March 28, 2008

FBI Focusing on 'About Four' Suspects in 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Fox News
Friday , March 28, 2008
By Catherine Herridge and Ian McCaleb


The FBI has narrowed its focus to "about four" suspects in the 6 1/2-year investigation of the deadly anthrax attacks of 2001, and at least three of those suspects are linked to the Army’s bioweapons research facility at Fort Detrick in Maryland, FOX News has learned.

Among the pool of suspects are three scientists — a former deputy commander, a leading anthrax scientist and a microbiologist — linked to the research facility, known as USAMRIID.

The FBI has collected writing samples from the three scientists in an effort to match them to the writer of anthrax-laced letters that were mailed to two U.S. senators and at least two news outlets in the fall of 2001, a law enforcement source confirmed.

The anthrax attacks began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, further alarming a nation already reeling from the deaths of 3,000 Americans. Five people were killed and more than a dozen others were infected by the deadly spores in the fall of 2001.

A leading theory is that the anthrax was stolen from Fort Detrick and then sealed inside the letters. A law enforcement source said the FBI is essentially engaged in a process of elimination.

Much of the early public focus fell on a Fort Detrick scientist named Steven Hatfill, who is suing federal authorities for identifying him as a person of interest. Now the FBI is focusing on other scientists at the facility.

"Fort Detrick is run by the United States Army. It's the most secure biological warfare research center in the United States," a bioterrorism expert told FOX News.

Asked to comment on the likelihood that the anthrax originated at the facility, the expert said:

"It's not suprising, except that it would underscore that there was serious security deficiencies that existed at one time at Fort Detrick — the ability of researchers to smuggle out some type of very sophisticated anthrax weapon and in some quantity. And, nevertheless, it was possible."

In December 2001, an Army commander tried to dispel the possibility of a connection to Fort Detrick by taking the media on a rare tour of the base. The commander said the Army used only liquid anthrax, not powder, for its experiments.

"I would say that it does not come from our stocks, because we do not use that dry material," Maj. Gen. John Parker said. The letters that were mailed to the media and Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy all contained powdered anthrax.

But in an e-mail obtained by FOX News, scientists at Fort Detrick openly discussed how the anthrax powder they were asked to analyze after the attacks was nearly identical to that made by one of their colleagues.

"Then he said he had to look at a lot of samples that the FBI had prepared ... to duplicate the letter material," the e-mail reads. "Then the bombshell. He said that the best duplication of the material was the stuff made by [name redacted]. He said that it was almost exactly the same … his knees got shaky and he sputtered, 'But I told the General we didn't make spore powder!'"

Asked for comment, an Army spokeswoman referred all calls to the FBI. The FBI would not comment about the pool of suspects, but a spokeswoman said the investigation clearly remains a priority.

March 25, 2008

Judge advances anthrax vaccine refusal case

Judge advances anthrax vaccine refusal case
By Elaine M. Grossman
Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON - A U.S. federal judge has ruled that the Defense Department must again consider exonerating two military pilots whose Connecticut Air National Guard careers ended after they refused to take compulsory anthrax vaccine shots.
The plaintiffs were among hundreds of service members compelled to leave the military after resisting the inoculations during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Many cited qualms about the vaccine's safety and efficacy in protecting against inhaled anthrax, the form of exposure that Pentagon officials anticipated in the event of a biological weapons attack.
The federal courts have since found that the military's mandatory vaccine program was being conducted illegally for more than six years, beginning with its March 1998 inception. Pending Food and Drug Administration approval for using the drug specifically against inhaled anthrax, the Defense Department could not administer the six-shot series without an individual's informed consent, a federal judge said in an October 2004 decision.
The following year, the drug agency issued its long-awaited approval. The question has remained, though, as to whether those service members who refused the vaccine during the previous six-year period might yet be vindicated.
In the latest judgment, U.S. District Judge James Robertson said the two Connecticut pilots might have a basis to demand redress. This potentially could open the door to hundreds more military personnel seeking absolution - and perhaps reinstatement or compensation - for similarly being forced out of the service after refusing orders to take the drug, according to issue experts.
The March 14 court finding said an Air Force board must revisit the plaintiffs' years-old requests to have their military records corrected. Both of the officers, Thomas Rempfer and the late Russell Dingle, also sought compensatory relief for back pay and lost promotions. Rempfer additionally requested reinstatement as a Connecticut Air National Guard pilot.
The case began when the two resisted taking the shots in the late 1990s and left their unit under threat of disciplinary action. The two avoided court martial or administrative discipline by seeking reassignment to the Air Force Reserve. Both were honorably discharged from the Guard in 1999.
Arguing that they had been improperly forced out, the two officers petitioned the Air Force to correct their military records and grant relief. In making their cases to the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records, the pilots contended that the anthrax vaccine program was illegal at the time and thus they had a right to refuse the shots.
However, the Air Force board rejected both officers' applications, claiming that federal plaintiffs in a separate case called Doe v. Rumsfeld had failed to prove that the Pentagon vaccination effort was illegal.
The Doe plaintiffs - six anonymous defense personnel subject to taking the anthrax vaccine - "did not in fact prevail against the secretary of defense," the Air Force review board stated in March 2007 in denying the Rempfer and Dingle claims. Dingle died in September 2005 but his estate represents him in the case.
The two officers challenged the military board's decision with a lawsuit, initially filed in federal court in December 2005 and later amended as the Doe case moved through the justice system.
Imposing a permanent injunction on the Pentagon's compulsory anthrax vaccine effort in October 2004, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said the Food and Drug Administration had never approved the vaccine as safe and effective for preventing inhalational anthrax. The vaccine was initially developed and tested to protect laboratory workers and animal pelt handlers against anthrax contracted through the skin.
Lacking a presidential waiver, the Pentagon could not give anthrax shots without an individual's informed consent, Sullivan wrote in his landmark decision. Sixteen months later, a federal appeals court effectively concluded the case, determining that the FDA certification, issued in December 2005, newly permitted the drug to be administered involuntarily to military personnel.
The outcome of the Doe case gave the "plaintiffs the exact result they sought: revised action by the FDA," Sullivan later wrote.
In this month's decision, Robertson supported Rempfer and Dingle's argument that the Air Force review board had wrongly based its denial of their petitions on a fundamental mischaracterization of the Doe case.
The service board did "not accurately describe the outcome of the Doe litigation," Robertson stated. "Contrary to the board's conclusion, the plaintiffs in the Doe litigation clearly prevailed. To base denial of Rempfer's constructive discharge and compensatory relief claims on the fiction that the Doe plaintiffs lost would be arbitrary and capricious."
The judge advanced the same argument in supporting Dingle's parallel claim.
"Taken as a whole, Judge Sullivan's decisions in Doe v. Rumsfeld conclude that, prior to the FDA's December 2005 rulemaking, it was a violation of federal law for military personnel to be subjected to involuntary [anthrax] inoculation because the vaccine was neither the subject of a presidential waiver nor licensed for use against inhalation anthrax," Robertson wrote.
In what is shaping up to be a split among U.S. judges, Robertson noted that some courts have differed over the question of whether military orders to take the shots prior to FDA approval were illegal. He added that military records-correction boards are not legally bound to grant relief to applicants on the basis of a court case like Doe.
However, Robertson signaled that the courts would not tolerate a military board's misrepresentation of Doe as a win for the Defense Department in denying service personnel claims; rather, any denial would have to be based on other grounds.
The Air Force review board decision, in particular, was so flawed that it must now be reconsidered, the judge said.
Remanding the Rempfer and Dingle cases back to the military panel for another look, Robertson warned the board against substituting its own views about vaccine legality for those of the federal court.
"This is a big opinion," said John Michels, co-counsel on the Doe case. "This opens the door to a bunch of people coming back for relief."
However, a statute of limitations might prevent military personnel from filing lawsuits more than six years after an alleged wrong has occurred. Absent new legislation on Capitol Hill, the passage of time since the Pentagon launched its anthrax vaccine program in 1998 could bar many of those affected from obtaining corrective action today, Michels said in a March 14 interview.
"For a lot of people, it's too late to go to court," he said. "This is a situation that cries out for congressional intervention."

March 17, 2008

Judge Keeps Anthrax Suit Alive

Judge Keeps Anthrax Suit Alive
By PETE YOST – 2 days ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge Friday kept alive a lawsuit in which two Connecticut Air National Guard pilots said they were forced to resign nine years ago for refusing to be vaccinated against anthrax.

An Air Force panel must spell out the reasons for denying the two compensation for back pay and lost promotions, U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled.

One of the pilots, Russell Dingle, died in 2005 and he is represented in the lawsuit by the executor of his estate. The other Connecticut Air National Guard pilot is Thomas Rempfer.

A federal court blocked the Pentagon's anthrax vaccination program in 2003, ruling that the vaccine had not been licensed or approved for use against inhalation anthrax. Other courts have ruled differently, affirming the legality of involuntary anthrax vaccination.

Robertson relied on the ruling that halted the vaccination program, saying that at the time the two pilots were refusing an order by their superiors, "it was a violation of federal law for military personnel to be subjected" to involuntary inoculation against anthrax.

The Food and Drug Administration has made changes in the vaccine that resulted in another court ruling two weeks ago by another federal court. That decision concluded the Pentagon can require its troops to be vaccinated against anthrax.

In the lawsuit of Rempfer and Dingle, they were assigned to a unit whose job it was to investigate the Pentagon's anthrax vaccination program in the late 1990s.

Rempfer and Dingle raised questions about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, but they said there was no satisfactory response from those higher in the chain of command.

Faced with what they considered an illegal order to be vaccinated or face discipline, both sought reassignment to the U.S. Air Force Reserves and were honorably discharged.

Reports prepared by superiors never mentioned their duties or their objections to the anthrax program.

The Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records must explain its conclusions about the claims by Rempfer and Dingle's family and about their demands for compensation, the judge ruled.

On the Net:
Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records:

March 4, 2008

Federal judge dismisses challenge to DOD anthrax vaccine program

If links don't work, go to the initial site - the court's opinion is inked for those interested.

Federal judge dismisses challenge to DOD anthrax vaccine program
Jaime Jansen at 11:24 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge Friday dismissed [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit brought by members of the US military against the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] that sought to make an anthrax vaccine optional rather than mandatory. The military personnel had challenged a finding by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] that the vaccine was safe, but Judge Rosemary Collyer of the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the FDA had "considered the relevant data and articulated an explanation" of why the vaccine was safe. AP has more.

In 2005, the Bush administration asked the US DC Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate [JURIST report] the DOD's mandatory anthrax vaccination program [official website]. The anthrax was labeled for use by individuals who are at high risk for exposure to the disease, but the Bush administration argued that that definition is broad enough to include military personnel. In October 2004, a US federal district court ordered the DOD to suspend its mandatory vaccination program [JURIST report] because the vaccine had not received proper approval by the FDA. In March 2005, a federal district court ruled [JURIST report] that DOD could administer anthrax vaccinations on a voluntary basis.

March 1, 2008

Pentagon to test invisible gases in Crystal City

by Taryn Luntz, The Examiner

WASHINGTON (Map, News) - The Pentagon is scheduled to release an odorless, invisible, and yes, harmless, gases into the city Thursday to test how quickly they spread through buildings, officials said.

The test is part of the military's national security preparation for the capital area.
Over the past few years, the defense agency has worked with Arlington County to set up chemical sensors throughout the county, where thousands of defense employees work in leased office space.

The Pentagon has also supplied the sensors and accompanying monitoring equipment to Arlington for the county's own use.

"Within minutes, if someone attacks the Pentagon, it becomes a problem for Arlington," Pengtagon Force Protection Agency Director Paul Benda said.

The sensors scan broad areas, Benda said.

If weather cooperates, the Pentagon will release perfluorocarbon tracers, which are commonly used commercially to detect leaks, and sulfur hexafluoride, a common window insulator filling, near the Jefferson Plaza building at 10am on Thursday and Friday.

Officials in yellow vests will set up 80 battery-operated samplers - toolbox-looking cases with 12 air tubes inside of them - throughout Crystal City and will check the air samples in the tubes afterwards to evaluate how quickly and how high the gases spread.

The data will help the Pentagon and Arlington shape their lockdown policies for chemical and biological attacks or accidents, and will also help them determine the most effective locations for sensors.

"We want to place our sensors so we can detect this stuff as quickly as possible," Benda said.

The test, dubbed "Urban Shield: Crystal City Urban Transport Study," is similar to one conducted in Manhattan a few years ago, officials said.

End of an era for smallpox vaccine

End of an era for smallpox vaccine

The government announced Friday that it has said goodbye to one of the world's greatest lifesavers - the oldest smallpox vaccine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made arrangements this month to dispose of the last of its 12-million doses of Dryvax, and notified other health departments and the military to do the same by Friday.

Dryvax - produced by scraping virus off the skin of infected calves - is being replaced in federal vaccine stockpiles by a more modern product manufactured in laboratories. Dryvax was unusually dangerous for a vaccine, blamed in recent years for triggering heart attacks and a painful heart inflammation in some patients.

Anthrax Ruling to Be Appealed

Judge Dismisses Suit Against Pentagon's Vaccination Policy

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 1, 2008; Page A02

An attorney for six Defense Department employees said yesterday that they will appeal a federal judge's dismissal of their lawsuit challenging the Pentagon's policy of compulsory anthrax vaccinations for certain troops.

The employees had argued that, as military personnel, they should not be forced to take the vaccine because there is no scientific proof that it is effective for humans, said Mark Zaid, their attorney. The class-action lawsuit had asked the court to block the Pentagon from inoculating the plaintiffs and to rule that the vaccine was improperly licensed by the Food and Drug Administration.

But U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled yesterday that the FDA "did not act arbitrarily or capriciously" and granted the government's request to dismiss the case.

Zaid said the FDA incorrectly drew conclusions about the effectiveness of the vaccine in people based on old studies involving animals. "This case has repercussions far beyond the anthrax program," he said. "Anyone who is concerned about vaccine safety should be wary of this judicial decision."

The shots have been required for most military personnel and civilian employees assigned to homeland bioterrorism defense or deployed for 15 or more consecutive days in Iraq, Afghanistan or South Korea.

Cynthia O. Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said troops must be vaccinated to protect against biological attacks.

"The FDA has repeatedly found, and independent medical experts have confirmed, that anthrax vaccine is safe and effective," she said. Heidi Rebello, a spokeswoman for the FDA, said the agency is pleased with the decision.

The lawsuit -- filed against the FDA, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Pentagon -- is the third of its kind and the latest chapter in a dispute that has been going on for at least six years.

It follows another suit by the same group that led a federal judge to halt mandatory vaccinations in October 2004 on the grounds that an FDA review of the vaccine was insufficient. The anthrax vaccine was then administered on a voluntary basis.

After the FDA reviewed the vaccine again and approved it in December 2005, the Pentagon said in October 2006 that it would resume mandatory vaccinations for more than 200,000 troops.