can cast doubt on USAMRIID'S reliability.
"Any defense lawyer should read this report carefully and keep it in mind when DNA results are being quoted against his (or) her client," says Martin Hugh-Jones of Louisiana State University, a leading expert on anthrax. "I now understand why the FBI (anthrax) letter team is so fascinated by USAMRIID."
Contributing: Robert Barbrow and Susan O'Brian
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Unproven techniques sway courts, erode justice
By Flynn McRoberts, Steve Mills
and Maurice Possley, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune researcher Judith
Marriott contributed to this report
Settling into the witness chair of a Kane County courtroom, Stephen McKasson tutored jurors in a murder trial on the wonders of a rarely used divining tool: lip prints.
The Illinois State Police crime lab examiner told them forensic science accepts that lips have unique creases and he could match the prints found on duct tape at the crime scene to the defendant, Lavelle Davis.
Davis was convicted and sentenced to 45 years. The lip print, one juror in the 1997 trial recalled, "proved that he had actually committed the crime."
There was just one problem: What McKasson asserted about lip prints isn't true.
The story of how an unproven forensic theory helped send a man to prison might seem like a legal curiosity befitting an episode of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
But a Tribune investigation of forensics in the courtroom shows how Davis' conviction exemplifies the questionable science, flawed analysis and shoddy lab practices that sometimes undermine the quest for justice. Long considered unbiased and untainted, crime labs and analysts are facing new scrutiny and tough questions about their accuracy.
At the center of this upheaval is the advent of DNA testing, which has injected a dose of truth serum into other forensic tools. With its dramatic precision, DNA has helped reveal the shaky scientific foundations of everything from fingerprinting to firearm identification, from arson investigation to such exotic methods as bite-mark comparison.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify precisely how many cases have been affected by faulty forensic testimony or poor analytical work, partly because defense attorneys often haven't challenged forensic evidence. Many lack the resources to do so, others assume the science is unassailable, and some simply don't bother.
But the 200 DNA and Death Row exoneration cases nationwide in the last 20 years offer one clue. More than a quarter--55 cases with 66 defendants--involved forensic testing or testimony that was flawed.
The Tribune investigation included hundreds of interviews across the country, an examination of thousands of court documents and an analysis of criminal cases that turned on forensic evidence. Among the findings:
- Fingerprinting is so subjective that the most experienced examiners can make egregious mistakes. This year, in a stunning embarrassment, the FBI was forced to admit it wrongly linked an Oregon lawyer to the Madrid terror bombing case because of an erroneous fingerprint comparison.
- Prosecutors continue to rely on experts who embrace debunked theories about arson. Among the hard-to-kill myths is "crazed glass"--glass lined with a spider web of cracks--which was thought to be evidence of an accelerant until researchers learned it could occur when hot glass is sprayed with water, as in putting out a fire.
- Forensic dentists, who link suspects to bite marks left on crime victims, continue to testify despite having no accepted way to measure their rate of error or the benefit of peer review. DNA testing has shown that even the field's leading practitioners have made false bite-mark matches.
- Scandals at labs from Maryland to Washington state have spotlighted analysts who have incorrectly assessed evidence, hidden test results helpful to defendants and testified falsely in court. The scandals underscore the often-ineffective standards governing crime labs.
Analysts involved in faulty forensic work typically have testified in hundreds of trials, just one indication of how widespread the impact of bad science and bad scientists can be. The lab scandals also have laid bare a more fundamental failure: Experts often express certitude based on an unfounded confidence in their forensic specialty and their ability to practice it.
"I have no problem with forensic science. I have a problem with the impression that's being given that those disciplines ... can make an absolute identification of someone, and that's not the case," said Terrence Kiely, a DePaul University law professor and author of "Forensic Evidence: Science and the Criminal Law."
"It's the white coat-and-resume problem," he added. "They're very, very believable people. And sometimes the jurors will take [their testimony] as a `yes,' where the science can only say it's a `maybe.'"
The explosive popularity of TV shows such as "CSI" has led prosecutors and crime lab directors in recent months to complain that juries and the public have unreasonable confidence in what forensic analysts can do and how quickly they can do it.
An examination of forensic science's role in the courts, however, suggests that a much broader problem is the ease with which prosecutors have brought unproven forensic theories or unchallenged forensic experts into the courtroom.
In doing so, they harness the special sway such experts hold in court. Not even police officers are allowed the kind of latitude granted them--the freedom to give their opinion, not simply what they observed or heard.
Forensic experts and their testimony are being questioned because of two distinct forces reconfiguring the legal landscape.
In addition to the advent of DNA testing, U.S. Supreme Court rulings have sought to impose greater scientific rigor on forensic testimony.
In a defining 1993 decision, Daubert vs. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, the court demanded that such testimony not simply meet the existing standard of "general acceptance" in its field, but also address some of the hallmarks of scientific inquiry--testing, peer review and rates of error.
That is precisely what has been lacking in many forensic fields, some of which have scrambled to catch up since the ruling while others continue to resist.
One facet of the problem is that while those involved in forensic disciplines wear the white coat of science and portray themselves as scientists, they often do not operate under the same rules as those in other scientific pursuits.
Crime labs regulate themselves, often operating without the scientific touchstones of experimentation and validation.
Consequently, lab analysts have been allowed to testify about such evidence as ear prints and examinations of shoe insoles, though little or no research exists to support their claims that these methods can identify matches.
Some respected figures in forensic science say the failure to address such problems and impose tougher standards is unacceptable.
"The stakes are too high--life, liberty, destroying families," said Dr. Joseph Davis, the chief Miami-Dade County medical examiner for four decades before he retired in 1996. "A person who is truly innocent is permanently disfigured or destroyed."
Lip prints seal fate
The adversarial nature of America's courts is supposed to insulate them from bogus testimony. Both sides may offer their experts. The judge and jury determine what testimony is reliable. And a just verdict is reached.
The safety valve malfunctions when those qualified as experts make unsubstantiated assertions, defense attorneys don't properly challenge those individuals, and judges and juries believe them.
Each of those failures was on display in the case of Lavelle Davis' lips. Though the questions raised by the use of lip print evidence don't prove his innocence, they cast doubt on the fairness of his trial.
A week before Christmas 1993, Patrick "Pall Mall" Ferguson was killed outside an Elgin apartment complex--felled by a single shotgun blast at close range.
Davis' first trial ended in a mistrial after a key eyewitness said she was backing off testimony she gave at the earlier trial of a co-defendant. At Davis' second trial, the woman said she was finally coming forward with the truth--that she saw him shoot Ferguson.
Even prosecutor Alice Tracy called the woman "an admitted liar" during the February 1997 trial.
Faced with that credibility problem, prosecutors pointed to physical evidence to corroborate their theory. They believed investigators had found it in the grass not far from the scene of the slaying: a roll of duct tape.
Tracy theorized how Davis' lip print could have been left on the sticky side of the tape. "He might have taken the duct tape to show one of the others what they were going to do with it if Patrick Ferguson ... started to scream," she told the jurors.
McKasson, who worked at the state crime lab in Carbondale, said he had examined lip prints in two other cases, though he had been unable to match a suspect to those prints.
He had no such reservations in the case of Davis, declaring the defendant's lips matched those found on the duct tape.
McKasson explained his conclusion by telling the court that lip prints were no different from any other form of what is called "impression" evidence.
"It's just a matter of the side-by-side comparison of impressions," he told the judge, who qualified him as an expert. "And to that degree it wouldn't matter whether it was a fingerprint, an ear print or a lip print."
Trying to buttress the credibility of a method rarely seen in American courts, a print examiner from the state police crime lab in Rockford, Leanne Gray, told the court that the FBI believes lip prints are a positive form of identification.
She was mistaken. The FBI "to this day hasn't validated lip print comparisons," said Ann Todd, spokeswoman for the bureau's lab in Quantico, Va.
Gray and the Illinois State Police declined to comment on the Davis case because his post-conviction petition seeking a new trial is pending.
For some jurors in Davis' trial, including Doris Gonzalez, the lip print evidence was convincing--much more than the eyewitnesses and others called by both sides who she said "were not very truthful people."
That made the lip print evidence crucial. "I mean, it was a big breakthrough for determining his guilt," Gonzalez said.
Davis' attorney, Lee Bastianoni, repeatedly challenged the methodology and qualifications of the two examiners during cross-examination but did not hire an expert to counter them.
Bastianoni instead tried to do the research himself. "I basically went to the library and read all the books I could on fingerprints and the scientific method," he recalled.
The novelty of the lip print evidence apparently did not trouble the Illinois Appellate Court, which affirmed Davis' conviction in a May 1999 ruling that illustrates how legal safeguards can fail to weed out questionable theories.
The court turned aside the challenge to the evidence, noting that the state experts had testified the FBI considered lip prints a "means of positive identification," and they "did not know of any dissent inside the forensic science community" challenging that assertion.
Had Bastianoni called the likes of Andre Moenssens, one of the deans of forensic science in the U.S., he would have discovered that many of Gray and McKasson's claims were unfounded.
A law professor emeritus at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of "Scientific Evidence in Civil and Criminal Cases," Moenssens happened to read the Illinois Appellate Court's decision.
He was so appalled that he wrote to the appellate defender's office, and at the request of Davis' appellate attorney, Kim Campbell, Moenssens agreed to file an affidavit for the post-conviction petition.
"You can't rely on your own cross-examination of the state's witnesses," said Campbell, now an assistant state's attorney in Downstate McLean County. "You have to have your own expert to say why this kind of science is unreliable. And there was nobody saying that at his trial."
In his affidavit, Moenssens wrote that "making the quantum leap ... to the ultimate notion of identifying an individual by the visible imprint of his or her lips, is a journey fueled by two elements: pure speculation and unadulterated conjecture."
The president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the nation's chief professional society for forensic disciplines, was equally blunt in an interview.
"At this stage of the game, you can put ear prints and lip prints and nose prints and elbow prints all in the same category--unverified and unvalidated," said Ronald Singer, who also is director of the Tarrant County medical examiner's crime lab in Ft. Worth.
Since Davis' conviction, McKasson has retired from the state crime lab and runs his own document examination business. He gives frequent workshops around the country on how to be an effective expert witness and has co-written a book on the subject.
When told of the doubts raised by the FBI and others, McKasson repeated his defense of his work.
"It bothers me that the rest of them are wimping out," he said. "They're just worried about being attacked."
Pointing to the lip prints' apparent similarities on a computer screen at his home near Carbondale, McKasson added: "I still don't see what other choice I had, because there it was--it looked good to me. These two impressions came from the same person. There's no doubt in my mind."
Last week, a Kane County judge granted Davis a Jan. 31 hearing to make the case for a new trial, based in part on the questions about the lip-print evidence.
For Moenssens, the only thing as disturbing as McKasson's testimony was the Appellate Court's affirmation of it. "It doesn't say much for the courts' willingness to take the gatekeeper role seriously when it comes to novel techniques," he said.
FBI's fingerprint fiasco
Though lip prints may never be widely used or accepted, fingerprints have both a long history and the stamp of approval in courts and in the public consciousness. Yet a century of their use in solving crimes obscures a sobering reality: Despite claims that the discipline is an infallible science, it is neither infallible nor a science.
No standards exist for what portion of a fingerprint must be recovered before it is suitable for comparison. At most crime scenes, the police usually find only a fraction of a fingerprint, and that latent print, as it is called, frequently is smudged or otherwise distorted, making it difficult to compare.
Just as troubling, no research exists to say if people share fingerprint patterns--whether a few points of similarity or many.
Theoretical problems are just one issue. In 1995, one of the only independent proficiency tests of fingerprint examiners in U.S. crime labs found that nearly a quarter reported false positives, meaning they declared prints identical even though they were not--the sort of mistakes that can lead to wrongful convictions or arrests.
A recent episode in the war on terrorism underscored these shortcomings.
On May 6, federal prosecutors strode into a courthouse in Portland, Ore., and claimed the FBI had made a "100 percent positive identification" linking a local lawyer to a fingerprint found on a bag connected to terrorist bombings in Madrid.
Within weeks, the same prosecutors were forced to return to the courtroom and admit an international humiliation: The fingerprint analysis that led to the arrest of Brandon Mayfield was wrong.
But the FBI didn't realize it until Spanish authorities linked the fingerprint to an Algerian man, Ouhnane Daoud.
Not just one but three FBI analysts, all seasoned veterans, had made the same mistake. A fourth expert independently appointed by the judge erred as well when he determined Mayfield's prints were a match.
The Madrid fingerprint fiasco was one of the highest-profile embarrassments in the century since fingerprinting became one of the most trusted forensic tools, employed by police to catch everyone from burglars and car thieves to rapists and murderers.
In most cases, prints recovered at a crime scene are run through the FBI's massive databank of prints taken from arrests around the country. After the databank spits out a pool of potential matches, fingerprint examiners compare each of those with the crime-scene print.
They look for points of similarity among the circular ridges and lines that make up a fingerprint. Once a match is made, a colleague double-checks the work.
The FBI has long claimed that fingerprint identification is infallible. A top FBI fingerprint official has testified to a "zero error rate."
But even top officials with the leading fingerprint examiners' organization acknowledge that more research is needed to bolster the scientific foundation of fingerprinting.
"The debate is not so much do fingerprints work, but what is the science?" said Joseph Polski, chief operations officer of the International Association for Identification.
Another concern: Standards for determining how many points of comparison are needed to determine a match vary among police departments across the country. The FBI has no minimum; it says it relies on its analysts' experience and judgment to determine if fingerprints match.
Those issues are at the heart of the Mayfield case. The FBI said it found 15 points where the prints matched. Kenneth Moses, the former San Francisco crime scene examiner the judge consulted, testified he found 16 points. The Spanish police found eight and said that wasn't enough to declare a match.
Initially, the FBI found the print--lifted from a plastic bag containing detonator caps near the March 11 train bombings--of sufficient quality to compare and link Mayfield to the attacks.
After its error was made public, though, the government contended the image of the fingerprint it examined was of "no value for identification purposes."
"That's particularly difficult to understand since the Spanish police used it to identify Daoud, and the FBI had used it to identify Mr. Mayfield," said Steven Wax, the federal public defender in Portland who defended Mayfield.
One of the three FBI examiners responsible for the Mayfield match acknowledged the blunder. "We just did our job and made a mistake," John Massey said in an interview at his Virginia home. "That's how I like to think of it--an honest mistake."
Massey said he knew another examiner had already declared a match in the Mayfield case, but he said there was no pressure on him to concur.
While the Department of Justice's inspector general is reviewing the case, Massey said his faith in fingerprint comparisons is unshaken.
"I'll preach fingerprints till I die. They're infallible," Massey said. "I still consider myself one of the best in the world."
Such confidence in the face of error has many historical precedents in technical fields; physicians initially preferred to rely on their instincts, balking at using instruments as simple as a blood-pressure gauge that could be understood by laypeople.
Doctors didn't yield to the adoption of such instruments until insurance companies demanded quantitative measurements of patients' health, said Theodore Porter, a professor of the history of science at UCLA.
The public's "trust in the competence of practitioners and the implicit consensus within the field breaks down when skeptical outsiders challenge it," Porter said.
Fingerprint examiners have exhibited a similar resistance, saying their personal experience is proof enough of their reliability. The lingering question: Will the Mayfield case force them to embrace scientific validation?
Though it captured the most attention, Mayfield's brief arrest was only the latest in a string of cases in which fingerprinting was called into question.
The hunt to find who stabbed Alvin Davis to death seemed simple at first. After all, investigators in the working-class Philadelphia suburb of Upper Darby had found bloody fingerprints on a window fan leaning against Davis' decomposing body in autumn 1997.
After two days of examination, examiner Anthony Paparo said he had found at least 11 points of similarity between the bloody prints on the fan and those of a friend of Davis, Riky Jackson. To be certain, Paparo asked Upper Darby Police Supt. Vincent Ficchi, also a fingerprint examiner, to double-check his work. Ficchi concurred.
Defense attorneys rarely challenge fingerprint evidence. But Jackson's lawyer, Michael Malloy, dug deeper when he realized the case rested on the fingerprints. There was no confession from Jackson, no eyewitness.
A hairstylist who lived in Philadelphia, Jackson said police had shown him the fingerprints and told him they would convict him--maybe even put him on Death Row.
"They said, `See the fingerprints here? They're yours,'" Jackson said in an interview. "I told them, `There's no way they could be my fingerprints.'"
At trial, Paparo and two other experts testified how they had matched the bloody fingerprints on the fan to Jackson. Malloy got his own experts, two retired FBI agents, who testified the prints did not match.
A jury convicted Jackson, and he was sentenced to life. After his conviction, though, Malloy's experts filed a complaint with the International Association for Identification about Paparo and the two other experts who testified for prosecutors.
The complaint triggered a review of the evidence by the FBI, which concluded that Paparo had erred.
Two days before Christmas 1999, Jackson walked out of a Pennsylvania jail. Authorities have yet to link the prints to anyone else.
To this day, Paparo denies misreading the prints. "I'm not going to lock someone up just to clear a case," he said, standing in front of the illuminated screen at the police department where he made the comparison.
The most significant challenge to fingerprinting came in 2002 in another Pennsylvania case, a drug conspiracy with charges of multiple murders. Presiding over it was Judge Louis H. Pollak, a former dean of Yale Law School respected by lawyers on both sides of the aisle in Philadelphia.
In January 2002, Pollak issued a stunning decision: that there was insufficient scientific basis for examiners to declare fingerprint matches.
It was the first time a U.S. trial judge had rejected fingerprint comparison evidence. Despite its long history of acceptance, Pollak ruled, fingerprinting lacked the testing, peer review, uniform standards and known error rates called for under the Supreme Court's new Daubert standard.
Prosecutors asked Pollak to reconsider his ruling, and for three days in February of that year he held hearings that put fingerprinting to the test.
An FBI agent testified that examiners scored well on the bureau's own proficiency tests. But a London fingerprint consultant who had worked for years for Scotland Yard testified for the defense that the tests were too easy. The prints were too clean, he said, unlike what fingerprint examiners have to deal with at crime scenes.
The British expert, Allan Bayle, said his officers, if given the same kind of proficiency tests, would "fall about laughing."
After hearing both sides, Pollak acknowledged the problems with the FBI's proficiency testing. But the judge said he was convinced that examiners in Britain and the U.S. generally agreed on the methods for analyzing prints and that the testimony of an FBI fingerprint expert gave him "a substantially more rounded picture of the procedure."
In the end, the judge who had called into question one of the bedrock forensic sciences gave it a reprieve, agreeing that the FBI had never made a mistake.
"I have found, on the record before me, that there is no evidence that certified FBI fingerprint examiners present erroneous identification testimony," Pollak wrote, before concluding, "In short, I have changed my mind."
His ruling seemed to put the issue to rest. Then, two years later, the FBI wrongly accused Mayfield in the Madrid case.
Fighting unproven science
In the criminal justice system, juries often decide a person's guilt. But judges have broad discretion over what those jurors hear, including which forensic experts and what kind of forensic evidence.
For decades, most judges screened scientific testimony according to a 1923 federal decision. Frye vs. United States said such testimony must be based on principles "sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs."
In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court created the stricter Daubert standard, which held that trial judges also "must ensure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable."
But the Daubert standard applies only to federal courts and the state court systems that choose to adopt it. Some state courts, including Illinois, continue to use the Frye guidelines.
Even though judges rarely bar forensic experts from testifying, the director of the Justice Department's research arm argues that the bench is aggressive in its gatekeeper role.
"I have a lot more faith in judges," said Sarah Hart, director of the National Institute of Justice. "They can even hire their own experts to inform them. In this advocacy system ... you can get a lot of information on this stuff."
But some jurists themselves say judges are ill-prepared for this part of their job.
Haskell Pitluck, a retired McHenry County judge and former president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, described the problem facing many in the justice system.
"If lawyers could do science, they'd be doctors," he said, noting that he is better versed in forensics than many jurists, "and I don't feel qualified to make many of these calls."
A national survey of 400 state trial judges published in 2001 found that while nearly all jurists believed their gatekeeping role was appropriate, only 4 percent had a clear understanding of the key scientific concepts of probability and error rates.
Some forensic disciplines certify experts in their fields, but that's no guarantee of quality.
"Too often, the lawyers don't do their homework enough so they can properly cross-examine these people," Pitluck said. "They come in and say, `I'm an expert.' And some lawyers simply roll over."
Every new forensic discipline has been met with skepticism. Even DNA was not readily embraced when first used in the 1980s to identify suspects, because it was largely untested in the courtroom.
This underscores a central dilemma of the justice system: how to distinguish promising forensic methods and their practitioners from junk science and their charlatans.
One of the more bizarre crime-lab tools has been championed for more than 15 years by a Dutch police officer, Cor van der Lugt. He contended that when pressed upon a flat surface, a person's ear leaves distinct marks that can later be matched through its unique shape, size and contours.
Van der Lugt testified in the 1997 murder trial of David Wayne Kunze in Vancouver, Wash., that he had examined ear prints in over 600 cases abroad.
The Dutch officer, according to court documents, said he thought it was "probable" that Kunze had left his ear print when he pressed against a bedroom door to listen before entering to kill the man sleeping inside. When asked on the stand how certain he was, he said: "I'm 100 percent confident of that opinion."
Michael Grubb, then the manager of the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory in Seattle, stopped short of declaring an exact match but testified at the trial that Kunze was "a likely source."
Grubb, now director of the San Diego crime lab, said the Kunze case is the only ear print case he had worked on.
"I examined ear prints from 130 other individuals as part of the Kunze case," Grubb told the Tribune, and "none of the other 130 ear prints were similar."
Kunze was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
In this instance, though, the courts' checks-and-balances system worked. Kunze's conviction was overturned after an appellate court ruled that the ear print evidence was not reliable enough for such declarations of certainty. Prosecutors later dropped the charges.
Distinguishing the forensic fringe from the cutting edge can be difficult enough; keeping a debunked science from re-entering the courts can be even tougher.
North Carolina anthropologist Louise Robbins helped send more than a dozen defendants across the country to prison or to Death Row with her self-proclaimed power to identify criminals through shoe prints. On occasion she even said she could use the method to determine a person's height, sex and race.
By the time Robbins died in 1987, appeals courts had overturned many of the cases in which she had testified. And the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, in a rare rebuke of one of its members, concluded her courtroom work was not grounded in science.
But in a laboratory at the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Ottawa, the effort to determine identity from feet and shoes is getting new life.
Sgt. Robert Kennedy, a veteran fingerprint analyst, says he can tell who wore a shoe by comparing impressions left on an insole with a person's foot.
Kennedy calls it "barefoot morphology." Like Robbins, his work has helped prosecutors obtain convictions.
"I know there've been questions about this. Louise Robbins was a real problem," Kennedy said in an interview in his office. But "you don't want to just let an area of forensic science go by the wayside. It's good evidence."
Unlike Robbins, Kennedy has tried to base his work in science. Since the early 1990s, he has been visiting army bases and other sites to build a database of footprints that now exceeds 10,000 sets.
In the 1998 trial of Jeffrey Jones in South Carolina, Kennedy's work proved crucial to sending Jones to Death Row.
Police investigating a double murder believed a boot that had left a bloody impression in the victims' kitchen belonged to the killer. They matched the impression to a boot found in a house that Jones shared with another man, James Brown, who admitted his role in the killings. In exchange for a life sentence, Brown testified against Jones.
No physical evidence linked Jones to the crime, and he denied involvement. Though the boots were size 9 1/2 and Jones wore between an 11 and 11 1/2, prosecutors said he was wearing them when the murders were committed.
At the trial, South Carolina crime lab analyst Steven Derrick, who had never before testified to such a comparison, said he examined the boot insole and an impression from one of Jones' feet.
Derrick concluded that the only way someone else's foot could have made the impression on the boot insole would be if the person had precisely the same foot characteristics--such as the shape and the distance between toes.
Derrick also testified that he had not made a comparison with the feet of Brown, who claimed the size 9 1/2 boots were too big for him.
Kennedy vouched for Derrick's work as well as the field of barefoot morphology, testifying that he talked Derrick through the comparison process.
In 2001, the South Carolina Supreme Court reined in such evidence, ruling there was insufficient science to support it. The court ordered the state to either try Jones again or set him free.
Even with the ruling, prosecutor Dayton Riddle said he would use the insole evidence again when he takes Jones back to trial.
"That's good science, despite the fact it got reversed," Riddle said. "I think what happened there is that I was a little bit ahead of the curve."
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Forensic science: From bullets to brain fingerprinting
The analysis of alcohol, drugs and poisons in the body, as well as testing of seized evidence for the presence of narcotics such as cocaine and heroin.
1836: Scottish chemist James Marsh develops a test to detect arsenic after a jury in a murder trial had rejected his testimony about the presence of the poison in the victim.
Matching fingerprints through the individual characteristics said to make each person's unique.
1892: The modern system of fingerprint identification begins to take shape with Sir Francis Galton, a British anthropologist and cousin of Charles Darwin who asserts the uniqueness of fingerprints.
The process of matching bullets found at crime scenes with bullets fired from a suspect's weapon.
1912: Victor Balthazard, a professor of forensic medicine, asserts that machine tools used to make gun barrels never leave exactly the same markings. After studying images of gun barrels and bullets, Balthazard reasons that every gun barrel leaves a signature set of etched grooves on each bullet fired through it.
Hair and fibers are examined to connect a suspect to a crime scene or a victim.
1920: Edmond Locard, professor of forensic medicine at France's University of Lyon, publishes a criminal science volume that espouses the principle that "every contact leaves a trace."
The examination of fire damage to determine a fire's cause, origin and whether it was intentionally ignited.
1962: John A. Kennedy writes the textbook "Fire and Arson Investigation," which puts forth some theories that have since been debunked.
The examination of dental records to determine a person's identity, such as in mass fatalities. Its more controversial application, bite-mark comparisons, links suspects to bite wounds on crime victims.
1968: Dr. Warren Harvey, an odontologist, is the first to identify a suspect's bite marks, which led to the conviction of a murder suspect in Scotland.
The comparison of an individual's genetic profile with the genetic profile from evidence found at a crime scene.
1993: Kary Mullis wins a Nobel Prize for polymerase chain reaction, a process that greatly reduces the time required and amount of evidence needed to do DNA testing.
Using a headband with sensors, the technique measures brain waves. In theory, sensors detect when the guilty recognize details of a crime. It's unclear if it is the next great forensic tool or another chapter of junk science.
2001: After Dr. Lawrence Farwell, a neuroscientist, develops brain fingerprinting, it is first presented in court to an Iowa judge, who disregards it.
Sources: Forensic DNA Consulting, Bruce Anderson's 1998 University of Arizona doctorate dissertation, National Library of Medicine, McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology, Science Fair Projects Encyclopedia, Crime Library
Gentry Sleets, Chris Soprych and Phil Geib/Chicago Tribune
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The project team
Flynn McRoberts, Steve Mills and Maurice Possley are veteran projects reporters for the Tribune and have contributed to ground-breaking investigations of criminal justice in America over the last six years. Their work has included stories about flaws in the death penalty, false confessions and immigration policies targeting Muslims. Alex Garcia has photographed Illinois' historic clemency hearings; his photos also were featured in the series "The Legacy of Wrongful Convictions."
Hatfill can't query scientists in anthrax case
Fri Oct 22, 6:50 AM ET
By Toni Locy, USA TODAY
A former Army lab researcher identified by the Justice Department as "a person of interest" in the 2001 anthrax attacks cannot question scientists consulted by the FBI because the investigation into the deadly mailings is at "a critical stage," a federal judge said Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton told lawyers for Steven Hatfill, 50, that depositions of scientists and other experts could "tip the hat" if made public and give the anthrax killer clues about the probe.
Walton is presiding over a civil lawsuit filed last year by Hatfill against Attorney General John Ashcroft and the FBI. Hatfill alleges that Ashcroft and the FBI improperly cast suspicion on him to fool the public into believing progress was being made in the investigation.
"I hope Dr. Hatfill didn't do this. I don't know if he did. I don't think anybody knows," the judge said. "There are some very unique things the government is doing at this time. If ... this were to be known to the perpetrator, it could have an adverse impact on the investigation."
Three years ago, five people died, 17 others were sickened and thousands more were forced to take antibiotics when anthrax-tainted letters were mailed to the media and two U.S. senators.
A task force of FBI agents and Postal Service inspectors has drained a pond, swabbed numerous desks in government labs and interviewed scores of scientists across the country to try to catch the culprit.
Investigators also have been working with biologists and others to develop scientific tests that could be used in court to link a suspect to the anthrax mailings.
Since the lawsuit was filed, Justice lawyers have given Walton secret progress reports on the investigation to justify at least three requests for delay to keep Hatfill from taking depositions and gathering other evidence that is typical in civil cases.
On Thursday, Walton gave investigators until April 22. If they don't solve the anthrax mystery by then, the judge said, he likely will allow the lawsuit to move forward.
Hatfill, a former researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., has denied involvement in the attacks. He says that by singling him out, federal investigators cost him a $150,000-a-year job at Louisiana State University.
At the heart of Hatfill's lawsuit is who leaked sensitive details about the probe to reporters and why.
Over the next several weeks, Justice lawyers will take the unusual step of mailing a "waiver" to an unknown number of law enforcement officials who were briefed on or had direct knowledge of the anthrax investigation. The letter and waiver form are being negotiated with Hatfill's lawyers.
The form will give recipients the chance to waive confidentiality agreements they made with reporters in exchange for inside information about the probe.
With such waivers in hand, Hatfill's lawyers hope reporters will not feel compelled to protect their sources and will testify about how and possibly why they received inside information on the probe.
No one "got careless and let some information slip," said Mark Grannis, one of Hatfill's lawyers. "These defendants orchestrated a campaign of leaking Dr. Hatfill's name to the press."
admits attack on wife, stepdaughter
Feds searched his homes in anthrax probe
Saturday, November 06, 2004
BY RUDY LARINI
The doctor whose homes at the Jersey Shore and in upstate New York were searched last summer in connection with the unsolved 2001 anthrax attacks pleaded guilty yesterday to charges that he assaulted his wife and stepdaughter on the day of the searches.
Despite the prosecutor's request that he be incarcerated, Kenneth Berry was sentenced to two years' probation and fined $1,000 by Point Pleasant Beach Municipal Judge James A. Liguori, who said he was following sentencing guidelines for a first offender.
"Personally, I would be inclined to do something different," the judge said. "Personally, if it were up to me, I'd put you in jail in a heartbeat."
On Aug. 5, two of Berry's homes in Wellsville, N.Y., and his parents' summer home in the Chadwick section of Dover Township were searched by federal agents in connection with the anthrax scare that frightened an already unsettled nation after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Five people died and at least 17 fell ill when anthrax-laced letters were sent to two U.S. senators in Washington, D.C., and several media outlets in the fall of 2001.
Yesterday, FBI spokesman Joseph Parris said the anthrax investigation "is still ongoing," but he would not comment on Berry's involvement in the case. Berry founded an organization that trains medical professionals to respond to chemical and biological attacks and, in 1997, advocated anthrax vaccines for cities, warning that a bioweapons attack was imminent.
In pleading guilty yesterday in the domestic violence case, Berry dropped countercharges of assault against his estranged wife, Tana Luecken-Berry, and 18-year-old stepdaughter, Dara Leucken. The pair were assaulted by Berry while checking into the White Sands Motel, where they were to stay while the searches were occurring.
Berry did not address the court, but his lawyer, Clifford Lazzaro of Newark, said the doctor was sorry for what happened, attributing the incident to the excitement and media frenzy associated with the federal searches.
"I think the events of the day caused this unfortunate incident to occur. My client was obviously under a great deal of pressure," he said, though adding, "It doesn't excuse my client's behavior."
Judge Liguori agreed, calling Berry's actions that day "completely inappropriate."
Carmine Villani, an attorney representing Berry's stepdaughter, called the doctor's conduct "extremely reprehensible" and the municipal prosecutor, Timothy Wintrode, asked Liguori to impose a custodial sentence.
As part of Berry's probation, he must undergo whatever counseling, such as anger management therapy, the Ocean County Probation Office finds appropriate.
After the court session, Wintrode was asked if he was satisfied with the sentence. "I asked for jail time, so to the extent he wasn't incarcerated, no," he replied. "Having said that, I'm happy we got guilty pleas. Domestic violence trials are never pretty."
Berry would not comment after court, but Lazzaro said he thought the sentence was "fair."
"He (Berry) acknowledged that what he did was wrong," the defense lawyer said.
Lazzaro had told the court the Aug. 5 episode caused Berry to lose his job as an emergency room physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
He also said the incident "in all likelihood" will cost Berry his marriage, too, but later would not say whether the doctor's wife had filed for divorce. Luecken-Berry has obtained a permanent restraining order against her husband. She and her daughter would not comment after court.
might tighten rules on biosafety
Oakland anthrax incident spurs officials to consider changes, though feds are standing pat
By Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER
After making emergency calls to state and federal health authorities, Alexander Lucas downed Cipro antibiotic tablets, donned a mask and protective biosuit and ventured alone to cleanse his laboratory of anthrax that never should have been there.
Since mistakenly receiving a live anthrax shipment last June, Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute has suspended its handling of neutralized anthrax.
"It diminished our enthusiasm for doing that research," said Lucas, a respected immunologist and the institute's deputy director for research. "We never intended to work with virulent anthracis."
If the institute resumes work with killed anthrax, however, its scientists are committed to new safety measures, such as never taking delivery of neutralized biowarfare agents again without testing to make sure they are harmless.
"It's a trust-but-verify kind of thing," said Lucas.
While federal authorities see no need for extra biosafety protections, researchers at Children's Hospital Oakland could be on the leading edge of tighter rules in California and perhaps other states wary of leaving the regulation of biodefense research solely to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its guidelines.
California health officials, alarmed at the Oakland incident, are looking at new rules to protect lab workers, said Ken August, spokesman for the state's Department of Health Services.
"This was a very big thing for us," he said. "We were very glad to see there were no injuries and no negative outcomes."
The anthrax incident at the institute's yellow-brick lab on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard laid bare gaps in the regulation of an exploding biodefense industry, fueled by billions in new federal dollars. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the handful of biodefense labs in the nation has become legion, with more than 315 labs and 12,000 scientists now certified to handle live biowarfare agents.
Beyond them are an unknown number of labs and scientists who, like Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute and Lucas until last summer, are exempt from requirements to register with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and be inspected.
That is because they work with non-disease-causing strains of anthrax or disease-causing anthrax bacteria that have been killed by heat, radiation or chemicals.
"There is no information -- none, zero, not even an order of magnitude of order estimate -- on the number of laboratories working with putative inactive agents or the number of shipments of those agents," said Richard Ebright, a Rutgers University molecular biologist.
Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute did not realize it had live anthrax on hand until 10 mice had been injected and died, then 40 more were injected. Only one mouse lived, a mortality rate of more than 98 percent.
CDC investigators have focused on Southern Research Institute, a University of Alabama at Birmingham spinoff with a high-security lab for handling infectious agents in Frederick, Md., close to the Army's lead biodefense lab.
Southern Research Institute sent its vial of liquid anthrax bacteria to Oakland with a certificate avowing the germs had been intensely treated with hot water and verified by testing to contain no living organisms. Anthrax experts say the hot-water technique and the testing obviously were faulty.
"They claimed sterility," said Lucas. "My suspicion is the sample had a few spores that were still viable."
The institute's scientists now are looking to better-equipped labs elsewhere to host their pursuit of a novel anthrax vaccine.
The risk of the June incident to public health in the institute's neighborhood was probably minimal. But lab workers could have been in danger, as could workers who handled the packaged vial if it had broken in transit across the country.
So far, authorities at the CDC see no need for stronger biosafety and biosecurity rules, said spokesman Von Roebuck.
"Obviously, if there was an instance where there was a threat to public health and it were proven, there would be a process to change or amend the rule," he said.
Ebright figures the two institutes dodged a bullet.
"There were not adverse consequences, but there easily could have been both in safety and security," said Ebright, a critic of federal biodefense policy.
"It is disappointing that CDC has issued no guidance requiring reporting of the transferring of putatively inactive agent. The events in June in Oakland established that there is an issue, and the same security requirements for a live agent need to be in place nationwide for a putatively inactive sample."
Life back to normal in Oxford despite continuing probe into woman's death
Sunday, November 21, 2004
By Brynn Mandel
Copyright © 2004 Republican-American
Three years after 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren died in the country's first bioterrorism attack, her death remains this former farming community's only unsolved homicide.
In her absence -- and that of a publicly identified culprit in the events that killed five and sickened 17 others -- life has pushed on.
The supermarket tabloid company's office where the first anthrax-tainted letter surfaced in 2001 still publishes, only now out of new headquarters.
Mail flows freely to government agencies on Capitol Hill, but gets a dose of radiation before being delivered.
Around the bedroom community where Lundgren lived, her death -- and the onslaught of worry and media attention it brought -- seldom creeps into conversation.
The return to normality, and absence of biological attacks since, has allowed the fear that paralyzed mail customers and government alike to slip from the public psyche.
Meanwhile, the government has adopted new measures to thwart, or at least cope with, bioterror attacks. The medical and scientific community has learned more about how anthrax affects people, and state health networks have refined systems to detect suspicious outbreaks.
To bioterrorism experts, it makes sense the hysteria over anthrax faded because there is little the public can do aside from making sure the government is prepared.
"The 2001 anthrax postal attacks were a shock to the American system in that they demonstrated both lack of coordination of federal response agencies and the way in which a biological agent like anthrax could promote fear," Jeanne Guillemin, a senior fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Security Studies Program and Boston College sociology professor, said in a recent e-mail interview. "There is a limit to how long the public can sustain a high pitch of anxiety about it, especially when a feared, community-wide attack fails to occur."
For a Woodbury relative, sadness
Shirley Davis hasn't forgotten the events of three years ago.
Davis, Lundgren's niece, thinks of her late aunt often.
"I'm very sad," said Davis, lamenting that her aunt who lived into her mid-90s probably had a few more good years left. "She was a lovely, vibrant woman."
Davis takes comfort in the memorial infectious diseases education program Griffin Hospital named after Lundgren. The Derby hospital is where Lundgren was taken when she began feeling ill in November 2001. It was there physicians first identified the rod-shaped bacteria indicative of the deadly anthrax.
Health officials theorized that junk mail likely carried the deadly bacteria to Lundgren. Some of her junk mail passed through the same Trenton, N.J., postal center that handled anthrax-tainted letters sent to U.S. senators Tom Daschle, D- S.D., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Lundgren habitually tore her junk mail before discarding it, an action health officials said could have sent enough anthrax spores airborne and into her lungs to infect her.
In the past three years, the FBI has interviewed 6,000 people. While a handful of scientists have complained of sullied reputations as a result of investigation leaks, no charges have been filed.
Thirty-one FBI special agents work the case full time, said Debra Weierman, an FBI field office spokeswoman in Washington. That's in addition to 13 postal inspectors, one U.S. attorney and a scattering of support staff.
"This is the type of case the likes of which we've never had," Weierman said when asked why, three years later, the case remains unsolved. "Make no mistake, it is being intensely investigated."
Through October, the FBI conducted 48 searches, some of higher profile than others.
Bioterror expert Steven Hatfill, called a "person of interest" by Attorney General John Ashcroft, won a small victory last month in a lawsuit that claims officials named him to deflect attention from their inability to find the perpetrator, according to the Associated Press. Other reported activities included a search of property belonging to Kenneth Berry, a Fairfield University graduate and bioterrorism response expert, and interviews with Ayaad Assaad, a former Fort Detrick biological defense researcher.
Leonard Cole, a Rutgers University political science professor, authored a book illuminating a series of unconnected dots, as he calls them, that he believes merit more attention than the FBI has devoted to possible Al Queda involvement.
An FBI profile of the anthrax sender concluded "it is highly probable, bordering on certainty" that the letters were penned by the same person and suggests a loner with scientific knowledge and a grudge.
"Given all that I know of the investigation of U.S. labs and U.S. scientists ... I have to beleive that a disproportionate amount (of FBI resources) went to look at domestic possibilities," said Cole, who thinks it will take luck, as in the Unabomber case, for authorities to nab the perpetrator.
The FBI would not comment on whether a lone domestic suspect was the agency's primary theory.
Securing the mail
By the end of next year, every piece of first class mail will pass through a biohazard detection system the United States Postal Service is installing at all 283 mail processing facilities, places that act as clearinghouses for letters.
The technology uses DNA matching to detect anthrax, said postal spokesman Paul Harrington. It currently seeks only anthrax, but can -- and will likely -- be expanded to identify other biohazards, said Harrington.
Since 2001, the postal service has spent nearly $1 billion on emergency preparedness and the fallout from the anthrax and Sept. 11 attacks.
Since April, the new anthrax-detecting technology has run in excess of 80,000 tests and screened more than 2.7 billion pieces of mail.
"All with no false positive results. This technology and machinery is remarkably reliable," said Harrington, adding: "This is a matter of life and death and we feel an obligation to develop the technology and bring this type of protection (to the mail)."
Protecting the public
In July, President Bush signed Project BioShield legislation, which authorized $5.6 billion over the next decade to stockpile bioterrorism prophylaxes.
Announcing the first major purchase of 75 million doses of anthrax vaccine for stockpiling, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson this month said: "The intentional release of anthrax spores is one of the most significant biological threats we face."
A spokeswoman for Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who introduced the first version of BioShield, categorized acquiring the preventive treatments as the biggest obstacle to overcome. With Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Lieberman plans to introduce BioShield II this congressional session. The goal, said Lieberman's spokeswoman, is to energize the biodefense industry with incentives to research and develop drugs.
Experts concurred the country is better prepared, in large part as a result of heightened awareness the anthrax case precipitated.
"On the level of detecting a suspicious outbreak, the nation would be better warned. But in terms of infrastructure and how antibiotics or vaccines would be distributed, we still have a long way to go," said Jeanne Guillemin, the MIT Security Studies fellow and author of a book about the 1979 inhalation anthrax outbreak that killed 66 Soviets.
Since many people do not receive regular health care, it's tough to cover all loopholes, she said."There have been a lot of changes in the local infrastructures and the response," said Jacqueline Cattani, director of the University of South Florida's Center for Biological Defense. "I think we're in much better shape. We're not equally across the country in better shape."
But Cattani said likely targets, mainly major cities, "have made great strides."
Still seems surreal
News crews prowled David McKane's house on Thanksgiving three years ago. The events left an unforgettable impression on the Oxford selectman. But he hardly ever hears talk around town about the time when people in bubble suits searched places the nonagenarian frequented.
Douglas Mosher lived next door to Lundgren for three decades.
"I work in my yard a lot. When I look at her house, I can't help but think of her," said Mosher, who took the antibiotic Cipro in 2001 as a precaution because he had visited Lundgren around the time she fell ill. "It happened here. But I think for a lot of people, it's just out of sight, out of mind."
Still, it seems surreal when, a few times yearly, Mosher sees his former neighbor's petite snowy-haired likeness on the evening news when developments in the case are reported.
Mosher said neither he nor neighbors feel at all uneasy given what happened on their quiet street. "I saw how many times the FBI and the CDC came here and vacuumed the surroundings and the house."
and 'N.Y. Times' Attorney See Libel Dismissal As Double Victory
By Joe Strupp
Published: November 30, 2004 12:15 PM ET
The dismissal Monday of a libel suit against The New York Times by a man who claimed the paper wrongly linked him to the anthrax attacks of 2001 is seen as a victory on two fronts for newspapers, the Times attorney who defended the paper contends.
David McCraw, a Times in-house counsel, told E&P that Federal District Court Judge Claude H. Hilton's decision to toss the suit gives journalists renewed rights in covering ongoing investigations. He adds that Hilton's quick dismissal of the suit, three months after its filing, sets a good precedent for such cases to be dropped sooner, thus avoiding costly legal fees that can put a tight financial hold on small and mid-sized papers.
"Those costs can have a chilling effect," McCraw said Tuesday. "It is so important that courts be willing to dismiss these cases early, as the judge did here."
In his blog on the Times Web site, columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, who was also sued, praised the decision, noting that having such legal actions hanging over his head made doing his job tougher.
"This is the first time I've ever been sued (and, I hope, the last), and what struck me most was how difficult it is to go ahead committing journalism when at the same time you're stuck with the burdens of time and cost entailed in this kind of a defense in a libel suit," he wrote in a blog entry.
The libel suit had been brought by a former Army bioterrorism expert who accused the Times and Kristof of implicating him in the anthrax attacks that occurred in October 2001. Dr. Steven J. Hatfill claimed that some of Kristof's columns in 2002 implied that Hatfill was responsible for the anthrax attacks that resulted in five deaths and sparked new concerns about terrorists using the U.S. mail to create havoc. Federal investigators have identified Hatfill as a "person of interest" in the case, but have never brought any charges against him, the Times said.
In his opinion, Judge Hilton ruled that Kristof had directed his columns primarily at the handling of the investigation by the F.B.I. and had not accused Hatfill of responsibility for the attacks, the Times reported. Hilton wrote that "it is evident that the Op-Ed pieces highlighting the perceived shortcomings of the F.B.I. are not reasonably read as accusing Hatfill of actually being the anthrax mailer."
McCraw stressed the importance of the dismissal for future coverage of ongoing investigations. "It comes up over and over again when we are faced with what we can write legally about investigations before an arrest or indictment," he told E&P. "All newspapers cover investigations as they are ongoing and you cannot rely on the privilege of a police blotter or indictment. This comes out in favor of our right to report accurately on an investigation that is still active, pre-arrest."
On his blog, Kristof observed: "Frankly, it's a lot of work, and in my case, the suit had only just begun and didn't get near trial. I had to prepare for discovery, which meant sorting through four file cabinets and tens of thousands of emails for anything related to the anthrax case. I was lucky that I had a major news organization to stand behind me and pay the legal bills, but it's easy to see how litigation or the threat of litigation has a chilling effect on any journalist's willingness to report aggressively."
labs raise risk to U.S., critics say
Accidents, costs cited as 14 are planned for nation
By Frank James
WASHINGTON -- A Bush administration project meant to help keep the nation safe from bioterrorism has raised the question of whether it might actually increase that risk.
The government is expanding the number of state-of-the art laboratories assigned to find bioterrorism countermeasures. But critics worry that opening more than a dozen new labs, including one in the Chicago area, and hiring perhaps thousands of additional researchers will dramatically increase the chance of an intentional or accidental unleashing of a lethal infection on Americans.
"This is money that is actively degrading our safety and security," said Richard Ebright, a Rutgers University microbiologist and critic of the expansion. "Every dollar spent on these facilities puts the U.S. at higher, not lower, risk of being subject to bioweapons attack. It's really extraordinary."
The federal government is spending at least $372.6 million toward construction of 11 labs, mainly at universities, with the educational institutes also providing money.
Supporters say the expansion is essential. They say the Sept. 11 and subsequent anthrax attacks exposed a shortage of the highly specialized lab space needed to do research on bacteria and viruses that could be used as bioweapons, as well as on potential vaccines and therapies.
They also reject the idea that the expansion will make a biological attack on the U.S. more likely.
"The idea that you're going to train some rogue person to do bad things, that's not really the case for the simple reason that we're developing countermeasures," such as a vaccine for Ebolahemorrhagic fever, a disease that causes massive bleeding, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.
"If you were telling me we're going to train a whole bunch of new people to make bioweapons, I'd say `Whoa, wait a minute,'" said Fauci, whose agency provides much of the funding for the labs. "But we're training people who are going to be making vaccines, who are going to be looking at pathogenesis of microbes. We're not funding people who are going to be making bioweapons."
Labs harbor lethal germs
The debate centers on the specialized labs either under way or on the drawing board that could house some of the nastiest microbes known to humans.
In addition to the 11 new "hot labs" at academic centers, NIH is building similar labs at three existing facilities. Scientists use the term "hot" because of the dangerous microbes the labs will contain.
Two of hot labs--one at Boston University, the other at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston--will feature the highest level of biological containment. The new buildings and equipment will cost an estimated $150 million to $200 million apiece, partially funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases with the universities matching taxpayers' money. Other new hot labs will get smaller federal grants.
Researchers at labs such as in Boston or Galveston, known as Biosafety Level 4 facilities, wear pressurized, self-contained outfits resembling spacesuits and handle the most dangerous infectious agents that can spread through the air, or in unknown ways. No vaccines or therapies are available against them.
Hemorrhagic fever viruses, such as Ebola, are among the potential bioweapons that must be handled in such laboratories. Other microbes worked with in these labs usually are not considered possible bioweapons--tick-borne encephalitis, for instance.
Besides the two Level 4 labs, nine labs designated as Level 3 facilities also are planned. One, expected to cost $30 million, would be at Argonne National Laboratory, which is in DuPage County and operated by the University of Chicago. Level 3 labs also require significant precautions, such as decontamination of materials leaving the facility, but no pressurized protective suits.
Level 3 facilities are permitted to work with the tularemiabacteria, which can cause respiratory distress and, left untreated, death. They can also handle Yersiniapestis, the plague bacteria that caused the Black Death in Europe in the 1300s, killing 20 million to 30 million people. The same bacteria killed 12 million Chinese during a plague in the 1800s.
Besides the university-operated facilities it intends to open, the federal government is planning new biocontainment labs at existing federal science operations, including Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Mont., and Ft. Detrick in Frederick, Md.
Beyond those labs, private institutions plan others. George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., for example, announced recently that it intends to construct a Level 3 biodefense lab in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and will seek federal funding for it.
Critics: Too much money
All this new lab space has critics fearing that billions of dollars could be wasted through overbuilding.
Fauci disagrees, saying a blue-ribbon panel of researchers recommended the additional space.
But critics are more concerned about the increased likelihood of accidents or terrorism created by all the new space. The potential rises, they say, because some institutions adding containment labs do not have enough experience operating such facilities.
Also, the number of researchers certified to handle the dangerous microbes will grow significantly from the current 11,000, raising the probability of more accidents, critics say.
Among reported accidents in the past year, a researcher was infected with the SARS virus at a Level 4 lab in Taiwan. Earlier this year, a worker at Ft. Detrick was exposed to Ebola after an accidental needle-stick. She did not contract the disease. A researcher in Russia in May was not so lucky, dying after a similar incident.
The fear is that such infections could spread beyond the lab as researchers, unaware they are harboring the microbes, have contact with families, friends and strangers.
Such anxieties have led to numerous not-in-my-back-yard protests in communities near planned facilities, including the one at Boston University's Medical Campus in the Roxbury area.
"A lot of the residents here are all for research for diseases. That's not the issue," said Tomas Aguilar, a spokesman for Alternatives for Community and Environment. "The issue is for the safety of the community."
The situation everyone fears is a deadly accident similar to what happened in the Soviet Union in 1979 when anthrax spores from a lab killed scores of people, most of whom were in the nearby city of Sverdlovsk, now called Yekaterinburg.
But it's not just accidents that could pose a danger. Some observers fear the kind of calamity that could be wrought by an unhinged researcher or one with sympathies for Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.
Martin Hugh-Jones, one of the world's leading anthrax experts and a professor at Louisiana State University, recalls the days before Sept. 11 when an anthrax conference might draw 150 researchers, about 80 percent of those in that field worldwide.
"We all knew each other," he said.
Now, post Sept. 11, there are 317 public and private labs with full or provisional certification in the U.S. alone with thousands of researchers and Level 2 labs working with anthrax, he said.
And with researchers such as Hugh-Jones suspecting that the 2001 anthrax attacks were the work of someone who got the bacteria from a U.S. weapons lab, they fear what might occur with many more researchers having access.
Hugh-Jones said he was concerned that if funding drops and researchers lose their jobs, will they leave or "are they going to say, `I'm going to do what somebody did in 2001 to get the funds going again.'"
Beyond that, critics also worry that the rapid growth of U.S. biodefense efforts could lead to the equivalent of a global biodefense race, with other nations stepping up research efforts without the safeguards typical in the U.S.
"We're spraying monkeys with smallpox," said Edward Hammond, director of the U.S. office of the Sunshine Project, which monitors biodefense activities domestically and abroad.
"What happens when the Iranians start spraying monkeys with smallpox and saying it's their biodefense program?" he asked. "Do we want to encourage the rest of the world to explore the black side of biology like we are? And what kind of world results if we create this?"
of sensational tabloid photos delay final cleanup of AMI building
By Luis F. Perez
December 9, 2004
A treasure trove of tabloid history, including pictures of Elvis in his coffin, and images of Big Foot's wedding and Bat Boy, is holding up the final stages of the anthrax cleanup at the old American Media Inc. building.
Bio-One, the firm hired to decontaminate the site of the country's first anthrax attack, said lawyers from more than one photographer called to warn them that David Rustine, who bought the building and its contents for $40,000, does not own the pictures tucked away in boxes in the building.
So he can't order the destruction of photographs and images documenting the furry monster's nuptials, alien kidnappings and several generations of celebrities that graced the pages of supermarket tabloids such as the Weekly World News, Star and National Enquirer.
And since Elvis' pictures have not left the Boca Raton building, government officials can't lift a quarantine placed on it three years ago when an unknown assailant sent an anthrax-laced letter to the tabloid publisher. Decontamination plans call for incinerating the boxes and pictures inside.
"We can only do that for someone that has true ownership," said Karen Cavanagh, Bio-One's chief operating officer and general counsel.
Rustine has not answered Bio-One's questions about who owns the photographs, said, John Mason, Bio-One chairman.
"One moment he owns the pictures, the next he doesn't," he said. "Until somebody tell us who really owns [the photographs] and has the authority to say so, we can't destroy the boxes."
Rustine said he has not received a phone call from any photographers or lawyers.
"There have been discussions," he said, adding that he wasn't directly involved in those talks.
Nonetheless, he said the ownership issue should be resolved soon, maybe even before the Christmas holidays.
AMI owned most of the photo archives, but there are some pictures the publisher didn't own, spokesman Gerald McKelvey said. The company had a number of inquiries from photographers about their pictures when it sold the building. The photographers were advised to contact the new owner and told they had to pay for those pictures to be decontaminated.
"Since then, we have not heard anything about this," McKelvey said.
Bio-One officials insist they will meet their target to move into the building, at 5401 Broken Sound Blvd in the Arvida Park of Commerce, before the end of the year. They said the July building decontamination was a success.
"We got a 100 percent kill," Mason said.
Bio-One can decontaminate the files in the boxes just as it did the building. But nobody is willing to pay for that work since it's cheaper to destroy the boxes, he said.
"We have the ability to take this junk and turn it into workable, reasonable stuff," Mason said.
Rustine said it's Bio-One's responsibility to destroy the boxes. When pressed for details on the plan to move the boxes, Rustine said, "I really don't want to get into that," citing confidentiality. Likewise, Bio-One officials declined to provide specifics on how many boxes are in the building and how they would be moved.
The building, encircled by a chain-link fence, remains sealed, its windows and doors shut tight.
The Palm Beach County Health Department quarantined the building after anthrax infected photo editor Bob Stevens, who died Oct. 5, 2001, and mailroom worker Ernesto Blanco. Blanco survived, recovered and returned to work.
Federal, state and local government officials struggled for two years over how to rid the privately owned building of the deadly toxin.
Last year, Rustine bought the building and its contents from AMI. Earlier this year, he hired Bio-One, the firm that led the anthrax clean up at Capitol Hill offices and U.S. Postal Service plants in Washington, D.C., and Hamilton, N.J., after the 2001 anthrax attacks. Four people died in those attacks. No one has been charged.
In July, Bio-One pumped chlorine dioxide gas into the building for 24 hours. Bio-One officials tested thousands of air and surface samples for weeks afterward.
"All those [tests] came back negative," Mason said.
Bio-One has submitted those test reports to the county Health Department. Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has been working with the county on the cleanup, also reviewed Bio-One's work. EPA officials made preliminary comments and passed them back to the health department, said Dawn Harris-Young, an EPA spokeswoman.
The county will not lift the quarantine until all the decontamination work is done, which includes destroying the building's contents, said Tim O'Connor, a spokesman for the Health Department.
Bio-One and government officials have scheduled a conference call next week to discuss the lingering issues, company and government officials said.
Cavanagh said she thinks it's still possible that Bio-One can move into the building before New Year's Day. Rustine echoed her sentiments.
"I think it's realistic," he said. "I believe that it is, from what I'm hearing from other people."
Luis F. Perez can be reached at email@example.com or 561-243-6641.
and NPR Subpoened by Anthrax 'Person of Interest'
By Joe Strupp
Published: December 17, 2004 4:30 PM ET
NEW YORK The Associated Press and National Public Radio each received subpoenas Thursday from the lawyer representing former U.S. Army researcher Steven Hatfill, who is suing the federal government under the Privacy Act for trying to link him to the 2001 anthrax attacks and leaking information about him. There are rumors of as many as a dozen other subpoenas circulating in several Washington bureaus.
Tom Connally, Hatfill's attorney in his lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and other government officials, had the subpoena served on A.P. officials in New York Thursday, according to David Tomlin, the A.P's assistant general counsel. He said the lone subpoena sought to depose a reporter about coverage of the investigation.
"It did not ask us to send a specific reporter, but it listed four articles and wanted to ask about those and other things," said Tomlin, adding that three of the articles mentioned were by AP reporter Curt Anderson. He also confirmed that NPR had received a subpoena, although NPR officials could not be reached for comment.
"We understand that others received them as well," Tomlin added, but could not confirm. "Maybe a dozen others."
Officials at The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post declined knowledge of any such subpoenas, despite the rumors. "I've heard that scuttlebutt," said Doyle McManus, Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. "But I have not seen a subpoena and as far as I know we haven't gotten one."
Los Angeles Times newsroom counsel Karlene Goller said no subpoena had been received as of Friday afternoon. Philip Taubman, Washington bureau chief for the New York Times, and Eric Grant, a Washington post spokesman, also said they knew of no such subpoenas.
Hatfill, who gained attention after being identified by federal investigators as a "person of interest" in the anthrax case, eventually lost his job as a government contractor despite never being charged. Several weeks ago, a libel lawsuit Hatfill had filed against The New York Times and columnist Nicholas Kristof was dismissed by a federal judge.
"It is too early to say what we will do, but it is likely we will challenge he subpoena," AP's Tomlin said. "We are continuing to examine it."
Calls to Connally's Washington, D.C., office were not immediately returned Friday.
The Hatfill subpoenas come at a time when numerous reporters have been targeted for sourcing information in a number of cases, including the investigation into who leaked the identity of CIA Agent Valerie Plame, the Wen Ho Lee civil lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department, and the BALCO steroid case, in which five reporters for two California newspapers are being asked to reveal sources who provided testimony from a secret grand jury.
Tomlin said the ongoing number of such cases makes each subpoena easier. "A plaintiff's attorney who is seeking information about confidential sources cited in news stories has to feel more optimistic today than he or she did six months ago," he said.
Scientist Subpoenas News Outlets in Anthrax Leaks
An ex-Army researcher who was never charged wants to know who linked him to the investigation.
By Richard B. Schmitt
Times Staff Writer
December 18, 2004
WASHINGTON — A former Army scientist investigated in the 3-year-old anthrax attacks subpoenaed several news organizations Friday seeking information about the government sources they used to write stories linking him to the probe.
The subpoenas, directed at the Washington Post, Associated Press and National Public Radio, among others, are part of a lawsuit that former scientist Steven J. Hatfill has filed against the Justice Department and the FBI.
The suit alleges that U.S. officials, including Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, smeared Hatfill's reputation through a series of public statements and private leaks that linked him to the investigation of the anthrax-laced letters that killed five people in late 2001.
The mystery of who sent the deadly letters remains unsolved. No charges have been filed. Hatfill, once described by Ashcroft as a "person of interest" in the case, has strongly denied any involvement.
Lawyers for Hatfill, a physician and bioterrorism expert, have tried for more than a year to interview FBI and Justice Department employees whom the attorneys suspect of leaking information to reporters.
The judge overseeing Hatfill's civil suit, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, has refused to authorize such questioning while the criminal investigation into the attacks is still in progress.
But in October, Walton approved a plan permitting Hatfill to question journalists who wrote about the anthrax investigation.
As part of that arrangement, the government secured pledges from a number of officials releasing journalists from any agreements they had to protect anonymous sources. On Friday, those receiving the subpoenas said they would nonetheless decline to cooperate.
"News organizations are supposed to gather news, as opposed to spending their time performing research and testifying in court on behalf of various parties with axes to grind," Dave Tomlin, the assistant general counsel for AP, said in a report published by the wire service.
Sources said as many as a dozen news organizations, none of which has been named as a defendant in the case, could be targeted for questioning.
According to a copy of one of the subpoenas reviewed by The Times, the request seeks any information about Hatfill that was obtained "directly or indirectly from any person employed by the federal government."
The subpoenas are the latest in a spate of legal actions against news media aimed at learning the sources who gave information to reporters under promises of confidentiality.
Reporters for the New York Times and Time magazine are appealing contempt rulings ordering them to jail for refusing to identify their sources in connection with a probe into the suspected leaking of a CIA operative's name by the Bush administration.
Last week, a Providence, R.I., television reporter was sentenced to six months' home confinement for refusing to tell how he obtained a copy of a secret surveillance tape in a municipal corruption probe.
Five journalists, including Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Drogin, are appealing contempt orders for refusing to disclose their sources for reports about a nuclear weapons scientist under investigation in 1999.
Dec. 21, 2004
Nets to resist subpoenas in anthrax case
By Paul J. Gough
NEW YORK -- News organizations plan to fight the subpoenas they received from the lawyer representing a former Army researcher who is suing the government over naming him a "person of interest" in the deadly anthrax mailings of late 2001.
Former bioweapons researcher Steven Hatfill is suing the Justice Department and the FBI, claiming that they unfairly targeted and named him publicly. A number of news organizations -- including CBS News, ABC News and National Public Radio -- received subpoenas last week. CBS News said Monday afternoon that it will resist the subpoena vigorously.
"That is our policy regarding inquiries into the news-gathering process, especially where nonbroadcast material is involved," a CBS News spokesman said.
NPR was asked to produce documents and records it may have received from federal employees about Hatfill's possible involvement in the anthrax investigation. Also targeted are NPR's stories from the past three years on the anthrax investigation, including a specific report by correspondent David Kestenbaum.
NPR legal counsel Denise Leary said Monday that it will resist the subpoena.
"We don't know what they're searching for," Leary said. "(Hatfill lawyer Thomas Connolly) is attempting to use the press to conduct his investigation. And that's not a permissible use of reporters' time."
The Associated Press also received a subpoena, primarily targeting but not limited to four articles on the anthrax investigation that used unnamed sources. AP general counsel Dave Tomlin said it will fight the subpoena on "the good public-policy grounds for protecting confidential sources."
The CBS subpoena mentions only the network; the ABC News subpoena names correspondent Brian Ross.
Calls to Connolly weren't returned Monday.
The civil lawsuit is being heard before U.S. District Court Judge Reginald Walton in Washington. NPR's response is due Dec. 30.
Hatfill has never faced any charges in the investigation, and no one has been arrested in connection with the deadly anthrax-laced letters that killed five people in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
..HAVE WE ALL LOST THE PLOT?
By Damien Fletcher
HOLLYWOOD hunk Russell Crowe yesterday revealed that the FBI believed he was an al-Qaeda kidnap target.
At a string of film premieres in 2001 Crowe was always flanked by undercover agents. Scotland Yard detectives wearing dinner jackets guarded him when he turned up at Leicester Square in London.
It's only the latest scare blamed on Osama bin Laden's terror group. And the government has even been accused of hyping up the threat to help push through its draconian anti-terror laws - and justify the war in Iraq.
But just how worried should we be? And what happened to the widely-publicised scares? Here are some of the oddest.
FOOTIE STARS' FLIGHT CANCELLED
ENGLAND'S stars of the future were caught up in a suspected plot to fly their plane into Big Ben in May last year.
The under-19s squad were due to fly home after the European champion-ships in Slovenia when intelligence services cancelled their flight.
Fears that the terrorists were planning to hijack the plane as it flew from Zagreb in Croatia proved unfounded.
But the British government and the FA were not taking any chances and ordered the squad to take a 10-hour coach trip to Milan in northern Italy and catch a flight home the next day.
WHEN anthrax was unleashed on a terrified America, bin Laden seemed the obvious culprit. But it seems the truth could be closer to home.
Al-Qaeda was blamed for the anthrax letters posted throughout the US in 2001, which resulted in the death of 63-year-old Briton Robert Stevens.
But there were signs that this was not their work. The letters were well sealed with tape to prevent spores from leaking, and even included thoughtful letters warning the victim to take antibiotics.
The investigation revealed that al-Qaeda had nothing to do with it and the anthrax came from a US lab.
IN June 2002 the FBI warned Americans to keep an eye out for a new al-Qaeda threat - scuba divers. Officers claimed that under interrogation, some suspects had told them it was possible members of the terrorist network had taken scuba training.
So anyone who might have taken courses and left halfway through was a suspect.
The FBI was handed a list of two million people certified to dive in the previous three years. But despite the panic no scuba-diving terrorists were found.
WHEN the lights went out in New York in August 2003, terrified workers streamed out of their skyscraper offices.
Rumours quickly spread that al-Qaeda was to blame for the massive power cut that affected 50 million people, and panic ensued.
In an echo of September 11, commuters crowded ferry stops to ride across to New Jersey and the city's three major airports halted all flights.
It turned out bin Laden had nothing to do with it.
And two weeks later, thousands of Britons feared a terrorist attack when the South East of England was also plunged into darkness.
OLD TRAFFORD SUICIDE BOMB PLOT
POLICE were forced to admit they had made a big mistake when they arrested 10 asylum-seekers in April last year, accusing them of being Muslim extremists plotting to blow up Old Trafford.
All 10 were freed without charge, but two were held for eight days.
When they found out that one, 23-year-old Rebaz Ali, had been a professional footballer in Iraq and was a lifelong fan of Manchester United, he got free tickets to watch United's last match of the season.
TEDDY BEAR BOMBS
THE day before Valentine's Day 2002, the FBI warned Americans to be on the look-out for a new threat. They said a man of Middle Eastern appearance had bought nine teddy bears and 14 small canisters of propane to fit inside them.
He paid in cash on January 15 at a Wal-Mart store near Los Angeles. The FBI said: "After September 11, that purchase warrants that we take a closer look."
The nation's lovers breathed a sigh of relief when no bears detonated on the big day.
TANKS AT HEATHROW
BEMUSED passengers watched as a squadron of tanks rolled into Heathrow airport in February 2003 on the orders of Tony Blair after a "specific threat" to down a jet with missiles.
Hundreds of troops in Scimitar light tanks were drafted in to support 1,000 police. More were deployed on the M2 , in Windsor Great Park and around London.
The government insisted they were not trying to spread fear as Parliament decided whether to attack Iraq.
SHORTLY after September 11, Turkish police announced they had caught suspected al-Qaeda members in the act of smuggling "dirty bomb" material.
They arrested two men in a taxi who were apparently smuggling 35lbs of weapons-grade uranium to Iraq from near the Syrian border.
But it emerged they were not part of al-Qaeda and the material was harmless, containing only zinc, iron and manganese.
The weight turned out to be only 5lbs. In their excitement the police had weighed the lead container as well.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
IN November 2001 officials at San Francisco's famous bridge closed off half the access points for drivers and pedestrians after Californian Governor Gray Davis warned that West Coast bridges were in danger.
But it turned out that, after a meeting with President Bush, he had ignored the advice of the FBI and West Coast governors who said the risk of an al-Qaeda attack was "uncorroborated".
WMD IN IRAQ
PRESIDENT Bush tried to link al-Qaeda with Iraq and a stash of weapons of mass destruction - but it soon became clear there was no link.
Bush insisted that Saddam was in cahoots with bin Laden and planning to use his WMD stockpile. The al-Qaeda link was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.
But last October Donald Rumsfeld, then US Defence Secretary, let the truth slip out, saying: "To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two."
He later claimed he had been misunderstood.
- New York's All News Station
NJ Post Office to Reopen After Anthrax Cleanup
Mar 11, 2005 1:57 pm US/Eastern
The postal facility in Hamilton that handled anthrax-laced letters soon after the nine-eleven attacks will reopen Sunday.
The building has been decontaminated and has sensors to detect anthrax. All the old equipment was replaced under a renovation with an estimated cost of 80 to 100 million dollars.
American Postal Workers Union Trenton Local president Bill Lewis says most of the 500 or so workers are looking forward to returning. However, the four workers who were sickened will not be among them.
No one has been charged in the October 2001 attacks that killed five and sickened 17 across the country.
Newark-based FBI spokesman Steve Seigel wouldn't comment on the investigation.
office opens more than 3 years after anthrax mailings
March 14, 2005, 10:56 AM EST
HAMILTON, N.J. -- The post office that handled anthrax-laced letters reopened Monday morning, more than three years after the deadly mailings that further heightened the nation's insecurity in the weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The opening Monday had more the air of a gala than a normal day at a post office. Officials were on hand with cake and the low-slung building was decorated with balloons.
The post office was closed on Oct. 18, 2001 after Tom Brokaw, two U.S. senators and the offices of the New York Post received anthrax-laced letters.
The anthrax attacks killed four people across the country and sickened 17. There were five confirmed anthrax infections and two suspected cases in New Jersey, but no fatalities. Investigators have not determined who was responsible for the attacks.
The building was fumigated early last year with chlorine dioxide gas to kill any remaining anthrax spores.
The center was stripped to its bare walls in a renovation with an estimated cost between $80 million and $100 million. All the furniture and mail-sorting equipment was replaced.
The building now has sensors to detect anthrax and other biological agents _ a feature that all the nation's postal distribution centers are due to receive.
Of the roughly 500 Hamilton postal workers, about 10 have said they will not work in the old building, said the president of their union. Those workers can be moved to other postal centers. The four workers who were infected there have not returned to work and are not expected to return to the old building.
Test Positive for Anthrax
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
WASHINGTON — Preliminary information indicates that some of the cultures coming back of samples taken from Washington, D.C., mail facilities are testing positive for anthrax, a senior health official told FOX News on Tuesday.
The tests follow the discovery of the potentially deadly bacteria last Thursday by sensors at two military mail facilities in the Washington area. The mail had been irradiated before it reached those destinations, rendering any anthrax inert, defense officials told FOX News. The substance was discovered in a filter on the mail-scanning device.
The V Street post office in Washington also was closed as a precaution on Tuesday since officials said the mail forwarded to the Pentagon and another nearby Defense Department mailroom may have come from that post office. Environmental crews are determining whether the place was contaminated by anthrax.
D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams offered the 200 workers from that post office a three-day course of the antibiotic Cipro. The city's chief medical officer said no cases of the illness have been reported at local hospitals, but called distribution of the antibiotics the "proper first step."
"The postal service is taking all precautions by distributing prophylactic antibiotics and has asked us to help in the distribution today. We are offering prophylactic medicine in the form of antibiotics here at D.C. General (hospital) for all workers from the V Street postal service facility," Mayor Anthony Williams said.
Also on Tuesday, an Internal Revenue Service building was scoured after a letter containing a powdery substance was found. IRS officials said in a statement that "initial tests were negative for chemical or biological substances." Later, sources suggested the substance was rat poison.
Asked what the chances are of a false positive in the case of the tested culture, the source told FOX News that the likelihood is "low." Field tests often can come back as a false positive, but the secondary tests appear to confirm the DNA test taken at the scene.
Anthrax can be used as a biological weapon, but officials did not say whether the substance found demonstrated a terror attack.
The health official said the test demonstrates that the D.C. Health Department was clearly justified in taking the precautionary measures it did in the morning.
President Bush was being regularly updated of the situation as testing continued on Tuesday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
Follow-up tests were being conducted at the U.S. Army Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (search) at Fort Dietrich, Md., officials said. They would take two to three days to complete. The appearance of the bacteria made it the target of a criminal investigation by the FBI, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local law enforcement.
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell said mail at both facilities was irradiated before arriving at either one. The radiation treatment would kill any anthrax bacteria, but sensors would still be able to detect it.
About 175 people work at the Pentagon's mail facility, and another 100 may have been in contact with deliveries for the Pentagon, officials said.
Medical personnel took cultures from anyone who may have had contact with those deliveries, and those people were also offered a three-day course of antibiotics and told to watch for the signs of anthrax exposure: fever, sweats and chills.
General operations at the Pentagon appeared unaffected.
Anthrax can be spread through the air or by skin contact. Officials noted that sometimes anthrax sensors can give false-positive results.
Several cases involving letters laced with killer substances remain unsolved.
In October 2001, someone sent anthrax in letters through the mail to media and government offices in Washington, Florida and elsewhere, raising fears of bioterrorism. Five people were killed and 17 more sickened.
In October 2003, two letters containing the poison ricin, sent to the Transportation Department and White House, were intercepted before they reached their destinations. The letters objected to new rules for long-haul truckers.
Former government bioterror expert Stephen Hatfill was under surveillance for months following the attacks and was described by the Justice Department as a "person of interest." He sued former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other government officials for unspecified monetary damages, saying his reputation was ruined.
No one has ever been charged with the crimes.
FOX News' Catherine Herridge and Nick Simeone and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bioterror CSIs Target Germs
By Randy Dotinga
SAN DIEGO -- Back in 1346, it didn't take a CSI unit to uncover the culprits behind one of history's first cases of bioterrorism. Nobody could miss the plague-ridden corpses and heads catapulted over the walls of the ancient city of Kaffa, under siege by the Tartar army.
Nor could Kaffa residents ignore the subsequent epidemic, which led to their surrender and may have set off the Black Death.
Nearly seven centuries later, it's easier to secretly spread deadly germs around and harder to figure out who did it. But pioneers in the emerging field of bioterrorism forensics hope to change that equation by exposing the secrets lurking in the DNA of bioweapons.
"It's not enough to detect (a bioagent). You have to be able to attribute who made it, how they made it, what materials have gone into it," said Barbara Seiders, manager of chemical and biological defense programs at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington.
An anthrax germ, for example, might reveal signs of the laboratory where it was created. A plague bacterium could indicate the kind of solution used to raise it. And, at least in the dreams of scientists, the genetic makeup of ricin could help identity the single castor bean plant that produced it.
On Monday at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting in San Diego, scientists discussed a variety of forensic tools, from advanced mass spectrometry, which identifies the components of a material, to the chemical analysis of water, which could identify the region of the country where a germ was grown by providing an aquatic fingerprint.
But there are plenty of limitations.
"We've got a lot of questions to answer, and we're fairly limited in what we can say right now," said Randall Murch, former deputy director of the FBI Laboratory and now associate director of research-program development at Virginia Tech, at the meeting.
After all, the field of American bioterrorism forensics is barely a decade old. It's a product of terrorism fears at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta -- and a full 10 to 20 years behind the advanced world of civilian criminal forensics, said Murch in an interview. Obscure threats, like the disease tularemia, remain largely unexamined, and researchers must poke through a bounty of potential germ clues to figure out which ones hold meaning.
Then there's the uninspiring matter of the ongoing investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks. Scientists managed to identify the strain of anthrax used, but the case remains unsolved.
"It was clear that even though we knew what the strain was, we came to understand that scientists had been exchanging it all over the world," Seiders said. "Trying to track it only knowing the strain wasn't enough."
Finding a suspect with anthrax in his basement laboratory wouldn't have been sufficient either.
"The problem is that the agents that are used for bioterrorism are found in the environment," said forensics specialist Abigail A. Salyers, professor of microbiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "The bacterium that causes anthrax is in the soil in many places, especially farming areas. If you have a suspect and you find spores in that person's apartment or house, how do you know that it's the strain that was used? If you're going to convict somebody of a crime, then (you can't) just say, 'I found this bacteria on his shoes or his hands.' The defense attorneys are going to take care of that pretty quickly."
Enter the microbiologists and the search for bioweapon "fingerprints."
"Bacteria don't have fingers, so how do you take a fingerprint of a bacteria? You look at its genome sequence," Salyers said.
Criminal forensics offers countless examples of successful investigations involving the analysis of the genetic makeup of germs. Doctors, for example, can track the AIDS virus from person to person by examining strains of the virus. They can also get a good idea about how recently a patient was infected by analyzing the level of mutation in a sample of the virus.
(Recently, the technique suggested that a New York City man infected by a so-called HIV superbug had developed AIDS within months of being infected, an unusual occurrence.)
In another promising precedent, medical forensics allowed doctors to track down a colleague who inadvertently spread a skin infection throughout a large Northeastern hospital, Salyers said. The germ strain had an unusual genetic mutation that researchers eventually linked to the doctor, who hadn't done a good job of scrubbing his hands.
According to Salyers, researchers are currently decoding the genome of 10 to 15 strains of anthrax. It's not clear if the results will be released publicly. At the same time, scientists are trying to figure out how quickly the germs mutate. According to Murch, researchers are also exploring the makeup of single anthrax spores, exploring the levels of elements like sulfur, fluorine, chlorine and phosphorus.
"Chemical signatures" are another hot topic. Bacteria are grown in solutions that Salyers calls "chicken soup" for germs. Just as human bodies show signs of what we eat, bacteria may indicate the levels of amino acids, sugars and vitamins in the test tubes where they were grown.
Even when scientists uncover chemical signatures, however, "we're still going to have trouble figuring out what that all means," said Karen Wahl, senior research scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories. "There's a richness of signatures, and you don't know what constitutes evidence and what constitutes inconsequential stuff you have to sort through."
Considering the challenges, Murch is limiting his expectations.
"I'd like to someday get to the level of attribution that we see in other forensic analyses, like DNA fingerprints," he said. "But I don't know that we'll ever get there."
anthrax scare blamed on sample mix-up
13:12 16 March 2005
An anthrax scare involving three postal centres serving the US Pentagon has been blamed on a mix-up of samples. The scare has led to about 900 people receiving antibiotics and caused the stock market to dip.
A senior military official told reporters late on Tuesday of "quality control problems" at a laboratory contracted by the US Department of Defense. He said it appeared likely that a sample of anthrax used for calibration had somehow contaminated an air filter from the Pentagon Remote Delivery Facility, sent for routine testing on 10 March.
Following the positive test result, a further 70 surface swabs and air samples were taken from the facility but none have shown any presence of the bacteria, the Pentagon says. The follow-up tests were being conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and, as a precaution, hundreds of employees were put on a three-day dose of antibiotics.
William Winkenwerder, assistant
secretary of defence for health affairs, said that not all the test results
had yet come back, but "we hope that with further information we'll be
able to completely rule out any threat at all'.
Initial speculation suggested that a PCR-based test (polymerase chain reaction) to detect specific segments of the anthrax genome had caused the alert. "That test is prone to false positives," said Sandro Cinti, at the University of Michigan.
Even if anthrax really had been detected, the health threat is likely to have been small, because mail at the Pentagon facilities is irradiated to kill any microbes. However, there could have been a threat to postal workers who handled any contaminated mail before it arrived at the Pentagon, when any anthrax bacilli would still have been alive.
The US Postal Service facility that feeds the Pentagon its mail, at V Street in Washington, DC, was closed after the initial alarm. "We had no evidence that anything was amiss at V Street," Jerry McKiernan, postal spokesman, told New Scientist, but as a precaution, all 209 employees were given doses of the antibiotic, Cipro.
Another mail facility in Fairfax County, Virginia, closed down on Monday after a sorting machine shut down automatically. Fearing the machine had detected anthrax, the Fairfax County Health Department told people to wash their hands, faces, jewellery and spectacles. When they got home, they were asked to carefully remove their clothes and bag them, before taking a shower.
The Bacillus anthracis bacterium causes the disease anthrax, but cannot be transmitted from person to person. In 2001, 22 people were infected with anthrax sent through US mail and 5 died. The person who sent the anthrax remains at large.
2-Day Scare, Tests Show No Anthrax at Mail Facilities
March 16, 2005
WASHINGTON — A two-day anthrax scare that disrupted federal mail and prompted 700 Pentagon workers to take antibiotics ended Tuesday when federal officials said traces of a material detected by a Pentagon mail screening device apparently were not the deadly substance.
Dozens of tests at two Pentagon mail facilities found no anthrax, William Winkenwerder, the assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, said Tuesday. More than 70 tests were undertaken, including swabs on a filter from a chemical and biological testing device that had tested positive in an earlier check for anthrax.
"All test results, subsequent test results, that have been performed have been negative," Winkenwerder said. "We have no evidence that there was anthrax material in the mail."
Winkenwerder said additional tests should provide an even more definitive answer as early as today.
Three postal facilities serving the government — the two Pentagon facilities and a U.S. Postal Service facility in northeast Washington — were shuttered. And hundreds of postal workers were offered antibiotics and tips on preventive care. Hospitals were told to be on the lookout for the flu-like symptoms that could signal exposure to anthrax.
But nobody reported symptoms of the disease, and officials said the chances of becoming ill were low because the mail had been irradiated.
Nonetheless, the scare evoked memories of the October 2001 attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others, and put bioterrorism teams in the Washington suburbs on alert.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said detecting anthrax was "still a priority" for the Bush administration.
The mobilization effort began Monday after tests indicated the presence of the deadly bacterium at two military mail facilities. The simultaneous alarms have yet to be explained.
The three postal facilities were all due to open as soon as this morning. As the ordeal wound down, workers clad in protective gear continued to ferry small boxes of mail — a portion of the 8,000 items that had been labeled suspicious earlier in the day — across an inner Pentagon courtyard.
"Based on all of this, we would say at this time that the probability is low to very low that we are dealing with a true health threat," Winkenwerder said.
At the Pentagon mail and supply facility, outside the main Pentagon building, results of a routine sample had indicated Monday that a filter had come into contact with anthrax.
Hours after the facility was evacuated Monday, a biological-agent detection system sounded an alarm at a separate satellite mail facility in Fairfax County, Va., touching off a lockdown in which employees were required to stay inside their buildings for several hours.
The alarm that went off at the Fairfax County site signaled that a dangerous compound might have been present in the air. Authorities said such devices occasionally give false indications of dangerous materials. The site did not test positive for anthrax.
In the case of the Pentagon, Winkenwerder said, the sample that triggered the initial anthrax scare could have been contaminated in the lab, in an accident known as cross-contamination.
"We cannot rule out cross-contamination," Winkenwerder said. "We are not ready to conclude that that may explain the situation. There are some additional tests that are being performed that will help elaborate on the situation."
In what they said was an abundance of caution, officials closed a third mail facility Tuesday in the District of Columbia that processes Defense Department and other government mail, and recommended antibiotics for about 200 workers.
The 2001 anthrax attack remains unsolved and under investigation, with squads of FBI agents still mining the case for possible leads more than three years after letters laced with the deadly spores coursed through the nation's mail system.
A former Army bioterrorism expert, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, once identified as a "person of interest" in the case by then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, is suing Ashcroft and the government, claiming they violated his privacy and maligned his reputation.
Times staff writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington and Charles Piller in San Francisco contributed to this report.
Chertoff vows accuracy in wake of anthrax scare
By Frank James, Washington Bureau.
WASHINGTON -- A day after the nation's capital was shaken by an anthrax scare--believed to be a false alarm compounded by media misinformation--Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff vowed Wednesday he would go public with information only when he was certain of its accuracy.
"I know there is an enormous drive . . . in getting a fast answer to things," Chertoff told a group of reporters after delivering a speech at George Washington University, his first major address as head of the Homeland Security Department.
"Something appears, and people want to know right away: `Is it a threat, is it not a threat, is it real, is not real?'" he said. "And the answer is sometimes we're not going to know definitively for a while."
Chertoff was reacting to the first significant terrorist scare since he took charge last month. On Tuesday afternoon, cable channels CNN and Fox News reported, apparently based on unnamed sources, that scientific testing confirmed that anthrax was found in Pentagon mail facilities in suburban Washington.
Those reports appeared to be wrong, however. And they came despite Homeland Security officials repeatedly telling reporters throughout the day that they still didn't know whether they were dealing with anthrax.
It wasn't until Tuesday evening that defense and homeland security officials expressed optimism that there wasn't an anthrax problem.
Final results from tests of samples from the mail facilities weren't completed at the time of Chertoff's comments Wednesday, but officials of the Homeland Security and Defense Departments said they were reasonably sure the mail facilities didn't contain anthrax.
They suspected a laboratory mishap might have contaminated the one sample that tested positive for anthrax. Scores of other samples tested negative for the deadly spores.
Fears that anthrax might have entered the two Pentagon mail facilities in Northern Virginia as well as a U.S. Postal Service mail center in Washington, D.C., caused officials to close the facilities. On Wednesday, the Postal Service reopened its processing center, and authorities said the Pentagon buildings were expected to reopen Thursday.
Hundreds of workers were placed on antibiotics as a precaution, mail delivery to federal offices was halted, and doctors were notified to be on the alert to potential cases of anthrax that might first resemble flu symptoms.
In 2001, anthrax mailed through the postal system caused five deaths. Authorities have yet to solve those cases.
Media, officials targeted
Chertoff's message appeared to be targeted not just to the media but to other government officials, including those on the state and local level, who might try to satisfy the public's demand for news during a crisis by putting out information that might not be accurate.
"What I want to resist is . . . a temptation to feed the desire for information by putting something out that we are not in a position to speak about definitively," he said.
Chertoff, a former federal judge and senior Justice Department official, said he wouldn't withhold accurate information about incidents from the public. But one bit of information he wished had been withheld was a sensitive homeland security document that was posted on a Hawaii state Web site, apparently in error.
The document's existence, first reported by The New York Times, listed possible terrorist scenarios that could result in many dead and wounded. The purpose was to help officials prepare for the grisly possibilities.
The scenarios included a nuclear device detonated in a downtown business district and anthrax sprayed as an aerosol from a truck in a densely populated area.
Chertoff said it was "unfortunate" that the document was made public on the Web site because it was part of an unfinished dialogue with state and local officials. "But it's not going to deter us from working closely with our state and local partners in fashioning these plans."
In his George Washington University speech before members of the university's Homeland Security Policy Institute, Chertoff said he envisioned his department taking a "risk-based approach in both our operations and philosophy" to "target resources where the risk is greatest."
It was Chertoff giving notice that he intended to try to address what critics say is the tendency of many members of Congress to use homeland security funding as an opportunity to bring home federal dollars despite representing districts at low risk to terrorism.
Large cities such as New York that view themselves as likelier targets have complained of not getting enough homeland security money to adequately protect themselves or prepare for the aftermath of a major terrorist attack.
2001 anthrax mystery lingers
3 1/2 years after the deadly attacks, federal officials probing cases say tracking down culprits is difficult
BY TOM BRUNE
March 17, 2005
WASHINGTON -- Nearly three and half years after deadly anthrax powder killed five, sickened 17 and terrorized an already stunned nation following the Sept. 11 hijackings, federal investigators remain stumped.
The initial positive tests Monday showing anthrax in postal facilities for the Pentagon brought back memories of the chaos of October 2001 and the lingering mystery of who sent anthrax in letters to senators in Washington, a tabloid newspaper in Florida and news anchors in New York.
Although the final tests turned out to be negative, concerns that terrorists could spray anthrax spores to kill thousands - a scenario posed in a confidential report made public yesterday - adds urgency to the solving of the 2001 anthrax attacks.
But asked yesterday about the status of the probe, dubbed the Amerithrax investigation, the FBI said, "It is still ongoing."
That sounds more optimistic than U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton did in October after he reviewed a sealed affidavit filed by the FBI containing classified information about its investigation.
"Candidly, from my review of the classified information," Walton said in court, "it doesn't seem to me that anything is going to happen in the near future that's going to change the status quo."
Walton is overseeing a defamation lawsuit filed against former Attorney General John Ashcroft, the FBI and others by Dr. Steven Hatfill, a former Army bioweapons expert whom Ashcroft publicly described as a "person of interest" in the anthrax case.
After following him around, searching his house at least twice and draining a lake to see if he threw anthrax-making equipment into it, however, the FBI and prosecutors have yet to file any charges against Hatfill.
Hatfill and his attorneys declined to comment. So did Justice officials.
The FBI has probed others. In August, the FBI and postal inspectors searched homes in upstate New York and in New Jersey belonging to Dr. Kenneth Berry, who founded an anti-terrorism group and predicted in the 1990s an anthrax attack.
Prosecutors filed no charges against him. Berry couldn't be reached for comment.
The FBI and Justice Department officials say tracking down anonymous senders of dangerous powders in the mail is difficult and complex.
The FBI still has not solved the question of who sent another potentially deadly powder, ricin, to the office of Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) in February 2004.
Some of the targets of the 2001 anthrax letters haven't heard from the FBI lately.
The FBI once gave regular briefings on the probe to Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), whose office received anthrax-laced letters, a Leahy spokesman said. But he said it's been months since the last briefing.
Last update: March 18, 2005 at 11:36 PM
Cold case: The 2001 anthrax killings remain unsolved
Published March 19, 2005
• Wake-up call: The anthrax false alarm this week served as a reminder that federal authorities still haven't caught whoever was responsible for the all-too-real attacks in 2001 that left five people dead. No arrests have been made or charges filed in the case the FBI has dubbed Amerithrax. Attorneys and scientists following the investigation say they see no evidence of recent activity. An FBI spokeswoman disputed that, saying 30 agents and 15 postal inspectors are assigned to the anthrax probe, and more than 5,000 grand jury subpoenas have been issued.
• Background: The anthrax letters, bearing postmarks from Trenton, N.J., began surfacing in October 2001 at media outlets in New York and Florida, and in senators' offices on Capitol Hill. By November, five people had died -- a photo editor for the tabloid The Sun, two postal workers who were infected at a Washington mail-handling center and two women who may have come into contact with contaminated mail. Investigators quickly focused on about 30 scientists with the training to turn anthrax into a deadly weapon.
• Cold trail: Authorities took a particular interest in the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., which housed the strain of anthrax found in the mail. Dr. Steven J. Hatfill was once a researcher at Fort Detrick. The FBI twice searched Hatfill's apartment near the lab. Agents drained a pond outside Frederick in 2003, hoping to find discarded evidence. They didn't. Hatfill has filed suit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft and the government, asserting they ruined his reputation. His attorney says he can't find employment.
• Fizzle: An anonymous letter sent to the FBI after the first anthrax letters were mailed warned that another researcher at Fort Detrick might be planning a biological attack. The tip was bogus. In August, authorities searched the homes of Dr. Kenneth M. Berry of New York. Berry founded an organization that trains medical professionals to respond to chemical and biological attacks. No charges were filed.
alert at Bolling Air Force Base
By Dee Ann Divis (UPI)
WASHINGTON, DC, Mar. 18 (UPI) -- An anthrax sensor -- the third in the Washington, D.C., area this week -- went off Friday afternoon in a remote mail-handling facility of the Defense Intelligence Agency located at Bolling Air Force Base southeast of the U.S. Capitol.
"This morning the DIA remote delivery facility was closed due to an initial positive test of incoming mail for hazardous biological agents," Defense Department spokesman Major Paul Swiergosz told United Press International.
Personnel on the scene were asked to stay, Swiergosz said, and local officials were called.
Friday's alarm follows two similar alerts, one at a remote mail delivery facility on the Pentagon grounds and another in the mail room of a Defense Department complex of leased offices in Falls Church, Va. In all cases the alerts were specific for anthrax, spokesmen from several federal agencies said.
Tests following the first two alerts -- and tests after the current alarm at DIA -- have so far failed to find further signs of anthrax spokesmen assured UPI.
"The (Federal Bureau of Investigation) has gone out there, as have local fire officials," said FBI spokeswoman Debbie Weierman.
Five follow-up tests done on the scene at Bolling so far have proven negative, Weierman told UPI. Additional tests of samples from the mail room will be done at a laboratory.
"The (FBI) Washington field (Office) will take whatever samples of the filter, or of the machine that made the detection, to Bethesda" Weierman said, adding that officials think it will be a "99 percent chance that it's negative."
Officials are confident enough that nothing will be found they have already decided to re-open the mail stop.
"The (Remote Delivery Facility) will return to normal operation on Monday," the Defense Department said in statement.
Any mail received by DIA personnel today had passed through the office prior to the alert, Swiergosz said.
labs confirmed Pentagon anthrax
By Dee Ann Divis
Senior Science & Technology Editor [UPI]
Published 3/21/2005 12:18 PM
WASHINGTON, March 21 (UPI) -- Anthrax has been confirmed in samples collected from the two Pentagon mail facilities that were at first closed last week and then declared free of the pathogen, United Press International has learned.
The head of the company that was accused of contaminating the samples sent from those facilities -- a detached building on the Pentagon grounds in Arlington, Va., and the other in Falls Church, Va. -- said the presence of anthrax was detected independently by two government laboratories.
Robert B. Harris, president and chief executive officer of Commonwealth Biotechnologies Inc. in Richmond, Va., also said the anthrax found was the same genetic strain used in the 2001 attacks.
The dispute over the possibility of contamination -- suggested to the media by an anonymous source -- became more heated as an automated alarm warned of anthrax at yet a third Washington-area mail room Friday. That third alert, at Bolling Air Force Base, was triggered by automated sensors -- as were the alerts earlier in the week at the two other facilities.
The week of anthrax alarms began when the Pentagon mail facility was closed March 14, after tests on samples taken there the week before had been found positive for the presence of anthrax. The initial samples, consisting of swabs of surfaces from the facility, had been collected March 10, but the results were not received and the facility was not shut down until March 14.
The delay was not the fault of CBI, Harris said, noting CBI had tested more than 2,000 similar samples in the past two years and reported its results within 24 hours.
"We reported our initial ...findings on (March 11)," Harris told UPI. "Our contracting officer told us to continue testing for further analysis over the weekend -- and that was done. On Monday ... the 14th we communicated additional test results to our contracting officer. From CBI's point of view, there was absolutely no delay in reporting the results."
CBI is a sub-contractor that conducts routine testing. The identity of the prime contractor who received the results is unclear. Defense Department spokesman Glenn Flood told UPI the four-day delay was being investigated.
Harris also took issue with the anonymous suggestion in news reports that his lab had contaminated the original sample from the Pentagon site.
"It is a fact that we had a presumptive positive test come up," he said. "That presumptive positive test was confirmed by us and by at least two other labs as being a true positive."
Carlee Vander Linden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Md., which tested the samples after CBI, confirmed that the follow-up tests on the first sample were positive and that two labs had done such tests.
"There is a component of the Homeland Security Department that has a laboratory that is located in our building," Vander Linden explained. "They have a presence here at Fort Detrick. The samples were basically parted out and there was analysis done by USAMRIID and by the forensics lab under DHS. I know that the negatives that we got were on the ones that came directly from the (mail) facility and did not pass through the contractor. The positives that we got were on samples that had been handled already by the people in Virginia."
Vander Linden also said: "USAMRIID is not saying that, 'Gee, there probably was a contamination event.' I think some people are surmising that. It certainly has been reported that way. I think that we'll just have to wait and see."
A DHS lab did conduct confirmatory tests, said Terry Bishop, a spokesman for DOD Health Affairs, but he did elaborate on the results.
"It is in our mind that this was truly a positive sample," said Harris, adding that his technicians had done everything possible to minimize contamination and were reviewing their lab and procedures.
"I emphasize," Harris said, "in over 2,000 of these samples and tens of thousands ... of other samples we have never experienced a false-positive test."
In response to a question from UPI, Harris confirmed CBI also had conducted other tests on the anthrax sample, but he would not reveal the results.
"There are lots of tests -- biochemical, morphological, genetic," Harris said, "all kinds of laboratory analyses that can be done to further qualify the type of pathogen we are looking at and those tests have been done."
Harris also said the anthrax in the initial samples was the same strain as the organism used during the first anthrax attack via U.S. Mail facilities in the fall of 2001. This was not surprising, however, he said, because it is the most common strain.
Questions over the first alarm were still swirling when the third alarm sounded last Friday at Bolling, which is located along the Anacostia River in Washington, in a mail-handling facility used by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
"This morning, the DIA remote-delivery facility was closed due to an initial positive test of incoming mail for hazardous biological agents," Defense Department spokesman Maj. Paul Swiergosz told UPI last Friday afternoon.
Personnel on the scene were asked to stay, Swiergosz said, and local officials were called. An FBI team conducted further tests.
As of late Friday, the follow-up tests at the scene had been negative, said FBI spokeswoman Debbie Weierman. Additional tests were planned at a laboratory.
The Bolling alert and the Pentagon closing were two of three anthrax-related events last week. The third, an alert in a mail room of a Defense Department complex of leased offices in Falls Church, delayed the departure of hundreds of people for hours and closed the offices for several days.
The week's events raised concern about cross-contamination from a source of anthrax somewhere in the Defense Department mail system. All of the alerts occurred in defense-related mail facilities and in each case the alerts were specific for anthrax, several federal and local DOD spokesmen confirmed during the week.
The bioweapons sensors were not connected, UPI was told repeatedly by the spokesmen. The sensors in Fairfax and at Bolling were automatic and did not involve any CBI testing.
UPI also was told by a Defense Department spokeswoman that, in at least one case, the alerts followed the mail flow. Specifically, the mail from the Pentagon site could have moved to the Falls Church location.
The Pentagon is working to gather more than 8,000 pieces of mail that moved through its detached facility between March 10 and March 14.
matches 2001 strain
Chesterfield lab: Finding is not surprising because strain is common in labs
BY A.J. HOSTETLER
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
The anthrax that a private Richmond-area laboratory says it found at a Pentagon mail facility is the same strain used in the 2001 mail attacks that killed five people and injured 17 others.
The possibility that the Pentagon was tainted with anthrax arose when one of four swabs taken daily from sensor filters by a military subcontractor lab in Chesterfield County on March 11 tested positive.
Commonwealth Biotechnologies Inc. President and CEO Robert Harris said yesterday that the strain his company says it found at the Pentagon was Ames, the strain used in the unsolved 2001 attacks.
Harris said it was not surprising because Ames is the strain typically used by labs studying bacillus anthracis.
The initial finding by Commonwealth Biotechnologies was confirmed by a more accurate polymerase chain-reaction test by an Army biodefense lab at Fort Detrick, Md., but later disputed when further environmental tests proved negative.
The mail facility was closed after the Defense Department learned of the positive test the following Monday and was reopened two days later. Two other related facilities - one in Fairfax County, the other in Washington - also were closed until they could be cleared. Hundreds of government workers were initially told to take antibiotics as a precaution.
There are more than 20 strains of anthrax. Ames was first isolated from a cow in Iowa and has been under study by military scientists for decades. It has various subtypes that can be distinguished from one another by detailed tests on the microbe's genes, which mutate very slowly.
Federal officials say an investigation is getting under way into the possibility that Commonwealth Biotechnologies was the inadvertent source of the anthrax, either through improper testing procedures or contamination within the lab. The Defense Department has labeled the initial tests a "false positive," but Harris said his firm stands by its work.
Harris said Commonwealth Biotechnologies has conducted a "rigorous internal investigation" that included a quality assurance audit of its lab and administrative processes to look at the issue of contamination.
He refused to release any additional test results, but said, "the ball's back over the net," meaning that investigators would take any further steps in the probe.
There are three forms of anthrax in humans: inhalational, skin and intestinal. Humans contract it from handling or working with diseased animals, such as cattle. Antibiotics are used to treat all three types.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists anthrax as a Category A bioterrorist agent because it poses one of the greatest possible threats to the public health.
Contact A.J. Hostetler at (804) 649-6355 or firstname.lastname@example.org
in Boca's AMI building set for anthrax decontamination
12,000 boxes will be cleaned
By Luis F. Perez
March 24, 2005
Boca Raton -- After months of delays, the company that decontaminated the former American Media Inc. building of anthrax is poised to fumigate the contents, including the priceless photo archives that once belonged to the tabloid publisher.
The cleanup stalled amid a dispute about who owns irreplaceable photos taken by freelance photographers, including images of James Cagney, Cary Grant, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Princess Diana and Elvis in his casket.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the first news organization allowed into the building that was the site of the country's first anthrax attack since it was quarantined, got an exclusive look Wednesday at the decontamination process going on in the basement.
About 305,500 pounds of files, photos, employees' personal belongings and mundane office items packed in about 12,000 boxes will be cleaned with chlorine dioxide gas. The Palm Beach County Health Department closed the building after AMI photo editor Bob Stevens died of inhalation anthrax on Oct 5, 2001.
The building's upper floors remain quarantined.
Cleanup firm Bio-ONE and David Rustine, who bought the building and its contents two years ago for $40,000, agreed to unpack the boxes and decontaminate the files in batches of 500,000 to 600,000 pieces of paper by exposing them to chlorine dioxide gas for three hours.
Company officials hope to start the decontamination Friday evening after workers leave nearby businesses on Broken Sound Boulevard and in the Arvida Park of Commerce. The same chemical and decontamination process is being used that killed anthrax inside the building in July.
Original plans called for the building's contents, which were boxed in April, to be destroyed and for Bio-ONE to move in by the end of 2004. Late last year, a dispute over whether Rustine owned the photos stopped Bio-ONE from incinerating the boxes.
"The building has been clean since July 12," said Karen Cavanagh, Bio-ONE's general counsel and chief operating officer. "It's been very frustrating for us."
AMI, publisher of The Star, National Enquirer and Weekly World News, didn't own all the archive's photos when it sold the building to Rustine. Free-lancers were told to contact the new owner regarding any property that remained, AMI officials have said. Bio-ONE officials said once they clean the building's contents, it's up Rustine to decide what to do with them.
Rustine, president of Crown Companies, could not be reached Wednesday afternoon despite four attempts by phone.
Crews built a 144-foot-long, 16-foot-wide airtight tent in five days using two-by-fours, plywood and two layers of tarps in the building's lower level. Inside the tent, three levels of white metal grates line three rows of black plastic mesh shelving designed to hold files and other items upright. Bio-One plans to pump chlorine dioxide gas into the tent at four times the concentration that was used for the building decontamination, company officials said.
Workers, including off-duty Delray Beach firefighters, will move pallets stacked with boxes three to five levels high toward rollers at the front end of the tent. Teams of six workers in protective suits will work about two hours at a time to unload and sort through the boxes, stacking files no more than 15 sheets thick onto the grates. Everyday personal office items -- coffee mugs, family pictures, even packets of ketchup, soy sauce and napkins left in drawers -- may be gassed, as well, and returned to boxes and sealed.
The sealed boxes will then go through chlorine dioxide spray as a final step to make sure no anthrax spores remain. The boxes will be put back on pallets, wrapped in plastic again and treated as hazardous material until tests come back showing no anthrax spores.
About 180 biological test strips will be dispersed at intervals among the files. Those strips will be tested for anthrax spores by an independent lab. If one test comes back positive, Bio-ONE will run the decontamination process again for that entire batch.
Company officials can't say how long the decontamination process will take because they're unsure exactly how many files the boxes contain. The company's main focus is the photo archives, so if they find it more efficient to skip decontamination of the personal items, Bio-ONE workers may do that, she said. Those items would then be destroyed as originally planned.
Bio-ONE officials have already been inspecting their future headquarters to see what kind of renovation work may be needed.
Once the quarantine is lifted, Bio-ONE will "party and move in," said John Mason, president and chief executive officer.
Before that, though, a memorial to Stevens will be built, Cavanagh said.
Luis F. Perez can be reached at email@example.com or 561-243-6641.
set for anthrax cleanup
By Tania Valdemoro
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2005
BOCA RATON — The king of rock and roll may be dead, but the image of Elvis resting serenely in his coffin at Graceland will once again see the light of day.
Part of a collection of 4.5 million images once owned by American Media Inc., the picture is set to be fumigated as early as Friday evening — forever cleansed of any deadly anthrax spores that confined it and 305,000 pounds of other pictures, press clippings and periodicals in sealed containers within the building.
BioONE announced Wednesday it reached an agreement with David Rustine, the building's owner, to clean the materials, said Karen Cavanaugh, the company's general counsel and chief operating officer. The company last July successfully cleaned the former AMI building located at 5401 Broken Sound Blvd., but had intended to destroy the pictures and clippings and reopen near the first of the year.
But several months ago, lawyers representing freelance photographers told BioONE that Rustine did not own the pictures and therefore could not destroy them.
Rustine, a real estate investor, bought the three-story building in April 2003 for $40,000. AMI, which publishes The National Enquirer, National Examiner, Globe, Sun and Weekly World News, was ordered from the building on Oct. 8, 2001, three days after Sun Photo Editor Bob Stevens died from inhaling anthrax.
Across the nation, four others died from anthrax attacks that roiled the country weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"We felt this was the best possible way to proceed and are glad we're moving forward as quickly as possible to reopen the building," Cavanaugh said.
The cleanup could take four to six weeks. There would be a series of 10 fumigation sessions undertaken by a crew of six to 12 people. Costs of the cleanup have already been covered under a prior agreement between Rustine and BioONE, Cavanaugh said.
John Mason, president and CEO of BioONE, said the upcoming decontamination would be 20 times larger in scope than the company's last document decontamination on Capitol Hill, which was also shut down due to an anthrax attack. "We will be applying everything we have learned to enable us to decontaminate half a million documents a day," he said.
While she admitted there is some risk of harming the photos, Cavanaugh said the company "hoped to minimize any damage."
Once cleaned, the pictures and other materials would be returned to Rustine. BioONE would still need to demonstrate to various federal agencies and the Palm Beach County Health Department, which imposed a quarantine, that the anthrax was sterile in order to reopen the building.
The building is scheduled to reopen in June with BioONE as a tenant, Cavanaugh said. She would not comment further on its plans.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a BioONE principal and hero to millions for his actions in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, is expected to be the first one to enter the building.
Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams said Wednesday he was thrilled the photos would be cleaned. "It all boils down to Elvis and the basement, which is fitting for all that Boca Raton has gone through."
Security to Launch Anthrax Review
Friday, March 25, 2005
WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security on Friday will launch a review of the anthrax scare at the Defense Department's mail facilities earlier this month.
The review is expected to take several weeks to complete. Federal, state and District of Columbia authorities will look at the procedures and protocols in the case to decide if timely notification was given.
Meanwhile, a presidential commission is expected to release its report on weapons of mass destruction next week. According to officials familiar with the report, none of the 15 U.S. agencies that collected or assessed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is likely to be commended for doing an exemplary job. The commission also is highly critical of the agencies' performance on Iran, North Korea and Libya, individuals familiar with its findings said.
The nine-member panel is led by Laurence Silberman, a retired federal appeals court judge, and Charles Robb, a former Democratic senator from Virginia. It's unclear how much of the report, which may run into the hundreds of pages, will be available to the public.
The report comes at a critical time for the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and others charged with collecting, protecting and analyzing secrets.
All face the prospect of sweeping changes from the intelligence reform bill passed in December, including the appointment of a national intelligence director. President Bush's nominee, John Negroponte, has a Senate confirmation hearing next month.
On the anthrax issue, an apparent mix-up at a military laboratory was blamed for the anthrax scare that closed three area mail facilities that handle Pentagon-bound mail, and prompted nearly 900 workers to receive antibiotics earlier this month.
The two-day scare turned out to be a false alarm after definitive tests at two facilities came back negative for the deadly spores.
Officials believe the confusion stemmed from a mistake at a Defense Department laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md. Officials there apparently mixed up a sample of actual anthrax that is kept on hand for comparison purposes with the sample taken from a Pentagon mailroom.
There was and continues to be criticism that the Pentagon did not provide timely notification of the positive hits for anthrax, which were later found to be false positives.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told FOX News in an interview last week that his agency would do an internal review because the incident "was not flawless." DHS launches these reviews after significant incidents.
"There are many things about process that are encouraging. We did get federal, state and local agencies working together, not flawlessly," Chertoff said. "One thing we'll do is go back and see what lessons learned so each time there is opportunity to learn and make improvements."
DHS has been working for a year on a plan separate from the anthrax review to be launched Friday that outlines a number of plausible attacks — including those by nerve gas, anthrax, pneumonic plague and truck bomb.
WTOP radio's Web site reported that D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and other local leaders critical of the Pentagon say the Defense Department and federal officials didn't notify them quickly enough of the possible anthrax problem.
"We worked very hard to develop a homeland security strategy and principles and procedures for the department — and they weren't followed in this case by the Defense Department," said Williams, a Democrat.
Williams, Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner will be briefed on its findings, FOX News has confirmed. U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., also wants more information but he says he's confident the Defense Department will be forthcoming with needed information.
"You must anticipate that there be total sharing of information and cooperation, between state and local governments," Sen. Warner said, according to WTOP.
The anthrax review comes as Environmental Protection Agency's internal watchdog said cities are not getting all the protections President Bush ordered last year to detect a biological terrorism attack.
A report from EPA Inspector General Nikki L. Tinsley's office released Thursday said the agency hasn't ensured the reliability, timeliness and efficiency of air sampling that Bush directed be part of a $129 million early warning system.
The Homeland Security Department, which pays for and oversees "BioWatch," relies on the help and expertise of EPA and other agencies to run it.
"The failure of EPA to completely fulfill its responsibilities raises uncertainty about the ability of the BioWatch program to detect a biological attack," Tinsley's report said.
Specifically, the report said EPA sometimes placed sensors too far apart, failed to make sure they were all in secure locations and didn't always factor in topography and seasonal wind pattern changes in some cities.
Bush signed an order last April directing agencies to help protect the country from an attack with biological agents. A classified version had 59 instructions for agencies to improve the nation's defenses, including improving the Biowatch system of sensors that continuously monitor and analyze the air in 31 cities.
FOX News' Catherine Herridge and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
speaks out; Trying to get custody of son, life together after FBI anthrax
raids in Wellsville, New Jersey
By JOHN ANDERSON
WELLSVILLE -- "Nothing ever happens easy for me," Dr. Kenneth Berry reflected.
On Aug. 5, 2004, the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched Berry's house on East Pearl Street in Wellsville, his old apartment on Maple Avenue and the summer home he was visiting in New Jersey.
The FBI claimed the search was "related to the FBI's ongoing investigation into the origin of the anthrax-laced letters mailed in September and October of 2001, which resulted in the deaths of five individuals and serious illness to 17 others."
Although Berry was never charged by the FBI, his life took a turn for the worse.
He was charged with simple assault in New Jersey the day of the raid, has three orders of protection against him, was called into court for a potential violation of an order of protection, he's faced failure to pay spousal support in New York and he has similar issues in Pennsylvania.
Today, he's fighting just to see his 4-year-old son, as his wife, Tana, says the child is actually not his because he was born four months before they were married.
In his first interview since the national spotlight was pointed at Wellsville during the August anthrax investigation, Berry talked to The Daily Reporter about his current legal battles and the FBI.
"(The FBI investigation) totally destroyed my life. I lost my reputation, my wife, my family, my son, my job ... everything," he said.
The FBI has not said if it found any traces of anthrax, and it has not charged Berry in connection with anthrax. The FBI was in and out of Wellsville in one day.
However, his wife, Tana, from whom he is now separated, said she was not surprised the FBI showed up at the door that Thursday morning.
"He knew he was being investigated, he knew it would happen sooner or later, he knew a search warrant was coming," said Tana.
When asked if the FBI investigation was a waste of time, she said, "That's not obvious, not to me anyway."
When asked to further explain, Tana said "no comment."
Berry said he cooperated with the FBI and to this date has received, "No apology. No explanation. If you're trying to get into their heads ... good luck.
"I have no idea at all (the reason for the FBI raid)," Berry continued. "The best explanation I was given is, 'they are so big and powerful.'"
Berry has shifted his focus to a custody fight over his son and getting his life back together, which includes opening a practice in Wellsville.
"The most important thing is child custody of my son," he said. "Basically, my wife is trying to deny I am the father of my son. He is (my son). I am her husband."
Both parties agree on one thing, Tana was married to someone else during the pregnancy. However, the accusations start to fly after that.
Berry claims labor and delivery records along with birth certificates are missing from Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville, where he was the emergency room doctor from December of 1996 to October of 2001. Hospital officials did not return calls seeking comment.
"She had this whole thing set up four years ago including falsification of the birth certificates," claims Berry. "I remember when the baby was born, the date, the time and the nurse."
Tana countered, "That's news to me and totally ludicrous."
Berry has worked at a hospital in Pittsburgh, commuting by plane while living in Wellsville. He was married and had seven children from two relationships.
Tana said he was working four days a week and slept a lot when he was home.
Berry founded an organization called PREEMPT Medical Counter-Terrorism in 1997. He filed a provisional patent for a system in October 2000 and filed the actual patent application Sept. 28, 2001, 10 days after the first anthrax letters were postmarked. He touted the system as an effective way to respond to bioterrorism attacks.
He told the Daily Reporter he does not know Dr. Steven Hatfill, a former government scientist and bioweapons expert, whom the government labeled as a "person of interest" in the anthrax case.
But on Aug. 5, Berry and his family were vacationing at a home owned by his parents in Chadwick Beach in Dover Township, N.J., when the FBI showed up with a search warrant.
The family left and went to the White Sands Motel in Point Pleasant. Point Pleasant Police said around 1 p.m., a fight started over Tana giving FBI agents a cell phone. At 1:21 p.m., police were called as a physical altercation started.
Police charged Berry, 46, with four counts of assault and a temporary restraining order was issued. Tana said that is now a lifetime restraining order in New Jersey.
"He has been convicted of assault, he savagely beat the hell out of my daughters, they needed medical attention, they have ongoing pain," said Tana from her Wellsville home on Saturday. "It's all nonsense, the harassment and violating an order of protection I have - I have three orders of protection signed by three judges to keep him away from me and my family."
"A lot of the public doesn't know how savagely he went after my children," Tana continued. "The FBI search was public and on TV. But he actually tried to kill one of my daughters ... he said that as he was slamming her head into a marble floor."
Berry said he was on a new prescription for a back injury and that he was on temporary disability when the assault took place. Police said Berry complained of illness and vomited.
"All my licenses are intact," Berry said. "As for the fight in hotel, I'll be cleared of that by the end of the year. The medication I was on may have made me more susceptible to a reaction like that ... it was simple assault, a non-criminal offense, that's why it didn't affect my life."
Simple assault in New Jersey is defined as "attempts to cause, or purposefully knowing or recklessly causing bodily injury to another person." Another definition is: "Attempt by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent or serious bodily injury."
In New York, assault is generally a misdemeanor.
Tana doesn't believe the medication claim, instead saying, "He's mentally ill."
She said her life has been crazy since the investigation and doesn't know what her future holds.
"My son was one of the children injured during his sick attack in New Jersey," she said. "I just want him out of my life. Obviously this was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I just want to move on.
"It's ridiculous to sit here and sling (mud) back and forth in the newspaper, but if he plans to move back, the public needs to know there is no denying what he did to my children and that there was an investigation," she added.
Berry, who was speaking by phone from his New Jersey vacation home, thinks things are coming together for him.
"As time progresses, I want to move back and practice there (in Wellsville)," he said. "The first couple months were horrible. Law enforcement agencies were not supportive and hostile.
"Now that six months have gone by, the pendulum has swung the other way," Berry continued. "The courts are civil and the law enforcement agencies are not as hostile."
However, Berry is hostile over the way he feels he has been delayed in getting his custody hearing taken care of. He accuses Tana of delaying DNA testing and says she could face charges pertaining to that. The couple is fighting about the use of his credit cards and checks in the month after the anthrax investigation.
"I'm asking for a legal annulment, not a divorce, we're asking for (acknowledgment) that she fraudulently entered the marriage," said Berry. "Hence, this all could be eradicated with a DNA test. The judge ordered a DNA test in New Jersey. She's facing contempt charges in New Jersey because she didn't comply.
"When I first went to marry her, in September of 2000, she found out she was still married. What happened at that point, I thought it was an error. That happened to me, as well as a cousin of mine," Berry continued. "You go to get your papers and find there is a goof up, either with the court or with an attorney. It's not a terribly uncommon event. However, she led me to believe it was accidental."
Berry said Tana's attorney, William Gunner of Wellsville, is delaying this case through the Allegany County Court system and points to the fact he has not seen his son since Aug. 5, 2004.
"What happens in court is spouses don't agree," said Gunner. "So, every lawyer involved in a case is just an advocate for their client. It's their duty to zealously represent their client under the law and that's what we do in this case. I don't want to breach that privacy. I don't think it's confidentiality, but it's privacy. Ultimately, in the end, just like any case, the judge will make decisions and that will be the fact."
Gunner did say he sympathized with the fact that time is dragging on, but said it was not intentional.
"I know what he's talking about. But there's procedures to be followed," said Gunner. "And in part of zealously defending your client, there is a process. I can see where one side might be upset, but there is a process that leads to a judge's decision. Those spouses that can agree with their differences never get to this stage.
"So anyone in divorce court or family court will have a disagreement or differing opinions. There will be an airing of the facts and the judge. It doesn't surprise me that people get disappointed or discouraged by the process, both sides get frustrated," he continued. "Not to speak for the judges, but they can't hear a case from beginning to end in the time the litigants would like."
Berry received his medical degree from the American University of the Caribbean, School of Medicine, in 1983. He worked for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in McKeesport, Pa., but said he lost his job two days after the raid. His contract ran up on Nov. 8., 2004 and was not renewed, hospital officials said.
"The University at Pittsburgh is the No. 1 receiver for federal funds for bio-defense," said Berry. "Needless to say, it was a public relations risk and it threatened their funding - especially in the light that the previous fellow, Hatfill. The FBI sent an e-mail saying since they were receiving funding, they wanted him to be fired."
Berry, the past president of the American Academy of Emergency Physicians, said he is forced to just wait for legal matters to end.
"I'm in New Jersey ... pending to my court matters here and in New York," he added.
on Mon, Mar. 28, 2005
The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette
Pentagon reshapes anthrax response
By Spencer S. Hsu
WASHINGTON – The Defense Department is changing how it handles biohazard threats, acknowledging that internal breakdowns delayed its response to a March 14 anthrax scare at the Pentagon and nearby office buildings, confused the rest of the federal government and alarmed state and local public health workers, officials said.
Under fire for gaps with civilian bioterrorism detection and response systems, military officials said they will quicken reporting of test results from biological sensors around their Arlington, Va., headquarters to no more than 24 hours and shift away from using contract laboratories. It took three days to get results from a contractor after the March 14 incident.
Defense officials acknowledged the need to align laboratory testing protocols with those used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also agreed that they should coordinate with local health officials when ordering emergency medical treatment for defense workers.
Pentagon representatives discussed the steps Friday during an “after-action” review chaired by Thomas J. Lockwood, national capital region coordinator for the Department of Homeland Security. Representatives from the White House, FBI, Health and Human Services Department and U.S. Postal Service, as well as state and local officials, were present.
Officials described preliminary results on condition of anonymity because the review is not complete and because multiple agencies are involved. One participant said the two-hour meeting evolved from a “tense” set of exchanges to “a real air of candid, … open sharing of information.”
Valerie Smith, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said: “Federal, state and local agencies involved in (the) mail facility situation had an after-action review meeting (Friday) to discuss the event and analyze protocols, coordination and response. Meeting to discuss these issues gives all parties the opportunity to learn from past experience.”
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff ordered the review after alerts in two military mailrooms shut the main delivery center at the Pentagon, disrupted mail delivery to U.S. government offices and put 900 workers in several buildings on antibiotics for three days.
Although the presence of anthrax bacteria in one of four samples taken March 10 from the Pentagon’s Remote Delivery Facility was confirmed by three laboratories, subsequent testing found no trace of the toxin. Senior military officials said the most plausible explanation was contamination by the original contractor laboratory, Commonwealth Biotechnologies Inc., of Richmond, Va., which has said a subsequent review produced no evidence of surface, air or sample contamination.
Another March 14 airborne alert at a mailroom in the Skyline office building complex in Baileys Crossroads, Va. – whose defense contractor employees receive mail from the Pentagon facility – turned out not to signal the presence of any hazardous substance and apparently was a coincidence. About 800 workers were locked down for six hours.
Overall, national bioterrorism experts inside government and out say the episode revealed lingering problems in achieving a coordinated emergency response since the area’s anthrax attacks through the mail in 2001. Virginia and District of Columbia leaders have said they were kept out of the loop early in the recent incident, potentially endangering the public. Local elected officials as well as members of Congress have called for reviews.
Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, plans to lead an April 4 hearing into national anthrax testing policies.
On Friday, military representatives said the Pentagon was making “substantial improvements,” including requiring contract labs to report test results in 24 hours.
Scientists seek answers on what activates deadly anthrax spores
31 Mar 2005
Scientists at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and three other institutions are setting out to find what activates the spores in anthrax, the deadly bacterial infection that is back in the news.
"A key aspect of anthrax spore biology concerns the germination process through which the dormant spore becomes a reproductive, disease-causing bacterium," explained Al Claiborne, Ph.D., the principal investigator. "The potential importance of such a germination control mechanism in anthrax is clear, as spore germination and outgrowth are fundamental to proliferation."
Claiborne, co-director of Wake Forest's Center for Structural Biology, added, "Basic understanding of the regulatory signals that promote germination will enable discoveries leading to drugs that block the process."
The research is being paid for by a $152,687 grant from the Southeast Regional Center of Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infections, based at Duke University, one of eight such regional centers funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The other institutions in Claiborne's project include a co-investigator at Virginia Tech and collaborators at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Md, and the University of California, San Diego.
The research stems from lessons learned from studying the bacteria that cause Staphylococcus infections and two other bacteria in the same group as anthrax.
Claiborne said the group proposes that a vitamin B5 derivative known as Coenzyme A plays a crucial role in the germination of the anthrax spores. They have already shown that anthrax is missing a similar cofactor called glutathione that is common to many other bacteria, as well as humans.
The researchers are working with a non-pathogenic strain of anthrax. The genome sequences of four strains of the bacteria, known scientifically as Bacillus anthracis, have been determined.
The group also will be exploring the three-dimensional structures and the functions of the proteins involved. State-of-the-art facilities at the Center for Structural Biology will be used to determine how genetic information in the anthrax chromosome translates into a vast array of protein structures, Claiborne said. Once they know the structures, they may not only be able to provide new details on how anthrax develops, but also pick out structural vulnerabilities that are key to designing new therapeutic agents to prevent anthrax.
Interest in determining how to stop anthrax remains high, not only after the 2001 attacks through the mail that resulted in 18 cases and five deaths, but also after the recent scare at two military mailroom facilities when anthrax alarms went off.
The group also would like to understand another closely related bacterium, Bacillus cereus, one strain of which can produce anthrax-like symptoms.
The research team includes Conn Mallett, Ph.D., Derek Parsonage, Ph.D., graduate students Carleitta Paige, Jamie Wallen, and Tim Colussi, and senior research assistants Bill Boles, M.S., and Sumana Choudhury, M.S. Paige earlier received a $161,000 graduate fellowship from the Department of Homeland Security to support her research.
Media Contacts: Robert Conn, firstname.lastname@example.org, Shannon Koontz, email@example.com, or Karen Richardson, firstname.lastname@example.org, at 336-716-4587.
Years later, anthrax attack remains a mystery
By Brandon Keim
April 5, 2005
"Welcome to the Trenton Post Office, Hamilton, NJ 08650," reads the sign. It's a nondescript canvas banner, hung from an ordinary building in the middle of an all-American suburb--just off U.S. Highway 130, across from a pair of big-box shopping plazas.
On further inspection, there is something unusual about the place. Everything inside is new. The sign is shiny; the carpets are fresh; no fingernails have scratched the stickers on the doors; and even the chrome ashtray outside has been marred by the burn of only one cigarette.
It was through here on Sept. 18, 2001, and again three weeks later on Oct. 9, that letters containing anthrax made their way to a Florida tabloid, the New York Post, a pair of U.S. senators and the New York offices of NBC, CBS and ABC.
Before it closed on Oct. 18, 2001, millions of letters had been contaminated and 22 people around the country were infected--four fatally. Now, more than three years later, the post office has opened again. Yet despite a massive and ongoing FBI investigation, the perpetrator remains unknown.
"The investigation ran into a brick wall," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corp., a global-issues think tank headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif. "In retrospect, it looks like a perfect crime."
Theories about the attacks abound. One theory suggests that the attacks were linked to the Sept. 11 hijackers, but the most widely accepted hypothesis is that they were conducted by an "insider," a government scientist gone awry.
What experts do know is that the anthrax came from a strain developed by the U.S. military. And some scientists worry that federal biodefense efforts, which train technicians to make weapons out of germs and therefore swell the stocks of pathogens like anthrax, may actually backfire.
"The more research is done on exotic select agents like anthrax, smallpox and Ebola virus, the greater the chances of accidental transmission or criminal use," said Jeanne Guillemin, author of "Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism."
Code-named Amerithrax, the FBI investigation began in October 2001 with a series of highly unusual steps. The FBI quickly released a profile of the suspect: He was likely an adult male, possibly a researcher with a scientific background and access to lab equipment, socially awkward, given to holding grudges--someone much like the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.
Fitting the description was Steven Hatfill, a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease in Fort Detrick, Md., who colleagues said had often bemoaned the nation's lack of preparation for a biological attack. In June 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly named Hatfill as a target of the investigation--something that such a high-ranking official had never done before, said Leonard Cole, a bioterrorism expert and author of "The Anthrax Attack," an analysis of the 2001 attacks.
For nearly a year, Hatfill was under 24-hour surveillance. His home was searched several times, and FBI agents looking for discarded equipment even drained a nearby lake. They found nothing. Hatfill has since filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department, though he still remains a suspect.
"As of a few months ago, he was still unemployed and unemployable. His life has been messed up," said Cole, who believes the FBI rushed to judgment at the expense of its investigation.
When the FBI released its profile, he said, the attacks were still under way; the final victim, 94-year-old Ottillie Lundgren of Oxford, Conn., died nearly two weeks later on Nov. 21, 2001.
"The FBI's resources were focused on the likelihood of an individual, probably an American, certainly someone in the United States," said Cole. "I found too many dots that would suggest a possible link to someone who knew about 9/11 in advance."
The first dot, said Cole, was the fact that the mailings began just days after Sept. 11, making it unlikely that the perpetrator had prepared the anthrax in so short a time. Second, six of the hijackers lived in Boca Raton, Fla., during the summer of 2001. Two were shown apartments by the wife of the editor in chief of The Sun, a tabloid owned by American Media Inc., and a target of the mailings. The first anthrax fatality was Bob Stevens, a photojournalist at The Sun.
That was not the only disturbing coincidence. In June 2001, a Miami doctor treated a man with a black lesion on his leg. When the Sept. 11 hijackers were named, the doctor realized that one of them was his patient, and wondered if the lesion might actually have been caused by anthrax.
But Ed Lake, author of the recently published "Analyzing the Anthrax Attacks," believes--along with much of the nation's biodefense community--that the Florida mailings, along with anti-American rhetoric in the notes the letters contained, were a decoy meant to associate the attacks with Middle Eastern terrorists.
Instead, Lake argues, the perpetrator was likely an American scientist hoping to alert the public to the dangers. "He wanted to wake everybody up," Lake said. "He was afraid there could be sleeper cells about to launch a biological attack with nobody paying attention."
Since the attacks, the little-known field of microbial forensics--in which the spread of diseases is plotted retrospectively by analyzing changes in DNA--has advanced to the point where the anthrax samples may be traced to specific laboratory equipment. An FBI-commissioned team at Northern Arizona University is still analyzing the anthrax used in the attacks.
At the very least, it is known that the anthrax came from the so-called Ames strain, originally cultivated in Fort Detrick--where, according to an internal Army report, 27 biological samples went missing in the 1990s. The Ames strain was also shared with other laboratories inside and outside the United States, making it even more difficult to trace its route.
Traces of silica, a substance used to keep spores from clumping, was found in the anthrax spores, which as a result were so fine that they drifted through the envelopes, contaminating other letters. The apparent refinement of the anthrax has led some to believe that it came from a secret U.S. bioweapons program, prompting speculation that the attacker may have been a government worker.
"The biggest threat that I can imagine is an insider. It's so hard to defend against," said Alan Pearson, a bioweapons expert at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a think tank based in Washington.
The fear of an insider attack has grown within some parts of the research community. The president's 2005 biodefense budget request is $7.45 billion, more than 15 times what was spent on biodefense in 2001, and nearly all of it will involve direct research on the world's most lethal pathogens.
"There has been a 20-fold increase in the number of institutions and individuals with access to live bioweapons components," said Rutgers microbiologist Richard Ebright. "That ensures, mathematically, an increased risk of release."
Such a release may not always be intentional. Ebright cited the infection of Boston University researchers with tularemia in 2004, the release of anthrax in Atlanta in 2002 and last summer's accidental shipment of anthrax to an Oakland laboratory.
"The accidents are beginning," he said.
Gerald Epstein, a homeland security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy advisory group in Washington, acknowledges the risk, but calls it unavoidable and necessary. "I'm not willing to let terrorists or others with malicious intent be the only ones working on dangerous pathogens," he said.
In the meantime, the FBI's investigation continues.
"We currently have 30 FBI agents and 15 postal inspectors assigned to the case," said Debbie Weierman, a spokeswoman at the FBI's Washington field office. She added that investigators have served more than 5,000 federal grand jury subpoenas to date. "There's no statute of limitations on murder. We'll keep this case open until it ends."
fault Pentagon after anthrax scare
D.C.-area leaders say DOD slow to detail the potential threat to residents, workers
BY MICHAEL MARTZ
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Tuesday, April 5, 2005
State and local officials in the
Washington area think they did a good job responding to the latest anthrax
But they still aren't happy about the flow of information from the Defense Department about the potential health threat to their residents and workers.
A congressional subcommittee will hear the initial findings today of a review by state and local governments of how they reacted last month to almost simultaneous reports of anthrax being found at a Pentagon mail facility and a sensor sounding at another Defense Department mailroom in Fairfax County.
The review by an independent consultant concluded that state and local governments generally responded well to a chaotic, fast-changing situation in which the presence of anthrax was first confirmed and then discounted in a series of tests by federal laboratories.
"There are always lessons learned," the review says about the response in Arlington and Fairfax counties, "but they were ready if it was the real thing."
However, state officials say the report doesn't tell the whole story because a federal review is tackling the tougher issues regarding how the Defense Department tests for biological and chemical threats at its facilities and its obligation to quickly report possible threats to state and local officials in the capital region.
"It's going to have to be put in context of what happened at the federal level to get the big picture," said George W. Foresman, chief homeland security adviser to Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner.
If the federal, state, and local governments don't piece together the puzzle themselves, the House Government Reform Committee will do it for them, promised an aide to Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, R-11th, who is chairman of the committee.
"Coordination is the question mark here," said the aide, David Marin.
At today's subcommittee hearing, a private consultant will present the general findings of the review of the incidents by Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and other local governments in the region, such as Arlington and Fairfax counties. It was not clear whether the results of the federal review also will be presented, but a Homeland Security Department official said yesterday that the two reviews eventually will be fused for the full picture of what happened.
"Right now, the main commitment is to get this thing wrapped up in the next few weeks," said Thomas J. Lockwood, national capital region coordinator for the Department of Homeland Security.
Homeland Security was one of the last agencies to know about the potential anthrax threat instead of being the first, as it should have been, according to the state and local review. The department "should have been the prime agency to spread the word earlier to the region," it concluded.
The incident began with the apparent discovery of anthrax in a routine sample taken by a Chesterfield County-based subcontractor at the Pentagon mail facility on March 10. The subcontractor, Commonwealth Biotechnologies Inc., said it informed the primary contractor, Vistronix Inc., the next day, but the Defense Department did not learn of the finding until March 14.
The Defense Department alerted Arlington County, but it remains unclear whether the agency also informed the Virginia Emergency Operations Center, said Foresman, who was still waiting yesterday for the final timeline of events from the state and local perspective.
At almost the same time that local and state officials found out about the anthrax sample on March 14, a sensor sounded an alarm at a Defense Department mailroom in an office complex at Baileys Crossroads in Fairfax. The building was locked down. Another Defense Department mail facility, at V Street in the District of Columbia, also was closed as a precaution because mail flows throw it to the Pentagon.
Hundreds of workers received treatment for possible exposure to anthrax, a potentially lethal bacterium, but the state and local review questions whether the Defense Department should have acted alone in ordering treatment for its employees before informing state and local health officials.
One of the biggest problems the review addressed was the uncertainty about the status of testing and confusion over how information was handled. Governments were concerned about sounding a false alarm but also informing the public quickly about what was happening.
"In this incident, good judgment was generally exercised by state and local governments in passing along information, but with much uncertainty as to whether the right thing was being done," the report concludes.
Contact Michael Martz at (804) 649-6964 or email@example.com
of photos begins at anthrax-infected Boca building
April 14, 2005, 2:00 PM EDT
BOCA RATON -- The company decontaminating documents and photos at the anthrax-infected AMI building began another phase of their cleanup on Thursday.
Workers in special bio-hazard suits plan to place more than a half-million photographs -- a treasure trove of shots ranging from Elvis to Bigfoot -- in a special tent and fumigate them with chlorine dioxide gas around 7 p.m. tonight. The gas is expected to kill any lingering anthrax spores.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week gave Bio-ONE, the firm decontaminating the contents of the former American Media Inc. building at 5401 Broken Sound Blvd in the Arvida Park of Commerce, the go-ahead for the second phase of the anthrax cleanup, company officials said.
Crews began unloading thousands of boxes and separating files that can be no more than 15 sheets of paper thick before they're fumigated.
That process took longer than anticipated, said Jeffrey MacIntyre, senior vice president, so the company didn't start gassing the files, which included the tabloid publisher's old photo archives, until today.
The Palm Beach County Health Department quarantined the building after deadly anthrax infected and killed photo editor Bob Stevens in the fall of 2001. Mailroom worker Ernesto Blanco was infected too, but survived, recovered and returned to work.
Federal, state and local government officials struggled for two years over how to rid the privately owned building of the deadly toxin. Bio-ONE plans to make the building its headquarters.
of AMI office debated
Training center proposed for site of anthrax attack
By Luis F. Perez
April 17, 2005
A proposal to make Boca Raton the home for a national training center preparing emergency personnel for biological or chemical attacks is making the rounds among top-level government officials.
Bio-ONE, which is in the final stages of ridding the former American Media Inc. building of anthrax, is making an $84 million pitch to the government to create the center and buy additional decontamination equipment.
The company plans to lease the three-story, 67,500-square-foot building at 5401 Broken Sound Blvd. in the Arvida Park of Commerce as its headquarters and use it for training by creating simulated bioterror attacks.
The building "is a great choice because we have all the data," said John Mason, chairman.
Company officials have met with leaders in Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, lobbying them to pay for more decontamination equipment and training. They plan to meet with state leaders as well, including Gov. Jeb Bush and other elected officials, in the next couple of weeks, company officials said.
"The issue from our perspective is more a preparedness issue," Mason said.
Experts agree there's a need for the country to better prepare for another anthrax attack, or worse.
"We are woefully unprepared for a biological agent attack," said Bruce Aitken, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Homeland Security Industries Association.
The association advocates developing decontamination standards, analyzing decontamination techniques, speeding up the time to clean buildings and private companies working together with the government on the issue.
Bruce DeGrazia, an assistant deputy undersecretary of defense in the Clinton administration and association co-founder, isn't convinced Bio-ONE's technique, using chlorine dioxide gas, is the best decontamination approach, he said. But he agrees more equipment and the people trained to use it should be available in different regions of the country.
"It's like having snowplows in a place that sees snow infrequently," DeGrazia said. "It can shut you down when you have the snow."
But paying for the plows otherwise can be hard to justify, he said.
Before anything happens in the old AMI building, however, its decontamination must be completed.
The company fumigated the building in July, leaving its contents in thousands of boxes. On Thursday, crews began using chlorine dioxide gas to decontaminate millions of files which include a prized photo archive that once belonged to the tabloid publisher.
It's the last phase in the building's cleanup before the Palm Beach County Health Department can lift the 2001 quarantine placed on it days after county resident Bob Stevens, an AMI photo editor, apparently inhaled anthrax from a suspicious letter and later died. Stevens was the first U.S. bioterror attack fatality.
Last year, Mason teamed his company, Sabre Technical Services, with the consulting firm run by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to create Bio-ONE. Sabre led the cleanup of Capitol Hill offices and U.S. Postal Service plants in Washington, D.C., and Hamilton, N.J., after the unsolved anthrax attacks, which killed five people nearly four years ago and remain unsolved.
The company wants the government to pay for the decontamination units, each containing at least 12 components such as mobile labs, a large generator and computer software. Having those units in place will allow quicker and more efficient response to another biological or chemical attack, Mason said.
There's one complete unit now being used in Boca Raton and pieces for a second. Bio-ONE's proposal calls for setting up units in the New York-Washington, D.C., corridor, the Chicago and Los Angeles areas and one each in Texas and Florida. Each unit needs a team of about 18 people to operate. Teams include high-level scientists with biology, chemistry and public-health backgrounds and engineers and technicians who know how to set up and operate the machinery.
Bio-ONE estimates each unit would cost up to $15 million to build. Training the personnel to work with chlorine dioxide gas and run each unit would run about $6 million a year.
Bio-ONE workers have had their lives uprooted to work on anthrax decontamination.
Dave Skodack, vice president of engineering, is one of those employees who still has not returned to his normal life.
For about two years after the attacks, Skodack said, he visited his Houston-area home about once a month.
Government officials are aware of Bio-ONE's proposal and are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
The EPA is creating a Cincinnati-based team of 10 to 15 experts to respond to biological, chemical, radiological or weapons of mass destruction attacks, said Karen Burgan, a senior policy adviser in the agency's emergency-management office. That team likely would oversee Bio-ONE's proposed program if the government paid for it.
But Burgan emphasized no decision has been made, yet.
Bio-ONE officials met with House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., about a month ago, said Joe Pouliot, a committee spokesman. The committee oversees the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate.
"We're still evaluating the proposal," Pouliot said.
Even as Bio-ONE works toward having more equipment and personnel to prepare for another attack, Burgan expressed a sentiment many share.
"We're all getting ready," Burgan said. "But let's hope we don't have a need to use it."
Luis F. Perez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6641.
Back: The story after the story
Doctor in anthrax case is left with broken pieces of a life
By BARBARA O'BRIEN
News Southtowns Bureau
The former Wellsville physician whose homes were searched in connection with the anthrax killings has visited Wellsville recently, and is living on unemployment in New Jersey, according to a friend.
"Who's going to hire him?" asked the friend, the Rev. Richard "Pastor Dick" Helms of Wellsville.
Dr. Kenneth M. Berry lost his job as an emergency room doctor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in McKeesport, Pa., last year after his name surfaced in the anthrax investigation.
His home on East Pearl Street in Wellsville and a home in New Jersey were searched by agents from the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service on Aug. 5. The searches were part of the investigation into a series of anthrax terrorism incidents that killed five people and caused serious illnesses to 17 others in September and October 2001.
Local officials said last summer that federal authorities told them they were searching the Wellsville house for trace evidence of anthrax.
Berry, who was never charged in the anthrax case, is "still plugging away," Helms said. He said he was in Wellsville several weeks ago for Family Court proceedings, Helms said. Berry is estranged from his wife and reportedly is seeking to see his 4-year-old son.
"It's not a good situation," Helms said.
Berry was sentenced to two years' probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine after he attacked his wife and stepdaughter in New Jersey on the day the homes were being searched. Helms said Berry, who was allowed to keep his medical license, has filed an appeal in that case.
Helms, who said he talks with Berry fairly regularly, said the FBI has all but acknowledged that Berry is "pretty much cleared" and is not a suspect in the anthrax case.
"They won't say it publicly," Helms said. "If they tell you, we'll be so happy."
But the FBI is not commenting on Berry.
"The anthrax is an ongoing investigation. The FBI is enjoined from commenting on it," said Joe Parris, supervising special agent.
Helms thinks that the FBI will not clear Berry because of the Richard Jewell case.
"As soon as they do, they're liable," Helms said.
Jewell was named by the FBI as a suspect in the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996 that killed a woman and wounded 111 people. The FBI later said he was not a suspect, and Eric R. Rudolph pleaded guilty last week to the Atlanta bombing.
Berry is the founder of an organization called PREEMPT, which has crusaded for more vaccinations against anthrax and better medical preparation for terrorist attacks on America.
Scientist Can Interview Officials
The Los Angeles Times
9:38 PM PDT, April 22, 2005
By Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Ex-Army scientist Steven J. Hatfill won a federal court order Friday that the Justice Department must begin allowing his attorneys to take depositions from federal officials in his civil suit for damages over government statements linking him to the 2001 anthrax case.
Hatfill filed the lawsuit in 2003 after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft labeled him "a person of interest" in the anthrax investigation. He claimed Ashcroft's statement and remarks attributed to other federal officials cost him jobs.
In the fall of 2001, anthrax-laced mailings killed five people and made 17 others ill. No arrests have been made.
Until Friday, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton had deferred to Justice officials who argued that depositions must be postponed because they could endanger the investigation.
But on Thursday, the Justice Department told Walton that even though the investigation "is active and ongoing" the government was ready to begin some depositions on Hatfill's claims that his Privacy Act rights had been violated by government leakers.
But the department asked that depositions of Ashcroft and several other officials be postponed until Walton rules on whether they have immunity.
At a hearing Friday, Hatfill's attorney, Thomas G. Connolly, objected to excluding such key witnesses and Walton agreed, ordering the process to begin, with some limitations, The Washington Post reported.
Walton issued an order Friday setting up the machinery for moving ahead.
A physician and bioterrorism expert, Hatfill worked in the late 1990s at the Army's Fort Detrick infectious disease laboratory in Maryland.
Attacks Since 9/11?
By Cliff Kincaid | May 6, 2005
AIM.org (Accuracy In Media)
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently asked "why have there been no terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11?" This is a claim that is frequently made but false. He ignores the post 9/11 anthrax attacks.
Friedman went on to say, "I've got my own pet theory about what's produced this period of calm-and, more important, why it may be coming to an end. I fear that when and if the Jihadists conclude that they have been defeated in the heart of their world, they will be sorely tempted to throw a Hail Mary pass. That is, they may want to launch a spectacular, headline-grabbing act of terrorism in America that tries to mask, and compensate for, just how defeated they have become at home. In short, the more the Jihadists lose in Iraq, the more likely they are to use their rump forces to try something really crazy in America to make up for it. So let's stay the course in Iraq, but stay extra-vigilant at home."
There has been no "period of calm" after 9/11, unless you are prepared to ignore the failure to solve the post 9/11 anthrax attacks. This stands out as a major intelligence failure when the U.S. is facing, in Friedman's view, the increasing possibility of a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil. It's curious why a columnist for the New York Times would take the position that the post- 9/11 terrorists attacks were not really terrorist attacks. One possible explanation is that Friedman accepts the view of his colleague, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who tried to blame the attacks on former U.S. Government scientist Steven Hatfill, not al Qaeda. But even if Hatfill had been responsible-and there is absolutely no evidence for that theory-the anthrax attacks would still constitute a form of domestic terrorism. But because Kristof had no evidence, only innuendo and speculation, Hatfill sued him for defamation. Hatfill lost two jobs and had his career ruined by such charges. The Hatfill suit was thrown out but is on appeal. The Kristof charges were based on a theory advanced by a left-wing interest group and accepted by the FBI, which wanted to blame the anthrax attacks on a disgruntled right-winger. Hatfill, who had a conservative background, fit the bill.
Hatfill sued the Justice Department and the FBI after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft called him a "person of interest" in the anthrax case. Despite that charge, it bears repeating that there is no evidence against Hatfill and never has been. He has never been labeled a suspect or charged in the case.
Friedman should correct his error and use his journalistic talents to investigate the FBI. That would take real courage. Most reporters are reluctant to probe the FBI for obvious reasons.
But the recent case of Eric Rudolph shows where the FBI can go wrong. He pleaded guilty to the Olympic Park bombing, which had been falsely blamed by the FBI on security guard Richard Jewell. In that case, Jewell also sued the media for repeating the FBI line against him. He reportedly collected several hundred thousand dollars in damages. Jewell was accused of being the Olympic Park bomber when, in fact, he had assisted victims of the bombing.
It's time for the FBI-and the media-to look beyond Hatfill. There's no evidence indicating he is anything other than a patriot who tried to help America prepare for the terrorist attacks that have now been blamed on him. AIM has been saying for years that the evidence indicates an Al Qaeda connection to the anthrax murders.
Attorney Ross Getman, who has analyzed this connection in detail, has uncovered some new information. He reports evidence that Al Qaeda's Ayman Zawahiri "had a scientist named Rauf attending conferences sponsored by Porton Down, UK's biodefense facility, for the purpose of obtaining the Ames anthrax strain. The scientist's handwritten notes reporting on his efforts are available through the Freedom of Information Act. He is just one of a number of microbiologists who have been captured that have gotten no attention by the media."
He explains, "In October 2002, Jang publication 'The News' (in English), in reporting on a raid of a compound of doctors in Lahore, Pakistan, let drop a remarkable sentence about the arrest of a microbiologist named Rauf. The article noted, as reported by the CIA's Foreign Broadcasting Information Service, that 'Well-placed sources pointed out the ... arrests were also part of the chain of events which started from the arrest of PCSIR's Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research microbiologist Dr. Abdur Rauf.....'
"Rauf attended conferences sponsored by the UK biodefense facility Porton Down while seeking a pathogenic anthrax strain for Ayman Zawahiri.
"In December 2002, a journal called 'Science' magazine pictured excerpts from a handwritten letter by Dr. Rauf, without naming him, that had been obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The letter was on the letterhead of the Society for Applied Microbiology (SFAM). Dr. Rauf was merely one of hundreds of members of the society, and not an employee.
The latest dates, he reports, from the handwritten notes are reportedly July and September 1999:
"(6) Unfortunately, I did not find the required culture of B. anthrax i.e., pathogenic. The culture available in [REDACTED] is non-pathogenic."
"(8) Therefore, keeping in view to above circumstances, a visit to [REDACTED] can be arranged for 10 days in the 1st week of [REDACTED] . (FN) This requires at least the air ticket expenses."
"For this visit, I should be informed as early as possible.
FN (9) The money with me is only for the purpose to buy strains or vaccines."
Getman asks, "Did Dr. Rauf ever obtain virulent Ames? While the notes refer to dates in 1999, an A. Rauf attended the 2000 conference on 'Dangerous Pathogens.' Of course, there still would be a major question of who weaponized the anthrax and who mailed it.Khalid Mohammed was allegedly arrested in the home of an elderly bacteriologist, Abdul Qadoos Khan. KSM's laptop with undated anthrax spraydrying production instructions was allegedly found in the home. There is no indication, however, that Dr. Khan had the relevant skills to weaponize the product used in the second batch of mailings in the US. The family stridently denies even that KSM was arrested in the home.
"But imagine, if you will, Ayman watching some Porton Down scientist lecture on anthrax. Compare the capability Ayman was showing on gathering intelligence on the anthrax work at Porton Down and elsewhere to the US understanding of Ayman's program to weaponize anthrax pre-9/11."
Al Qaeda was way ahead of what the U.S. understood its expertise and potential to be. Sadly, the FBI is still behind the curve, setting us up for that new terror attack that Thomas Friedman predicts.
could shed light on anthrax probe
By Tania Valdemoro
Saturday, May 14, 2005
FORT LAUDERDALE — Details about the federal anthrax investigation could finally be revealed as a result of recent court rulings in lawsuits against the government.
Three and a half years after the FBI launched what it deems its "largest investigation in history," the agency has not charged anyone for sending anthrax-laced letters through the mail in September 2001. During the attacks, 22 people became sick from the deadly bacterium; five of them died.
In Washington, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton on April 21 ruled that Steven Hatfill, a former government scientist, is entitled to information from the investigation as he pursues his lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other federal officials.
Hatfill sued the government in August 2003 after Ashcroft named him as a "person of interest" in the anthrax attacks. The scientist has not been charged with any crimes. The lawsuit alleges federal officials destroyed Hatfill's reputation, harassed him, unlawfully fired him from his job and ruined his future job prospects.
Walton's order, however, prevents Hatfill's lawyers from interviewing Ashcroft and the other defendants in the case.
Hatfill's attorney, Thomas Connolly, declined to comment on the ruling.
In Fort Lauderdale, U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley on April 18 rejected a motion to dismiss the wrongful death lawsuit against the government filed by Maureen Stevens, the widow of the nation's first anthrax victim.
As in the Hatfill case, the ruling gives Stevens access to documents federal investigators have refused to release. Previous requests for information filed under the Freedom of Information Act were not answered, said Stevens' lead attorney, Richard Schuler.
Stevens sued the government in December 2003. Her lawsuit alleges that security lapses at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md., ultimately brought her husband, Bob, in contact with anthrax. The deadly bacterium was sent through the mail to the former American Media Inc. building in Boca Raton in September 2001. Bob Stevens, an AMI photo editor, died of anthrax inhalation on Oct. 5, 2001.
Schuler has produced a memo from an age-discrimination case involving three former scientists who disclosed that 27 specimens, including anthrax and Ebola, were missing from the research institute labs in 1992.
Federal attorneys argued in January 2004 that proceeding with the lawsuit would jeopardize the ongoing FBI investigation. They insisted that evidence-gathering by Schuler "would risk exposing documents that are infused with sensitive investigative information, such as the identity and location of U.S. government facilities processing anthrax... and the identities of persons under investigation by the FBI."
Hurley granted the government's request in April 2004 to postpone the case for six months. In July, federal attorneys then asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. They argued the government is not liable for Stevens' death.
Refusing to dismiss the case last month, Hurley challenged the position that the government is blameless.
"It is reasonable for members of the general public to expect that security procedures and policies governing handling of lethal biohazards by medical research laboratories are designed not only for the protection of the employees and communities surrounding the laboratories, but for the public at large, which is realistically and forseeably at risk in the event that a deadly organism or contagion is released," he wrote.
Hurley then ordered the U.S. Department of Justice to respond to the allegations made in Stevens' lawsuit by June 2.
Federal attorneys are deciding whether to appeal the April 18 ruling or ask the judge to reconsider it, according to court records.
Calls to Charles Miller, a justice department spokesman, were not returned. Miller has said previously that federal officials would not comment on the lawsuit.
Stevens is "very happy" the lawsuit will proceed, although she would not comment further, Schuler said.
He said he would start requesting documents and scheduling depositions. But when he was asked what kind of information he would seek from the FBI, Schuler replied, "I cannot get into that."
Hurley also rejected a motion to dismiss Stevens' lawsuit against Battelle Memorial Institute. The lawsuit alleges that lax security and poor training of workers at the Columbus, Ohio-based facility led to anthrax ultimately being mailed to AMI. Calls to Martin Woods, an attorney for Battelle, were not returned.
In March, the judge dismissed Stevens' lawsuit against BioPort Corp. of Lansing, Michigan, the nation's sole manufacturer of anthrax vaccine.
BioPort "represented to us it did not use the Ames strain of anthrax that he contends killed Bob Stevens," Schuler said. In court filings, the company said it never possessed the Ames strain; it said it tested vaccines with the vollum strain of anthrax.
Gene sequencing conducted after the anthrax attacks revealed that anthrax spores recovered from Boca Raton, New York and Washington came from one source, the Ames strain. The strain originated in 1981 from a dead Texas cow and was later sent to Fort Detrick and other labs in the U.S. and Europe.
As federal attorneys respond to Hurley's rulings, it is far from clear what information about the anthrax investigation will ultimately come to light.
"The government will delay evidence gathering in any way they can," Schuler said.
employee who contracted anthrax ready to go back to old building
By Tania Valdemoro
Sunday, May 15, 2005
WEST PALM BEACH — Ernesto Blanco still reads his mail.
He has good reason to be wary of it.
After sorting and delivering thousands of letters at American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, the now-77-year-old man, simply known as Ernie, became deathly ill from anthrax three years ago. Investigators believe anthrax powder packed in letters mailed to AMI sickened Blanco and photo editor Bob Stevens. The inhaled anthrax killed Stevens.
Blanco checked into Cedars Medical Center in Miami on Oct. 1, 2001, at the insistence of his wife, Elda. He stayed there for 23 days. Tubes drained fluid from his lungs. He struggled to sleep many nights. There were times when he felt as though he was falling down a cliff. Still, he recovered and four months later returned to work part time.
"I think that in all this, I have participated in the will of God," he said of his survival.
After the anthrax cleanup at the former AMI building concludes in the coming weeks, Blanco will be one of the first people to reenter his former workplace, once the headquarters of the publisher of supermarket tabloids such as The National Enquirer and Sun.
"I suffered more than anybody, but I'm ready to go back," he said.
He understands why other people are reluctant to do so but predicts they will change their minds.
Still, the unsolved mystery of the anthrax attacks and who perpetuated them frustrates Blanco.
"I want to see people brought to justice," he said.
In all other respects, life has returned to normal. He said his health is good, although he sees the doctor more often now because of his age.
He still walks his dogs, Papito, Pedrito and Gordo, every morning. Then he catches a ride on Tri-Rail from West Palm Beach to Boca Raton. After a short bus ride to the AMI's new offices, Blanco gathers packages in the mailroom. He said he puts in a good eight hours of work without complaint.
"Ernie has been the same dedicated employee he has always been," said Dan Rotstein, the company's senior vice president of human resources. "He tries his very best to accomplish all that we ask him to do."
In 2001, Rotstein made the "miracle call" to doctors and nurses at Cedars, informing them Ernie worked with Stevens, who earlier had been diagnosed with inhalation anthrax.
After work, Blanco returns home, walks the dogs again and then putters around the house. Whether that means fixing the plumbing or mowing the lawn, he's always moving.
"I never stop," he explained. "I enjoy it. It makes me feel useful."
Other things in Blanco's life have changed.
He and his wife moved from North Miami to West Palm Beach last year to take care of his brother-in-law, Ricardo Guerrero.
"Ricardo started losing his appetite and his mind. He could not talk or move," Blanco said. Guerrero died three months ago from Alzheimer's.
And Blanco's job is slightly different now. The U.S. Postal Service scans mail sent to AMI for chemicals before it is delivered. He wears gloves and a mask while handling mail.
Retirement has crossed Blanco's mind.
"I want to enjoy my life," he said. "In a few months, I will decide what to do."
He started working when he was 15 years old in Cuba. His first job was at the newspaper Gazette Oficial in Havana. He later came to America and settled in North Miami, where he held a series of jobs, including his own carpet business.
Carpet installation was not what his wife wanted him to do as a 60-year-old man. So she plotted with her cousin, who snagged Blanco a mailroom job at Globe Communication, a Boca Raton-based company AMI later acquired.
"It was an accident," he said, referring to the AMI job. "I never asked for it."
Companies, People, Ideas
Elizabeth MacDonald Robert Langreth, 06.06.05
The anthrax attacks of 2001 were brutal and deadly. The next attack could be even worse. Are we prepared?
The short-lived anthrax attacks that started a week after Sept. 11 are still shrouded in mystery. Innocuous white envelopes arrived by mail at big media companies and Capitol Hill. Twenty-two people were sickened and five died. "This is next," the letter-writer warned. To date no one has been charged.
The next attack could be far more horrific. Two hundred and twenty pounds of aerosolized anthrax spores sprayed from a nondescript truck in any U.S. city would wipe out anywhere from 130,000 to 3 million people, the equivalent of a hydrogen bomb. The scenario is considered one of the gravest bioterror threats to the U.S. Victims would be utterly clueless. Anthrax is odorless and tasteless and produces early symptoms that can dupe people into thinking they have the common flu. The inhaled version is usually fatal. But a vaccine, given postexposure in combination with antibiotics, could arrest it.
In 2004 the federal government allocated $5.6 billion to Project BioShield, an effort to boost the country's defenses against biological, chemical and nuclear threats. Nearly $1 billion was committed to stockpiling 75 million shots of anthrax vaccine, enough to inoculate 25 million and, hopefully, deter a terrorist biostrike.
Yet a year after BioShield and four years after the envelope attacks, the civilian stockpile is negligible. Instead we have a national security effort pinned mainly on a biotech firm with a checkered past pursuing an unproven vaccine technology on an extraordinarily tight deadline. Now that firm's rival, the sole current supplier of anthrax vaccine, a product that itself has been tarred as a serious health risk, has launched an intense lobbying effort to undermine its competitor's contract, accusing it of cozy ties with federal agencies.
Congress is threatening to hold hearings on the award. "It is unclear how quickly this new vaccine could be manufactured. I am especially concerned about potential delays," wrote Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) in a May letter to the Department of Homeland Security. Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has fired off two letters to Health & Human Services demanding answers, noting he's "greatly concerned" that the government is "not prepared to protect the American people from an anthrax attack." Stewart Simonson, an assistant secretary at HHS, recently admitted to Congress that he remains unsure about the BioShield award process. "We're learning as we go," he said.
VaxGen, a little-known biotech firm in Brisbane, Calif., won the $878 million award, one of the largest government vaccine contracts ever, to make the 75 million anthrax vaccine doses. In October 2003 VaxGen was granted a license to use a bioengineered anthrax vaccine technology developed by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. The vaccine produced by this technology, using genetically manipulated anthrax cells, is thought to be purer than traditional vaccines cultured in vats of souplike brews and laboriously filtered.
"BioShield was always designed to bring in new products," says Dr. Philip Russell, a former chief of U.S. Army medical research who advised HHS on its biodefense plans. "It was not a piggy bank to buy licensed products."
But VaxGen won't see a nickel of that money until it delivers a working vaccine. VaxGen has never made a licensed vaccine and is known mainly for a failed AIDS vaccine. Its accounting has been such a mess that Nasdaq delisted it in 2004 for not filing timely financial reports. VaxGen needs more cash to deliver its first batch of 25 million doses by 2006, as required by contract. "We're not going to let anyone down," says Lance Gordon, its chief executive.
Watching anxiously from the sidelines is VaxGen's rival, BioPort, a Lansing, Mich. company that has up to now been the government's sole anthrax vaccine supplier. The company has run into serious criticism over the quality of its vaccine, BioThrax, made using a 40-year-old process. Some 450 military personnel have refused to take it, to the point of being court-martialed or jailed. Soldiers have sued BioPort and the government to stop a mandatory anthrax vaccination program for the military, alleging BioPort's vaccine made them sick, caused birth defects, even killed some of them. Nevertheless, in May the government ordered 5 million emergency doses of BioThrax for civilians. The company and the Pentagon insist it's safe.
BioPort was stunned that VaxGen won the big award. If VaxGen delivers, it could seriously threaten BioPort's rich defense contracts. Since 1998 BioPort has grossed $223 million on contracts worth $500 million. In an effort to derail VaxGen, BioPort is lobbying Congress with a PowerPoint presentation entitled "A Nation Unprotected," attacking VaxGen's science and credentials.
BioPort says that VaxGen could miss its 2006 deadline. That's plausible, given the government's urgent demands. Vaccine stalwart Sanofi-Aventis dropped out of the bidding for an earlier government anthrax contract. "The time frame outlined by the government for us was not feasible," a company spokesman says. One government report says Sanofi believed that earlier deadline could not be met by anyone.
The government, says BioPort, has "bet the health and protection of the American public on a company with a history of scientific failure and financial scandal."
All the squabbling on Capitol Hill is beginning to get in the way of VaxGen's efforts. Calling the congressional commotion "political theater," Lance Ignon, VaxGen's spokesman, says the Capitol Hill fights won't stop the company but that any hearing "certainly unnerves Wall Street, and it's Wall Street that's funding this work," adding that having to deal with Congress "does create a distraction."
The brouhaha underscores the glaring cracks in the U.S. biodefense. Most drug companies avoid the vaccine business like, well, the plague. The market is limited, and capital costs are high. Overdependence on a botched influenza vaccine from Chiron set off a panic last fall. The issue will only worsen as Congress gears up for BioShield II and a badly needed avian flu vaccine.
BioPort, which started out as a state-run vaccine lab in Lansing, Mich., began making an anthrax vaccine in the mid-1960s with a formulation tested in a late-1950s trial on 1,200 textile mill workers exposed to anthrax. Though that study was inconclusive about the vaccine's effectiveness against inhalation anthrax--only five people in the study got that disease--BioPort says that much research, including a report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine, has backed its safety and effectiveness against both inhalation and cutaneous, or skin, anthrax.
But the state lab ran a filthy operation. In the 1990s the Food & Drug Administration threatened to revoke its license, citing numerous "significant" violations, including rusting storage freezers, dirty equipment, dead insects littering the floor and a failure to keep work areas separate to prevent contamination from other vaccines. Though the lab continued distributing vaccine for the military, its operations were suspended by the FDA in 1998. It took four years of renovations and upgrades to get approval to resume licensed work.
While BioPort accuses VaxGen of getting lots of help from the government, it, too, has benefited from the kindness of bureaucrats. The state sold the lab for $25 million in September 1998 to a partnership led by Fuad El-Hibri, a former director of Porton Products, a British vaccinemaker. El-Hibri got family friend William Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to join the board. Crowe got a 13% stake in the company. The buyers paid just $3.25 million in cash, borrowing the rest mostly with interest-free notes from the state of Michigan. When it got into fiscal trouble, BioPort got government bailouts, including multimillion-dollar contract increases, protection against product liability and the right to sell its vaccine on the private market. Since 1988 the government has spent $112 million on the lab.
The government has continued to buy BioThrax, even though in 2001 the FDAstuck a warning in the drug's packaging about potential side effects, including lymphoma, lupus, multiple sclerosis, seizures and even death. "Any other vaccine in the civilian market with such a comparably bad track record would have been yanked in minutes," says John Michels, Jr., a lead attorney for soldiers suing the military.
VaxGen has a rocky track record, too. It began in 1995 as a spinoff from Genentech. In 1999 it won an $8 million government contract to test its AIDS vaccine, but the official negotiating that contract for the Centers for Disease Control got in trouble for simultaneously talking to VaxGen about a job. VaxGen soon got in its own trouble for hyping its AIDS vaccine in press releases. It boasted that trial data showed its AIDS vaccine "is safe and raises a powerful immune response against HIV."VaxGen also corrected a disappointing sales estimate that ran in Investor's Business Daily, instead noting that "sales for the first year alone could total between $500 million and $650 million." As its stock rose, insiders started selling.
But in February 2003 VaxGen announced that its AIDS vaccine failed its first big trial. A later trial confirmed it was a flop. Investors sued, alleging executives knew things were going badly and had tried to inflate VaxGen's stock price. One suit has been dismissed, and VaxGen has agreed to settle a derivative action for $500,000 to cover attorneys' fees.
As its AIDS work was blowing up, VaxGen was working to get access to Fort Detrick's anthrax vaccine technology. It had friends. VaxGen Chief Gordon is a long-time acquaintance of Philip Russell, the former chief of Army medical research. Both sit on the board of the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute in New Canaan, Conn. Fort Detrick gave VaxGen the license to its anthrax technology in October 2003. Russell, then an adviser to HHS, stepped in to settle a fight between government bureaucrats over whether VaxGen would pay royalties to the government. "He said, ‘Dammit, I don't care what you do, but settle it--don't leave this company in the lurch,'" recalls Gordon.
A year later HHS awarded VaxGen the BioShield award. Gordon and Russell adamantly deny their relationship had any influence on VaxGen's selection. "I scrupulously stayed away from talking to him, to the point where I felt terrible about it," says Gordon. The company now quotes Russell in its media kit: "We have a lot of faith in this vaccine, and we believe it's the right way to move forward to protect the country against anthrax."
VaxGen is now restating its financials for 2001 through 2003 but appears to have lost a cumulative $173 million from the end of 1997 through 2003. Because of the restatement, VaxGen hasn't filed 2004 reports. Since December 2003 it has raised $100 million in equity and convertible debt financing and brought in $101 million in earlier federal contracts to develop its anthrax vaccine. It says it has $55 million in cash.
Both BioPort's and VaxGen's vaccines aim to spur the body to generate antibodies against the lethal bacterium. Bacillus anthracis (anthrax comes from the Greek word for coal, an allusion to the black skin lesions of the cutaneous disease) is a naturally occurring, spore-forming bacterium that is at least 11,000 years old. On a microscopic level, anthrax is elegant in its simplicity and terrifying in its power.
After spores enter the body, they germinate into spaghetti-like strings of bacteria cells, which then multiply and secrete three proteins: protective antigen, lethal factor and edema factor. Rings of protective antigen latch on to the surface of human cells and bind to the other two proteins to form toxins that then bore inside the cell, causing hemorrhaging, necrosis (blackened flesh) and death.
BioPort's vaccine uses filtered elements of dead anthrax bacteria grown in a soup of sugars, salts, amino acids and vitamins. The company says the vaccine consists primarily of protective antigen, but that it also contains small amounts of edema factor and other proteins.
In contrast, VaxGen uses genetically engineered anthrax cells to create a vaccine containing only the protective antigen. The company believes that antibodies to this protein are all that's needed for immunity. The recombinant manufacturing process allows for high volumes of consistent medicine.
VaxGen is scrambling to complete its clinical trials by the end of 2006, but Gordon says that by the end of this year it will start pumping out doses that are 95% pure, as required by its contract. Though the FDA won't review for licensing the safety and effectiveness of VaxGen's vaccine until 2007, the government is scrutinizing it, conferencing with executives every two weeks.
After all this, a preliminary trial of VaxGen's vaccine involving 100 human volunteers found that high doses had an immune response comparable to BioPort's vaccine, says a trial investigator, Dr. Harry L. Keyserling, professor of pediatrics at Emory University. (BioPort, of course, disputes this analysis.)
The sad truth is that we'll never know if these anthrax vaccines can defend us from a large-scale attack--until one occurs. Drugmakers are prohibited from infecting people with the deadly disease just to test a vaccine. If an attack ever comes, we could have big problems on our hands.
on anthrax trail
Palm Beach Post Editorial
Sunday, May 22, 2005
Three and a half years after panic hit South Florida, cleanup from the nation's first anthrax attack has begun in Boca Raton. Yet the federal government has made no arrests in the case or indicated that it is close to solving the crime, which is why a judge was correct not to dismiss the lawsuit against the government by the victim's family.
In October 2001, Robert Stevens of Lantana worked as a photo editor at the American Media Inc. building in Arvida Park of Commerce. Less than a month after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, he was exposed to anthrax that arrived in a letter to the tabloid publisher. On Oct. 5 of that year, he became the first of five people nationwide to die. The anthrax was disseminated in a series of letters. The attacks closed portions of Capitol Hill and several post offices.
In September 2003, Mr. Stevens' widow sued the government, claiming that the anthrax had come from Fort Detrick, Md., home of the Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Maureen Stevens alleged that a security lapse had allowed the anthrax to be removed and thus caused her husband's death. Not surprisingly, the government first sought a postponement, then asked U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley to dismiss the case. Last month, as The Post reported, Judge Hurley rejected not just the motion but the idea that the government would be blameless.
"It is reasonable," Judge Hurley wrote, "for members of the general public to expect that security procedures and policies governing handling of lethal biohazards by medical research laboratories are designed not only for the protection of the employees and communities surrounding the laboratories, but for the public at large, which is realistically and forseeably at risk in the event that a deadly organism or contagion is released."
The government must respond by June 2. By then or soon after, cleanup of the old AMI building may be complete. If the government isn't going to produce a criminal, the lawsuit offers the best chance for now of the government at least having to produce some answers.
Police and the FBI Should Be Wary to Use the "Person of Interest" Designation:
The Label Destroys Lives, Yet Provides Little Benefit
By EDWARD LAZARUS
Thursday, May. 26, 2005
On May 18, police officials in Idaho designated Robert Roy Lutner a "person of interest" in connection with the bloody murder of three people found at a rural home, and the apparent abduction of two children from the murder site.
Lutner reportedly had an extensive criminal record, was on probation, and was the last known person to visit the house where the killings occurred. Numerous news stories publicized these facts to all and sundry after he was designated a "person of interest."
Yet twenty-four hours later, the police captain in charge of the investigation declared that Lutner had absolutely nothing to do with the murders or the abduction. Lutner, it turns out, voluntarily came in for an interview, convinced the cops he was innocent, and backed it up by taking a polygraph test.
This was a happy ending for Lutner. But the incident still underscores the dangers inherent in the increasing fondness of police officials, federal and state, for publicly identifying "persons of interest" in high profile criminal investigations. History has shown that this designation has no discernable legal meaning or significance, but for obvious reasons carries the power to destroy people's lives.
Publicly Identifying "Persons of Interest" Is As Destructive as Publicly Identifying "Suspects"
The Department of Justice has long maintained strong policies against identifying suspects in pending investigations. One major reason for this policy is lots of "suspects" turn out, as Mr. Lutner did, to be perfectly innocent - yet the stigma of the "suspect" label may linger after they are publicly exonerated. Or, worse, these "suspects" may never be publicly exonerated, even though internally, the investigators have come to believe they are innocent.
There's no DOJ policy, to my knowledge, against identifying a "person of interest." Yet the public is well-aware that "person of interest" is just a euphemism for "suspect." As a result, the use of this term, especially in high-profile cases, has already caused serious harm and is sure to do so again in the future. DOJ should expand its policy to encompass "person of interest" - not just "suspect" - designations - and state, city and local police should follow suit.
Failing that, the Attorney General and his state counterparts should exercise their discretion to either stop or, at a minimum, severely limit the "person of interest" designation to those cases where public dissemination of a name serves an extremely compelling investigative function.
When the "Suspect" Designation Wreaks Injustice: The Richard Jewell Case
No one seems to know who coined the term "person of interest." But it is not hard to trace the root cause of the designation's relatively recent popularization. It started with a lawsuit, specifically the lawsuit of Richard Jewell, the security guard whom the FBI outed as a suspect in the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing investigation.
After the government dropped Jewell's name to the press, Jewell became the immediate target of fevered speculation. Hordes of journalists subjected his life to the unrelenting proctological examination that has become commonplace with the advent of cable news and its insatiable appetite for sensational stories.
As it turned out, the FBI eventually figured out that Jewell had done nothing wrong. But in the meantime, its act of naming him as a suspect in this notorious crime left his life and reputation in tatters.
Once exonerated, Jewell sued a bunch of his accusers and achieved some substantial settlements. NBC paid him more than $500,000 to settle a suit stemming from comments by news anchor Tom Brokaw that suggested that the FBI must have had significant evidence against Jewell, given that it had named him.
The lesson the police and press gleaned from the Jewell debacle, however, was not the right one. They should have learned that prematurely naming suspects is a really bad idea - as is suggesting that suspects must have been named because there's strong evidence against them.
But what the police and press learned, instead, was simply that using the loaded term "suspect" opens the door to potential legal liability.
Thus, a euphemism was born. After all, calling someone a "person of interest" doesn't suggest official suspicion or evidence of guilt. Wink; wink.
The "Person of Interest" Designation Proves Destructive, Too: The Case of Dr. Hatfill
Experience tells us, not surprisingly, that the difference between calling someone a suspect and declaring them a "person of interest" is non-existent as a practical matter. Just ask Dr. Steven Hatfill.
Hatfill is a former U.S. Army bioweapons scientist. Four years ago, the FBI named him as a "person of interest" in the investigation of the nationwide anthrax attacks.
Hatfill had his life turned upside down because the government hung him out to dry in the media with its non-accusation accusation. Hatfill lost his job (and, big surprise, he's had a hard time finding a new one). And he has spent years being followed around by the press, as well as by government investigators.
Yet Hatfill still has never been charged with any anthrax-related crime. And it seems increasingly unlikely that he ever will be. The whole anthrax investigation has dropped from sight, suggesting that the government is stymied and also now accords other terrorism investigations higher priority.
Hatfill sued the government for ruining his reputation. Yet - in a particularly strange twist -- the feds claimed that they were actually "downplaying" his status within the investigation by only calling him a "person of interest," not a "suspect." In other words, the government claimed it had done Hatfill a favor!
Another "Person of Interest" Label That Destroyed a Life: The Case of Hubert Hauser
Importantly, the "person of interest" phenomenon is not limited to big-time national cases like Hatfill's. It can also wreak havoc on the state, city, or local level.
For example, in Albuquerque recently, the police named Hubert Hauser a "person of interest" in the rape and murder of his estranged wife. As a result, the local newspaper published the sordid details of divorce.
The ugly publicity and media hounding ultimately drove Hauser to leave town. Yet, it turns out that Hauser was completely innocent. DNA evidence showed that the crime was committed by Phillip Busey, a local homeless person.
It's a Very Rare Case In Which a "Person of Interest" Label Is Justified
So why do the police and other government officials persist in naming "persons of interest?"
One can imagine at least one benign explanation: There may be some instances -- a child abduction, for example - in which police need to locate a "person of interest" as quickly as possible because delay poses an imminent danger to the victim. The "Amber Alert" system recognizes that the best approach to child abductions may be to employ massive resources - and the help of ordinary citizens - to find the perpetrator and victim as soon as possible. The same logic might justify the "person of interest" designation in such cases.
I am not sufficiently versed in police investigative techniques to know what alternatives are available, short of this kind of public naming, to track someone down as quickly as possible. But it does not strike me as implausible that, in some unusual circumstances, the downside of naming a "person of interest" may be substantially outweighed by the exigencies of a particular investigation.
But even in these exigent circumstances, police should be exceedingly hesitant. The facial neutrality of the phrase "person of interest" doesn't change the fact that singling someone out as important to the investigation of an odious crime will have the inevitable effect of making that person a suspect and pariah in his or her community.
And real-life cases in which the "person of interest" label has been used, have rarely involved imminent harm to a living victim that might be averted by resorting to the label. To the contrary, often it seems that the government is just using the label as a public relations tool - to create the appearance that progress is being made in a closely scrutinized investigation.
It's possible the "person of interest" designation may have a "flushing out" effect - prompting those with knowledge about the named person to come out of the woodwork. But the government ought to be able to find and interview knowledgeable persons without resorting to this tactic.
Public naming can also be bait for false accusations and evidence - flushing out not useful witnesses, but rather everyone with a grudge against the person named. Why not pile on when the police have already named your enemy a "person of interest"?
Conversely, witnesses may be less inclined to stick up for someone they know to be a "person of interest" - for fear of seeming a fool in case the person for whom they vouched is indicted. There's nothing like the taint of possible guilt to drive away friends, and bring enemies in for the kill. Might some who could have helped exonerate Richard Jewell - through character testimony, if nothing else - decided not to further associate with him instead, once he was named a "suspect"?
A Major Reason for "Person of Interest" Designations: Increased Pressure to Solve Crimes
Public pressure on investigative agencies seems to grow by the day. With a non-stop 24-hour cable news cycle focused heavily on crime stories, it is perfectly natural that police officials want to appear as though they are getting closer to solving whatever crime has most recently gained media attention.
But naming a "person of interest" is a cheap and destructive way out of this predicament. The power of government brings with it the obligation of restraint.
There are many circumstances where this obligation puts government officials at a disadvantage. For example, government prosecutors have an obligation not to try their cases in the press, even when defense lawyers are spinning tall tales about weaknesses in the government's case.
But the government - with immense power - is rightly held to a higher standard. Defense attorneys don't hold the key to the jail cells, or the right to order around the people with guns. Those who do have those powers, bear greater responsibility to exercise them prudently.
There are few traits more important in government officials, especially law enforcement officials, than an ability to take the heat. It's the quality that keeps them from rushing to judgment (and thus putting on blinders that may keep them from finding the true perpetrator), indicting weak cases, or even withholding or manufacturing evidence.
Naming persons of interest may be small potatoes, compared to some forms of government overreaching and irresponsibility. But it's also an easy practice to cure. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales ought to ban this practice. If he did, no doubt many of his counterparts around the country would follow suit.
Edward Lazarus, a FindLaw columnist, writes about, practices, and teaches law in Los Angeles. A former federal prosecutor, he is the author of two books -- most recently, Closed Chambers: The Rise, Fall, and Future of the Modern Supreme Court.
Media Shield Law
By Cliff Kincaid | May 31, 2005
A group of legislators has introduced a bill called the Free Flow of Information Act. It is termed a "Media Shield Law" that will make it very difficult to compel journalists to appear in federal court cases and turn over information and identify confidential sources. In a column headlined, "Republicans Vs. the Press," Robert Novak said that Senator Richard Lugar, one of the main sponsors, could find only three other Republicans Senators willing to co-sponsor it, "thanks to anti-media hostility in GOP ranks."
There are better reasons to oppose this bill. One is that journalists don't deserve special rights or protections.
A press release about the bill states that reporters deserve "the same protections that are afforded other professions such as clergy, attorneys and physicians." But why should journalists be compared to those categories of people?
In an excellent article in the Wilson Quarterly, Terry Eastland makes the following basic point: "…though journalists aspired to the status of professionals, they never acquired the self-regulatory mechanisms found in law, medicine, or even business." This point is made in the context of explaining how the media are changing before our very eyes, and how the definition of "journalist" is changing as well.
Calling oneself a journalist should not be a way to avoid responsibility under the law and report evidence of criminal activity.
Consider the Steven Hatfill case. He is the former government scientist described by then-Attorney John Ashcroft as a "person of interest" in the 2001 anthrax attacks. Hatfill's reputation and career were ruined by FBI agents and other government officials leaking damaging but false information about him to the press. He is another Richard Jewell, the security guard that the FBI falsely blamed for the Olympic Park bombing.
Hatfill has sued the media but he is also suing the federal government. He argues that the leaks from the government violated his right to privacy. He wants to identify the government agents who fingered him because he wants them to pay. In order to do that, however, he wants reporters to identify sources who provided them information about the Justice Department's investigation. That's the only way to root out these corrupt government officials. A U.S. district court approved Hatfill's request to subpoena the Associated Press and other news organizations that produced stories about him based on leaks from federal agents. AP opposed the subpoena, arguing that the First Amendment "shields them from being forced to disclose what they have learned in confidence," according to an AP account.
AP assistant general counsel Dave Tomlin said, "News organizations are supposed to gather news, as opposed to spending their time performing research and testifying in court on behalf of various parties with axes to grind."
But Hatfill's point is that journalists in this case became willing accomplices of government agents with axes to grind. He wants to find out who they are so he can hold them accountable for what they did to him. That's justice.
It's fine for the AP lawyer to argue that the First Amendment is a shield for journalists. But the First Amendment doesn't protect journalists from the consequences of what they write. And when they collaborate with the government to damage or smear the reputation of an innocent person, they should be forced to tell what they know.
Government lying in the case continues. The government claims that the investigation into the post 9/11 anthrax attacks is "active and ongoing." The Washington Post said that law enforcement sources, "who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there have been no significant new developments."
It's now been over three years since those attacks. It is important for our national security and survival to find out why the case is unsolved and who in the government used the press to finger an innocent man. Members of the media must tell us what they know. They are citizens as well. They are not above the law.
agent a bacillus: Howard
June 01, 2005
The biological agent sent to the Indonesian embassy in Canberra contained a bacteria, Prime Minister John Howard said tonight.
Mr Howard said he had been told the substance was a bacteria belonging to the bacillus group.
"It's still being tested ... it's not an innocent white powder, it's some kind of biological agent," Mr Howard told Channel 9.
"I'm not a scientist but they say it belongs to the bacillus group and is being tested.
"At this stage I can't tell you any more than that."
The bacillus group includes various forms of bacteria, one of which is the causative agent of anthrax.
The embassy in Canberra was shut down and its staff isolated after the envelope arrived.
Mr Howard said he was staggered by today's incident.
"Let me say that I'm staggered that it's happened but I'm afraid that we have to recognise that there's a dark corner in every country and you can get that kind of behaviour in every country," he said.
He again linked the incident to anger over the 20-year jail term handed to Gold Coast woman Schapelle Corby for drug smuggling in Bali.
"Can I say to people, please, this is not helping her," the Prime Minister said.
"In fact, it will hurt.
"And anybody who imagines that this kind of gesture towards the Indonesian ambassador is going to alter attitudes in Indonesia (should understand) it will have a negative effect on the judiciary, it will have a negative effect on political opinion in that country – all of which is very unhelpful.
"Guilty or innocent, if we want her to have a fair go in her appeal process this is the last thing we want."
Earlier, Mr Howard said it would be a remarkable coincidence if the embassy incident was not linked to anger over the Corby verdict.
The Prime Minister appealed to the public to keep "their heads" over the Corby verdict and respect Indonesia's legal system.
"We have to keep our heads, we have to behave ... reasonably," he said.
"I don't know whether she's guilty or innocent but I do know this, that behaving in a reckless, outside-the-law fashion is not going to aid her cause.
"We would resent other countries interfering in our legal system and I plead with people to extend the same courtesy to the legal system of another country."
letter: innocence lost
By SAFFRON HOWDEN
June 2, 2005
WHEN the Indonesian Ambassador's secretary opened a letter addressed to her boss yesterday, a potentially deadly powder spilled to the floor.
The letter arrived on her desk shortly after 10.30am, addressed by name to Indonesian Ambassador Imron Cotan.
The secretary immediately called the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to raise the alarm, and the four-storey compound in Yarralumla was soon sealed off with the 50 staff inside.
Fire, ambulance and police officers were placed on a hazardous materials alert.
Experts in isolation suits took samples, which were sent for analysis.
Inside the embassy, staff were told to keep calm.
Shortly afterwards, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer told Parliament tests had proved positive for a "biological agent".
"Further analysis of the powder has tested positive as a biological agent so further testing will need to be carried out to find out what that substance actually is," he said.
Hours later, Prime Minister John Howard said it was an act of "murderous criminality".
He said it would be a "remarkable coincidence" if the incident was not linked to fallout over the Schapelle Corby case.
Calls to staff locked inside the embassy revealed they were not aware of the bio-threat or the lockdown.
In Bali, Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa called it a "cowardly" act.
Corby's lawyer Lily Lubis said the alert would damage her client's case and said she had not told Corby as it make her "very sad and worried".
"We feel very sorry about this. This is not the answer to Schapelle's problems," she said.
"Please stop these kinds of threats as they have nothing to do with her case. Many, many people are sad about the decision made by the judges. But they have to remember that this is not the end.
"We still have time. We still have a system of law in Indonesia and this is not the end. We are appealing to the High Court and then after that if we need to we will go to the Supreme Court."
Security at the Indonesian consulate in Perth was increased last month after staff received bullets and a letter warning they would be killed unless Corby was released.
Ida Bagus Wiswantanu, the chief prosecutor in charge of Corby's case, said: "We are very, very sorry for that action. They [the perpetrators] should respect the legal system in our territory.
"It is very clear this action is a really big crime in the vision of any law, especially committed upon people who don't know anything about this case or have any involvement in the case."
Judge Linton Sirait, the chief of the three-judge panel, refused to comment.
Corby's family also declined to comment.
The Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mr Natalegawa said: "This is not the way that we know Australians act. It is not Australian."
Jodie Power, who was in Bali to support Corby when she was found guilty of smuggling 4.1kg of marijuana and sentenced to 20 years jail, condemned the attack.
"I am disgusted, I can't believe people will go to those lengths to support somebody," she said.
"I think it's very un-Australian. It's one thing to boycott Bali but it's another thing to do something like that and put people's lives at risk."
shame over bio attack
By Ian McPhedran and Nick Butterly
PRIME Minister John Howard was forced to apologise to Indonesia yesterday after a biological attack on its embassy - and the first on Australian soil.
A powder - which initial tests showed was either anthrax or one of four other lethal substances - was mailed to Indonesian Ambassador Imron Cotan and opened yesterday.
The finger of blame points to Australia, with anger over the Schapelle Corby sentence behind the attack.
Mr Howard labelled the attack a "reckless act of indifference to human life" and confirmed the powder was "some kind of biological agent". Mr Cotan's secretary opened the envelope just after 10.30am yesterday and white powder spilled to the floor.
Although there was initial belief the powder could have been fertiliser, Mr Howard said it tested positive for a "harmful" substance.
He said it would be remarkable if the attack was not related to community anger over the 20-year sentence handed down to Corby by a Bali court for drug smuggling.
"Quite apart from the murderous criminality of doing something like this ... it won't achieve the objective. It will have the opposite effect," Mr Howard said.
"The advice I have is that the reference 'biological agent' does not mean it is benign.
"But when you send a substance of this type, if the analysis proves correct, it's an act of reckless indifference to human life and I apologise on behalf of the Australian people to the Indonesian Embassy and to the Indonesian Government."
Police and emergency services, including hazardous materials units, were called and the embassy was immediately locked down.
The powder was tested at the ACT Government analytical laboratory and found to be an unknown but potentially dangerous biological agent. The embassy's staff were put through a precautionary decontamination process inside the compound.
A police spokesman refused to say if a note was included with the powder. Police sources said the tests were a long way from complete, and that false readings were common.
A statement from the Indonesian Government last night condemned and strongly deplored what it described as a "sorry and cowardly attempt of intimidation".
It also welcomed the support and assistance of Australian officials.
Mr Howard said the biological attack would not help Corby's plight and would make it harder "for the poor girl".
"It will do great damage in the eyes of many Indonesian people to the relationship between our countries and it certainly won't help Schapelle Corby," he said.
Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said no firm link with the Corby case had been established but the emergency was consistent with various threats made against Indonesian missions in Australia during her drug-smuggling trial.
"This is a serious development," he said. "We will not succumb to such acts of intimidation, particularly such a cowardly one. We will not be intimidated in this way."
Last night, staff from the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra began leaving the building after they were decontaminated following the biological scare.
About a dozen of the staff members left the building just before 10.30pm (AEST), and others followed shortly afterwards.
As a precaution, the embassy will remain closed today to await the result of the analysis.
This could take up to 48 hours, Supt Kilfoyle said last night.
He said the group had shown no sign of fear during the ordeal, and were accepting of the assistance provided.
He would not confirm the size of the envelope or who it was addressed to, and he said it was inappropriate to comment on security at the embassy.
attack on embassy
by John Kerin and Sian Powell
JOHN Howard last night apologised to Indonesia for a "murderously criminal" biological attack on Jakarta's embassy in Canberra, in what is feared to be a reprisal for Schapelle Corby's 20-year drug-smuggling sentence.
A letter addressed to Indonesian ambassador Imron Cotan, and opened by his personal assistant, was stuffed with identified white bacterial powder and a race-hate message.
Up to 50 staff were quarantined for several hours as emergency officers, in full chemical protection suits, extracted the substance, which had spilled on to the floor when the letter was opened.
The Prime Minister last night revealed the powder was a member of the bacillus family, which in some forms is linked to the causative agent for anthrax.
Mr Howard said that while the substance was still being tested, "it's not some innocent white powder, it's some kind of biological agent".
On the day that Corby's lawyers officially lodged an appeal against her sentence, Indonesian foreign affairs spokesman Marty Natalegawa condemned the attack as "cowardly" and "a sorry attempt" at intimidation.
He also said the attack should serve as an "alarm bell for those who have been whipping up public opinion". Mr Cotan was reluctant to draw a link between the attack and the Corby trial last night.
"But it has been difficult here for some time ... we are used to operating in difficult conditions," he told The Australian, referring to a campaign of hate mail and emails accompanying the Corby case.
The embassy and other consulates in Australia have been sent threatening emails and letters since the trial started. A bullet in another envelope was also sent to Indonesia's Perth consulate.
The timing of the embassy drama could not have been worse for Corby's Indonesian lawyer Lily Lubis, who yesterday formally lodged the Gold Coast student's appeal against her conviction and 20-year jail sentence for marijuana-smuggling.
"We feel very sorry about this. This is not the answer to Schapelle's problems. Please stop these kinds of threats as they have nothing to do with her case," Ms Lubis said.
Mr Howard said: "Quite apart from the murderous criminality of doing something like this and the indifference and contempt to human life that it displays, it won't achieve the objective. It will have the opposite effect. It would do great damage in the eyes of many Indonesian people to the relationship between our countries and it certainly won't help Schapelle Corby."
TV PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
Reporter: Dana Robertson
TONY JONES: Pathology tests have found that the white powder sent to the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra is almost certainly harmless. It's been revealed that the powder came with a note in Bahasa Indonesia, which the Foreign Minister described as "very abusive" although Lateline understands there was no mention of Schapelle Corby. Dana Robertson reports from Canberra.
DANA ROBERTSON: At the Indonesian Embassy tonight, there's little sign of the upheaval of the past two days. Late last night, Embassy staff were finally allowed to leave the compound, after full decontamination procedures had been carried out. So far, no-one's reported being unwell and preliminary tests on the white powder indicate that's how it'll stay.
JOHN DAVIES, ACT CHIEF POLICE OFFICER: At this stage it looks very unlikely that the substance contained any bacteria of pathological significance.
DANA ROBERTSON: It's emerged the letter was sent from Victoria, and was accompanied by a note written in Bahasa Indonesia. But neither the police nor the Government will reveal just what the note said.
JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: I have been briefed on the broad substance of the note which accompanied the material. For police investigation reasons, I'm not at liberty to disclose what that substance is.
DANA ROBERTSON: Some Indonesian experts say the quality of the Bahasa in the note may be a clue to who sent it. The ABC understands there was no mention of Schapelle Corby or her conviction. Mr Howard won't confirm or deny that, but he's not resiling from his belief that that was most likely the motivation for the attack. It's a bow others aren't willing to draw.
JON STANHOPE, ACT CHIEF MINISTER: It isn't appropriate that there be speculation on the motive for this incident.
ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN MINISTER: At this stage it's probably unwise I would think to be speculating as to motives.
DANA ROBERTSON: Both Mr Howard and Alexander Downer are concerned the incident will damage relations with Indonesia, although they're more worried about the reaction of ordinary Indonesians than their Government. It's resulted in a public relations offensive, including an appearance on Indonesian TV.
ALEXANDER DOWNER: I think Australians right across the country are absolutely appalled at what has happened and they've extended their sympathy to the Indonesian ambassador and to the staff working at the Embassy.
DANA ROBERTSON: Three Indonesian National Police officers and an official from the Agriculture Ministry are also joining the Federal Police investigation. Security at the Australian Embassy - already a target once before - is being reviewed.
JOHN HOWARD: Just as we cannot guarantee a random act of stupidity with an evil intent from among our 20 million people can't occur, equally I can't expect a guarantee that some evil act of retaliation won't occur in that country.
DANA ROBERTSON: For now, the Indonesian Embassy remains closed and won't reopen until all testing on the mystery bacteria is finished.
Dana Robertson, Lateline.
substance not anthrax: police
By Sandra O'Malley
The white powder sent to the Indonesian embassy in Canberra was not anthrax, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said.
Analysis was continuing but it was unlikely there was any bacteria of major pathogenic significance in the powder, the AFP said.
"AFP-ACT Policing has been advised that testing has shown the substance is not anthrax," the AFP said in a statement.
"Further testing is continuing.
"At this stage ACT Policing has been advised it is very unlikely that there are any bacteria of major pathogenic significance.
"However, it must be stressed these findings are interim and analysis is continuing."
Meanwhile, Indonesian authorities have promised to boost security for Schapelle Corby at her Bail jail in the wake of the threat to the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, say her legal team.
Corby was told of the abusive letter and white powder sent to the embassy, which has been blamed on one of her supporters.
Earlier, her legal advisers had said she would not be told of the incident, for fear of worrying her.
Corby was upset by the news and worried about its negative impact on the appeal she has launched against her conviction and jailing for smuggling 4.1kgs of marijuana into Bali.
Her legal team then asked for her security at Bali's Kerobokan Prison to be upgraded.
"We have called the prison officers and asked them to provide extra security and make sure Schapelle is okay, and they have agreed to do so," said legal adviser Vasu Rasiah.
Consular officials due to visit Corby have also been asked to check on her progress.
"She is very upset because it is all not positive, this can't help the case or help Australians or help Indonesians," Mr Rasiah said.
"Whichever way you look at this incident, it is a negative incident, there is not one positive impact."
However Mr Rasiah said there was nothing conclusive to connect the embassy threat to Corby supporters.
"We don't know who has done that," he said.
Despite extensive overseas media coverage of the threat, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it has no reason to upgrade its warning for Australians travelling to Indonesia.
However, Prime Minister John Howard warned he can not rule out retaliatory attacks against Australians abroad.
"In so far as possible retaliatory action is concerned in Indonesia, there is always a danger of that," Mr Howard told parliament.
"Just as we cannot guarantee a random act of stupidity with an evil intent ... equally I cannot expect a guarantee from the Indonesian government that some evil act of retaliation won't occur in that country."
Corby's lawyers are continuing to work on her appeal to Bali's High Court, after receiving a copy of the written judgment brought down last Friday.
Mr Rasiah said the team now had two weeks to submit the paperwork in support of their notice to appeal, which was lodged earlier in the week.
rants and a murderous threat
By MALCOLM FARR Chief Political
June 3, 2005
THE note sent to the Indonesian Embassy that put Australians and our international reputation at risk carried a crude racist attack on our near neighbour.
It arrived at the embassy in Canberra on Wednesday morning in an envelope addressed to the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, Imron Cotan.
The envelope also contained a white powder.
Tests yesterday found the powder, which had spilled on to the floor, was harmless.
Posted just outside Melbourne, the note was written in Indonesian by someone who didn't know the language well, sources told The Daily Telegraph.
It did not directly mention convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby but officials believe it was a response to the 20-year sentence she received last Friday in a Bali court.
Prime Minister John Howard yesterday said, even though the powder was not toxic, sending the note was a "reckless, evil act".
Australian officials believe quick action on Wednesday in briefing the Indonesian leadership and apologising for the incident had prevented a rift with Jakarta.
Indonesian police will join a taskforce investigating the note and its sender, and a cross-party delegation will meet with senior Indonesian ministers next week to express further regret over the incident.
Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer already has spoken to his counterpart Hassan Wirajuda and condemned the threat. Security was also increased at other Indonesian offices around Australia.
Prime Minister Howard said the note had been intimidatory, and he pointed to "the damage it has done to the perceptions of this country in the eyes of people in Indonesia, the understandable fear it instilled in the staff at the embassy and all that that connotes for our relationship".
Mr Howard repeated that whoever sent the note had harmed the hopes of Ms Corby being freed.
"It is something that is quite unacceptable in our country and in so far that it may have been related to other matters, in that context my great concern, it has been utterly counterproductive," he said.
If convicted, the person responsible for the letter to the embassy could be jailed for a maximum of 10 years.
did not name Schapelle
Nick Butterly and Ian McPhedran
THE letter posted with the white powder to the Indonesian embassy on Wednesday did not refer to Schapelle Corby, but was full of threats and racial abuse.
The Courier-Mail has been told the Indonesian language used in the brief hate statement was of a very poor standard.
Despite the lack of direct reference to Corby or her 20-year jail sentence, Prime Minister John Howard yesterday insisted the two were linked.
The contaminated letter, delivered just after 10.30am on Wednesday morning, was addressed to the Indonesian ambassador to Australia, Imron Cotan – who was not there at the time – and was opened by a secretary.
White powder spilled on to the floor when it was torn open, directly contaminating two staff members and sparking fears the embassy was under chemical or biological attack.
The embassy was immediately locked down and more than 40 staff were de-contaminated and allowed to go home about 12 hours later.
The building remained closed and under tight security late yesterday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said the letter was mailed from a Victorian post office close to Melbourne.
Mr Howard would not discuss its contents, but continued to link the bio-terrorism attack to the Corby case.
"It's hard to escape the belief that there was a connection," he said. "I have no reason to alter that but you shouldn't read anything into that."
The bio-attack has been given wide coverage in Indonesia, where until now the Corby case has barely rated a mention.
The Indonesian Government has called for calm, but some politicians want payback for the numerous travel warnings issued by Australia against Indonesia.
Parliamentarian Joko Sisilo, who sits on Indonesia's House Foreign Affairs Committee, told ABC Radio Indonesia should issue a travel warning for Australia.
He said it proved Australians, too, were capable of terrorism.
Mr Howard said he did not believe the attack would have a long-term impact on Australia-Indonesia relations. "When something infinitely worse, namely the murder of 88 Australians occurred in Bali in 2002, it wasn't an expression of the attitude of the Balinese people."
Australian Capital Territory Chief Police Officer John Davies said police were working closely with Australia Post to ensure postal staff were safe. "Obviously for those who for whatever motives may be interested in trying to copycat or conduct hoax operations they can trust we will throw the full weight of the law into our investigations and bring such people to justice," he said.
ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope took a swipe at Mr Downer for his comments in the media revealing crucial aspects of the investigation. "The random release of information does I think have the potential to seriously undermine investigations of this order and potentially a prosecution," Mr Stanhope said.
Los Angeles Times
'DEEP THROAT' REVEALED
Disgust and Admiration at FBI
Former and current agents are split on the legacy of W. Mark Felt. But critics say the bureau has a history of leaking information.
By Richard B. Schmitt and Greg
June 2, 2005
WASHINGTON -- Some past and present FBI agents said Wednesday that they felt uncomfortable with the revelation that one of their own was the legendary "Deep Throat," who had helped the Washington Post uncover details of the Watergate break-in. One called it appalling.
But others said that W. Mark Felt, then the FBI's No. 2 man, did what he had to do to get the story out. That's a sentiment that has permeated the bureau throughout its history and continues to this day — sometimes for ignoble purposes.
Felt's mentor, J. Edgar Hoover, perfected the art of the leak. The former FBI director bugged the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s hotel rooms and created a taped composite of his sexual activities. Hoover offered the recordings to reporters in a bid to discredit the civil rights leader.
More recently, the bureau has been accused of leaking information about investigations into the 2001 anthrax attacks in Washington and the bungled prosecution of a former nuclear weapons scientist, Wen Ho Lee.
Felt, 91, broke a 30-year silence Tuesday, revealing himself as the famous source in an article in Vanity Fair magazine. His family said that they wanted him to come forward so that he could be recognized as a patriot who had helped expose the dirty tricks of the Nixon White House.
Felt oversaw the initial investigation into the Watergate break-in, and was in a position to understand the breadth of illegal activity that the White House was engaged in and how it rose to the top of the administration. He systematically began helping Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
Felt had worried for three decades that many would see his activities as dishonorable, he told family members.
Some agents said Wednesday that they considered Felt a turncoat, and that he should have followed more traditional channels in outing the abuses. They said he could have worked with career prosecutors at the Justice Department before turning to the Washington Post.
"Everyone I have heard from is offended by it," said a current agent who spoke on condition of anonymity. "There are other ways to deal with it. There are tons of ways to get things up to our headquarters or the Department of Justice if we have concerns…. It is offensive to people slogging away and doing their jobs and trying to make things better. He did not try to make us more effective when he should have been out there in the lead on this. Why not work to make this better, rather than throw a bone to the press?"
Other agents questioned Felt's motives. They said he was embittered that President Nixon had chosen an administration insider, L. Patrick Gray III, to be acting FBI director — thinking Nixon should have opted for a bureau veteran such as himself.
"I am not saying what Nixon did was right, but I think Mark Felt would have sold out anyone for his own promotion," said Gary Penrith, a retired FBI official living in Chicago.
For years, Penrith said, many former agents have been convinced that Felt served as the Post's anonymous source in order to shake up the bureau and enhance his shot at a promotion.
"I mean, he sold out his own guys, his own agents, for his own benefit," Penrith said.
Even if Felt was not motivated by self-promotion, said a West Coast FBI agent who also spoke on condition of anonymity, his actions were appalling because they were reckless.
"This isn't about keeping something within the bureau," the agent said. "I mean, this was a criminal investigation. And if he wanted to do something, he could have just gone public and put a spotlight on all the roaches that were in the White House. That would have been a lot better way to get to the truth than meeting some [reporter] in a parking lot."
But plenty of former and current agents backed Felt's action on the grounds that he was in an untenable situation. With Nixon and his attorney general, John N. Mitchell, implicated in the scandal — and the acting FBI director under suspicion — the official channels were corrupted, they argued. Had he raised his concerns publicly, they said, Felt risked being smeared and marginalized by Nixon defenders.
"They would have savaged him just like they savaged everyone else that crossed them," said I.C. Smith, a retired FBI official who went to work for the bureau at the height of Watergate.
Bob Gast, a former bureau official who worked at FBI headquarters at the time, said: "It was a tough time for everybody. You really couldn't tell who your friends were and who your enemies were. There were so many people who ended up being involved in that darn thing that you were at a loss to figure out exactly who to report the results of investigations to. People were dropping like flies."
Gast, who is president of the Society of Former Special Agents, said members of the FBI alumni group were "pretty much evenly divided" over whether Felt had acted honorably.
One strong supporter is Bill Baker, who retired from the FBI in 1991 as assistant director in charge of its criminal division. He said Felt's actions were justified by concerns that serious federal crimes might otherwise go unpunished in an administration that often quashed dissent.
"He had a clear understanding that had he gone to the prosecutors in that environment, his information might have become bogged down or might even have been tampered with," said Baker, a 26-year FBI veteran. "As a result, I think what he did was the right thing to do. And in the end, democracy was served by this."
In the 1960s, Hoover peddled a dossier on King to a number of prominent Washington journalists. None of the reporters, including Benjamin C. Bradlee, who was editor of the Post during Watergate, took the bait, said Athan Theoharis, a professor of history at Marquette University and an FBI expert.
"Hoover was a pro at collecting information and leaking it. This is why the FBI has been so effective at that," said Stephen Kohn, a Washington lawyer who represents FBI whistle-blowers, many of whom he says have been victimized by official leaks designed to portray his clients as malcontents.
As the U.S. agency charged with doing security reviews of government employees, the bureau has unparalleled information and power when it comes to the private lives of people.
Some leaks have gotten the bureau entangled in litigation brought by the targets of federal investigations.
A former Army bioweapons specialist, Steven J. Hatfill, sued the government, alleging that his name was illegally leaked to the news media as someone being investigated in connection with the anthrax mailings. Lee, the former nuclear weapons scientist, is also suing, asserting that government officials — possibly including the FBI — divulged his identity to reporters as part of an espionage investigation.
Hatfill has never been charged; Lee pleaded guilty to a single count of mishandling classified information and received an official apology from U.S. authorities. The bureau has denied wrongdoing in each case.
Leaks often end up being counterproductive by compromising investigations. In those cases, the bureau has not hesitated to discipline agents.
In Felt's case, even if he disclosed such information, the statute of limitations governing such crimes would have expired long ago. And the fact that he is retired makes it impossible for the bureau to take any administrative action against him, experts said, setting aside the public relations downside of going after a 91-year-old stroke victim whom many see as a hero.
"Perhaps his case is why you need leaking. Has there ever been a better, more effective leaker in the world? Probably not," said William Lawler, a former federal prosecutor. "But the regular leak, the unsubstantiated leak, is a terrible, terrible practice. Leaking is not something we want our law enforcement to do."
Schmitt reported from Washington and Krikorian from Los Angeles.
talc, no action
June 4, 2005
The Sydney Morning Herald
The response to the Indonesian embassy incident needs some explaining, writes Marian Wilkinson.
IT WAS about 10.30am on Wednesday when federal police in Canberra received a phone call putting the emergency services on alert for a bio-terrorism attack. A threatening letter containing a powdery substance had arrived at the Indonesian embassy at Yarralumla, addressed to the ambassador, Imron Cotan.
Canberra's emergency services responded with cautious efficiency. And over the next 24 hours, their actions would stand in marked contrast to responses by the Prime Minister, John Howard, and Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, as panic over the incident played out at Parliament House, in the media and in Indonesia.
Just two hours after the first phone call from the embassy, the ACT Emergency Services Authority's hazardous material crew, working with police, had secured the embassy and contained the letter. It was sent for analysis to ACT Pathology, a government laboratory attached to the Canberra Hospital.
"The package was secured before being transported," explains Superintendent Mick Kilfoyle. "A precautionary decontamination process was undertaken with some of the staff at the embassy," he says. "This is normal procedure when dealing with this sort of incident."
Police were all too aware there had been 360 "white powder" incidents in Australia since September 11, 2001. The most notorious was a letter sent to the home of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, during the 2001 election. While the threats are serious criminal acts, designed to instil fear, none has so far caused death or serious injury.
The immediate priorities for emergency services were the health of the embassy staff and to quickly find out if the powder was harmful.
For the Howard Government, the letter was a political bombshell. It was a climax to weeks of anti-Indonesian hysteria fuelled by the verdict against the Bali drug-smuggling suspect Schapelle Corby. But how it handled the incident in the first few hours escalated the crisis dramatically.
Shortly after 2pm on Wednesday, Downer announced in Parliament that a "suspicious package" had arrived at the Indonesian embassy and immediately linked it to the Corby case.
Just after 3pm, he told Parliament gravely: "The initial analysis of the powder has tested positive as a biological agent, though further testing will need to be carried out to determine what that substance actually is."
He added there was a possibility that the embassy would be shut down and the staff "will remain in isolation for the next 48 hours".
Soon after, the Prime Minister repeated that the first tests suggested the substance was "a biological agent", and described the incident as, "a very serious development for our country, and I can't overstate the sense of concern I feel that such a recklessly criminal act should have been committed".
Yet biologists were by now scratching their heads. That evening, Howard was on Channel Nine describing the substance as part of the "bacillus family" and telling reporters: "It's not some innocent white powder, it's some kind of biological agent."
Yet according to a leading Australian bio-terrorism expert, the description of the material as "bacillus" did not mean very much at all. The expert, who because of his government work asked to speak off the record, said this simply told the Government "it was a rod-shaped bacteria". And that meant the substance could be anything from yoghurt to deadly anthrax.
The next step for the government pathologist was to try to grow the bacteria in a series of media to check, first, whether it was alive and, second, whether it was dangerous. As the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, would later explain: "They have to apparently try and see whether or not it grows any spores from which they can make the judgements as to how harmful it is."
If the bacteria was alive, according to the bio-terrorism expert, it would begin dividing in the medium. After six hours of so, if it was not dividing, there was a good chance it was inactive and probably harmless. No expert would want to give any assurances for 24 hours, if not 48. But they could give the Government an interim opinion.
It appears about 8pm on Wednesday this interim opinion did reach someone in Government, but who is still unclear. The bacteria was not growing, probably inactive and therefore harmless in its current form. That night, the Indonesian embassy staff were allowed home after decontamination. Yet the early indication the bacteria was probably not harmful was not released publicly, prompting the Thursday morning newspapers to run hard on Howard and Downer's description of the powder as a "biological" agent that signalled an attack on the Indonesian embassy.
Yet on breakfast radio on Thursday, Ruddock, who is also responsible for ASIO, acknowledged that the bacteria, whatever it was, was probably dead. He told 2UE: "There were no indications at this stage that spores were growing," while adding the obvious caution, "it takes something of the order of 24 to 48 hours to be able make a final conclusion on that."
Despite this, Ruddock and Downer still would not rule out that the letter could represent a bio-terrorism attack. Ruddock told 2UE: "We know it's a biological agent and it comes from a particular family of products, including anthrax. So as a most serious thing, it could be anthrax."
With the more extreme commentators in Indonesia now accusing Australia of harbouring terrorists, Downer told Adelaide breakfast radio: "This powder has been tested positive for what is called bacillus spores. Now bacillus is a material which can produce anthrax … there are other members of that family and if it's one of the other members it will be harmless; if it's not it'll be toxic, so that's [what] they're testing at the moment."
By this time, some officials in the ACT were becoming concerned. On Thursday morning, not only were there no signs the bacteria in the letter was harmful, it was even unclear whether there was a definite link in the letter to the Corby case.
By lunchtime on Thursday, ACT police released a blunt statement saying: "Testing has shown the substance is not anthrax." While testing was continuing, the Government pathologist had advised that, "it is very unlikely that there are any bacteria of major pathogenic [disease-producing] significance".
This message was delivered to reporters by the ACT chief police officer, John Davies, and the ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, at a lunchtime press conference. Both stressed that they simply did not know what the material was and were still waiting for the final result.
As Davies explained: "There was a bacteria but obviously bacteria may come in many forms, many of which are obviously benign." Without any apparent irony, he added that because the police did not know what the substance was, they had waited on scientific analysis.
Left unstated was why Howard and Downer, despite a beefed-up national security unit in the Prime Minister's office, did not exercise the same caution as the police in their public statements.
class pushes the envelope
By Michael Duffy
The Sydney Morning Herald
June 4, 2005
The talcum powder affair is revolting. Not because of the boofhead who sent the envelope, but because of the nauseating response of our political class. The profuse expressions of shame, and the grovelling apologies to Indonesia, would have been unwarranted and distasteful even if the envelope did contain anthrax. But it didn't, and we need to ask why the Government and many in the media were so keen to assume it did.
It's important to focus on the two pieces of evidence we had: the white powder and the letter accompanying it. You always had to wonder about the powder. After all, anthrax is not easy to get hold of, and the chances of this being a hoax were high. But on Wednesday, the Prime Minister, John Howard, killed scepticism with the announcement that "it's not an innocent white powder", and said it came from the same family as anthrax. This led to headlines such as The Age's "Outrage at bio-attack on embassy" and multiple references to "the first bio-terrorism attack in Australia's history". The hysteria was up and running.
It will be of public interest in the coming weeks to find out just what advice the Prime Minister was relying on when he made the above statements, which at the time of writing appear to be completely incorrect. No doubt a certain amount of ducking and weaving will ensue, as sometimes happens in these cases.
Then there's the letter that accompanied the powder. Howard was reported as saying it would be remarkable if this incident was not linked to the Schapelle Corby case.Yet he refused to say if the contents of the letter supported this interpretation, which is presumably the only evidence he would have had for this view. Reports on Friday suggested the letter does not refer to Corby.
It would be nice if we could be given a translation of the letter to judge for ourselves, but this has been withheld on the grounds that secrecy is essential to the investigation into the identity of the sender. A few moments' thought suggests this is pretty implausible.
It's interesting that the letter is in Indonesian, a language that most of those who've expressed outrage at the Corby verdict would not be all that familiar with. Again, more reason to wonder if evidence was withheld from the public because it did not support the spin the Government was so keen to place on the affair.
Which leads us to another question: why was the Government so keen to turn a grubby little criminal act by one person into a major international incident? Its apologies to Indonesia are grotesquely disproportionate. Howard apologised publicly and said the incident was "a very serious development for our country". Alexander Downer phoned the Indonesian Foreign Minister while he was with the President and apologised. Strange enthusiasm from a Government not known for its apologies, and to a country to which we owe nothing and where Australian people and property have been attacked in recent years.
The rest of the political class joined in this act of effusive self-abasement. "This is shocking," said Allan Gyngell, head of the Lowy Institute for International Policy. "It is a serious terrorist attack on the mission of a foreign country." Andrew MacIntyre, of the Asia-Pacific School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University, wrote in The Australian that: "The white powder scare marks an ugly twist in the Australia-Indonesia relationship." The media joined in the orgy of apology, with headlines such as the Herald's "Australia now on trial" and The Daily Telegraph's "Our terror shame".
On trial for what? Shame for what?
But it was enough for Indonesia, where the media eagerly took up Howard's narrative with front page stories about the anthrax attack on its embassy. There was a sense of glee that Indonesia was no longer the only partner in the relationship with a terrorist problem. Some in Australia's political class have expressed their concern about the Indonesian reaction. But that reaction is a direct result of how John Howard chose to portray the incident.
So why did he do it? The Government and those around it, the media and officials and intellectuals who make up the political class, have been seriously inconvenienced by the popular response to the Schapelle Corby trial and verdict. It disturbs their relationships with individual Indonesians. The sight of the Australian mob in full and irrational uproar disturbs the diplomatic landscape, which relies on a vision of Australia as a sophisticated and politically superior nation.
I suspect this incident was seized on as a chance to shame the mob, to make people think again about their feelings regarding the Corby case. It was seen as a way of dampening an upsurge of popular culture - which is what the Corby case has become - by an elite who found it socially and culturally distasteful. MacIntyre believes hate messages sent to the Indonesian embassy after the Corby verdict expose "the darker underbelly of Australian public sentiment towards Indonesia. An unholy blend of racial, religious and security concerns are at play."
Maybe. Or maybe this is yet another example of Government manipulation of public sentiment, done by withholding and even twisting relevant information, and supported by the political class whose interests it serves. The whole affair is a farce. I dips me lid to the Indonesian MP who entered into the spirit of the thing by demanding Indonesia issue a travel warning for its citizens travelling to Australia.
threats in the post
By Marc Moncri
June 5, 2005
Australia Post has negotiated about 1000 potential acts of terrorism since 2001, similar to those that this week sent chills through Australia and Indonesia.
Envelopes containing suspicious white powder sent to the Indonesian embassy in Canberra and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer this week were like hundreds more that had passed through the postal system, said Australia Post spokesman Matt Pollard.
"Since the anthrax scares in the US, there's been a number of these sort of events," he said. "Every one of them, without exception, has proven to be harmless. But every time the emergency procedures have to be activated. You have to assume the worst."
White powder incidents, as they are known, divert resources as emergency services and health authorities could become involved in incidents in which no threat is posed.
But Keith Adamson, deputy chief fire officer with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, said such response did not pose a serious problem for emergency services.
"There's a bit of a cost for petrol, I guess, but to us it's just another call," he said.
Australian Federal Police spokesman Sandy Logan said there were three white powder incidents in Canberra on one day last month, - at the National Library, the Department of Immigration and a science centre.
Investigations revealed the powder was only sand, sent by Canberra's Emergency Services Authority as part of invitations to its South Pacific Ball fund-raiser.
The scare disrupted a morning concert of Mozart for infants when the National Library building was closed.
"It tied up an enormous amount of resources," Mr Logan said.
Mr Logan added that the media coverage surrounding this week's white powder incidents stoked public hysteria about a relative non-event.
He said the possibility of a weaponised form of anthrax being engineered in Australia and sent in the mail was highly unlikely.
"That doesn't mean you don't take every one of these seriously - you do," he said.