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Ivins would benefit how?

Older, but worth the repeat....

In Search Of The Anthrax Attacker - Following Valuable Clues

By Meryl Nass, MD
February 3, 2002

"Senior Bush administration officials have privately said that little
progress is being made in the anthrax investigation, which has
involved hundreds of investigators, [who] are no closer to finding the
culprit, they say." So reported Todd J Gillman and Michelle
Mittelstadt of the Dallas Morning News on January 31.

It has been four months since the first case of inhalation anthrax was
diagnosed. Last week, the FBI announced that it would be sending
flyers to 500,000 residents of the Trenton, New Jersey region, asking
for leads. This week, the FBI arranged with the American Society for
Microbiology to e-mail its US membership, in another attempt to reach
out to scientists that might have insight into the attacks.

Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, an arms control expert at the State
University of New York, Purchase, and chair of a bioweapons panel at
the Federation of American Scientists authored an analysis of the
attacks that may have prodded the FBI into investigating the US
bioterrorism establishment. She thinks the scientific details could be
too complicated for investigators to grasp.

But if the FBI has no anthrax expertise, there are plenty of
scientists who do, and who would be happy to assist in the

Last October, both Ken Alibek (the defector who was #2 in the Soviet
biowarfare establishment, and who also developed the most virulent
Soviet anthrax) and William Patrick (the man who was #1 in the US
biowarfare establishment, and developed a powder used for weaponizing
anthrax, allegedly the same material used in the attacks) were quoted
as saying that no one had sought their help in the investigation. That
made me extremely curious, since they were two public figures most
knowledgeable about weaponized anthrax, and would know how to analyze
the anthrax and identify its origin.

Why had the anthrax been sent in letters, rather than released in
ventilation systems, tunnels or subways? The (estimated) two trillion
spores per letter could have caused a lot more mischief in another

Something else was odd. The attacker had actually warned the
recipients that the letters contained anthrax, and suggested they take
penicillin. Then a lightbulb went off: someone was sending these
letters to create an effect, not to cause damage. The letters were
sealed with tape, presumably to further prevent the escape of spores.
The point was to frighten, not to kill. And the targets were chosen
with an eye to getting publicity and making an impact on Congress.

The attacker also had familiarity with forensic investigations. He
avoided using saliva on the letters, used a form of printing that is
most difficult to analyze, and otherwise left a paucity of evidence.
Did he have professional help?

(I am referring here to the anthrax attacker in the singular and using
the male gender, although I suspect that, for logistical reasons, it
is unlikely that one person acted alone, or was even a loner, as the
FBI profile has suggested.)

I subsequently learned of William Patrickís 1999 analysis of anthrax
sent by mail, written for a defense contractor. Iíve not seen the
report, but have been told he did not consider that envelopes
contained pores, and was not aware that postal machines squeeze and
compress the mail, forcing anthrax spores out of intact envelopes.

The attacker may well have read Patrickís report, or even used it as a
model. Who had access to this report?

To commit a crime one must have a motive. Because of the
unpredictability of who might become ill, or die after exposure to the
letters, I doubt that the attacker had specific victims in mind. A
grudge against Tom Brokaw or Senator Daschle has been postulated. Did
the attacker really think they opened their own mail?

More likely, the attacker wanted to frighten Congress, which controls
spending for bioterrorism. If new appropriations for bioterrorism
defense are a measure of the attackerís success, he has certainly

Who are the beneficiaries of a bioterrorism scare?

The biowarfare establishment has benefited so far: CDC got $450
million extra for bioterrorism, and the states will get $1.1 billion
dollars. More money has been spent on stockpiling antibiotics, and the
government has contracted for 209 million doses of smallpox vaccine,
at a cost of $850 million. Other biowarfare vaccines in development
have probably had new life breathed into them.

The US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (where
the Armyís center for biodefense, Fort Detrick, is located) will
receive increased funding and stature. Bioport, the anthrax vaccine
manufacturer that tried in vain for the past 2 years to get FDA
approval, after as major overhaul of its facility, just got it -
though Congressman Ben Gilman has asked the GAO to investigate this,
and the Defense Department has declined to say whether anthrax
inoculations for the military will resume.

Who had the means?

After the attacks it was revealed that the powdered, weaponized
anthrax is identical to that made by our own biowarfare establishment;
that is, by the same people who are benefiting from the attacks.

One area of wasted investigative effort was the search for the origin
of the "Ames" anthrax strain used. It was reported initially that
hundreds of labs held Ames anthrax samples. Then it turned out that
few actually did.

On October 11, after receiving FBI approval to do so, Iowa State
University destroyed their anthrax collection. Did this result in the
loss of crucial evidence?

But how would tracing back the Ames strain solve the case? Even if
only 20 labs had samples, not all of them had high levels of security.
After all, some are university labs. Scientists share strains with
hardly a thought. Ames anthrax could have been stolen, shared, or even
dug up from Texas soil. Or removed from one of the labs by a scientist
with access.

Dr. Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University maintains an extensive
anthrax database; he examined the Ames anthrax used in the attacks
with a series of genetic probes, and said it was identical to the
strain held at several government labs. But to be certain, the entire
genome of the attack anthrax and the government anthrax are being
deciphered, so that individual differences can be counted and
examined, and estimates made as to precisely how close (or how many
generations apart) the two strains really are. (Of course, this
assumes that the actual government strain, and the actual letter
strain were provided to the Institute for Genomic Research in
Rockville, Md.)

Reading William Broadís article, "Geographic Gaffe Misguides Anthrax
Inquiry," in the January 29 New York Times, one finds confusion over
the meaning of the strainís origin. Broad also takes Dr. Rosenberg to
task over her earlier statement that the anthrax "may be a remnant of
the US biological weapons program."

Broad discovered that the Ames strain came from a cow that died in
Texas in 1981, not from a cow that died in Iowa in the 1930ís. He then
inferred that the strain did not come from the US biowarfare
stockpile, which was officially destroyed by 1975, when the Biological
Weapons Convention went into effect.

But a CIA memo signed by Thomas Karamessines, and provided to the
Senate, informs us that the CIA (at least) kept 100 grams of anthrax,
illegally, after the Convention went into effect. So some of the old
stockpile could still be around.

The fact that the Ames strain was isolated from a cow in 1981, and
from a goat several hundred miles away in 1997, indicates that there
is a lot of Ames in Texas, and it most likely was there well before
1981, and ever since. So it could have comprised part of the old US
stockpile. William Patrick and others would know, and there should be
records to show what was actually produced.

The more germane issue, however, is whether the isolation of Ames in
1981 exonerates the Defense Department, CIA, or US government
contractors from possible involvement in the anthrax attacks. It does

No matter whether the government first got its supply of Ames before
or after 1970, when it officially ended its offensive biowarfare
program, Ames was eventually used to create a government supply of
dry, weaponized anthrax, which at this time appears to be identical to
that used in the attacks.

Of more importance to the investigation, however, is the origin of:

a) the material added to the anthrax spores that causes them to
separate from each other, greatly enhancing virulence, and

b) the method that assured the spores were relatively uniform in size,
and were sized for optimal lethality.

Although Ames was shared, this method of production, as well as the
additive, would have been closely-guarded secrets. They are what made
Ames extremely lethal, and the same could be done with other strains.

Furthermore, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, which the US
initiated and signed in 1972, prohibits the possession of biological
agents that are not used for defensive purposes. No defensive use for
this form of anthrax has ever been publicly disclosed.

In contrast, the Ames anthrax that is used in (defensive) vaccine
experiments is dispersed by an aerosolizer from a liquid slurry. No
dry anthrax is used. (In liquid form, anthrax is a poor weapon.)

To test our defenses against dry anthrax, you can use a benign
Bacillus spore, a cousin of anthrax. The mere possession of dry,
weaponized anthrax could be deemed illegal under the terms of the
Convention. So the United States kept its existence secret, and would
have had little reason to share it. We wouldnít want the material or
recipe for making highly dispersible spores to reach potential enemies.

The real question is: who had access to this material, or knew the
method for its production? A clue: you will find the attacker among
the very small clique of bioweaponeers with this specialized knowledge
or access to the weaponized end product.

Now to the question of whether the anthrax was homemade, or snatched
from a government inventory. It is much more likely to have been
snatched, but either is possible.

Anthrax cannot be produced without leaving evidenceótelltale spores
that have escaped into the environment. Companies that use spore-
forming organisms to manufacture vaccines (for tetanus and botulinum
toxoid, for instance) can never use the facility for making other
products, due to persistent contamination with invisible spores. The
Hart Senate Office Building clean-up took 3 months and cost $14
million, and may not have rid the building of every anthrax spore.

Therefore, production in a basement lab could lead to spore detection
(and proof of guilt) for the foreseeable future, if environmental
samples were obtained and cultured. Furthermore, the equipment and
materials the attacker purchased to produce the anthrax could be traced.

In addition to increasing the attackerís chances of being detected,
spore production is dangerous. Remember, this is someone who knows all
about anthrax. He knows what these spores can do, and would not have
wanted to expose himself to them.

Anthrax experts know that physical protection (particularly the use of
a self-contained breathing apparatus) is your primary protection from
inhaled anthrax. It has long been established that large spore counts
can overwhelm vaccine-induced immunity and antibiotic protection. In
fact, for a long time the Ames strain was called "vaccine resistant"
at Fort Detrick. So anyone in-the-know would have worked with the
spores in a safe setting. They might well have been vaccinated and
used antibiotics, but would not have relied on them exclusively for

Therefore, anthrax was almost certainly manufactured, mixed with the
anti-cling powder, and placed into envelopes in a protected environment.

Placing the spores - two trillion at a time - into envelopes would
have been particularly dangerous. These spores floated off the glass
slides when scientists first tried to look at them. You canít fill an
envelope without losing millions or billions of spores in the process.

It is only logical that the filling occurred within an official
anthrax "hot suite"- a Biosafety Level 3 or 4 facility, by someone in
a "moon suit" using a protected air supply. There are a small number
of these facilities. They must have substantial security, possibly
video cameras, and there must be logs that indicate who used them.

If the attacker used government-made (or defense contractor-made)
anthrax, and filled the envelopes in hot suites already contaminated
with Ames anthrax, he will have left no evidence. He could walk out of
the hot suite with his filled envelopes in a plastic bag or other
secure container, and no one would be the wiser.

Furthermore, the first known letters were postmarked September 18, and
contained a fake Islamic message.

Yet another clue: although anthrax degrades extremely slowly, and
could have been obtained or produced at any time, the choice of
September and an Islamic message suggests the first envelopes, at
least, were filled between September 11 and 18. Who used the hot
suites then?

This past week a new, important wrinkle was reported. An Egyptian-born
scientist, Dr. Ayaad Assaad, had been fingered as a possible
bioterrorist in an anonymous letter sent to Quantico Marine Corps
Base, before any anthrax letters had even been discovered. It is
unclear whether the letter was sent to the military or to the FBI,
which maintains a substantial presence on the base.

Assaad had worked at Fort Detrick for years, but was laid off in 1997,
and had an age discrimination lawsuit pending against his former
employer. Furthermore, while at Detrick he had been the butt of a
salacious and demeaning poem circulated by a group of coworkers- all
Army scientists- who called themselves the "Camel Club." Unauthorized
nighttime research and missing anthrax slides at the lab where the
club members worked embellish the story.

Although one might manage to grow anthrax from a spore found on a
stolen pathology slide, itís unlikely. Slides are generally heated,
and the material may have been treated with formaldehyde, which kills
anthrax. There must be easier ways to obtain anthrax, especially if
you work at Fort Detrick. Although itís a juicy story, there is a huge
divide between anthrax on a pathology slide and the production of
weaponized anthrax. They do not equate.

At first glance, the letter about Assaad seemed to have been written
by a former Camel Club member, who decided to revive an old
antagonism. But it is much more likely that the real attacker knew of
the club, and meant to lay guilt on former club members. (The club
members were not anthrax scientists, but instead worked on pathogenic

Letís look more closely. The first letters to arrive with anthrax took
a long time to cause illness. Until then, they were dismissed as
hoaxes. The letters to the New York Post and NBC were postmarked
September 18; the letter to The Sun, a Florida-based tabloid, has
never been found. The first anthrax case was diagnosed in Florida on
October 3, probably 15 days after the letter was sent.

It seems logical, therefore, that the Quantico letter (that insinuated
Assaad was a bioterrorist) was meant to arrive after the public had
become aware of an anthrax attack. Had that happened, the letter would
have been perceived as a response to the attacks. But since it arrived
first, indicating foreknowledge of the attacks, it could only come
from the attacker himself.

Therefore, where the letter came from, when it was sent, and the
personal details of Assaadís life that it contained are vitally
important. Only a small number of people could be sufficiently
familiar with Assaad and the Camel Club shenanigans to have written it.

A very important clue: one of these people is the perpetrator. He may
also have some connection to Quantico.

Where does this leave us?

Most likely, the suspect still works in the biodefense field, but
might be a former employee. He may have read William Patrickís report
on mailed anthrax. Places where the perpetrator likely worked may
include Fort Detrick, Dugway Proving Ground (where a large Biosafety
level 3 facility for testing biowarfare aerosols exists), Battelle
Memorial Institute, CDC, and Bioport, but there are others. All these
entities potentially stand to benefit from the new interest in
bioterrorism. The person probably worked at Fort Detrick years ago,
and knew Assaad and the Camel Club members. Either recently, or in the
past, the attacker had access to weaponized anthrax. He used a high
containment, Biosafety 3 or 4 facility to prepare his anthrax-laden
envelopes between September 11 and 18.

Where do we go from here?

People who fit this profile should be investigated, to include
interviews possibly using lie detectors. If warranted, their homes and
businesses should be carefully cultured for stray spores. Retired Fort
Detrick workers, who are familiar with what was stockpiled, and how
anthrax products were made, should be interviewed. Several are on
record as saying they have not been approached. All appropriate
Biosafety facilities, here and in other nations, should have their
logs reviewed. It should be easy to construct lists of those who
worked at Detrick and knew Assaad, those who had access to weaponized
anthrax or knew the recipe, and those with access to the hot suites.
However, if there do exist several attackers, the overlap might be
hard to find. This person, or his program, if such is the case, is
likely to benefit nicely from the anthrax scare.

The anthrax attacks were a heinous crime in a number of ways. First,
they caused the deaths of five innocent civilians, who in military
jargon might be considered "collateral damage." Second, they directly
attacked the center of our government, and our free press. Third, they
appear to have been motivated by the calculation that the country
needed to be scared to death, in order to act in a way the attacker
wanted. And so we have, allocating billions of taxpayer dollars for
responding to and preparing for bioterrorism. That is not how
decisions should be made in a democracy. Finally, biological attacks
are a clandestine, cowardly method of attack, in which the perpetrator
is usually difficult to identify.

If the attacker remains free, the attractiveness of future biological
attack only increases.