In A Perilous Place
Angry Scientists Allege Racism At Biowarfare Lab
by Lynne Tuohy And Jack Dolan
Days before the anthrax attacks became known, Dr. Ayaad Assaad sat terrified in a vault-like room at an FBI field office in Washington, D.C. The walls were gray and windowless. The door was locked. It was Oct. 3.
Assaad, an Egyptian-born research scientist laid off in 1997 from the Army's biodefense lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland was handed an anonymous letter describing him as "a potential terrorist," with a grudge against the United States and the knowledge to wage biological warfare against his adopted country.
"I was so angry when I read the letter, I broke out in tears," Assaad recalled during a recent interview. "That people could be so evil."
After a brief interview, the FBI let Assaad go and assured him that they believed the letter was a cruel hoax. But for Assaad, the incident was another in a series of humiliations that he traces back to a decadelong workplace dispute involving the Fort Detrick lab.
He and other scientists allege that ethnic discrimination was tolerated, and even practiced, by the lab's former commander. A cadre of coworkers wrote a crude poem denigrating Arab Americans, passed around an obscene rubber camel and lampooned Assaad's language skills.
The locker room antics in the early 1990s preceded a series of downsizings, some acrimonious, that saw the lab's staff reduced by 30 percent. Along the way, the court record suggests, the Fort Detrick facility became a workplace where "toxic" described more than just the anthrax and other deadly pathogens being handled by its 100 doctoral-level scientists.
It also characterized a dysfunctional, at times hostile, atmosphere that had the potential to create the type of disaffected biowarfare scientist that some experts suspect is behind the anthrax attacks.
Neither Assaad nor any other scientist named in the court documents has been linked to the attacks, and most say they have not even been questioned by the FBI. A Fort Detrick spokesman said Tuesday that investigators are seeking to question current and former employees of the lab, as well as other government facilities that had access to the same strain of anthrax.
FBI spokesman Chris Murray confirmed Tuesday that Assaad has been cleared of suspicion. Murray also said the FBI is not tracking the source of the anonymous letter, despite its curious timing, coming a matter of days before the existence of anthrax-laced mail became known.
Assaad, whose lawyer is trying to get the letter through a Freedom of Information Act request, said he believes the letter writer is someone from the Army who knew Assaad well, and might be connected to the anthrax attacks.
The FBI has refused to give a copy of the letter to Assaad.
"My theory is, whoever this person is knew in advance what was going to happen [and created] a suitable, well-fitted scapegoat for this action," Assaad said. "You do not need to be a Nobel laureate to put two and two together."
Assaad had come to the United States 25 years earlier, obtained graduate degrees from Iowa State University in Ames, became a citizen in 1986, married a woman from Nebraska and has two young sons. He spent nine years researching biological and chemical agents at high-security U.S. Army laboratories, including the one at Fort Detrick, where he was working on a vaccine against ricin, a cellular poison.
Court documents in federal discrimination lawsuits filed by Assaad and two other scientists who also lost their jobs at Fort Detrick in a 1997 downsizing portray a bizarre, disjointed and even juvenile workplace environment in the country's premier biowarfare research lab. The Fort Detrick lab is one of two government labs that work with the world's deadliest pathogens and since 1980 has had the Ames strain of anthrax that officials say was used in the recent attacks.
During a three-hour interview last week at the Thurmont, Md., office of their lawyer, Rosemary A. McDermott, Assaad and Dr. Richard Crosland also were critical of the perennially changing leadership and "warring factions" that they say undermine scientific research at Fort Detrick. A third plaintiff, Dr. Kulthoum "Kay" Mereish, was traveling and could not participate in the interview.
Assaad said he was working on the Saturday before Easter 1991, just after the Persian Gulf War had ended, when he discovered an eight-page poem in his mailbox. The poem, which became a court exhibit, is 47 stanzas -- 235 lines in all, many of them lewd, mocking Assaad. The poem also refers to another creation of the scientists who wrote it -- a rubber camel outfitted with all manner of sexually explicit appendages.
The poem reads: "In [Assaad's] honor we created this beast; it represents life lower than yeast." The camel, it notes, each week will be given "to who did the least."
The poem also doubles as an ode to each of the participants who adorned the camel, who number at least six and referred to themselves as "the camel club." Two -- Dr. Philip M. Zack and Dr. Marian K. Rippy -- voluntarily left Fort Detrick soon after Assaad brought the poem to the attention of supervisors.
Attempts to reach Zack and Rippy were unsuccessful.
Assaad said he approached his supervisor, Col. David R. Franz, with his concerns, but Franz "kicked me out of his office and slammed the door in my face, because he didn't want to talk about it. I just wanted it to stop." Assaad alleged that his subsequent layoff, six years later, was another example of Franz's discrimination against Arabs.
In a deposition, Franz said that all three of the Arab Americans at Fort Detrick's infectious disease lab in the early 1990s worked for him. He stated that he had read the poem at that time, but that he wasn't responsible for taking action against its authors because they worked for another division within the institute.
"I was peripheral to everything that surrounded the poem," Franz stated in the deposition.
In a telephone interview Monday, Franz said the downsizings at the Fort Detrick lab in the late 1990s "were the toughest part of my job. I lost nearly 30 percent of my people during the Clinton [administration] downsizing. If I lost my job, I might be pretty upset, too."
Franz -- now a private consultant on countermeasures to biological and chemical attacks -- said he was not aware that Assaad had been interviewed by the FBI, but acknowledged that it's fair to interview scientists who've left sensitive research positions.
He said he believed whoever is behind the attacks is "a good microbiologist," but added: "I don't think it's a [Fort Detrick] scientist."
The FBI's profile of the anthrax suspect is a person who is likely male, has some background or strong interest in science and probably has access both to a laboratory and a source of weaponized anthrax.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a microbiologist affiliated with the Federation of American Scientists, earlier this month carried the profile a bit further when she predicted that the perpetrator is an American microbiologist with access to weaponized anthrax, that likely came from a government lab or one contracted by the government.
Crosland speculated that whoever sent the anthrax letters "would have to be immunized, or it would be suicide." But what is the motive?
"I have no idea," Crosland said. "Why did the Unabomber send out package bombs for 20 years? That's the parallel."
The third plaintiff who was laid off from Fort Detrick, Jordanian-born Mereish, was commissioned a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and began researching biological-threat agents at Fort Detrick in 1986. She alleged in the affidavit accompanying her lawsuit that Franz exhibited "a bigotry toward foreigners" and refused to confront the "camel club."
"As a civilized person, I struggled to control my emotions," Mereish, now 46, stated. "I was truly outraged. Why did they hate me so deeply? ... I am an American from the heart and by the law. My division chief, Col. Franz, did nothing to stop this discrimination. He took no action to alleviate the pain and the prejudice rampant throughout the institution."
Mereish described some of Franz's comments to her as "absolutely outrageous and totally abhorrent to me." As an example, she cited Franz's alleged statement to her that she reminded him of "Dr. Taha" -- the biologist in charge of developing the Iraqi biological weapons program.
Crosland, during the interview, described Franz as a racist. "Everyone knew that," Crosland said. "Trying to prove it is another issue."
Confronted with the allegations and asked this week if he considers himself racist, Franz initially said, "I'm not even going to respond to that question," but later added, "I'm a little offended by the question. You obviously don't know me."
William Patrick, the man who led the Army biological weapons program at Fort Detrick until 1969, described Franz as "fair minded" and said he would take any accusations of racism against his colleague "with a grain of salt."
Crosland was critical of the research environment at Fort Detrick, saying leadership or priorities would change and projects well under way would be scuttled and new ones initiated.
"You can't do this with revolving leadership and warring camps -- civilians vs. military, enlisted vs. officers, administrators vs. scientists," Crosland said. "And you've got a lot of secrecy. Not confidentiality, but the I-know-something-you-don't-know kind of secrecy. It's just poorly managed. We used to have a saying that anything that got accomplished got accomplished in spite of the place, not because of it."
Mereish and Assaad's lawsuits initially claimed both age and race discrimination. The racial discrimination claims were dismissed by a federal judge who ruled that several other scientists laid off did not fall into their "protected class," diluting claims that race motivated the layoffs.
The age discrimination suits filed by all three doctors are progressing, however. Of the seven staff members laid off from their department in 1997, six were age 40 or over. Franz also stated under oath he was trying to protect the "younger" and "junior" scientists.
McDermott is interviewing government officials. She expects a ruling in the case in a matter of months. Significant to the age discrimination cases is a 1995 memo Franz wrote to his superiors that said "it was the young, bright scientists ... that I must attempt to protect." Mereish is now 47, Assaad is 52 and Crosland is 55.
Crosland and Assaad still hold sensitive positions with the U.S. government. Assaad works for the Environmental Protection Agency as a senior toxicologist reviewing and regulating pesticides. Crosland is scientific review administrator of biological research at the National Institutes of Health. Mereish, McDermott said, works for the United Nations in a job that has top security clearance.
Easy To Get Out Of Lab
Security Was Based On Trust In Scientists
December 20, 2001
Pink-slipped in 1997 after 11 years working with the world's deadliest toxins at the Army biodefense lab in Fort Detrick, Md., Richard Crosland reluctantly packed a box of personal items into his red Mustang and drove home.
Over the next two days, Crosland returned to the fenced-off military facility twice and carted away more pictures, journals and other personal effects. Security guards, focused on keeping intruders from getting in, never asked the laid-off microbiologist what he was taking out.
``You could walk out with anything,'' Crosland said. ``It was all my personal stuff, but it could have been anything.''
As investigators focus on a handful of government labs and contractors as a possible source of the anthrax that has killed five people, security at Fort Detrick has come under a microscope, largely because it was the original supplier of anthrax to the other labs. The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick has worked since 1980 with the Ames strain of anthrax used in the attacks.
Interviews with more than a dozen current and former Fort Detrick scientists provided a rare account of what they described as a lax security system, that could have done little to prevent an employee from smuggling the ingredients for biological terrorism out of the country's premier biodefense lab.
In addition, at least one longtime scientist at Fort Detrick said inventories of pathogens used in the lab were rarely kept up to date, making it difficult to determine whether dangerous substances were missing.
All of the scientists interviewed by The Courant over the past week said it would be virtually impossible for an outsider to get into a ``hot zone'' lab and steal a biological agent such as anthrax. But they agreed that someone already inside the institute could have taken vials of anthrax without much trouble.
``Our security measures have always been about who gets in, rather than searching known employees as they leave,'' said Chuck Dasey, a spokesman for Fort Detrick. ``I'll bet you won't find any lab that searches their people as they leave.''
A former Fort Detrick lab director who left last year on good terms said Fort Detrick ``was always an open institution in my 17 years there and they trusted their scientists completely.''
``If you were a person who worked in the right labs for a while,'' he said, ``you probably could easily figure out how to get vials of anthrax out of there.''
A current Fort Detrick employee said security measures have tightened somewhat since Sept. 11. Speaking on the condition of anonymity because employees have been told not to talk to the press, he added: ``If you're asking me if I could have walked out of here with anthrax two years ago or six months ago, I'd say I definitely could have.''
Today, Fort Detrick employees have to show two forms of photo identification to get through the front gate, then show them again to enter the buildings that house the laboratories, including the infectious disease lab, Dasey said. Only employees who have been through a security clearance are allowed into the labs.
The laissez faire approach to the comings and goings of employees, even those who have just been terminated, is not unique to Fort Detrick, the scientists said. Before the anthrax attacks this fall, the level of intimacy and trust between the relatively small group of scientists doing biological defense research was widely considered an adequate safeguard in itself.
David Franz, a former commander at Fort Detrick, said the labs couldn't function without a basic level of trust among the scientists. Short of draconian measures such as searching employees every time they left the building, all workplaces need to rely on their employees to act in good faith, he said.
Other scientists said there are less intrusive ways to improve lab security. Mark Wheelis, a microbiologist who serves on the Working Group on Biological Weapons Verification of the Federation of American Scientists, said video surveillance of laboratories, with the tapes archived for law enforcement use, would be one security measure.
Another would be requiring a ``buddy system''' that prohibits scientists from handling pathogens without another person present, he said, as well as periodic polygraph examinations and updates on background checks.
``The fact that very small quantities of micro-organisms can be useful to a bioterrorist is a formidable problem,'' said Wheelis, who lectures at the University of California at Davis. ``I think Franz is correct in the final analysis. You do need to have some measure of trust in your staff.''
But, he added, ``It also seems to me that while you have to trust your staff, that doesn't mean you have to give them carte blanche.''
Crosland, who worked under Franz and filed an age discrimination suit after his job was eliminated during a ``downsizing'' in 1997, said that there were other problems with internal controls of deadly toxins at Fort Detrick while he worked there. Biological agents were exchanged with other labs through the mail, but there were no effective checks to make sure the recipient of a package was a bona fide researcher with a legitimate reason to have the material, he said.
``Anybody could put anything in a vial and say it's anything and mail it anywhere,'' Crosland said. ``The safety officer signed the forms, but they were taking your word for whatever you wrote on them.''
Dasey said there have not always been strict rules governing the shipment of biological hazards, but the Army always followed the established protocols. He said the lab has ``never done anything that violated the regulations, or even violated the spirit of any regulation, for shipping these materials.''
In 1997, the Centers for Disease Control sought to impose accountability in the exchange of biological agents by establishing a registry of institutions certified to possess anthrax and other toxins designated as ``special agents.'' Before that, researchers traded the deadly pathogens ``like playing cards,'' said Martin Hugh-Jones, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University.
Even with incomplete record-keeping, five labs are known to have received the Ames strain of anthrax from Fort Detrick. Jones' lab was one of them.
Whether smuggled out in a box or a coat pocket, or sent out through the mail, there's a good chance the disappearance of a biological agent would never have been detected, according to Crosland. Many labs at Fort Detrick failed to keep required inventories of toxins because audits were almost unheard of, he said.
``The whole time I was there, nobody ever asked me where the botulinum I'd ordered last year was,'' said Crosland, referring to the world's most poisonous natural substance, which was his primary field of study.
One result of the poor record-keeping and a high turnover of scientists during the middle 1990's -- the staff was down 30 percent at one point -- is that there were forgotten vials and freezers at the institute labeled only with the names of employees who left years ago.
Early this year, former Fort Detrick microbiologist Ayaad Assaad said he was reading in bed when the telephone rang. On the line was a security officer from Fort Detrick, who said the freezer in the lab where Assaad once worked with the deadly biological agent ricin was on the blink and he had to come down right away.
When Assaad -- who is also suing the Army over his own 1997 layoff -- informed the officer he didn't work there anymore, the puzzled officer said, ``But yours is the only name on my roster.''
Missing From Army Lab
January 20, 2002
By JACK DOLAN And DAVE ALTIMARI, Courant Staff Writers
Lab specimens of anthrax spores, Ebola virus and other pathogens disappeared from the Army's biological warfare research facility in the early 1990s, during a turbulent period of labor complaints and recriminations among rival scientists there, documents from an internal Army inquiry show.
The 1992 inquiry also found evidence that someone was secretly entering a lab late at night to conduct unauthorized research, apparently involving anthrax. A numerical counter on a piece of lab equipment had been rolled back to hide work done by the mystery researcher, who left the misspelled label "antrax" in the machine's electronic memory, according to the documents obtained by The Courant.
Experts disagree on whether the lost specimens pose a danger. An Army spokesperson said they do not because they would have been effectively killed by chemicals in preparation for microscopic study. A prominent molecular biologist said, however, that resilient anthrax spores could possibly be retrieved from a treated specimen.
In addition, a scientist who once worked at the Army facility said that because of poor inventory controls, it is possible some of the specimens disappeared while still viable, before being treated.
Not in dispute is what the incidents say about disorganization and lack of security in some quarters of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases - known as USAMRIID - at Fort Detrick, Md., in the 1990s. Fort Detrick is believed to be the original source of the Ames strain of anthrax used in the mail attacks last fall, and investigators have questioned people there and at a handful of other government labs and contractors.
It is unclear whether Ames was among the strains of anthrax in the 27 sets of specimens reported missing at Fort Detrick after an inventory in 1992. The Army spokesperson, Caree Vander-Linden, said that at least some of the lost anthrax was not Ames. But a former lab technician who worked with some of the anthrax that was later reported missing said all he ever handled was the Ames strain.
Meanwhile, one of the 27 sets of specimens has been found and is still in the lab; an Army spokesperson said it may have been in use when the inventory was taken. The fate of the rest, some containing samples no larger than a pencil point, remains unclear. In addition to anthrax and Ebola, the specimens included hanta virus, simian AIDS virus and two that were labeled "unknown" - an Army euphemism for classified research whose subject was secret.
A former commander of the lab said in an interview he did not believe any of the missing specimens were ever found. Vander-Linden said last week that in addition to the one complete specimen set, some samples from several others were later located, but she could not provide a fuller accounting because of incomplete records regarding the disposal of specimens.
"In January of 2002, it's hard to say how many of those were missing in February of 1991," said Vander-Linden, adding that it's likely some were simply thrown out with the trash.
Discoveries of lost specimens and unauthorized research coincided with an Army inquiry into allegations of "improper conduct" at Fort Detrick's experimental pathology branch in 1992. The inquiry did not substantiate the specific charges of mismanagement by a handful of officers.
But a review of hundreds of pages of interview transcripts, signed statements and internal memos related to the inquiry portrays a climate charged with bitter personal rivalries over credit for research, as well as allegations of sexual and ethnic harassment. The recriminations and unhappiness ultimately became a factor in the departures of at least five frustrated Fort Detrick scientists.
In interviews with The Courant last month, two of the former scientists said that as recently as 1997, when they left, controls at Fort Detrick were so lax it wouldn't have been hard for someone with security clearance for its handful of labs to smuggle out biological specimens.
The 27 specimens were reported missing in February 1992, after a new officer, Lt. Col. Michael Langford, took command of what was viewed by Fort Detrick brass as a dysfunctional pathology lab. Langford, who no longer works at Fort Detrick, said he ordered an inventory after he recognized there was "little or no organization" and "little or no accountability" in the lab.
"I knew we had to basically tighten up what I thought was a very lax and unorganized system," he said in an interview last week.
A factor in Langford's decision to order an inventory was his suspicion - never proven - that someone in the lab had been tampering with records of specimens to conceal unauthorized research. As he explained later to Army investigators, he asked a lab technician, Charles Brown, to "make a list of everything that was missing."
"It turned out that there was quite a bit of stuff that was unaccounted for, which only verifies that there needs to be some kind of accountability down there," Langford told investigators, according to a transcript of his April 1992 interview.
Brown - whose inventory was limited to specimens logged into the lab during the 1991 calendar year - detailed his findings in a two-page memo to Langford, in which he lamented the loss of the items "due to their immediate and future value to the pathology division and USAMRIID."
Many of the specimens were tiny samples of tissue taken from the dead bodies of lab animals infected with deadly diseases during vaccine research. Standard procedure for the pathology lab would be to soak the samples in a formaldehyde-like fixative and embed them in a hard resin or paraffin, in preparation for study under an electron microscope.
Some samples, particularly viruses, are also irradiated with gamma rays before they are handled by the pathology lab.
Whether all of the lost samples went through this treatment process is unclear. Vander-Linden said the samples had to have been rendered inert if they were being worked on in the pathology lab.
But Dr. Ayaad Assaad, a former Fort Detrick scientist who had extensive dealings with the lab, said that because some samples were received at the lab while still alive - with the expectation they would be treated before being worked on - it is possible some became missing before treatment. A phony "log slip" could then have been entered into the lab computer, making it appear they had been processed and logged.
In fact, Army investigators appear to have wondered if some of the anthrax specimens reported missing had ever really been logged in. When an investigator produced a log slip and asked Langford if "these exist or [are they] just made up on a data entry form," Langford replied that he didn't know.
Assuming a specimen was chemically treated and embedded for microscopic study, Vander-Linden and several scientists interviewed said it would be impossible to recover a viable pathogen from them. Brown, who did the inventory for Langford and has since left Fort Detrick, said in an interview that the specimens he worked on in the lab "were completely inert."
"You could spread them on a sandwich," he said.
But Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a molecular biologist at the State University of New York who is investigating the recent anthrax attacks for the Federation of American Scientists, said she would not rule out the possibility that anthrax in spore form could survive the chemical-fixative process.
"You'd have to grind it up and hope that some of the spores survived," Rosenberg said. "It would be a mess.
"It seems to me that it would be an unnecessarily difficult task. Anybody who had access to those labs could probably get something more useful."
Rosenberg's analysis of the anthrax attacks, which has been widely reported, concludes that the culprit is probably a government insider, possibly someone from Fort Detrick. The Army facility manufactured anthrax before biological weapons were banned in 1969, and it has experimented with the Ames strain for defensive research since the early 1980s.
Vander-Linden said that one of the two sets of anthrax specimens listed as missing at Fort Detrick was the Vollum strain, which was used in the early days of the U.S. biological weapons program. It was not clear what the type of anthrax in the other missing specimen was.
Eric Oldenberg, a soldier and pathology lab technician who left Fort Detrick and is now a police detective in Phoenix, said in an interview that Ames was the only anthrax strain he worked with in the lab.
More troubling to Langford than the missing specimens was what investigators called "surreptitious" work being done in the pathology lab late at night and on weekends.
Dr. Mary Beth Downs told investigators that she had come to work several times in January and February of 1992 to find that someone had been in the lab at odd hours, clumsily using the sophisticated electron microscope to conduct some kind of off-the-books research.
After one weekend in February, Downs discovered that someone had been in the lab using the microscope to take photos of slides, and apparently had forgotten to reset a feature on the microscope that imprints each photo with a label. After taking a few pictures of her own slides that morning, Downs was surprised to see "Antrax 005" emblazoned on her negatives.
Downs also noted that an automatic counter on the camera, like an odometer on a car, had been rolled back to hide the fact that pictures had been taken over the weekend. She wrote of her findings in a memo to Langford, noting that whoever was using the microscope was "either in a big hurry or didn't know what they were doing."
It is unclear if the Army ever got to the bottom of the incident, and some lab insiders believed concerns about it were overblown. Brown said many Army officers did not understand the scientific process, which he said doesn't always follow a 9-to-5 schedule.
"People all over the base knew that they could come in at anytime and get on the microscope," Brown said. "If you had security clearance, the guard isn't going to ask you if you are qualified to use the equipment. I'm sure people used it often without our knowledge."
Documents from the inquiry show that one unauthorized person who was observed entering the lab building at night was Langford's predecessor, Lt. Col. Philip Zack, who at the time no longer worked at Fort Detrick. A surveillance camera recorded Zack being let in at 8:40 p.m. on Jan. 23, 1992, apparently by Dr. Marian Rippy, a lab pathologist and close friend of Zack's, according to a report filed by a security guard.
Zack could not be reached for comment. In an interview this week, Rippy said that she doesn't remember letting Zack in, but that he occasionally stopped by after he was transferred off the base.
"After he left, he had no [authorized] access to the building. Other people let him in," she said. "He knew a lot of people there and he was still part of the military. I can tell you, there was no suspicious stuff going on there with specimens."
Zack left Fort Detrick in December 1991, after a controversy over allegations of unprofessional behavior by Zack, Rippy, Brown and others who worked in the pathology division. They had formed a clique that was accused of harassing the Egyptian-born Assaad, who later sued the Army, claiming discrimination.
Assaad said he had believed the harassment was behind him until last October, until after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He said that is when the FBI contacted him, saying someone had mailed an anonymous letter - a few days before the existence of anthrax-laced mail became known - naming Assaad as a potential bioterrorist. FBI agents decided the note was a hoax after interviewing Assaad.
But Assaad said he believes the note's timing makes the author a suspect in the anthrax attacks, and he is convinced that details of his work contained in the letter mean the author must be a former Fort Detrick colleague.
Brown said that he doesn't know who sent the letter, but that Assaad's nationality and expertise in biological agents made him an obvious subject of concern after Sept. 11.
Mystery Turns Scholars Into Sleuths
February 6, 2002
By ERIC RICH, Courant Staff Writer
Shakespeare scholar Don Foster has, for the moment, traded sonnets for the twisted prose at the center of one of the nation's most expansive criminal probes.
The linguistics analyst and Vassar College professor who unmasked the anonymous author of the political novel "Primary Colors" turns his attention to a stilted phrase - "Take Penacilin now" - on anthrax-tainted letters sent in September to Tom Brokaw and The New York Post.
The misspelling, he said, suggests that the letter writer, who also praises Allah, is not a native English speaker.
On the other hand, Foster reasons, an Arab would more likely have misspelled the word "penicillin" by substituting a "b" for the "p." So this possibility emerges: The writer is a competent English speaker, clever and familiar enough with investigative procedure to deliberately leave misleading clues.
"What we have here is a welter of contradictory and ambiguous evidence," he said in an interview last week.
Foster is just one, perhaps the best known, of a growing number of armchair investigators drawn to the first big whodunit of the 21st century.
By pleading for help from the public and releasing an unusual amount of information about the case, the FBI has touched off a sort of investigative "Cannonball Run" - with a $2.5 million reward at the finish line.
At the forefront is a cadre of academics and scientists such as Foster and biowarfare expert Barbara Hatch Rosenberg.
Driven more by intellectual curiosity or a sense of professional obligation, their analyses provide insight into the FBI's effort to narrow the search for the person responsible for killing five people, including an elderly woman in Connecticut.
Rosenberg, a professor of molecular biology at the State University of New York in Purchase, is working on behalf of the Federation of American Scientists. She said that in the four months since the first case of anthrax was confirmed, a jumbled portrait of the perpetrator has come into sharper relief: a skilled scientist, acting alone, who works or worked in one of a handful of labs involved in the U.S. biowarfare program.
Although the FBI did not limit itself to scientists familiar with the military's anthrax program, the agency seemed to support this view last week with a plea to members of the American Society for Microbiology.
"It is very likely that one or more of you know this individual," Van Harp, assistant director of the FBI's Washington field office, wrote. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Courant.
Harp also wrote that the agency suspects the perpetrator has or had "legitimate access" to dangerous pathogens and might have used off-hours in a lab to secretly produce anthrax.
Rosenberg believes an improved appreciation for the quality of the anthrax and for the science of producing it - early on, the spores were deemed "garden variety" and cross-contamination of the mail was thought improbable - has helped investigators sharpen the profile of the person responsible.
She contends that, contrary to earlier reports, no more than 20 labs worldwide are known to have the specific strain of anthrax used in the attacks. Only four of those in the United States, she said, might have the capability for weaponizing the substance - reducing it to fine particles and treating it to eliminate the static charge so it will float in the air rather than clump.
Citing the opinion of an unnamed former defense scientist, Rosenberg puts the number of scientists with the necessary experience and access at fewer than 50. The FBI, she said, has received short lists of specific suspects with credible motives from "a number of knowledgeable inside sources."
Rosenberg's insights are consistent with - though far more detailed than - the FBI's profile and with Foster's more circumspect analysis.
Foster gained fame in 1995 by attributing a 600-line funeral elegy, written in 1612, to Shakespeare and later by helping the FBI link Ted Kaczynski to the Unabomber manifesto. He is sometimes dubbed America's foremost literary sleuth; the academic in him, though, bristles at the moniker.
Foster has studied the envelopes and the letters that were contained in them, images of which are posted on the FBI's website. He has said he recognizes the Urdu language in the stilted syntax. He wonders where the letter writer might have picked up the unusual double misspelling of the word penicillin; what group or nationality would be likely to make the same mistake the same way.
"One of the things I have to do is figure out what he's been reading," Foster said last week.
Or what the person has been writing.
That's how Foster revealed Newsweek columnist Joe Klein to be the author of "Primary Colors," a thinly veiled satirization of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. Foster noted the prevalence of certain adjectives - sleazy and squishy, for example - in both the book and in Klein's columns.
As Foster considers the anthrax letters, he also weighs the possibility that the misspelled word and the halting language could be a ruse. After all, someone who can handle such virulent anthrax almost certainly would know how to spell penicillin.
This might explain why, in its own linguistic analysis, the FBI has offered few conclusions. It instead simply notes the physical characteristics of the writing - the lines of words slant downward from left to right, the letters are blocky and upper case.
The agency's behavioral profile, which it says is based on the selection of anthrax as a weapon, depicts another Kaczynski - an adult male, rational and organized, a loner with scientific training. He "lacks the personal skills necessary to confront others" and might have anonymously harassed others he felt had wronged him, the FBI says.
"He may hold grudges for a long time, vowing that he will get even with `them' one day," the FBI says.
He prefers being alone more often than not, the agency wrote, and a personal relationship, if there is one, "will likely be of a self-serving nature."
The letter to the microbiologists suggests more than the profile itself: that the FBI believes the culprit is a scientist in the United States. The FBI also has asked for help in a flier circulated to residents in the Trenton, N.J., area, where the letters were postmarked, and has said it believes the sender knows the area well.
The killer's motive remains a subject of intense and often wild speculation. The person is variously said to have a financial stake in an anthrax vaccine, an ideological interest in the success of the biowarfare program or a personal grudge against his particular targets.
The FBI has offered no motive publicly, although the agency believes the care taken to identify correct addresses and ZIP codes suggests the perpetrator did not select victims at random.
"These targets are probably very important to the offender," the FBI's behavioral assessment says. "They may have been the focus of previous expressions of contempt which may have been communicated to others, or observed by others."
Rosenberg believes the letter writer hoped to stir public fear, not to kill. The letters warned of the anthrax or the need to take antibiotics. It also is unlikely, she said, that the perpetrator anticipated that the spores would leak from sealed envelopes, cross-contaminating other letters and infecting postal workers.
Despite Rosenberg's confidence that the pool of suspects is small, the FBI has made little visible progress. Its letter to microbiologists and its doubling of the reward appears to many to suggest that the agency is stumped.
As often happens with the most methodical serial killers, it could be that new clues into the killer's motives and mind might have to wait until the person again resorts to the mail to kill. In the meantime, the lead postal inspector on the Unabomber case, now retired, said he thinks the FBI is looking in all the wrong places.
"I don't think he's anywhere near New Jersey," said Tony Muljat. "Clever people don't commit crime in their own backyard. He's another one who's smart, clever, like Ted."
Will the culprit be caught soon?
"Only by a lucky break."
Probe Remains Slow Go
Experts Speculate On FBI's Thrust
March 4, 2002
Months after a series of anthrax-laced letters killed a Connecticut woman and four others, the FBI spent much of last week in the awkward position of vigorously denying reports it is close to solving the case.
Interviews last week with scientists familiar with the investigation, as well as law enforcement experts who have been following it, suggest that the bureau's insistence that it has not locked its sights on any single suspect is sincere.
A scientist at the Army's biowarfare research lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland, where the FBI is methodically collecting and testing samples to determine the source of the anthrax used in the attacks, said he didn't expect the perpetrator to be identified soon. The physical evidence gathered so far doesn't point to any one lab, let alone any one person, said the scientist, who is close to the FBI probe and requested anonymity.
That's also the opinion of renowned forensic expert Henry C. Lee. Speaking as a knowledgeable outside observer, Lee said the dragnet tactics employed recently by federal agents point to an investigation that's still far from closing in on its prey.
The FBI confirmed last week that it recently asked dozens of labs known to handle the strain of anthrax used in the letter attacks to send samples to the Fort Detrick lab. When some scientists expressed dismay that the rudimentary step had not been taken already, officials explained that they held off until they could establish a protocol for the transfers of specimens, ensuring that any evidence collected could eventually be used in court.
Lee said the move shows that investigators have not narrowed their focus to two U.S. Army labs, as has previously been reported. Both the lab at Fort Detrick and another at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah are known to have had the capability to produce "weaponized" anthrax spores such as those reportedly found in the letters sent to Senate offices.
Lee also said the FBI's move shows officials are confident that sending the samples to Fort Detrick does not risk dropping them into the hands of a potential suspect.
"These last two months, [FBI agents] have probably interviewed everyone at Fort Detrick and didn't find a suspect," he said. "They don't want to publicly rule anyone out, but their actions suggest that's what's going on. They don't think it's anybody who currently works at Detrick."
In fact, the FBI set up a virtual satellite office at Fort Detrick in the past two months and methodically interviewed employees about their work. Agents also asked about the personalities of colleagues - probing for someone who fits their profile of a disgruntled loner who might be responsible for the mail attacks.
In addition to questioning current Fort Detrick employees, FBI agents have looked for former Army scientists as well. Joseph Farchaus, who co-authored a paper on inhalation anthrax before he left his job at Fort Detrick in 1999, said two agents visited him at his house outside Trenton, N.J., just after Christmas and seemed to be working from a prepared list of questions.
Farchaus said he would have been surprised if the FBI had not paid him a visit, given his expertise and where he lives, not far from where the anthrax letters were mailed. When the agents finished questioning him, they asked if they could have a look around his house and yard, presumably to check for signs of a do-it-yourself anthrax lab, he said.
At least a dozen other people reportedly have had their homes, offices and vehicles searched in the same manner.
Like most information about the federal probe, the exact number of the people interviewed is hard to determine because both the FBI and Army command have maintained a strict close-mouthed policy since the investigation began.
But top government officials, including White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, broke their silence twice in the past two weeks, both times to deny reports that they have focused their search on a single former Fort Detrick scientist. Fleischer announced that the FBI actually had a "handful" of suspects, prompting bureau officials to clarify that they had a "floating list" of about 20 names, but that none was considered a suspect.
The current round of speculation about a suspect appears to have stemmed largely from statements by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a microbiologist and expert in bioweapons control for the Federation of American Scientists.
Rosenberg was first to suggest that the FBI was "dragging its feet" in bringing charges against a prime suspect, whom she said had been identified by several "government insiders." She said the person had been interviewed by the FBI several times, and that he was probably a former employee of the bio-defense research program at Fort Detrick.
Rosenberg also suggested that the suspect might know embarrassing secrets about the U.S. germ weapons program, which she thought could explain the FBI's alleged reluctance to bring charges.
In an interview Thursday, Rosenberg said she believed the FBI had several key suspects, not just one.
FBI Director Robert Mueller dismissed assertions that his agency is moving too slowly in the anthrax investigation.
"I don't think in any way, shape or form we have been dragging our feet," he said Friday afternoon.
Courant staff writer Dave Altimari contributed to this story.
Anthrax Tests Planned
By DAVE ALTIMARI Courant Staff Writer
April 5 2002
In what is being called a precautionary measure, state health officials said Thursday they plan to retest the regional postal facility in Wallingford for traces of anthrax, months after it was declared safe for employees.
The move comes a week after a top state health official surprised some postal workers with the revelation, made during a presentation at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, that testing last year had turned up 3 million anthrax spores at the facility. Several postal employees said they had been told only trace amounts of anthrax were found on four of 16 sorting machines.
The health official, Dr. James Hadler, chief of infectious diseases at the Department of Public Health, said Thursday that 3 million spores isn't a large amount when compared with the billions of spores contained in the letters mailed to Sens. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., last October. The post offices in New Jersey and Washington that processed those letters are still closed.
"Three million sounds like a large number, and certainly if you put it into the air you have the potential to significantly expose a large number of people," Hadler said. "The biggest risk for postal employees was when the contaminated mail first came into the facility, but it could pose a risk again if some anthrax were re-aerosolized."
Hadler said the 3 million spores were found underneath a sorting machine last fall. The new tests will concentrate on air ducts and ceiling surfaces, where anthrax spores could collect in dust and risk being stirred into the air.
"It's possible there are deposits of spores in places where they aren't doing any harm right now, because no one has gotten sick, and we don't want to put them in the air," he said.
Hadler was the health department's lead investigator into the death of Ottilie Lundgren, the 94-year-old Oxford woman who died of inhalation anthrax in November. Investigators believe she inhaled anthrax spores, perhaps by ripping up junk mail that had passed through the Wallingford facility, although extensive testing of her home found no traces of the deadly bacteria.
Lundgren's death forced scientists to conclude that inhalation anthrax could be contracted by exposure to far fewer than the 8,000 to 10,000 spores once thought to be the minimum required.
Some post office workers in Wallingford have questioned whether postal officials have deliberately downplayed the lingering threat of anthrax. The precautionary regimen of antibiotics, which they began after Lundgren's death, ended last month, prompting renewed worries about potential exposure to spores that could have been overlooked in prior testing.
Postal service spokesman Jim Cari said the facility was declared by health officials to be safe in December.
"We have been working with the health department and the CDC to do follow-up testing, and later this month we will begin," Cari said.
The Wallingford facility was first tested for anthrax on Nov. 11, as part of a routine check of large postal facilities across the country. At that time, only dry cotton-swab samples were taken, and nothing was found.
The facility was tested again Nov. 21, this time using dry and wet swabs, after it became known that Lundgren had contracted inhalation anthrax. Still, tests turned up nothing. A third similar round of tests Nov. 25 also came back negative.
The most thorough testing of the Wallingford facility was done after investigators, working off computerized records at the New Jersey end of the mail route, tracked an anthrax-tainted letter to the home of John Farkas in Seymour - only 3 miles from Lundgren's home.
On Nov. 28, CDC investigators used special vacuums to do by far the most extensive testing of the facility. It was that test that produced positive results for anthrax on the four sorting machines, including the high concentration found beneath one machine.
Postal officials closed the four tainted machines, covered them in tents and sprayed a bleach mist into each one to decontaminate them. Since then, the machines have tested negative for anthrax.
But most of the testing was done either on the sorting machines or the floors surrounding them, not above, Hadler said, prompting the current emphasis on testing ceilings and air ducts.
Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant
Hoax Case Falters
By EDMUND H. MAHONY
June 5 2002
It is unlikely anyone will be prosecuted for perpetrating the anthrax hoax that closed part of downtown Hartford last year because someone destroyed the evidence, and the credibility of a key witness was ruined when he was hurriedly arrested, officials said.
The disclosures were made in federal court in HartfordTuesday where state employee Joseph A. Faryniarz Jr. was supposed to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about the hoax. Faryniarz has never been suspected of perpetrating the hoax. Rather, he is accused of making misleading statements that contributed to turning a practical joke into an expensive security drama.
But after his lawyer portrayed Faryniarz in court Tuesday as the hoax victim, U.S. District Judge Alfred Covello postponed the proceeding until next summer and said there may not be enough evidence to support the charge of making false statements.
Faryniarz is the only person to be arrested after a bad joke among employees at the state Department of Environmental Protection turned into an anthrax contamination scare on Oct. 11, 2001, closing down a portion of Hartford's Capitol District for most of a day. The joke was supposed to be on Faryniarz. Someone put an anonymous note and what turned out to be non-dairy coffee creamer on his computer keyboard, his lawyer, Richard Brown, said in court.
Faryniarz alerted what his lawyer described as the DEP's building security office, and 800 workers were evacuated from DEP headquarters. The DEP employees - including Faryniarz - were forced to submit to uncomfortable decontamination procedures. The state claims it lost $1 million in worker productivity alone.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent wave of anthrax contaminations, federal officials were under enormous pressure to clamp down on hoaxes. Faryniarz was arrested four days after the Hartford hoax. A day later, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft called him a "coward."
Brown disclosed in court Tuesday that the so-called anthrax - key evidence if a case were to be made against the perpetrator - was missing. "Certain evidence is no longer in existence," Brown said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Appleton later said Brown was referring to the white, powdery substance that caused the scare.
A variety of state and federal officials refused to discuss what happened to the faux anthrax. But a source, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, said it was destroyed by state officials.
The account of the anthrax scare that was given in court Tuesday suggests that Faryniarz might have been a key witness if a case were presented against the hoax's perpetrator. But lawyers said his credibility evaporated when he arrived in court prepared to admit to lying to federal investigators.
Although Covello said prosecutors might not be able to charge Faryniarz with making false statements to authorities, he could be subject to prosecution for having knowledge of the anthrax hoax, but failing to report it to authorities.
Brown said the anthrax fiasco developed on Oct. 10, 2001 - the day before the Hartford scare - when Faryniarz pointedly expressed disgust for the perpetrators of the hoaxes erupting across the country in the weeks following terrorist attacks.
The next day, Brown said, Faryniarz reported to work and stretched his legs in the office while waiting for the sluggish computer on his desk to warm up. When he returned to his desk, he found a white powdery substance on top of a piece of brown paper towel lying on his computer keyboard. The word anthrax was misspelled on the paper towel.
Faryniarz alerted DEP security people, who folded the powder in the scrap of paper towel and walked away. Not long after, Faryniarz was summoned to the security office to answer more questions.
Brown said Faryniarz had no idea who put the powder on his desk, or what the powder was. But enroute to the security office, Brown said, a co-worker stopped Faryniarz and "basically begged" him not to implicate him in the hoax. The co-worker, who was not identified in court, told Faryniarz he had a wife and children and could not afford to lose his job.
For the next 48 hours, over a series of interviews with FBI agents, Faryniarz failed to tell authorities about the pleading co-worker. He also gave agents misleading information that could have directed their attention away from the co-worker.
"He failed to tell officers of the true individual's identity and that the substance was not truly a contaminant, namely anthrax," Appleton said in court.
Brown replied in court that Faryniarz never had any idea what the substance was, and still has no firsthand knowledge of who put it on his desk.
Faryniarz was arrested on Oct. 15 and is on paid leave from the DEP, where he has worked for 22 years.
Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant
Scientists: FBI Questions Suggest Insider Grew Spores At Lab, Refined Them Elsewhere
By DAVE ALTIMARI And JACK DOLAN
June 13 2002
The FBI is investigating whether the anthrax spores used in last fall's attacks could have been grown secretly inside an Army lab and then taken elsewhere to be weaponized, according to three sources familiar with the ongoing probe.
A former government microbiologist, who was interviewed in recent days by the FBI, said agents focused their questioning on the logistics of how someone with access to the U.S. Army's biodefense labs at Fort Detrick, Md., might carry out the scheme. The microbiologist, who once worked at Fort Detrick, said the agents did not indicate if they had evidence that such an incident had occurred.
"They asked me, if I wanted to grow something I wasn't supposed to, would there be somebody asking me about it and could I have taken it out of the lab," said the scientist, who did not want to be identified. "I told them no one checked, and it was far easier to get something out of Fort Detrick than into it."
A second bioterrorism scientist who also has been questioned by the FBI said the agents' "operating theory" appeared to be that the Fort Detrick labs were the source of the anthrax, and that spores were somehow removed covertly. This scientist also did not want to be identified.
The scientists' accounts are among several developments that suggest the FBI is seriously exploring the possibility that a knowledgeable Fort Detrick insider could have clandestinely produced and removed anthrax spores to a private location, where they could be refined into the lethal powder sent through the mail last fall.
That premise also is at the center of a new assessment of the investigation by a prominent bioweapons expert, who says five biodefense experts have given the FBI the name of a former Fort Detrick scientist who had access to "a remote location" that could have been used to refine anthrax spores into a weaponized form.
In her assessment - scheduled to be posted today on the Federation of American Scientists' web site - Barbara Hatch Rosenberg all but names the scientist, and provides details about his background. The Courant obtained an advance copy of the six-page paper written by Rosenberg, who is chairwoman of the federation's working group on biological weapons.
She says, in her assessment, that the unnamed scientist suffered a career setback last summer that "left him angry and depressed" and that the FBI, with his consent, searched his home and computer. Rosenberg claimed that although the FBI had the scientist's name for months, the bureau dragged its feet before searching his home, and therefore could have lost valuable evidence.
The unnamed scientist has declined interview requests, but in a voice-mail message left for a Courant reporter last month he denied that he was a suspect: "I happen to have a letter from our attorneys, who went up to see the FBI, who say I never was a suspect and am not a suspect now. I actually have no idea where you got this presumption."
His attorney has declined to comment on any aspect of the case, including his client's claim about contacts with the FBI. He did not return repeated calls Wednesday.
The accounts of scientists who have been drawn into the sweeping anthrax inquiry do not provide a complete picture of its scope. But they shed light on a line of inquiry by the FBI that has slowly emerged in recent months - the possibility that the anthrax, and its user, have ties to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick.
Questions about lax security at Fort Detrick were first raised earlier this year in a series of stories in The Courant. The stories, based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former Fort Detrick scientists, described how relatively easy it would have been to smuggle biological agents out of the labs, and how inventories were rarely kept up to date, making it difficult to determine whether dangerous substances were missing.
The notion that anthrax could disappear from Fort Detrick was underscored by a 1992 inquiry that found pathology specimens of anthrax spores, Ebola virus and other pathogens had, in fact, become missing. Army officials insisted that the samples did not pose a risk, and that most were later accounted for, although at least one set of anthrax spores still had not been tracked down as of February.
The same 1992 inquiry also found evidence that someone was secretly entering a lab late at night to conduct unauthorized research, apparently involving anthrax. A numerical counter on a piece of lab equipment had been rolled back to hide work done by the mystery researcher, who left the misspelled label "antrax" in the machine's electronic memory, according to the documents obtained earlier this year by The Courant.
More recently, early results of genetic testing confirmed suspicions that the anthrax used in last fall's attacks was from a strain that originated at Fort Detrick, and was genetically indistinguishable from the anthrax used in the Army's biodefense program. That revelation was followed by the news, a few weeks ago, that the FBI intended to interview and conduct polygraph tests on more than 200 former and current employees of Fort Detrick and the army's Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, where anthrax tests have been conducted.
An FBI source said there are only about 25 people from Dugway on the list of those to be interviewed and tested, meaning the vast majority of scientists to be scrutinized are from Fort Detrick.
Rosenberg has been increasingly critical of the FBI's handling of the investigation, asserting in her assessment to be released today that the FBI has blundered by taking "a profoundly unscientific approach."
"There has been a tendency to write off a direction of inquiry, or to swing radically in the opposite direction, on the basis of superficial results or incomplete data," she wrote. "The likely outcome for the investigation is continued stalemate, marking time on the off chance that an unknown informer will turn up with a smoking gun."
An FBI spokesman in Washington, D.C., said Wednesday night that the bureau would not have a response to Rosenberg.
"At this point, we are continuing the investigation to identify a suspect or suspects," said the spokesman, Steven Berry.
Elsewhere in Washington, Rosenberg's opinions appear to be getting the attention of senators who plan to include the FBI's handling of the anthrax investigation as part of the ongoing congressional hearings into the government's actions before and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Next week, staffers for Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Tom Daschle, D-S.D., plan to discuss with Rosenberg details of her continuing assessment of the anthrax investigation, including some she believes are too sensitive to publish on the federation's website, said David Carle, a Leahy spokesman.
In a public congressional hearing last month, Leahy asked FBI Director Robert Mueller polite, general questions about his agency's progress in the anthrax investigation. More recently, Leahy privately submitted a long list of much more pointed questions on the topic, requesting reams documents to back up the bureau's answers.
Rosenberg has said there are similarities between the FBI's actions in the anthrax probe and its missteps prior to Sept. 11, including a lack of communication among agents and slow reaction to possible leads.
Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant
Searches Home In Anthrax Case
Agents Take Bags Of Evidence From Researcher's Maryland Apartment
By DAVE ALTIMARI And JACK DOLAN
June 26 2002
FREDERICK. Md. -- Federal agents searched a former Army microbiologist's apartment for a second time Tuesday - one week after he was discussed at a meeting between the FBI's most prominent critic and staff members of two senators who received anthrax-laced letters.
Agents cordoned off the street in front of the Detrick Plaza Apartments abutting the U.S. Army's premier biological warfare research laboratory, where Dr. Steven J. Hatfill worked for several years. Late in the afternoon, agents packed evidence into garbage bags and placed them into a Ryder rental truck backed up near the door of Hatfill's apartment.
Hatfill could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but he has maintained for months that he had nothing to do with last fall's anthrax attack that killed five people, including 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford, Conn.
Last month, he said he had a letter from his attorney saying that the FBI did not consider him a suspect and that he was "sick of" the scrutiny by the press.
Federal officials haven't named any suspects.
Tuesday's search came a week after Hatfill's name came up during a meeting between Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a biological weapons expert from the Federation of American Scientists, and staff members of Sens. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D., both of whom were sent anthrax-contaminated letters. FBI agents were present at the meeting, sources said.
For months, Rosenberg has been publicly prodding the FBI to take a closer look at Hatfill.
Among the reasons she has cited:
Five experts in the close-knit biological weapons community months ago passed Hatfill's name on to the FBI.
He had access to a remote cabin in Maryland and the expertise to make the highly potent weapons-grade anthrax.
He left the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick under questionable circumstances two years ago.
In March, the scientist lost his job with prominent Department of Defense contractor Science Applications International Corp. when his security clearance was revoked, a company source said. It is unclear why his clearance was revoked, and he has since gotten a job with another private contractor.
On Tuesday, FBI agents stopped residents of the Detrick complex and asked for identification before they were allowed to return home. One resident said she saw at least one agent, wearing a mask over her nose and mouth, going in and out of the scientist's apartment.
A basin full of detergent was placed at the door of the apartment, where agents appeared to be washing some equipment, said the resident, who declined to be identified.
Law enforcement sources said that the scientist agreed to the search of his apartment in hopes of clearing his name. Sources said the search is one of many they have conducted in the "Amerithrax" investigation.
Agents first searched the apartment late last year, when they also searched Hatfill's car. A high-tech vacuum found no evidence of anthrax.
In the past few years, Hatfill, 48, has publicly discussed the process of turning toxic biological agents into easily inhaled powders - the form of the anthrax placed in the letters sent in the mail attacks last fall.
Hatfill has also said that the United States is woefully unprepared for a biological attack.
The FBI announced a few weeks ago that it was going to give lie detector tests to more than 200 former and current employees of the infectious-disease center in Maryland and another anthrax research facility,Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.
According to one scientist recently interviewed by the FBI, agents have asked if it would be possible for someone to grow anthrax in the Maryland laboratory and smuggle it off the base without being detected.
The FBI has been criticized for the slow pace of the investigation, but has said it is an unprecedented case that is difficult to crack.
Agents have focused much of their attention on genetic testing of the anthrax in Leahy's letter, hoping that it would indicate which laboratory the anthrax came from and possibly who made it.
Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant
Case Of Dr. Hatfill: Suspect Or Pawn
FBI scrutiny of the ex-Army microbiologist intensifies in its anthrax probe, and speculation grows about why the agency is looking at him.
By DAVE ALTIMARI, JACK DOLAN And DAVID LIGHTMAN Courant Staff Writers
June 27 2002
Former Army microbiologist Steven J. Hatfill is either a pawn in an FBI attempt to recharge its stalled anthrax investigation, or a potential suspect who holds critical clues to solving the case that has bedeviled the agency for the past nine months.
Those two interpretations of the FBI's high-profile search of Hatfill's residence circulated through the scientific and law enforcement communities Wednesday - one day after agents removed garbage bags full of evidence from a Frederick, Md., apartment complex, and, as TV news crews circled overhead, loaded them into a large rental truck .
"Their intent was clearly to put his name in the public eye. The only question is why," said a microbiologist who has been interviewed by the FBI.
"It was either strictly for show - a bone tossed to Congress and the media - or they want to put pressure on him by starting a public investigation to stimulate the stalled non-public investigation," said the microbiologist, who would speak only on condition of anonymity.
Wednesday, a dozen FBI agents searched a refrigerated mini-storage facility in downtown Ocala, Fla. The local NBC News affiliate reported that agents removed boxes from a locker rented by Hatfill. The scientist's parents owned a horse farm in Ocala until three years ago.
After its public show of investigative aggressiveness in Maryland Tuesday, and before the evidence had even been examined, bureau officials insisted the search of Hatfill's apartment hadn't produced anything significant.
The FBI also pointed out that Hatfill had agreed to the search and is not considered a suspect.
"I do not know what all of the results of the search were, but I can tell you there were no hazardous materials found in the apartment," said a law enforcement source.
"I don't know how much in advance he knew about the search, but he has been cooperating with us fully all along," the source said.
Neither Hatfill nor his Virginia attorney, Thomas C. Carter, could be reached for comment Wednesday.
Hatfill has told several media outlets that he has a letter from the FBI stating "he never has been and is not now" a suspect in the anthrax case. The FBI has declined to comment on whether such a letter exists.
If the FBI hoped criticism of its "Amerithrax" investigation would be muted by the Hatfill search, at least one senator who received an anthrax-laced letter last fall continued Wednesday to express displeasure with the pace and intensity of the probe.
"I have asked for another briefing by the FBI on the anthrax investigation," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said. "I don't know if one has actually been set yet. I hope it has, because I have a lot of questions."
Daschle and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., received the two most potent anthrax-laden letters last October. They were part of a series of anthrax letter attacks that killed five people, including 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford. Thirteen more people were sickened. The two letters to Congress shut down the Hart Senate office building for several months.
A source close to Daschle called the search of Hatfill's apartment and the FBI's reluctance to share information frustrating.
"In light of yesterday's news, and in light of everything else that's going on, we feel we don't know where things stand," the source said.
Another source said Daschle is hoping for an FBI briefing as early as today.
Hatfill has bounced on and off the FBI's ever-changing list of potential suspects for the past several months. That his house was searched is not that unusual. FBI officials said they have conducted many searches during the investigation. But all of them, including an earlier search of Hatfill's house and car, were done quietly with no media attention.
For example, in December two agents visited the home of Joseph Farchaus, another former scientist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick. The scientist now lives about 15 minutes outside Trenton, N.J., where several anthrax-contaminated letters were mailed. It is the heart of the FBI's target area. The last paper Farchaus published before leaving the infectious diseases institute concerned putting anthrax in aerosol form.
The agents asked questions, searched the man's home and later gave him a polygraph test, which he passed. His New York attorney, Donald Buchwald, said Wednesday the FBI has not contacted him since.
But the scrutiny of Hatfill appears to be intensifying. His background has several intriguing aspects - including medical school training in Africa and his connection to biological weapons training programs run by the CIA.
Hatfill graduated in 1984 from the Godfrey Huggins Medical School in Zimbabwe, which was known as Rhodesia until 1980.
Not far from the medical school in the nation's capital, Harare, is the upper-middle-class suburb of Greendale. The anthrax-laced letters to Daschle and Leahy each contained the same fictitious return address: 4th Grade, Greendale School, Franklin Park, N.J. There is no Greendale School in New Jersey. But there is a grade school by that name in the Harare suburb.
In the late 1970s, when Hatfill was in Rhodesia, an anthrax outbreak killed hundreds and sickened thousands of villagers. In 1993, an African news agency reported that a former officer from the white minority army's special forces claimed that the anthrax outbreak that killed 182 and sickened more than 10,000 people between 1978 and 1980 was launched by the army.
All of the fatalities, and all but a handful of those sickened, were black. Other members of the white government's army have denied that the outbreak was a deliberate attack, claiming it was part of a natural pattern of anthrax in the region.
On his college biography and his resume, Hatfill says he worked with the Rhodesian army and a group called the Selous Scouts during the time frame of the anthrax outbreak. The Selous Scouts were an elite unit of the white Rhodesian government's army that specialized in tracking and killing enemy units in the back country.
One former classmate, Mark Hanly, who is now a pathologist in Georgia, said he always doubted Hatfill's military claims.
Another classmate remembers Hatfill as a military enthusiast.
"He carried a lot of weapons around all the time, RPGs [rocket propelled grenades] and stuff like that. On the weekends he would go with the army and they would do special forces kind of stuff," said David Andrewes, a classmate who now lives in Massachusetts.
Like dozens of other current and former employees of labs known to have handled the strain of anthrax used in the mail attacks, Hatfill fits many aspects of a profile of the killer released by the FBI last November. That profile stated the FBI believed the culprit was a lone, disgruntled, former military scientist.
Hatfill has been immunized against anthrax and had access to the bacteria while he worked as a research fellow at the Fort Detrick lab in the late 1990s. He is also very comfortable working with extremely hazardous material. Hatfill studied the deadly Ebola virus in the Army's highest level "hot suite" during his stint at the Maryland lab.
Hatfill later became a member of UNSCOM, the United Nations-sponsored group that went into Iraq after the gulf war to look for that country's biological weapons stockpiles.
Another member of UNSCOM was David Franz, who later became the colonel in charge of the Fort Detrick infectious disease center. Hatfill worked at the center from 1997 to 1999 in the virology department. He has never claimed to have worked with anthrax, but in 1999 he was involved with a CIA-run course on chemical and biological weapons.
Hatfill is a protege of William Patrick, a former bioweapons expert at the Fort Detrick center when it ran an offensive biological weapons program in the late 1960s. Patrick has acknowledged helping scientists at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah make dry or "weaponized" anthrax a few years ago.
On his resume, Hatfill states he has "a working knowledge of the former U.S. and foreign BW [biological weapons] programs, wet and dry BW agents and large-scale production of bacterial, rickettsial, and viral BW pathogens and toxins."
The FBI's sudden focus on Hatfill comes shortly after its investigation appeared to be at a standstill. The agency recently announced that it wanted to interview and polygraph more than 200 current and former employees of the Fort Detrick center and Dugway, a process that will take several months.
In the meantime, congressional leaders have promised to hold a hearing on the anthrax investigation to try to get their questions answered.
Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant
Teaching Bioterrorism Course
Program At LSU's Biomedical Training Center Funded By $11.5 Million Grant
By DAVE ALTIMARI And JACK DOLAN
June 28 2002
Steven J. Hatfill, the microbiologist at the center of the FBI's anthrax investigation, has been working as part of an $11.5 million government-funded program to train police and firefighters in the event of a bioterrorism attack.
Hatfill, 48, who in March lost the security clearance he needed for his job at a prominent military contractor, has been working at Louisiana State University's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training. LSU received an $11.5 million grant in January from the Department of Justice, which also oversees the FBI, to train medical and law enforcement personnel responding to attacks such as last fall's anthrax-laced letters.
LSU officials confirmed Hatfill's employment.
"When he works here it's as an adjunct instructor and he develops and teaches his own class," said Gene C. Sands, LSU's executive director of university relations.
"I can't tell you right now whether he is being paid by the university," Sands said.
Hatfill is listed in the LSU phone directory as a lecturer and with the same address as Dean Daniel C. Walsh Jr. The dean, who runs the biomedical research center, could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
Hatfill's position, working indirectly for the federal department investigating him, is one in a series of uneasy interrelations between law enforcement and the close-knit community of biological weapons experts who make up the FBI's pool of potential suspects.
Although the FBI insists Hatfill is not a suspect in the anthrax letter case, agents searched Hatfill's Maryland apartment Tuesday and his rented storage locker in Florida Wednesday, carting away evidence from both locations. Hatfill also has said he is not a suspect in the FBI investigation.
A source said Thursday that Hatfill was hired by LSU based on recommendations from David Franz and David Huxsoll, both former commanders of the U.S. Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., where Hatfill worked for two years.
Franz and Huxsoll could not be reached for comment.
Huxsoll is now director of Plum Island, a U.S. Department of Agriculture research facility off the coast of Connecticut, accessible only by ferry. The secluded island is used to study exotic animal illnesses including foot-and-mouth disease. No animals leave the island alive.
Despite being popularly known as "Anthrax Island," after last fall's anthrax attacks, officials publicly deny that they have ever studied the deadly pathogen on Plum Island.
But at least one former infectious-disease center scientist interviewed recently by the FBI said agents asked a series of questions about the island: Have you ever been there? Do you know anybody who works there? What do they do?
On Thursday, an FBI spokesman would not acknowledge whether such questions were being asked, or why the FBI would care.
Franz and Huxsoll are part of a cadre of highly placed friends within the biological weapons field who have helped Hatfill over the years. Another of Hatfill's close friends is William Patrick, another former employee of the infectious-disease center. Patrick is known for developing the U.S. method for producing anthrax in aerosol form.
In 1999, while he was working for defense contractor Science Applications International Corp., Hatfill hired Patrick to do a study on a hypothetical anthrax attack by mail. The study depicted the impact of placing 2.5 grams of Bacillus globigii - a nonlethal, simulated form of anthrax - in a standard business envelope, a source at the SACI Corp. said.
The amount is similar to what was placed in the six anthrax-laden letters mailed to government officials and members of the media last fall. Five people died in the anthrax attacks, and 13 others were sickened.
The two most potent letters were mailed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. FBI Director Robert Mueller met with Daschle and his staff Thursday to update them on the investigation. Daschle declined to comment on the meeting.
Earlier this year, the FBI ordered dozens of university labs to send samples of their anthrax to the Maryland infectious-disease center to be collected for comparison with the powder preserved from the letter to Leahy, also kept at the Army lab.
Then last month, federal agents announced a sweeping series of lie detector tests for current and former employees of the infectious-disease center, where the evidence is being collected. FBI agents working the investigation have visited a number of current and former scientists in their homes. But none of those visits has resulted in the same level of public scrutiny Hatfill has come under this week.
Federal officials said on Thursday that Hatfill is on a list of 20 to 30 "persons of interest" and stressed that his property was searched because, like the others, he possesses the expertise to handle deadly pathogens and at one time had access to the anthrax strain used in the attacks.
FBI sources have said they cannot place Hatfill near Trenton, N.J., where they believe the tainted letters were mailed.
Hatfill's extensive background in biological warfare research includes two years working at the infectious-disease center, where he studied the deadly Ebola virus. He has also been vaccinated against anthrax.
Unlike others on the FBI's list, Hatfill's name has circulated for months among microbiologists prodding federal agents to take a close look at his unusual background.
Hatfill graduated in 1984 from the Godfrey Huggins Medical School in Zimbabwe.
Not far from the medical school is a town called Greendale. The anthrax-laced letters to Daschle and Leahy each contained the same fictitious return address: 4th Grade, Greendale School, Franklin Park, N.J. There is no Greendale School in New Jersey. But there is a grade school by that name in Greendale, a suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe's capital.
In the past few years, Hatfill has publicly discussed the process of turning toxic biological agents into easily inhaled powders - the form of the anthrax placed in the letters sent in the mail attacks last fall.
Hatfill also has said that the United States is woefully unprepared for a biological attack.
The search of his apartment in Frederick, Md., just across the street from Fort Detrick, came exactly a week after microbiologists met with staff from Daschle's and Leahy's offices. Two FBI agents also were present at the meeting.
Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant
Inquiry May Get Wider
Tainted Mailbox Delivers Questions, Not Answers
By JACK DOLAN
August 20 2002
PRINCETON, N.J. -- When federal agents recently discovered a street-corner mailbox in Princeton with traces of anthrax, it felt like a big break in an otherwise agonizing case - at last the FBI could narrow the search for suspects in last fall's mail attacks.
But some experts believe that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the discovery could actually force investigators to cast a wider net and consider other possible suspects. The reason: Princeton and surrounding towns are practically crawling with the expertise to pull off such a crime.
Dozens of academic labs, pharmaceutical companies and firms that specialize in making fine industrial powders are in this part of southern New Jersey. Any could have employees with the knowledge, and the equipment, to produce the refined, easily inhaled anthrax powder sent to Senate and media offices, some scientists and law enforcement officials say.
"You could make a case that the person might have chosen to send the anthrax from Princeton because he wanted to pick a place that would only make the investigation more complicated," said Richard Ebright, a professor at Waksman Institute of Microbiology in nearby Piscataway. The institute is part of Rutgers University.
An FBI spokesman would not comment on whether federal agents are planning to canvass the region's bio-tech firms looking for clues. Phone calls to several area companies turned up none that says it has been contacted by investigators in connection with the anthrax probe.
"I couldn't find anybody who knew of any inquiries at this point," said Robert Laverty, a spokesman for pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb.
But one law enforcement official interviewed in Princeton last week, who spoke on the condition that his name not be used, noted that there are at least half a dozen companies within a 40-minute drive of the mailbox whose employees might have the expertise to launch such an attack.
It would take very little microbiology expertise to grow the anthrax used in last fall's attacks once you had the right strain, scientists have said. The tricky part is producing spores so fine, and free of the electrostatic charge that binds them together, that they float easily on the air and lodge in the lungs to begin the deadly infection.
Investigators have determined that the strain of anthrax sent through the mail last fall almost certainly originated at the U.S. Army's premier bio-warfare research lab at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md. But prior to the attacks, the strain had been shared with at least a dozen, and possibly many more, government and university labs.
The anthrax spores in the letters to Sens. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., - which were both postmarked in Trenton, less than 15 miles from Princeton - were close to the ideal size for use as a weapon.
There are several ways to turn bacteria into such a fine powder. One method involves a process known as non-contact, or non-mechanical, milling. Instead of a grinding wheel, a jet of air is used to reduce the material to a powder.
Several labs at Princeton University, and countless private companies in the area, work with the $50,000 machines, which can be purchased secondhand for about a third of the original cost, Ebright said.
Asked whether faculty or students had been contacted by federal agents following the discovery of the mailbox earlier this month, Princeton University spokeswoman Marilyn Marks said: "We don't comment on FBI investigations." She added that nobody on the campus works with anthrax.
Federal investigators have not said whether the anthrax found in the Princeton mailbox matches the strain used in last fall's attacks.
"That's evidence. We don't talk about evidence," said FBI spokesman Chris Murray.
So far, federal agents appear to have focused their recent inquiries in Princeton on Steven J. Hatfill, a former Army bio-warfare researcher. Agents showed his picture to merchants near the mailbox and asked if they recognized him.
Hatfill adamantly denies having anything to do with the attacks. The FBI has not publicly called him a suspect, but federal agents have mounted high-profile searches of his apartment at least twice and have submitted him to more than one lie-detector test. FBI officials have said, repeatedly, that he is only one of dozens of people to come under scrutiny because of their expertise and potential access to the Ames strain of anthrax used in the attacks.
Patrick Clawson, a friend and spokesman for Hatfill, said the man's life is clouded by an ugly combination of suspicion and bizarre celebrity. The FBI has Hatfill under increasingly intrusive 24-hour surveillance, and shoppers in Baton Rouge, La., recently "mobbed him for his autograph" when he went out to buy shaving cream, Clawson said.
Hatfill moved to Baton Rouge hoping to assume duties as an instructor in a federally funded program at Louisiana State University to teach police and firefighters how to respond to attacks with weapons of mass destruction, Clawson said. LSU suspended Hatfill for 30 days, before he'd even begun his new job, after the FBI's second high-profile search of his apartment on Aug. 1.
While Hatfill's lawyer, Victor Glasberg, declined to answer questions about his client's whereabouts on the days that the contaminated letters were mailed, Hatfill insists he has never been to Princeton.
Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant
Rails Against Anthrax `Innuendo'
Hatfill Gives Public Statement But Refuses To Answer Questions
August 26, 2002
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Steven J. Hatfill, wearing a dark blue suit, red tie and American flag pin on his lapel, stood in front of dozens of reporters Sunday to deliver a half-hour tirade against the government, the media, the U.S. attorney general and a specific journalist for making his life a Kafkaesque nightmare since his name first surfaced as a possible suspect in the government's anthrax investigation.
He also, for the first time since he has begun pleading his innocence in public, offered an alibi for the dates when anthrax letters were mailed. And he pledged to offer investigators blood and handwriting samples that he said would prove he is not the infamous mailer who last year caused the deaths of five people and inspired fear across the country.
But Hatfill, a biowarfare expert who has not been named as a suspect but is the only person yet publicly linked to the anthrax investigation, acknowledged that his alibi is porous and his efforts to prove his innocence may be fruitless in the face of overzealous investigators.
"I believe I may actually get arrested when all is said and done. If this occurs, it will have nothing to do with anthrax," Hatfill said, suggesting that the government would arrest him to justify the time and expense of its pursuit.
"If Steve Hatfill isn't the anthrax murderer, well, he spit on a sidewalk or littered or did something else he shouldn't have done."
Neither Hatfill, who did not answer questions after delivering his statement, nor his lawyer would cite incidents in his past that might lead to a criminal arrest.
His lawyer, Victor M. Glasberg, later went further by suggesting that Hatfill may be arrested in connection with the anthrax case though he is not guilty, citing other cases of innocent people being convicted.
Such possibilities, Hatfill and Glasberg suggested, have prompted them to go on the offensive. On Sunday, Hatfill used the public forum he now has to do more than plead his innocence. He laid out his case and also launched a few attacks.
Hatfill distributed timecards that showed he worked long hours in the McLean, Va., office of defense contractor Science Applications International Corp. on the days the anthrax letters were mailed in New Jersey. Hatfill's former office at SAIC is a 200-mile drive from the post office where the letters were believed to have been mailed.
Hatfill conceded that the timecards don't completely rule him out because it would still have been possible for him to drive to New Jersey and drop the letters at night between shifts. But Hatfill denied that he did that.
Earlier this month, the FBI flashed Hatfill's picture to merchants near a Princeton, N.J., mailbox discovered to contain trace amounts of anthrax, presumably left over from last fall's attacks.
Hatfill distributed copies of complaints his lawyer has filed with the Office of Professional Responsibility and congressional judiciary committees against Attorney General John Ashcroft. He also gave out letters sent to the New York Times complaining about the opinion columns written by Nicholas Kristof about the case.
Glasberg, Hatfill's attorney, said they have not received responses to the complaints. He said he and Hatfill have been trying to get a letter published in the Times and may still write an opinion piece for the newspaper.
Kristof could not be reached for comment Sunday. The Times had earlier issued a statement standing by his work.
When asked if Hatfill planned to follow up his complaints with lawsuits, Glasberg said, "not yet."
"My life is being destroyed by arrogant government bureaucrats who are peddling groundless innuendo and half-information about me to gullible reporters who in turn repeat this to the public under the guise of news," Hatfill said.
It was the most combative Hatfill has been since his name first surfaced in the anthrax investigation as one of the scientists in which federal officials were interested. The officials have said their interest lies in the fact that Hatfill had access to the strain of anthrax used in the attacks and had the knowledge to use it as a weapon. Hatfill had worked at Fort Detrick's Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where anthrax was stored.
Though Hatfill denies ever working with anthrax, neither he nor his lawyer have answered repeated questions about whether he has working with similar substances or has knowledge of how to make the powder that was in the letters.
Nor would either comment on why Hatfill eventually lost his security clearance or explain the inaccuracies on Hatfill's resume that have come to light.
Earlier this month, Hatfill spoke publicly for the first time, trying to defend himself against an investigation that he said was wreaking havoc on his professional and personal life. He has been placed on paid leave from his job teaching bioterrorism preparedness at Louisiana State University's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, and he said he is harassed daily because of the government scrutiny.
On Sunday he again pleaded for
investigators to stop leaking misinformation about him and for Ashcroft
to stop referring to him as "a person of interest" to the investigation.
Courant Staff Writer Jack Dolan contributed to this story
Killer Outlasting The Hunters
Delays, Lack Of Expertise Make It Doubtful That FBI Can Solve Case
By DAVE ALTIMARI Courant Staff Writer
September 7 2002
Five months after the deadly anthrax letters were mailed last fall, FBI investigators finally got around to subpoenaing laboratories that worked with the Ames strain used in the attacks.
But when the labs started to send their samples to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md., they were told to wait - the refrigerators there weren't big enough to hold all the incoming vials. It took another month to build a new room to store them.
"When you can't even find a refrigerator to keep the bug, that doesn't say much for your chances of ever finding the one who mailed it," said anthrax expert Martin Hugh-Jones of Louisiana State University.
The FBI's delay in requesting the samples - and the government's lack of readiness to receive them - is part of a pattern that, some scientists and outside investigators say, may have permanently damaged any chance of resolving the bioterrorism attack that killed five people, including 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford.
Whether it was taking six months to begin testing mailboxes surrounding Trenton, N.J., where the four known anthrax letters were postmarked, or nearly a year to go back into the American Media building in Boca Raton, Fla., to hunt for the source of anthrax that killed the first victim there, it has seemed to many that the FBI has been a step behind in its hunt for the killer.
The mailing of the anthrax letters nearly a year ago was the country's first known case of deadly bioterrorism. The troubled investigation that has followed has shown that not only law enforcement personnel, but also public health officials, were ill-prepared for such an attack, experts said.
"They weren't equipped to conduct an investigation of this scientific magnitude," said one bioweapons expert, who did not want to be identified because he has been asked to assist the FBI.
"There aren't many people who have the expertise and understanding of what it would take to grow these spores," he said, "and none of those who do are criminal investigators."
Even the FBI's belated reliance on scientists has had its pitfalls.
Because laboratory analysis concluded that the extremely refined anthrax probably originated from a government lab, many of the experts the FBI has turned to for help are also, almost by definition, potential suspects. That has put FBI agents in the uncomfortable position of having to subject their scientist-consultants to polygraph tests, and then, afterward, ask those same experts to help analyze evidence.
Investigators also placed - some say misplaced - much emphasis on computer-aided, genetic analysis of the anthrax by researchers at Northern Arizona University and the Institute of Genomic Research in Maryland. The hope was that it might pinpoint the specific laboratory where the pathogen originated.
But the results so far have been mixed, at best. The analysis showed what the FBI already suspected - the anthrax probably originated at USAMRIID, the army's infectious disease lab in Fort Detrick.
"Anthrax strains are so similar, I didn't think it would be possible to definitively isolate one," said Vito Del Vecchio, director of the University of Scranton's Institute of Molecular Biology and Medicine.
FBI agents visited the University of Scranton early in the investigation. But they didn't spend much time there, even though it's the university closest to Trenton that works with the Ames strain of anthrax.
"They basically asked who we thought might have done it," Del Vecchio said. "I sensed they were more looking for help than anything else."
Investigators did spend lots of time in New Jersey early in the investigation, believing that whoever mailed the letters had some connection to Trenton or the immediate area.
They questioned the few former USAMRIID scientists who lived anywhere near Trenton. They circulated fliers throughout the region, advertising the federal government's $2.5 million reward and detailing the FBI's profile of the suspect: a lone, male American scientist. They asked the American Society of Microbiology to send to its 30,000 members a letter warning that "it is very likely that one or more of you know" the anthrax mailer.
The FBI's zealous attachment to its profile has been criticized by some, who point out that its profile of the Unabomber was off base. Even a former FBI profiler, who agrees with the bureau's analysis of the anthrax letters, cautions that the profile can take a case only so far.
"Clearly, this was somebody trying so hard to make it seem like they are Muslim," former FBI profiler Cliff Van Zandt said. "But this case has gone beyond the profiling stage. The FBI is in uncharted waters with this case and inventing things as they go along."
One scientist whose likeness to the FBI's profile landed him on a revolving list of potential suspects early on is Dr. Steven J. Hatfill.
Hatfill, a former USAMRIID scientist with a colorful, if possibly somewhat embellished, resume, suddenly became referred to as a "person of interest" by the Justice Department in the spring. In late June, and again in August, the FBI conducted very public searches of Hatfill's apartment in Frederick, Md., located across from the entrance to USAMRIID.
The highly publicized searches and the repeated references to him as a person of interest go against the FBI creed of doing investigations quietly and behind the scenes, causing some former agents to wonder if such actions are signsof desperation. As the anniversary of the attacks approaches, the FBI is under intense political pressure to solve the case.
"Most investigations don't prosper when they are public, and that's what bothers me about this case," said Paul Moore, a former FBI agent who works for the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies in Virginia.
"It tells me they have either reached a dead end or their case has a great big hole in it and they are trying to put pressure on this person," Moore said. "They have departed from their mission, and until they can show where the meat is in this case, I'm going to be very skeptical of them."
Recently, the FBI seems to be retracing some of its steps. The belated tests of hundreds of mailboxes in New Jersey turned up one in Princeton that tested positive for anthrax. Agents immediately began showing Hatfill's picture to merchants in the area of the box, to see if anyone could place him there.
The FBI's problem with Hatfill as a potential suspect is the same as it was months ago -they can't place him in New Jersey at the time the letters were mailed, and they have found no traces of the anthrax in their searches, sources said.
Investigators are now combing through the American Media building, hoping to find the letter that caused the first death in the anthrax attack, that of Bob Stevens, a photo editor for the supermarket tabloids published by AMI.
Moore wonders if it isn't already too late.
"There is no guarantee they will ever solve this case," he said. "Given some of their actions lately, I don't expect that they will."
Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant
Hits, Misses Traced In CDC Study
By DAVE ALTIMARI
September 18 2002
The lethal anthrax released when a member of Sen. Tom Daschle's staff opened a letter last October immediately infected 28 people, according to a study released Tuesday.
But quick treatment with antibiotics probably saved the lives of some of those staffers and kept others from being infected, the study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Two postal workers died after inhaling anthrax spores as the Daschle letter passed through the mail system. But many more would have died if antibiotics, specifically Cipro, hadn't been administered to everyone else working at the two postal facilities that processed the mail, the study concludes.
The study also quantifies, for the first time, how unusual it was for a housebound 94-year-old woman from Connecticut to contract inhalation anthrax and die.
Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford probably came into contract with anthrax from a contaminated piece of mail that was among 85 million pieces that went through two postal facilities in the two weeks after letters sent to the Washington offices of Daschle and Sen. Patrick Leahy passed through.
The study, compiled by health officials in the five states where anthrax was found, as well as by the CDC's National Anthrax Epidemiologic Investigation Team, does not contain any surprises. But it analyzes how the anthrax spread through the mail system and the characteristics of the victims infected by it.
Among its conclusions:
Of the 625 Senate workers potentially exposed when Daschle's staffer opened the letter, 28 tested positive for anthrax. The report concluded that antibiotics "likely prevented further cases in postal workers and almost certainly averted disease in Senate staff."
The anthrax in the letters to Daschle and Leahy probably was more potent than that in an earlier batch of letters sent to media representatives, because everyone infected by the second batch developed inhalation anthrax, the more serious form of the disease. The report theorizes that the mailer may have intentionally placed smaller, particle-sized powder in the second batch to cause greater harm.
The median age of the victims was 46. Lundgren was the oldest, and the 7-month-old child of an ABC employee was the youngest. Those who contracted inhalation anthrax were much older - 56 on average - than those who contracted cutaneous, or skin, anthrax, the less serious form of the disease. Their average age was 35.
Of the 10.5 million people in the areas around the New Jersey and Washington postal facilities that processed the Daschle and Leahy letters, no anthrax cases were reported other than Lundgren and Kathy Nguyen, a 61-year-old hospital worker from New York City who also died of inhalation anthrax, based on a survey of hospitals in the areas.
The risk of contracting anthrax through cross-contaminated mail is low, despite Lundgren's death. The study said 85 million pieces of mail were processed at the Brentwood facility in Washington, D.C., and the Hamilton Township facility outside Trenton, N.J., in the weeks after Oct. 9, when the Daschle/Leahy letters went through. No one else, other than postal employees, got sick.
"Why her?" Lundgren's niece, Shirley Davis, asked Tuesday. "It's mind-boggling, it really is, that this poor old lady in little rural Oxford got anthrax. I still can't believe it."
Despite extensive testing of everything in Lundgren's Oxford house, no anthrax was ever found. Investigators believe she contracted the disease through a piece of contaminated mail because they found anthrax at the Wallingford postal facility that processed her mail, and an anthrax spore on another letter, to a Seymour address 4 miles away.
Postal officials determined that the Seymour letter was processed on a high-speed sorter in New Jersey 15 seconds after one of the letters to the two senators.
The Nguyen case is just as mystifying. Investigators found no anthrax in her apartment. Although it has not officially been determined that she contracted the disease through contaminated mail, investigators believe that is the most likely scenario.
The results of the CDC study didn't surprise Neil Lustig, director of the Pomperaug Health District, which covers the region where Lundgren lived.
Lustig said CDC officials spent a lot of time in Connecticut after Lundgren died because no one thought, at the time, that anthrax could be spread by cross-contaminated mail and that only a little bit could kill someone.
"They really didn't think anthrax could travel around and then fall off a letter and infect someone," he said. "It goes to show how insidious this particular bug is that it could sit on a letter and then spread through the air once it's shaken."
Lustig said that, as bizarre as Lundgren's infection was, it amazes him almost as much that no one else got sick.
"Why weren't there hundreds of people getting sick?" Lustig asked. "She [Lundgren] wasn't the only elderly person living at home. Did everyone else just fight the bug off or get lucky enough not to get sick? We'll probably never know."
Anthrax Widow May Sue U.S.
Woman Whose Husband
Died In Florida Is Angry At Army Lab's Possible Role As Bacteria's Source
Ineligible for financial aid to victims of Sept. 11 and angry over signs that an Army lab may have unwittingly provided the anthrax that killed her husband last fall, the widow of a Florida tabloid editor is exploring a lawsuit against the federal government.
A law firm retained by Maureen Stevens - whose husband, Robert, was the first of five people to die of inhalation anthrax in last year's mail attacks - has been investigating a potential wrongful-death claim against the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Md. The law firm has been collecting Army documents and has offered at least one former USAMRIID scientist $500 an hour to serve as an expert witness.
The claim would be that the Army was negligent because lax security at the USAMRIID labs could have allowed the anthrax killer to obtain a sample of the Ames strain that was sent through the mail in powdered form. USAMRIID obtained the Ames strain in the early 1980s and shared it with a handful of other labs over the years.
Robert Shuler, a West Palm Beach attorney who represents Stevens, said the government's decision to exclude anthrax victims from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund makes the civil suit his client's best chance to recover damages. Congress never approved legislation that would have added victims of the anthrax attacks to the fund, which, in Stevens' case, would have provided her up to $200,000.
"Maureen is on an island out there," Shuler said. "The president hasn't helped her, the Congress hasn't helped her and the FBI hasn't told her anything about why her husband died.
"She really has no other choices," he said. "She misses her husband terribly and feels somebody needs to be held responsible for what happened to him."
Army spokesman Chuck Dasey would not comment on the merits of Stevens' proposed claim. But he said there are still important questions that remain to be answered about whether the anthrax used in the attacks came from USAMRIID.
"People have a right to the courts, but there's a big `if' there," Dasey said.
Since the mail attacks last fall, much of investigators' attention has been focused on USAMRIID, located at the Army's Fort Detrick.
Among other things, federal investigators set about collecting samples from all known stocks of the Ames strain of anthrax. The strain was discovered in a dead cow in Texas in 1981, and sent to USAMRIID for study. Since then, the Army has shared Ames samples with more than a dozen government, university and private laboratories in at least three countries.
While scientists at many labs have been questioned, the FBI has concentrated its interviews and lie-detector tests on current and former USAMRIID employees, and publicly searched the apartment of a former USAMRIID scientist, Dr. Steven Hatfill. Many of the Army researchers who were questioned said they were asked if it would have been possible to secretly grow anthrax in a USAMRIID laboratory and then take it off the base.
The question of lax security at USAMRIID was first raised by The Courant last winter. During a 1992 inquiry, Army officials found evidence that someone was secretly entering a lab late at night to conduct unauthorized research, apparently involving anthrax. It also was revealed that 27 samples from a pathology lab, at least one of them Ames anthrax, had been lost during the period covered in the inquiry. The Army maintains that the samples posed no threat.
If a court believed that USAMRIID was the only source of Ames, and that it shared the deadly bacteria with labs that failed to keep it secure, then the burden might shift to the Army to prove it is not responsible for anthrax falling into the wrong hands, said Richard Bieder, a nationally known Connecticut plaintiff's lawyer. Bieder has lawsuits pending against the government on behalf of 40 families of victims of the Oklahoma City bombing and of four people who died in the plane crash that killed Commerce Secretary Ron Brown in 1996.
On the other hand, Bieder said, if a court believed that USAMRIID wasn't solely responsible, and a list of possible source labs for the attack anthrax could be completed, lawyers could try to hold them all accountable, dividing the potential damages among them.
Either strategy would be very expensive for the law firm handling the case, since so much investigative work and expert testimony would be required. Also, because the U.S. government is the defendant, it must first agree to hear the case against itself in federal court.
Rosemary McDermott, a Maryland lawyer who has represented a number of USAMRIID employees in lawsuits against the Army, agreed that any lawsuit against the government over the anthrax attacks would be an uphill battle.
"But the standard in this kind of case is preponderance of the evidence," McDermott added, "not proof beyond doubt."
Robert Stevens died four days after entering a Florida hospital with an undiagnosed illness that caused him to vomit and be short of breath. By the time hospital officials realized he had inhalation anthrax, he was hours from death. He left his wife and four grown children, the youngest of whom still lives at the couple's Lantana home. They have seven grandchildren.
At first, federal officials thought Stevens may have contracted anthrax while on a fishing trip to North Carolina, but tests at his desk inside the American Media Inc. building revealed anthrax all over his computer. The FBI was called in and started what has become known as the Amerithrax investigation.
Stevens turned out to be the first victim of a person who sent at least six letters to media representatives and to Sens. Thomas Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Four other people died; the last was 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren of Connecticut.
Shuler says Maureen Stevens has lived a fishbowl existence, particularly as the anniversary of her husband's death approaches. Media have staked out her home to the point where American Media hired a private security guard to keep people away.
She has given only one interview, with the tabloid newspaper at which her husband was the photo editor. In it, she described a 10-hour drive home from the North Carolina fishing trip as he got sicker and sicker.
When they got home, "He gave me a kiss goodnight as he always did and said `I love you,'" she said. "And those were his last coherent words to me."
When he later started vomiting and had trouble breathing, she rushed him to the emergency room. He was given a sedative and never woke up.
Student's Anthrax Case Won't Go To Trial
By GRACE E. MERRITT
November 20 2002
STORRS -- A University of Connecticut graduate student who was one of the first to be charged under the USA Patriot Act after he stored two vials of anthrax in a laboratory freezer, entered a pre-trial diversion program, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced Tuesday.
Tomas Foral, who is studying the West Nile virus at UConn, will have his criminal record cleared if he stays out of trouble during a six-month probationary period and completes 96 hours of community service.
Foral, 26, gained notoriety a year ago, after he moved two vials of cow tissue infected with anthrax from a failing basement freezer to a freezer in the pathobiology lab, allegedly ignoring instructions to destroy the sample. This took place shortly before Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford died of inhalation anthrax, and in the midst of the anthrax scare caused by contaminated letters.
The vials sat for a few weeks in the freezer before someone anonymously reported them to the FBI, prompting an investigation that shut down the lab for eight days and led to a federal grand jury investigation and the charge of unlawful possession of a biological agent.
U.S. Attorney John Danaher III said the pre-trial diversion, agreed to by both sides and approved by a U.S. District Court judge, is rarely offered and serves as a warning to Foral.
Foral could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but has said he saved the anthrax samples for research purposes.
"It was a fair resolution of the matter under the circumstances," Foral's lawyer, Hubert Santos, said.
Some legal experts said authorities were making an example of Foral and that he should never have been charged. Others said they were glad the government took a tough stand and that Foral should have known better.
Levels Kept In Secrecy
Wallingford Had Nation's Highest Concentration
By DAVE ALTIMARI
April 22 2003
Postal workers at the Wallingford facility were not told for nine months that the highest concentration of anthrax spores found in any postal facility in the country was found in their workplace, according to a federal report released Monday.
A General Accounting Office investigation found that officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state Department of Public Health and United States Postal Service knew that more than 3 million spores had been found near one sorting machine in the Wallingford postal facility in December 2001 but didn't tell employees until September 2002.
In comparison, the highest spore count found in the Brentwood facility in Washington, D.C. - where two employees died of anthrax infection - was 2 million spores.
"It is difficult for me to fathom why postal workers were kept in the dark about this level of anthrax contamination," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who requested the investigation, said Monday.
"It's clear that postal and health officials, through their own missteps, put Wallingford employees at serious and unnecessary risk. We can only thank God that no postal employees died as a result," he said.
Neither postal officials nor the chief epidemiologist for the state health department disputed the GAO report's findings.
"We believed at the time it was the best thing to do because that's what the CDC and public health officials were telling us," said postal service spokesman Carl Walton. "Our specialty is delivering mail, not health issues, so we listened to the experts, and in hindsight we should have revealed more. We will rewrite some policies so that if something like this happens again we will be better prepared."
"If the employees think that something wasn't done right then that's what counts because their perception is the most important thing," said Dr. James Hadler, Connecticut's chief epidemiologist.
The Wallingford facility was at the center of the anthrax investigation in the fall of 2001 because of the death of 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren, the fifth and last person to die in the anthrax attack.
Authorities were trying to determine whether some of her mail might have gotten contaminated at the Hamilton, N.J., postal facility where anthrax-laden letters to U.S. Sens. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, both Democrats, were mailed.
Investigators found no traces of anthrax in Lundgren's mail but did find a single spore on a letter that went to an address on the same mail route.
At the Wallingford facility, the area of high contamination was directly below a machine called the vibrator, the first piece of equipment on the sorting machine, Hadler said.
Officials believe a bundle of bulk mail came from New Jersey into Wallingford carrying contaminated letters and that some of the anthrax shook loose when it vibrated and settled under the machine.
The first two times the Wallingford facility was tested by the CDC the results were negative, but on Nov. 28 authorities using a vacuuming system found that four sorting machines had been contaminated, the GAO report said.
It went on to describe meetings over the next few days among officials from the three agencies as they discussed what to tell the postal employees.
Investigators knew on Dec. 2 that a high level of anthrax had been found in the facility. In fact it was the "highest amount of anthrax ever collected at post offices," according to a Dec. 7 e-mail from one of the CDC's representatives in Connecticut to other CDC officials in Atlanta. The contaminated machines were cordoned off immediately.
The workers were originally told that the machines had "traces" of anthrax, the report said.
Postal officials told GAO investigators that Hadler suggested that, at a second meeting with employees, postal officials say that "trace" amounts of anthrax had been found on three machines and a "concentration of spores" had been found on another.
Hadler told GAO investigators he was only offering a suggestion and postal officials had to decide how best to communicate test results. The Dec. 2 test results were the only ones that postal officials did not immediately release to the postal workers' union.
Both postal and health investigators said in their response to the GAO that they didn't reveal the high spore count for several reasons: The workers had already been told to take antibiotics; the incubation time to get sick from anthrax had passed and no one had gotten sick; and the contaminated machines were cordoned off and the facility cleaned.
"We believed the health risks for the postal workers had passed and nobody had gotten sick in October when the letters would have gone through the machine," Hadler said.
"We also knew that there hadn't been a cleaning of the facility that would have aerosolized the spores and sent them all over the place."
But several months later, in April 2002, more anthrax - trace amounts - was found in the same area where the original contaminated machines had been located. It was cleaned up quickly.
Postal workers did not get documentation about the high spore count until September 2002 when they filed a complaint with OSHA. By that time, the contaminated machines had been cleaned twice.
"Clearly there was a major dispute between the health officials and postal officials" about what to disclose, said John Dirzius, president of the American Postal Workers Union Greater Connecticut Local. "They just never thought they were going to get caught."
While Lieberman isn't sure whether the governmental affairs committee he chairs will hold a hearing on the Wallingford report, a national security subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4th District, will probably hold a hearing in May.
"The focus of the hearing will be how well the government has done in identifying anthrax as a problem in postal facilities. It's important as we assess the threat that anthrax and other deadly pathogens pose we make sure we are using the proper methods in the proper places to quantify the threat," said Betsy Hawkins, Shays' chief of staff.
Hoax: Case Closed
Lenient Sentence Given To Man Who Protected Co-Worker
By LYNNE TUOHY
May 20 2003
"October 11, 2001, was for me a day that started like so many others in my 23-year tenure at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. Unfortunately, it did not end like all those others."
So began Joseph Faryniarz's plea for leniency Monday in the same federal courtroom where he was convicted last December of making a false statement to the FBI about an anthrax hoax - but in this case, he was the victim, not the perpetrator.
Nineteen months ago, Faryniarz went from being an obscure civil servant to a notorious national figure, vilified by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in the course of a press conference on terrorism. On Monday, he was spared a prison sentence by a federal judge who called him a man of "great courage."
The incident occurred one month after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and days after a Florida man became the first victim of a smattering of deadly anthrax incidents. It was a time of high anxiety. The hoax triggered a massive law enforcement response, the evacuation of DEP headquarters and traffic gridlock near the Capitol.
Faryniarz's crime was in waiting two days to tell the FBI that a co-worker had pretty much admitted committing the hoax, then made a veiled plea for Faryniarz's silence. Friends who spoke on his behalf Monday said that his crime was his compassion and loyalty to others, traits that have been the hallmarks of his life.
In a remarkable ending to a remarkable case, U. S. District Judge Alfred V. Covello lauded Faryniarz before placing him on probation for one year and fining him $100. Faryniarz had faced up to five years in prison, and the government had asked for restitution of $1.5 million to cover the cost of the emergency response.
"Whatever has happened to you by way of punishment is certainly more than enough," Covello told the 49-year-old, whose family, friends and supporters filled half the courtroom.
"My life prior to October 11, 2001, was exceedingly average. It was a comfortable fit - one I doubt I shall ever regain. I have been personally vilified on national television. My picture and name have been plastered on countless newspapers and television screens. I've received hate calls from total strangers and still fear opening letters, the return addresses of which I do not recognize."
In a DEP lunchroom one day, Faryniarz had railed against the spate of anthrax hoaxes that occurred nationwide after the anthrax death of a Florida newspaper photo editor. Days later, he found a paper towel dusted with white powder on his computer keyboard. A misspelled "anthax" was scrawled on the towel. Outraged by the prank, he brought the paper towel to his supervisor and demanded that someone be reprimanded. Minutes later, another supervisor, David Sattler, told Faryniarz that he couldn't afford to lose his job, what with a family and all. Sattler winked at him, Faryniarz testified.
At that moment, emergency vehicles and decontamination units were streaming toward the DEP. Minutes later, all was in chaos. Faryniarz and several neighboring co-workers were made to remove their clothing, were hosed down and given paper clothing to wear.
"The record here has to reflect that Joseph Faryniarz was the victim of this terrible hoax," Covello said Monday. "Nothing that this man did caused the evacuation of the Department of Environmental Protection. There isn't anything he could have done to avoid the decontamination of himself and his fellow workers. Those things were already in motion by the time he heard his co-worker's plea for silence."
"It still seems like the whole thing should have been dealt with by some stern administrative action. But even then, I would have found myself between the proverbial rock and a hard place: Keep silent or inform on a fellow employee who just happens to be one of the supervisors. I absolutely made a poor decision and would no doubt act differently given the choice today. It is a decision I am embarrassed to have made. I am truly sorry."
Covello noted that two days after the incident, on a Sunday, Faryniarz left his Coventry home and drove to the FBI office in New Haven to tell them about the encounter with Sattler. He did so, Covello said, even though he was advised of the potential consequences of coming forward at that "late" date.
"He chose ... the moral high ground," Covello said.
For reasons that have never been made clear by federal prosecutors, Sattler was not indicted. When subpoenaed by defense attorney Richard Brown to testify at Faryniarz's trial, Sattler invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and said little beyond his own name and address. He continues to work at DEP.
"I believe if the perpetrator had been successfully apprehended, my case would be seen in the lesser light that it truly warrants. Nonetheless, I erred in not coming forward with my information for the authorities sooner."
"Mr. Faryniarz was rewarded for his good citizenship," Covello said. "While waiting for his colleague to come forward, he was rewarded by a multi-count federal indictment not against the perpetrator, but against himself for not being quick enough in his response."
"Has a lesson been learned here? You bet," Covello said. "In these times of great uncertainty, timely cooperation with law enforcement authorities is imperative."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Appleton, who prosecuted Faryniarz, declined to comment after the sentencing. Calls to Ashcroft's office were not returned.
Brown secured for Faryniarz a departure from the federal sentencing guidelines under a provision that is rarely invoked or granted, one reserved for criminal conduct that is aberrant to the defendant's true nature. "I don't think he's ever gotten a parking ticket or a speeding ticket, and he finds himself on the other side of the U.S. government," Brown told Covello.
Three close friends of Faryniarz's described him as a kind and generous person whose life revolves around his extended family, his dogs and the friendships and plants he lovingly cultivates.
"He's got more friends than anyone I know, and that doesn't happen unless you're a giving person," said Robert Lorentson, who is both friend and colleague. Lorentson said there have been several petitions and fund-raisers at DEP on behalf of Faryniarz. They netted hundreds of signatures "and a fair amount of money."
Faryniarz has been on paid administrative leave since Oct. 15, 2001. Administrators at the agency were waiting for the sentencing to decide his future there, Brown said.
Faryniarz was convicted by a jury in December. Covello said Monday that the jurors afterward expressed to him their feelings that the conviction was for "a very technical violation of the law," as well as their concern that the punishment not be harsh.
"I hope the court will see fit to let me begin the process of rebuilding the life that was so very normal that October day in 2001 when I headed off to work."
After the sentencing, Faryniarz was swarmed by his friends and family, and made his way out of the courtroom one hug at a time. He was visibly relieved, and drained.
"This has been going on too long," Faryniarz said. "I was hoping [the case] was going to get thrown out. This is the next best thing."
A Rare Look At A Top-Secret Facility
By JANICE D'ARCY, Courant Staff Writer
FORT DETRICK, Md. -- Two U.S. congressmen and a busload of staff members traveled 50 miles northwest of Washington Monday to this dusty compound.
The congressmen and their entourage passed through two military checkpoints, then set off on a rare tour of the U.S. Army's Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, known as USAMRIID - a grim facility that is at once mysterious, suspicious and vital to national security.
The tour was part of a congressional investigation into the institute's operations. The facility houses the country's biological defense programs, as well as the laboratory where some believe the anthrax used in 2001 to kill five people originated. There are concerns about the facility's security.
"We just want to find out what's going on there," said U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4th District, who as head of the subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations is leading the congressional investigation and organized the trip. U.S. Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, accompanied the group.
The group approached a nondescript beige building protected by high privacy fences and concrete barriers. Inside, they found a facility equipped to deal with horrifying biological nightmares.
The group entered laboratories through inches-thick metal doors fitted with airtight seals in case the lethal agents within were to escape. Inside were unlocked freezers that have stored anthrax bacteria, SARS and Ebola viruses and other deadly biological organisms.
Overhead are orange lights designed to warn of lethal contamination.
Across the hall, ghoulish-looking decontamination suits hang in easy reach, their thick blue and orange coats forming the human shapes that last occupied them.
Nearby chemical showers are not in use, but their doors are open and spigots ready. The congressional visitors stepped in and looked around.
Next door, in a room nicknamed "the slammer," three plastic-encased beds are ready to quarantine any contaminated workers.
A few doors away, another lab is nicknamed "the morgue." That's expected to be used for corpses "as a contingency plan," a USAMRIID escort said.
There have been recent renovations and, most important to the tour group Monday, recent security upgrades.
There is now a video camera system monitoring most areas in the building. A few staff members now act as internal inspectors, visiting labs and sensitive areas unannounced to check for possible security breaches by researchers.
Still, safety and security concerns persist.
Shays at one point noted that the traditional concrete walls, with all their nicks and grooves, would be much more difficult to clean if contaminated than would a modern smooth wall.
Although individual labs are locked, staff members conceded that there are no locks on freezers containing potentially lethal agents. Tour guides said they have in the past tried to lock the freezers, but scientists wearing protective suits couldn't handle keys and other security devices while wearing their thick plastic gloves.
Monday's tour was hardly the first time officials here have been questioned about security. Soon after the anthrax attacks, investigators began looking closely at USAMRIID.
The facility, part of the larger Fort Detrick, used to be the focal point for the country's offensive biological weapons program before President Nixon shut it down in 1972. Ever since, it has employed a rare breed of specialized scientists adept at handling biological agents.
It was also one of the few facilities in the country to have the same strain of anthrax that turned up in the mail in Florida, New York, Washington, New Jersey and Wallingford, Conn.
Also, recent allegations of lax security, including some reported in The Courant, led to increased speculation and triggered Shays' investigation.
Last month, FBI agents drained a pond 6 miles from here to search for evidence in the anthrax case. Agents have questioned former USAMRIID scientist Steven Hatfill and have repeatedly searched his home. He has denied being responsible for anthrax-related terrorism.
"Initially you couldn't help that you were under suspicion, and that hurt," said Jim Swearengen, USAMRIID deputy commander.
"But most of us have come to realize that it's part of the process of a good investigation," he said.
Others were more defensive. Former USAMRIID Cmdr. David Franz said much "misinformation" about the labs emerged after the anthrax attacks.
Franz conceded the anthrax could have originated from the facility, but added that it may have originated elsewhere. And even if it were stolen from USAMRIID, he said, he doubted it was produced within the facility. "There's too much security for that," he said.
He dipped his finger into an imaginary bit of anthrax powder and held up his fingertip. "That's all it would take to walk out of here and then come back with a truckload," he said.
Franz joined the tour and, later, a panel of experts to discuss biological weapons proliferation issues. He speculated that the unsolved anthrax mailer case is now likely dependent on witnesses or informants.
Again Refuses To Release Anonymous Anthrax Letter
July 18, 2003
The FBI has refused for the third time to release an anonymous letter it received in early October 2001 warning about a potential bio-terror attack.
In a note apologizing for the long delay in their latest decision, justice department officials last week wrote that releasing the letter "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of third parties" or to "disclose the identities of confidential sources and information furnished by such sources."
But for nearly two years the FBI has publicly maintained that the anonymous letter - which arrived after three deadly anthrax letters were mailed from New Jersey, but before the first victim fell fatally ill in Florida - was just a strange coincidence, irrelevant to the actual attacks.
The government's prolonged secrecy about the letter has helped convince Ayaad Assaad, a former Army bio-weapons researcher it names as a potential terrorist, that the warning was among the clues that led investigators to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (known as USAMRIID) in Frederick, Md, where he once worked.
Assaad has been requesting the letter since the FBI questioned him about it in October 2001. Assaad, who was shown the letter but not allowed to make a copy, said it contained specific details about his work at USAMRIID. He said those details could only have been known by someone who worked there with him.
The lab has been the center of the FBI's hunt for the anthrax killer. Dozens of current and former USAMRIID employees have been subjected to lie-detector tests as part of the investigation. Analysis of the powder packed into the letters showed that the lab probably was the original source of the anthrax. And the only person who has so far been identified by the FBI as a "person of interest" in the investigation - Dr. Steven J. Hatfill - is a former lab employee.
Five people, including 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren of Connecticut, died of inhalation anthrax after three anthrax-laced letters were sent through the mail.
A Department of Justice official, who declined to be publicly identified, cautioned that definition of "confidential informant" is extremely broad. He said all anonymous letters received by the FBI would be considered secret under their interpretation of the law, so the denial should not be construed as proof that the anonymous letter is part of an active investigation.
"That is not at all something you can surmise," the official said. "Any time there is an anonymous letter, we're going to assert that exemption. It's to encourage people to come forward with information, and prevent reprisals."
FBI officials Thursday said the letter of denial is just a standard response to a Freedom of Information request.
But a former high-ranking FBI official said while the denial of Assaad's request for a copy of the letter is routine, the discussion of possible confidential sources indicates that the FBI still hasn't ruled out a connection between the anonymous letter and the deadly attacks.
"The FBI isn't in the business of blocking information. There has to be some rationale for wanting to keep it secret," said Oliver "Buck" Revell, the former assistant director of the FBI.
"If there is any possible nexis between the two, then the general rule is to keep it silent," Revell said.
Reprisal, in the form of a defamation suit, is among the reasons why Assaad would like to know who set the FBI on his trail. He was quickly cleared of any suspicion, but the accusation in the weeks immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, left the Arab-American nearly paralyzed with fear.
The letter said that Assaad had the "means and the will" to carry out a biological terrorist attack against the United States, and that he had instructed his two sons to carry out the crusade if anything happened to him. It also contained precise details of his work at Fort Detrick, and his current job at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Assaad, who has been a U.S. citizen for decades, believes that whoever sent the deadly anthrax letters also sent the anonymous warning in an effort to set him up as a scapegoat. That possibility seems bolstered by the fact that Assaad had his share of enemies at USAMRIID.
He was at the heart of a bitter internal feud at the Army lab in the early 1990s. Colleagues calling themselves the "Camel Club" mocked his ethnic origin cruelly and openly. Their conduct sparked an internal Army investigation that led to at least one of the Camel Club's ring leaders losing his job, and others believing that their career paths were severely limited within the Army.
The investigation also turned up astonishingly poor inventory control at USAMRIID's pathology lab. At one point, more than two dozen samples of pathogens including the Ebola virus and Ames anthrax - the strain used in the mail attacks - went missing. Investigators also found evidence of late night, off-the-books research being done with what appeared to be anthrax.
Assaad lost his job at the lab during military-wide down-sizing in 1997, while many of those he accused kept theirs.
Questions EPA Scientist About Anthrax Case
By JACK DOLAN
February 17 2004
The FBI recently interviewed at least one scientist from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in connection with the deadly anthrax mailings to government and media offices in the fall of 2001, a document obtained by The Courant indicates.
Federal agents summoned the EPA scientist to their Washington field office last week and asked whether he wrote an anonymous letter to the FBI days before the first anthrax death, warning that another EPA researcher was a potential bio-terrorist.
The scientist told federal investigators Wednesday that he had nothing to do with the anonymous letter, but the document indicated that he might be subjected to a lie-detector test.
The anonymous warning, which has intrigued federal agents and amateur sleuths on the Internet for years, was sent from a mailbox in northern Virginia and postmarked Sept. 26, 2001. That is a week after the first envelope containing anthrax was mailed from New Jersey, but before the first media reports about anthrax attacks through the mail, which came days later when the first victim was identified in Florida.
The letter stated that Egyptian-born EPA scientist Ayaad Assaad was a "religious fanatic" with the "means and will" to launch a bio-terrorist attack against the United States.
Federal investigators have always maintained that the letter - while a startling coincidence - has no bearing on their hunt for the anthrax killer.
It is not clear whether last week's interview of Assaad's EPA colleague represents a return to the beginning for federal agents frustrated by a lack of fresh leads, or whether agents have been quietly hunting for the source of the anonymous letter for years.
FBI spokeswoman Debbie Weierman said Monday that she could not comment on a "pending investigation."
It's also possible that recent discovery of ricin on a letter-sorting machine in the mailroom of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., could have rekindled the FBI's interest in the Assaad matter.
Before joining the EPA, Assaad spent eight years working on a vaccine for ricin at the Army's bio-warfare defense lab in Frederick, Md. He lost his job in a wave of military downsizing in 1997, then sued the army for age and ethnic discrimination. The suit is pending in federal court.
Assaad's lawyer, Rosemary McDermott, said that Assaad contacted her after the ricin turned up in Frist's office earlier this month and asked if he should step forward and volunteer his expertise about the poison to the FBI.
"You keep a low-profile; don't do anything," McDermott said she told Assaad. "For all you know, you might even be a suspect."
Assaad has not been questioned by the FBI since Oct. 3, 2001, when he was shown the letter naming him as a terrorist threat. McDermott said her client was cleared of any suspicion at the end of that interview.
Assaad, an American citizen who has lived in the United States for decades, said the interrogation left him nearly paralyzed with fear, coming less than a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Days after Assaad's meeting with the FBI, news broke about a photo editor at a Florida tabloid who died from inhaling anthrax that had been sent to his office through the mail.
The Justice Department has repeatedly denied Assaad's requests for a copy of the letter. In July, the department said that divulging the letter could "disclose the identities of confidential sources."
Department spokesmen said at the time that the explanation for denying the request should not be construed as evidence that the letter was part of the hunt for the anthrax killer. Officials said the same wording was routinely used to deny Freedom of Information requests to shield anonymous tipsters.
For years Assaad has been frustrated by the federal investigators' claims that the letter about him is not relevant to the anthrax case. Assaad is convinced that its author is connected to the person who mailed the anthrax letters, and that the warning was intended to set him up as a scapegoat for the attacks that killed five people, including a 94-year-old woman from Connecticut.
The warning letter was sent to the Quantico, Va., police department but addressed to the FBI. It contained detailed information about Assaad's work at Fort Detrick, the Army's Maryland lab where scientists experiment with countermeasures for biological weapons including anthrax, the Ebola virus and ricin.
The author also included slightly inaccurate details about Assaad's commute from his home in Frederick to his job at the EPA's offices in Virginia.
After the anthrax attacks, the FBI's profile of the killer painted him as a disgruntled American with sophisticated laboratory skills. Analysis of the anthrax used in the letters indicated that it was from a strain associated with the labs at Fort Detrick. The lab then became the center of the FBI's investigation and dozens of its employees were reportedly given lie-detector tests.
Assaad's belief that the letter came from a former Fort Detrick colleague stems from a decade-long dispute he had with a number of his co-workers there.
His lawsuit includes an Army Inspector General report that describes a cadre of fellow scientists who called themselves the "Camel Club" in mockery of Assaad. They distributed a crude poem denigrating Arab Americans, passed around an obscene rubber camel and lampooned Assaad's language skills.
The Army's internal investigation led to at least one of the Camel Club's leaders losing his job at Fort Detrick, and others believing that their career paths within the Army were severely limited.
The report also turned up major problems with inventory control in the labs during the early 1990s. At one point, more than two dozen samples of pathogens including the Ebola virus and the strain of anthrax used in the mail attacks went missing.
Most have since been accounted for, but not the anthrax. The Army has insisted that the sample was dead before it went missing and therefore could not have been the source of the anthrax used in the deadly attacks.
Retracing Steps In Anthrax Investigation
By JACK DOLAN And DAVE ALTIMARI
Courant Staff Writers
May 16 2004
While Justice Department officials publicly express hope that a scientific analysis of the anthrax used in the 2001 letter attacks will help them find the killer, FBI field agents have recently revisited old and long-ignored leads.
On Tuesday, agents interviewed former Army microbiologist Ayaad Assaad for 2½ hours. They asked detailed questions about his knowledge of drying anthrax into a fine powder like that used in the attacks, and took documents he offered them to show where he was when the first batch of letters was sent.
Assaad and his attorney both said the agents assured them on Tuesday that he is not a suspect.
FBI agents interviewed Assaad once before, on Oct. 3, 2001, after an anonymous letter warned that he might be "planning to mount a biological attack." But despite several offers to provide more information, Assaad had not been re-interviewed since the first suspicious anthrax infection came to light the next day.
Federal investigators also recently questioned a prominent, university-based anthrax researcher about discrepancies in records describing the quantities of anthrax in routine shipments to his lab from the Army's biodefense research facility in Frederick, Md.
The scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the paperwork problem was easily straightened out. But he was surprised by the questions, because the FBI has had his shipping logs for more than two years.
"My sense is they were trying to recheck everything and make sure they hadn't missed something before," the scientist said. "Clearly they are casting about for new leads or going back and looking for ones they may have missed."
From the outside, it is impossible to gauge how significant any one person questioned by the FBI is in the broader puzzle of the federal investigation into the anthrax mailings, which has been called the largest manhunt in bureau history. But the agency's careful retracing of steps in recent months suggests that investigators could be running low on fresh leads.
A former high-ranking member of the FBI's "Amerithrax" team, who retired last year, said he was aware of the warning letter about Assaad from the very beginning of the investigation. But the letter was one of hundreds of tips the bureau receives, and compared to other leads they were following, it wasn't viewed as a high priority.
FBI spokeswoman Debbie Weierman refused to comment on - or "give any guidance" about - the significance of last week's Assaad interview. Nor would she say how many other people have been quizzed about their alibis.
But she stressed that the anthrax investigation is wide-ranging. As of the two-year anniversary of the attack last October, there were 30 FBI agents and 18 postal inspectors working full time on the investigation, and a cumulative 80 "agent work years" had been invested in the case, Weierman said.
Investigators believe that 22 people contracted anthrax after exposure to contaminated mail in the fall of 2001. Among the five who died was 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford.
In the first months of the investigation, FBI agents questioned dozens of current and former researchers from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Md., where Assaad once worked. They repeatedly asked who at USAMRIID had access to anthrax, and whether it would have been possible for someone to sneak the biological agent out of the facility.
But more recently, federal authorities have shifted their focus to the complicated process of breaking down the gene sequence of the anthrax used in the attack to see if it can be linked to stocks from a specific laboratory.
In late March, a judge accepted the FBI's promise of scientific progress as reason to postpone discovery in a civil suit brought against the Department of Justice by Steven J. Hatfill. The former USAMRIID scientist lost at least one job, and claims he has become unemployable, since U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft dubbed him a "person of interest" in the summer of 2002. Hatfill has not been charged.
During Tuesday's interview at his attorney's Thurmont, Md., office, Assaad gave the agents sign-in sheets bearing his signature from scientific conferences in Crystal City, Va., from Sept. 18 to Sept. 20, 2001. The first batch of anthrax-laced letters, which went to media offices in New York and Florida, were postmarked in Trenton, N.J., on Sept. 18.
Assaad said he brought the documentation to the interview because FBI agents asked more than a dozen of his co-workers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the same question about him during a day of interviews at their Crystal City offices on March 16. The agents did not speak to Assaad that day, even though he was at work.
"You guys have been asking my colleagues where I was at that time and if I've ever been to New Jersey. Let me put the issue to rest," Assaad said he told the agents as he handed them the rosters.
The agents - Aidan Garcia and Andrew J. Cordiner Jr. from the FBI's D.C. bureau, which is headquarters for the anthrax investigation - then asked Assaad if he would provide documentation covering the dates from Oct. 6 to Oct. 9, 2001, Assaad said. The more lethal letters sent to U.S. Senate offices were postmarked on Oct. 9.
Assaad said the agents also asked him what he knew about drying anthrax into a fine powder. He explained the process and said that it would be easy to do, but that he had never done it himself. He told them he had never worked with anthrax, and had never been vaccinated against the disease.
Many scientists believe it would have been suicidal to prepare the anthrax used in the attacks without being vaccinated first.
Assaad's attorney, Rosemary McDermott, said she became alarmed by the direction of the questioning and asked the agents if her client was a suspect in the anthrax attacks.
"They told me he was not a suspect, and that these were just routine questions," McDermott said.
In the March interviews at the EPA offices, agents asked 14 of Assaad's co-workers if they sent the anonymous letter warning that Assaad was a potential bioterrorist. Everyone denied writing the letter, according to EPA sources, all of whom stressed that the questioning was very low-key.
The timing of the warning letter has intrigued professional investigators and amateur Internet sleuths for years. It was mailed on Sept. 26, 2001, just days after the first batch of anthrax letters went out, but before their first effects became evident.
The Egyptian-born Assaad said that he believes the oddly prescient letter was no coincidence, and that the letter writer intended to use him as a scapegoat for the anthrax mailings, which began less than a month after Middle Eastern terrorists launched the attacks of Sept 11.
Assaad, who is an American citizen and has lived in the United States for decades, said he has contacted the FBI four times over the last 2½ years. He offered to tell them what he knows about his former USAMRIID colleagues, whom he suspects could be responsible for the anthrax mailings, but was rebuffed each time, he said.
Searched In Anthrax Probe
By MATTHEW KAUFFMAN
Courant Staff Writer
August 6 2004
Federal agents Thursday searched the home of a New York doctor with Connecticut ties as part of their nearly three-year hunt to solve a series of deadly anthrax attacks.
Agents with the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service searched the Wellsville, N.Y., home of Kenneth M. Berry, a 1979 Fairfield University graduate who has long warned that the nation is ill-prepared to defend against a chemical attack by terrorists.
More than three dozen agents, some in protective suits, combed through the house and a second Wellsville address linked to Berry. Searches also were conducted at a home in Dover Township, N.J.
An FBI spokesman in Washington said the searches were part of the government's investigation of anthrax-laced letters that were sent in the fall of 2001. Twenty-two people were exposed to anthrax, and five died, including 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford.
In an interview with The Washington Post, a senior Justice Department official downplayed the significance of the searches. The effort, he said, was "more about trying to clear the guy than anything else."
One law enforcement official told The Post that agents were "tying up some loose ends" and added: "They're going back and trying to make sure there's nothing there that they missed."
Attempts to reach Berry Thursday were unsuccessful.
In the late 1990s, while working as an emergency-room doctor, Berry became an outspoken advocate for better disaster preparedness. He founded PREEMPT Medical Counter-Terrorism Inc., which promotes training emergency medical personnel to deal with a chemical attack. He also described himself as a consultant to the Department of Defense on weapons of mass destruction.
In 1997, he presented a workshop on a hypothetical terrorist anthrax attack on San Francisco, which he warned would kill more than 1 million people.
"Weapons of mass destruction utilization by terrorists is now the number one national security threat in the United States," Berry wrote in his prepared remarks. "Let's not need a Pearl Harbor II to force us to get serious regarding WMD Domestic Preparedness. Please, I beg you."
That same year, he challenged President Clinton's conclusion that civilians should not be inoculated against the anthrax bacterium. "We ought to be planning to make anthrax vaccine widely available to the population starting in the major cities," Berry told USA Today.
In 1999, Berry spoke at a conference on chemical emergency preparedness and prevention sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency. Berry said he supported gas masks for civilians and said battling chemical attacks from terrorists would require resources on par with the Cold War, which he said took 50 years and six trillion dollars to win.
Berry pleaded guilty in 1999 to disorderly conduct to settle charges of forgery, according to the Wellsville Daily Reporter newspaper. State police said Berry's signature was on a fake will for a man who died. While initially charged with two counts of second-degree forgery, the plea to a lesser violation allowed him to keep his medical license, the paper said.
Not long after, Berry adopted a decidedly lower profile. He resigned from Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville in October 2001 - the same month anthrax-laced letters were delivered to U.S. Senate offices - after nearly five years as a physician and chairman of emergency medicine. New York State Health Department records show Berry is still a licensed physician, but he lists no office and no hospital affiliations.
His busy schedule of speeches and appearances, listed in detail on PREEMPT's website, also come to an abrupt end in December 2000.
scare highlights problems similar to those in 2001
Samples of substance apparently mishandled
By William Hathaway and Dave Altimari
March 20, 2005
WASHINGTON - Despite spending billions on high-tech screening machines and elaborate plans to respond to biological terrorism, the federal government reacted with missteps and miscommunication in last week's Washington anthrax scare similar to what it showed in the 2001 attacks that killed five people.
A laboratory hired by the military apparently mishandled a sample of suspected anthrax, while agencies that are supposed to be working together kept one another and their employees in the dark.
"There's still a food fight going on between all of these agencies regarding who does what, when do they do it and who is in charge," said Larry Halloran, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican. "The bureaucratic fault lines between agencies are snagging efforts to make real progress."
Agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency are about to be criticized in a new Government Accountability Office report. Shays ordered the study to determine how far the government has come in responding to events such as the 2001 anthrax attacks.
"More than three years after the anthrax mail attacks, the lack of standardized detection and testing pose a risk to national security," said Shays, the chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security.
Shays has scheduled an April 5 hearing to examine flaws in the anthrax detection system.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, has asked the GAO to investigate the way officials handled the latest anthrax scare.
In the 2001 case, anthrax letters bearing postmarks from Trenton, N.J., began surfacing in October at media outlets in New York and Florida, and in senators' offices on Capitol Hill. By November, five people had died - including Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Conn., and Kathy Nguyen, 61, of New York City, neither of whom had any connection to the letter recipients but who may have come into contact with contaminated mail.
No one knows why those two women died and others who must have been exposed to anthrax on mail processed near the letters to the senators did not.
Debra Weierman, spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington field office, said that 30 FBI agents and 15 postal inspectors are assigned to the anthrax investigation and that more than 5,000 grand jury subpoenas have been issued.
Response in 2001
The attacks exposed how ill-prepared the government was for a biological attack. While members of Congress and their staff members were put on the antibiotic Cipro immediately, postal workers who came in contact with the letters were not. Two of them died.
Officials were also slow to close post offices that may have been infected. Emergency response to the attacks varied state to state.
More than $5 billion was spent last year alone on a variety of biodefense programs, such as stockpiling drugs, developing vaccines, improving public health laboratories, providing biohazard equipment to emergency responders, monitoring air in U.S. cities for pathogens and creating highly detailed emergency plans.
The U.S. Postal Service is spending $1.4 billion to install biohazard detection systems in its mail facilities.
But even the unprecedented spending levels are not enough to protect the country, some argue. Lieberman has proposed spending $1 billion more than the Bush administration's recommendations to fund bioterrorism defense. He noted an April 2004 GAO report that found problems with disease surveillance, lab capacity, communications, regional planning and the ability to handle large numbers of sick or maimed people.
According to published reports, the confusion in Washington began March 10, when one sample taken from the filter of a biohazard sensor at a Pentagon delivery facility tested positive for anthrax. Another test later confirmed the finding, but Pentagon officials said they were not notified until March 14. That afternoon, apparently by coincidence, a biohazard alarm sounded at a defense department office building in Fairfax, Va.
The original anthrax test was not conducted at one of many labs set up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to respond to a bioterrorist threat but at a lab under contract with the Department of Defense. Apparently, it was at this laboratory where the sample became contaminated with anthrax, creating the false alarm. Officials in Congress, the commonwealth of Virginia, Fairfax and Washington all complained about being kept out of the loop after the initial positive test results were discovered. According to the officials, the Department of Defense has different detection equipment and protocols for reporting biohazards to other agencies.
"You may recall similar language barriers in 2001 when [various federal agencies] were confusing us and each other with divergent if not contradictory statements about how much anthrax there was, how much it took to get sick and how much was left after they tried to clean it up," Halloran said.
The Fairfax office building was locked down for hours, and then workers were told to go home, bag up their clothes and take showers, said Martin Hughes Jones, an anthrax expert at Louisiana State University. But workers in the Department of Defense delivery center at the Pentagon were immediately placed on Cipro.
He said, "Basically they were saying it's OK to ride the Metro home in those clothes, but then when you get there bag them up in case they have anthrax on them."
The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Legacy May Save Lives
By MARYELLEN FILLO
April 6 2006
Ottilie Lundgren, the Oxford senior citizen who died of anthrax in 2001, could never have imagined the legacy her death would leave behind.
On Wednesday, that legacy was revealed as an $8.25 million mobile emergency field hospital, named in honor of the 94-year-old whose death stunned the nation and the world.
Funded with a combination of state and federal money, the new state facility, believed to be the first in the United States, can be erected and staffed within hours of an emergency situation, officials said. The 100-bed unit includes intensive care, isolation, ambulatory and triage areas and is outfitted with medical supplies and equipment that can provide immediate emergency/disaster medical care.
"At any given moment, Connecticut could be faced with a disaster that results in an overwhelming number of sick or injured," said Leonard Guercia, operations branch chief for the Department of Public Health. He called the Ottilie W. Lundgren Memorial Field Hospital a "powerful new tool in the public health emergency preparedness arsenal."
"Hopefully, we will never have to use it," he added. "But if there is ever the need, we are ready."
More than 100 people attended the ceremonies held inside the portion of the 140- by 250-foot facility that was erected on the front lawn of the Capitol. Among those in attendance were Lundgren's family, including her niece, Shirley Davis, of Woodbury.
"My aunt would be flabbergasted to think that the state would name something like this after her," said Davis, who was Lundgren's caregiver and closest relative. ""She would be proud, so proud," Davis said about the quiet but sociable woman who was well-liked and well-known in the community.
Lundgren, a Connecticut native, was one of five people in the country to die after anthrax exposure in November 2001. It is believed she died after opening anthrax-contaminated mail that was delivered to her home. It was never determined who was responsible for her death, which thrust the small community into the media spotlight.
Davis said she was shocked when state health department officials contacted her about naming the mobile hospital after her aunt.
"I could just hear my aunt saying `They are doing this for little old me?'" said Davis, who wiped away tears during the dedication ceremony. "She just wasn't a woman who was used to being in the spotlight."
State officials said there was little discussion about whom to name the hospital after, and they emphasized that the circumstances surrounding Lundgren's death demanded that such an honor be bestowed upon her.
"Ottilie Lundgren represents us all," said Dr. J. Robert Galvin, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health. "She lived a quiet life in rural Connecticut - far from where terror is supposed to strike," he said. "Her untimely death proved that terrorism knows no bounds and that our state plays an important part in responding to such incidents," he continued. "Naming this hospital in her honor allows us to forever member Mrs. Lundgren's long life and remain cognizant that her untimely death led to the state's ability to better protect its residents."
Officials said the portable field hospital, which has electricity, heat, air conditioning, fresh water, showers and bathrooms, can be broken down into 25-bed units and could also be used for regional emergencies. The facility, which will be stored in Windsor Locks when not in use, would be staffed with a combination of personnel from the Connecticut Disaster Emergency Management Team, state government agencies and the state's 31 acute care hospitals.
As part of the program, Gov. M. Jodi Rell also issued a resolution proclaiming Wednesday as "Ottilie Lundgren Day."
At Odds Over Anthrax
The Federal Government Wants To Stockpile Anthrax Vaccines To Protect Americans From A Biological Attack; Critics Question Costs, Wonder If Effort Is Even Necessary
April 10, 2006
Weaponized anthrax killed five Americans in 2001, yet the federal government is coming under criticism for its pursuit of vaccines to protect the United States from future attacks.
The government has committed to investing more than $1 billion to develop, buy and stockpile anthrax vaccines - fully one-quarter of a special fund created by President Bush for medical countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack on the United States.
Some critics, however, insist that the investment is misguided at best. There is no evidence that foreign terrorists are capable of a large-scale anthrax assault, they say, and there are other biological agents terrorists might find as easy to use. In any case, anthrax disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Some suggest the spending has more to do with politics than with actual threats.
Concerns over the military's use of the only currently licensed vaccine led to a halt, at least temporarily, to mandatory inoculations there. And although new vaccines are being commissioned, some people have warned that the government needs to better supervise its entire anthrax program or risk wasting money, making flawed decisions, and possibly putting the public in danger.
The issue is far from academic. In the event of a national emergency, the government has the power to order vaccination of civilians, regardless of whether the medications are licensed or experimental.
BioShield Target: Anthrax
It has been more than four years since Ottilie Lundgren took ill at her home in Oxford, Conn., and later died, the last victim of the nation's 2001 anthrax attacks - the only successful attacks of their kind in this country or any other. The FBI's main theory is that the weaponized anthrax was generated by a domestic, not foreign, source and most likely originated in a military laboratory.
The attacks have so far led to no criminal charges. What they did lead to, and quickly, was a realization that the country was ill prepared to defend itself against just such a nonconventional attack.
Anthrax spores used in 2001 were delivered through the mail, but government officials are worried about the potential for even greater harm if aerosolized spores could be released by a sprayer or some other device over an urban center. That scenario could put the population at risk of inhalation anthrax, the kind that killed Lundgren and the four other victims.
The United States has a vital need for a vaccine to protect the public against all forms of anthrax, said David P. Ropeik, director of risk communication at Harvard University's Center for Risk Analysis. Addressing all of the more than two dozen other biological threats would be daunting for taxpayers, he said, but anthrax and smallpox are two of a half-dozen mandating close government attention.
Annual civilian biodefense spending, $418 million in fiscal 2001, soared to $3.7 billion the following year and appreciably more every year since.
In 2004, Bush signed Project BioShield legislation, which authorizes spending $5.6 billion over 10 years to buy and stockpile vaccines and drugs to fight anthrax, smallpox and other potential agents of bioterror against the civilian population.
Of that, $1.4 billion is earmarked to buy and stockpile anthrax vaccines for use in case of a national emergency.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has already begun awarding contracts to buy doses of the only licensed vaccine, Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed, called AVA, and to develop and stockpile a next-generation vaccine.
For years, inhalation anthrax has been considered by the military to be the foremost threat in biological warfare.
"The chairman of the [Pentagon's] Joint Chiefs of Staff considers anthrax to be the No. 1 biological threat agent," said Barbara Goodno, a Pentagon spokeswoman. "Other government agencies and civilian authorities agree. The lethal anthrax attacks of fall 2001, including a death in Connecticut, show how easy it is to disperse anthrax spores with deadly effect."
Seven years ago, when former Defense Department Secretary William Cohen first ordered the mandatory anthrax inoculations for all 2.4 million people in the military, he based his decision on international threats, including Iraq's possession of anthrax spores supplied years earlier by a commercial U.S. biological laboratory.
Some weapons experts, however, say threats from abroad have been exaggerated and no evidence has ever been made public that any terrorist group worldwide, including al-Qaida, has ever successfully produced usable pathogenic anthrax spores.
Anthrax spores are effective because large quantities can be distributed through the air, and they last longer than many other biological agents. However, scientists say there are other biological agents as accessible and deployable as anthrax spores - the ricin and botulinum toxins among them. Also, weapons-grade anthrax is not easy to make or use, and variable winds make dispersing anthrax spores over a wide area problematic.
"The question is: Is anybody going to use anthrax as a weapon?" said Dr. Victor W. Sidel, co-author of the 2002 book "Terrorism and Public Health: A Balanced Approach to Strengthening Systems and Protecting People." "And if they do, we don't know what form of anthrax will be used. We don't know how anthrax materials will be modified or how they will be militarized."
He said the country needs to establish which proven diseases to work against, such as malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, and which to disregard because they are being promoted for "a political reason" - comments echoed by John Richardson, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who has contributed historical research on the anthrax vaccine to a federal lawsuit that blocked the military from ordering that military personnel be inoculated.
"Politicians only want to be able to say - in the aftermath of a terrorist event - that, `We did all we could do,'" Richardson said. "Defending against hypothetical bioterrorism deaths will bring in votes and contributions. The spending is driven by political expediency, not the threat.
"There is no magic shot that will immunize politicians from political consequences of terrorism," he said.
Licensing, Safety Issues
Under BioShield, the government has contracted with a biopharmaceutical company, VaxGen Inc., to produce 75 million doses of a new type of anthrax vaccine, called rPA102. The Washington Post reported in March that a setback in drug trials will prevent the company from meeting a November deadline to deliver the first 25 million doses into a national stockpile.
The only vaccine currently licensed for use, Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed, made by BioPort Corp., requires a series of six shots before exposure: three initial doses at two-week intervals, followed by three additional doses at 6, 13 and 18 months. An annual booster is recommended.
The original license was granted for use against exposure to cutaneous anthrax, historically the most common - though still rare - form of the disease. People working with livestock are at risk of getting this type of anthrax through cuts or open sores.
Significant questions remain about the validity of using the vaccine for exposure to aerosolized spores - a scenario envisioned in a terrorist attack or on a battlefield. Critics of forced inoculations in the military argue that the vaccine has not been proved effective conclusively against inhaled spores in human or animal testing.
"To this day ... [the vaccine] has not been properly licensed for wide use against inhaled anthrax because of the pathetic level of evidence of safety, potency and efficacy," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a Dec. 30, 2005, court brief against forced inoculations in the military.
The U.S Food and Drug Administration disagrees. In reaffirming its licensing of the existing vaccine, the agency declared in December that "there are sufficient data from adequate, well-controlled clinical studies to assess the safety and effectiveness of AVA as a vaccine against anthrax infection regardless of route of exposure."
Six anonymous military employees mounted a legal challenge to mandatory vaccinations in the military, and a U.S. District judge last spring halted the mandatory inoculations. Voluntary inoculations have been allowed to continue. The Department of Defense has appealed the judge's ruling, but the appeals court sent it back to the trial judge for a reassessment.
BioPort says that contrary to criticism, its vaccine is proven and safe, and it has multiple government agencies to support it. The FDA and the Defense Department back it up, based on animal testing and data from past use on humans. The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine released a report in 2002 that concluded the vaccine was acceptably safe and effective.
"Eighteen studies confirm the safety of BioPort's anthrax vaccine," the company says on its website. "Licensed for more than 30 years by the FDA, the safety profile of the anthrax vaccine is similar to that of the diphtheria and tetanus vaccines we give our children. ...
"Like with other vaccines, BioPort's anthrax vaccine may cause reactions in some individuals. Most of these reactions are limited to redness, itching and minor swelling at the site of injection; these events typically resolve in a matter of days."
The adverse reaction rate, once listed at 0.2 percent, is now listed at 5 percent to 35 percent.
The vaccine's package insert, warning doctors and vaccine users of possible, not proven, side effects, refers to unfavorable incidents reported to a national vaccine safety surveillance program called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS. Though the program seeks to identify safety concerns, a VAERS listing does not prove that the reported malady was caused by the vaccination. Such events could have occurred coincidentally after vaccination.
From 1990 to 2001, more than 2 million doses of the vaccine were administered in the United States, followed by 1,850 reports to VAERS. About 6 percent of the reported events were listed as "serious." Such events include those that result in death, hospitalization, permanent disability or are life-threatening. Reports of fatalities included two sudden cardiac arrests, one myocardial infarction, one aplastic anemia, one suicide and one central nervous system lymphoma.
What About Antibiotics?
Potential injury from any vaccine alarms The National Vaccine Information Center, a private organization founded in 1982 by parents of children whose injuries or deaths were attributed to vaccinations.
Barbara Loe Fisher, president and co-founder of the center, suggested the country should sink its anthrax resources into treating people after an attack.
"Despite the fear and hysteria that has been created by physician health officials inside and outside of the Pentagon, there has not been one shred of evidence presented to the American people that biological weapons, including viable weaponized anthrax supplies, exist and are ready to be unleashed on the U.S.
"The wiser course may be to spend money to develop antidotes to anthrax exposure and have them ready to be dispersed at the first sign that there has been a real attack using weaponized anthrax," she said.
Inhalation of airborne anthrax can be treated after exposure by using antibiotics. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that if there were a sizable anthrax attack on the civilian population now, the medical response would include antibiotics along with doses of the BioPort vaccine now in hand. The department says it has antibiotics to treat 40 million people.
The FDA acknowledges in its December ruling that antibiotic therapies are safe and effective in treating anthrax disease, and in the prevention of anthrax disease after exposure. It cautioned, however, that "long-term use of such therapies in individuals at high risk for anthrax disease, potentially for a period of years, has not been studied."
The FDA said the early stages of inhalation anthrax present flu-like symptoms, and a delay in a definitive diagnosis lessens the success rate for using antibiotics. In 2001, five of the 11 patients with inhalation anthrax died despite aggressive medical care, including antibiotic therapy, the FDA noted. The other six were treated and survived.
Protecting Vaccine Makers
A law passed by Congress in late December offers little comfort to people suspicious of mass vaccinations.
Unless a victim can prove willful misconduct, the law immunizes drug makers from lawsuits by people who become sick after they have been compelled to take a vaccine in a declared national health emergency.
The new law was designed to encourage drug makers to develop vaccines in preparation for a possible bird flu outbreak and other emergency situations, including biological attacks.
Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a force behind the law, said, "The bill strikes a reasonable balance where those who are harmed will be fairly compensated and life-saving products will be available in ample supply to protect and treat as many Americans as possible."
The law provides for a compensation fund covering serious injury or death, but opponents point out that it does not appropriate money for the fund.
Democratic Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts were among those fighting the measure. In a combined press release, they said, "Without a real compensation program, the liability protection ... provides a Christmas present to the drug industry and bag of coal to everyday Americans."
Keeping An Eye On It All
Almost none of the biological warfare vaccine spending has been audited by various federal agency inspectors general or the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the watchdog for Congress, with the exception of an audit six years ago of multimillion-dollar defense spending to modernize the anthrax vaccine manufacturing plant in Lansing, Mich.
Blumenthal, Connecticut's attorney general, noted that government spending in this area has increased tremendously and said the Government Accountability Office ought to be called in.
"I believe there should be a searching GAO investigation, not only as to Department of Defense and BioPort Corp., but of all the costs surrounding [new] vaccine development," he said.
Said Blumenthal: "We also need a new, safer and updated vaccine. I think the government should help invest in a new vaccine, but also exercise control over what the company charges."
The head of BioPort last year urged policy makers to use caution when pursuing so-called next-generation vaccines. In Congressional testimony last July, BioPort President and CEO Robert G. Kramer called for "a multi-disciplined review" to consider vaccine proposals. "The risks of failure are too great and the cost of failure is too large to simply continue to operate in a vacuum," Kramer said.
His comments were echoed in December 2005 by Andrea Meyerhoff, former director of WMD Defense for the Department of Defense and former director of counterterrorism for the FDA.
"We must take steps to avoid the potential for flawed decisions because unproven countermeasures can be a waste of taxpayers' money, and worse, may not be safe and effective," Meyerhoff said. "Without oversight by an independent advisory oversight board, there is a real risk that an experimental, unproven countermeasure may be used in a bioterror attack, potentially resulting in unexpected side effects and failure to protect the public."
Anthrax Theory Offered
FBI Scientist Says Little Expertise Needed
By DAVE ALTIMARI
September 22 2006
Five years after an anthrax mail attack killed a Connecticut woman and four others, an FBI microbiologist has provided a little-noticed clue into why the criminal investigation has stalled.
Contrary to a widely held theory among anthrax experts, the killer needed no sophisticated equipment or intimate knowledge to produce the anthrax mailed to two U.S. congressmen, Douglas Beecher wrote recently in a trade magazine for microbiologists.
Anthrax experts and many media reports have long theorized that the killer would have needed to mix the deadly substance with an additive to aerosolize it - a feat most likely accomplished by a limited number of people with access to high-level labs such as those operated by the U.S. military.
The FBI official's apparent dismissal of that theory is chilling in that it greatly broadens the potential pool of suspects, experts who have followed the case say. Beecher also wrote that previous theories "may misguide research and preparedness efforts and generally distract from the magnitude of hazards posed by simple spore preparations."
"Individuals familiar with the compositions of the powders in the letters have indicated that they were [composed] simply of spores purified to different extents," Beecher wrote in his seven-page article in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Beecher interviewed FBI personnel assigned to the investigation as well as agents assigned to the FBI lab in Quantico, Va.
It is the first time since the FBI recovered the anthrax-laden letter sent to Sens. Thomas Daschle and Patrick Leahy in October of 2001 that the agency has revealed anything about the makeup of the powder.
Beecher, a microbiologist in the FBI's hazardous materials response unit, was the agency's point man for publicly commenting on the attacks in 2001.
The FBI has long suspected that the anthrax used in the killings either came from or was produced by someone affiliated with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md., but it has never said that the actual powder used in the attacks was made there.
In his article, Beecher makes it clear that the anthrax did not have to be produced at the equivalent of a military lab such as USAMRIID.
"A widely circulated misconception is that the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production," Beecher wrote. "This idea is usually the basis for implying that the powders were inordinately dangerous compared to spores alone."
Rutgers University biologist Richard H. Ebright, who has closely followed the anthrax investigation, said that Beecher's writings broaden the pool of potential suspects.
"The FBI statement contradicts assertions that the attacks required the resources of a large state program and supports the view that the attacks could have been perpetrated by an individual or small group," he said.
Another prominent anthrax expert, Louisiana State University Professor Martin Hugh Jones, said the article indicates that "with the right commercially available equipment one can readily produce a good product involving essentially individual spores."
Jones estimates that it would cost $20,000 or so to buy the proper equipment.
Despite the analysis, Jones said he still believes that the anthrax was produced in a sophisticated laboratory.
"There would be too many quality control issues if someone were making this in their basement," Jones said.
Jones said that the highly refined powder discovered in the Daschle/Leahy letters, which was ground so small that it literally flew off microscopes when experts tried to examine it, would be extremely difficult to produce outside of a controlled laboratory setting and probably was produced by an expert in handling the dangerous germ.
Jones said it appears that the FBI's probe is stalled. Much-ballyhooed forensic testing that authorities hoped would pinpoint the exact laboratory that produced the strain of anthrax used in the attacks has not panned out.
"I've not heard or seen anything from the FBI to indicate any forensic success in their investigations," Jones said.
Beecher declined to comment Thursday on his article and referred questions to the agency's office of public affairs. Debbie Weierman, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington bureau, which is leading the "Amerithrax" investigation, said Thursday that the agency would not comment.
The FBI issued a statement this week refuting claims that the case is no longer a priority or that the trail has gone cold.
The acting assistant director in the Washington office, Joseph Persichini, said that the agency's commitment to solving the case is "undiminished."
"Despite the frustrations that come with any complex investigation, no one in the FBI has, for a moment, stopped thinking about the innocent victims of these attacks, nor has the effort to solve this case in any way been slowed," Persichini said.
Authorities identified one possible suspect when former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft labeled Steven J. Hatfill a "person of interest."
Hatfill, a former germ expert at USAMRIID, fit the FBI's prevailing theory - that the attacks were carried out by a scientist who had access to the high-grade anthrax and the knowledge of how to physically manipulate it and use it as a weapon.
Hatfill lost at least one job and eventually filed a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that Ashcroft's comments have made him virtually unemployable. His lawsuit is pending.
The first anthrax letters were postmarked Sept. 18, 2001, and went to various media organizations in New York and Florida. The second letters, carrying a more refined powder, were mailed to Daschle and Leahy about Oct. 9, 2001. Those letters passed through the Trenton, N.J., post office and the Washington, D.C., post office. The FBI believes that all the letters came from the same source.
Shortly after the first letters were sent, Beecher debunked reports suggesting that the strain of anthrax found in Florida came from a particular lab or was manmade. Beecher noted that the point of modifying anthrax to make it more deadly would be to make it resistant to antibiotics, but that the anthrax found in Florida was not drug-resistant. The anthrax sent to the senators was drug-resistant.
NOTE added Oct. 3, 2006: The above statement was corrected on Sept. 27, 2006:
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
A story on Page 1 Friday about the federal investigation into the 2001 anthrax letter attacks incorrectly reported that the anthrax mailed to U.S. Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy was drug resistant.
The letters paralyzed the nation's postal system and forced the government to spend billions to install sophisticated detection equipment at postal centers throughout the country.
The Daschle letter was opened by a staff member, causing the shutting down of the Hart Senate Office Building for months while government officials tried to figure out how to clear it of anthrax.
More than 20 people contracted inhalation anthrax, and five eventually died. Three were postal workers in New Jersey and Washington who had handled the contaminated letters.
One was a 61-year-old woman who lived alone in New York City. The last person to die was Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford.
The 94-year-old Lundgren died just before Thanksgiving in 2001. Investigators believe that Lundgren received a piece of junk mail that was contaminated with anthrax when it passed through the Trenton post office shortly after the Daschle and Leahy letters.
Shirley Davis, Lundgren's niece, said that her aunt had a habit of violently ripping in half her junk mail and that investigators have told her they believe she ripped open the anthrax-contaminated letter and inhaled the spores.
Late last year, the FBI brought the families of the five victims to Washington for a private update. Davis was too ill to go but said that agents occasionally contact her to let her know they have not forgotten about the case.
"I've come to believe that they may never know who sent those letters," Davis said in an interview this week. "It's time to let my aunt rest in peace."
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Fears At Anthrax Labs
New Risks Seen In Huge Growth Of Pathogen Research
By DAVE ALTIMARI
October 8 2006
After the anthrax letter attacks of 2001, federal officials poured billions of dollars into increasing the nation's biodefense system with a goal of developing vaccines for deadly biological agents.
While experts say the results have been mixed at best, some worry that an unintended side effect has increased the threat to national safety: The number of laboratories actively working with dangerous substances has skyrocketed and there are questions about the security at many of those facilities.
That revelation comes just weeks after the FBI publicly acknowledged for the first time that the person who sent anthrax spores through the mail - killing a Connecticut woman and four others - needed no sophisticated equipment or intimate knowledge to produce the strain.
Anthrax experts and many media reports had long theorized that the killer would have needed to mix the deadly substance with an additive to aerosolize it - a feat most likely accomplished by a limited number of people with access to high-level labs such as those operated by the U.S. military.
There are currently 335 laboratories - from private companies to hospitals to colleges - registered with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to handle deadly biological agents such as anthrax, Ebola and smallpox, according to CDC records. Of those labs, 245 are registered to work with live anthrax. Many began their work after receiving federal funds.
CDC officials said there are now more than 100 university laboratories using live anthrax. Before the anthrax attacks, experts say, the total number of U.S. labs performing significant research with live anthrax was only a dozen or so.
Records also show that there are now more than 7,200 scientists or lab workers cleared to work with live anthrax, including the so-called Ames strain used in the October 2001 attacks. It is unclear how many lab workers were involved with live anthrax before the attacks, because they were not required to register with the CDC.
The CDC produced the data in response to questions by The Courant about the increased number of labs working with deadly biological agents since the anthrax attacks.
Laboratories that must register with the CDC include universities or colleges, private research companies such as the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, and government labs such as the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Md.
Laboratories under control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which include Plum Island in Long Island Sound, must report to a separate entity, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. There are at least 75 laboratories registered with that agency, records show.
Lori Bane of the CDC's Select Agent Division disputes the notion that there has been a large increase in labs with access to anthrax and other potentially dangerous biological agents.
Bane said there probably were many labs or hospitals that stored agents such as anthrax but weren't actively using them in research. Since the law was enacted, those labs must now register with the CDC.
But microbiologists and other specialists say the large increase in government grants has led to more labs working with live pathogens, particularly anthrax.
"The huge U.S. investment in biodefense research - including dozens of new high-security labs and thousands of additional researchers - has actually made the biosecurity problem worse," said Jonathan Tucker, a senior fellow at the Monterey Institute Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
All scientists and lab workers who work in a registered laboratory must undergo a security risk assessment conducted by the Department of Justice. But Tucker said the process is a "superficial vetting" that is far from foolproof.
"It is likely that the newly expanded pool of biodefense researchers with access to dangerous pathogens includes a few sociopaths or people with extreme political views who might be motivated to divert pathogens or toxins for criminal or terrorist purposes," Tucker said.
Recent government investigative reports, which examined a small pool of university labs, raised additional questions about whether there is an adequate system in place to prevent deadly pathogens from falling into the wrong hands.
In 2004, investigators from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general office visited 15 university laboratories and discovered that 11 did not comply with federal regulations in at least one of five categories: record-keeping, lab access, training, security and emergency response planning.
The report does not name the universities because of national security concerns. Among the findings:
Eight universities had problems with record-keeping. In some cases records did not identify who had even entered areas where dangerous substances were being used.
Six universities had problems with limiting lab access. At one school anyone could have gained access to the computer system used to generate electronic key passes to high-security labs.
Four universities had not completed full security plans and had not detected weaknesses such as unlocked laboratory doors when researchers weren't present or fire alarms that unlocked laboratory doors when pulled.
One university admitted it had not taken an inventory of its "select biological agents" in more than eight years.
A January audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's inspector general produced similar findings. All 15 laboratories visited had violations ranging from shoddy record-keeping to potentially unrestricted access to labs.
Bane said the universities have addressed their deficiencies. She said CDC officials weren't surprised by the report because their own inspections had turned up similar problems.
Bane didn't deny that labs have safety or security concerns. She likened it to a restaurant that may pass an inspection one day but have numerous violations on another visit.
"When our inspectors go out and find things, we try to work with the laboratories to fix the problems. But if they are severe enough we can take away their registration or not give them one," Bane said.
Bane said CDC officials, out of safety or security concerns, have rejected some laboratories' attempts to register with the agency. Any lab that wants to register to use a biological agent must undergo an inspection by CDC inspectors first.
All labs must renew their registrations every three years.
The Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has been studying high-containment laboratories across the country and recently met with representatives of the CDC and several labs to discuss its findings.
Senior Associate Gigi Kwik Gronvall said the biggest problem may be finding properly trained people to work in labs that are now conducting research on vaccines, but added that scientists at universities can provide vital research in an increasingly changing field.
"Where are they going to get the right level of training to work at these labs?" Gronvall said. "I wonder what will happen the first time that somebody kills themselves or someone else because of a mistake made in a laboratory."
Laws regulating laboratories were passed in June 2002 to, among other things, keep track of the transfer of pathogens between institutions. Federal officials have acknowledged that, before 2002, there was no tracking of which laboratories were working with dangerous materials such as anthrax or who had access to them.
Scientists told of shipping each other live anthrax in the mail or packing it up and bringing it with them to a conference.
FBI agents investigating the anthrax attacks said it was difficult to trace stocks of the Ames strain because it was so easily traded among scientists, with little or no record-keeping.
From 2003 to 2005, the CDC recorded more than 1,300 transfers of biological agents, records show. Anthrax accounted for about 400 of those transfers. The CDC would not release specific information on which labs transferred the pathogens.
In 2004, President Bush announced a major increase in bioterrorism funding. Project BioShield authorized spending $5.6 billion over 10 years to encourage the development of antidotes and vaccines to treat and protect against potential biological agents or nuclear attack.
The biggest contract, $878 million, was given to VaxGen, a small biotech company outside San Francisco, to develop and produce 75 million doses of a new anthrax vaccine. The product was supposed to be delivered this year, but it now has been postponed until at least 2008.
Most of the anthrax research being done in laboratories throughout the country now is being funded by grants from either the National Institutes of Health or the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
"I think it's fair to say that the jury is still out as to what you are getting for your money," Gronvall said.
But Gronvall said it is too early to label BioShield or the other research a failure, because it takes years to develop a vaccine and get it approved for use in humans. VaxGen has had success with its preliminary vaccine testing.
"It takes a long time to go from characterizing a problem and then figuring out a way to combat it," Gronvall said. "You can't find solutions unless you actually do the research. Why wouldn't you want the brains at universities involved in that process?"
The jump in bioterrorism funding and the increase in universities and private companies interested in working with biological agents may have been exactly what the anthrax mailer was after.
FBI officials have said the anthrax might have been mailed by one or more U.S. scientists who had access to the Ames strain and wanted to throw a scare into the country and force authorities to make bioterrorism a top priority.
What the sender didn't count on, authorities have surmised, is that the anthrax would leak through the envelopes, killing five people, sickening 23 more and paralyzing the nation's postal system.
FBI officials have said the so-called Amerithrax investigation remains a high priority, and they cite the thousands of subpoenas that have been issued and the hundreds of scientists who have been interviewed as proof of how far-reaching the investigation has been.
While they haven't acknowledged the case has stalled, retiring FBI agent Brad Garrett may have given the best indications of what the bureau is up against in an interview on National Public Radio last month. Garrett was considered one of the bureau's top agents and was part of the Amerithrax investigation.
"This is a unique case and very difficult to investigate because one of the things as to why people get caught is replication of behavior. Now we did have two sets of mailings, but after that we had no one who mailed anthrax through the mail," Garrett told NPR. "So now you are left with, `Can you track the origin of the anthrax?' and that's not easy to do."
New Hope For Answers In Anthrax Case
By DAVE ALTIMARI
Courant Staff Writer
August 2, 2008
In the years since her aunt became the last victim of the deadly 2001 anthrax letter attacks, Shirley Davis has wanted two questions answered: Who killed Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford and what was the motive?
The startling news that federal authorities were on the verge of indicting Bruce E. Ivins, a longtime Army scientist, may answer the first question. But Davis, who lives in Woodbury, may never know what the motive was. Ivins apparently killed himself earlier this week, authorities said.
Davis is hoping to talk to federal authorities and get more answers. Those authorities released few details Friday other than saying there had been "significant developments" in the investigation into the mailings, which killed five people including Lundgren, 94, and injured 17 others.
A Department of Justice statement said "substantial progress has been made in the investigation by bringing to bear new and sophisticated scientific tools" but that authorities couldn't release more information until talking with the victims of the crime.
"It feels good to know that something may have finally happened,'' Davis said. "I can finally say goodbye to Ottilie, and maybe now all of the families suffering through this can find some peace.''
Fighting back tears, Davis recalled the tumultuous days in November 2001 when federal authorities told the family that Lundgren, who rarely left her Oxford home, had contracted the same anthrax that had terrorized Capitol Hill and claimed the lives of a tabloid photographer, two postal workers and a hospital employee from New York City.
"Ottilie had a saying any time something happened to her. She'd say 'Who, little old me?' '' Davis said. "For her to get anthrax just made no sense. It still doesn't even all these years later."
Investigators believe Lundgren inhaled the deadly spores from a letter that went through the Wallingford mail facility after becoming contaminated at a
New Jersey distribution center through which the original anthrax-laden letters sent to U.S. Sens. Thomas Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont had passed.
Davis said her aunt had a habit of tearing junk mail in half and throwing it in the garbage. Authorities believe she inhaled the spores as she ripped an envelope. The news that a housebound 94- year-old woman in a rural
Connecticut town had contracted anthrax ratcheted up concerns that the anthrax letters could kill many more people.
Anyone who knew Lundgren or had any contact with her was immediately put on antibiotics. Frail and already suffering from respiratory problems, Lundgren succumbed to the pathogen. "It was an awful way for her to die,'' Davis said. "She was such a kind person who never hurt anyone.''
An attorney representing Ivins issued a statement Friday acknowledging that Ivins was under investigation and indicating that the investigation, which included constant surveillance and wiretapping, had taken a toll.
An attorney representing Ivins issued a statement Friday acknowledging that Ivins was under investigation and indicating that the investigation, which included constant surveillance and wiretapping, had taken a toll.
Scientists who knew Ivins, who worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md., were also skeptical that he was the anthrax mailer.
"Bruce wasn't the type of person to me who would do something so cold and calculating,''
Louisiana State University Professor Martin Hugh-Jones said Friday. Jones, one of the foremost anthrax experts in the world, said he talked to Ivins occasionally at bioterrorism conferences. He called Ivins a "highly respected researcher."
"He certainly wasn't near the top of my list of scientists from Fort Detrick who could have done this,'' Jones said. "If it's truly solved, then it's solved, but it's certainly not a clean case. If all they had was circumstantial evidence against him, how would you ever prove that you didn't do it and clear your name?"
Ivins worked at USAMRIID for at least 25 years and was one of its foremost experts in testing and developing an anthrax vaccine. In some of his projects, Ivins used the Ames strain of anthrax, the same type placed in the deadly letters, but it was always in the liquid or "wet" form not in a dry powder. Ivins was one of the scientists who originally analyzed the anthrax when the FBI brought it to Fort Detrick.
Meryl Nass, a Maine doctor who has worked with veterans suffering from the side effects of the anthrax vaccine and knew Ivins for years, said it "doesn't make sense" that Ivins would be the anthrax mailer.
"What would be his motive? He wasn't like a lot of other scientists at Fort Detrick who left and got big salaries elsewhere. He stayed there at the same job he'd had for years,'' Nass said.
Scientists who knew Ivins acknowledged that he had the skills to make the weaponized anthrax. Ivins was a civilian working in the Army's main bioterrorism program. Nass said Ivins always complained about being treated poorly by some of the military personnel.
"He wasn't a great scientist by any means as far as getting papers published," Nass said, "but he obviously knew a lot about anthrax.''
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Anthrax Vaccine Safety Complaints Part Of Ivins Case
By DAVE ALTIMARI | Courant Staff
A few months before he was targeted in the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks, then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld questioning whether the anthrax vaccine the military was giving soldiers was unsafe and should be discontinued.
The letter, obtained by The Courant, was written with the help of a number of Connecticut officials. They were concerned about complaints from local National Guard members who refused to take the vaccine because they feared it would make them ill.
Apart from raising the issue of the vaccine's safety, the criticism may have had an unintended effect. NBC News reported Tuesday that federal authorities today will reveal that those same complaints could be among the motives in the anthrax attacks that left an Oxford woman and four others dead.
The suspected killer, Bruce Ivins, was one of the Army's lead scientists on the anthrax vaccine and was angered by suggestions that it made recipients ill, NBC reported.
Investigators also are expected to allege that Ivins may have mailed anthrax to generate renewed interest in saving the vaccine and in encouraging the military to spend more money developing a new vaccine — one that he helped produce and may have stood to profit from.
Ivins committed suicide Aug. 1 as federal authorities prepared to file charges against him.
The Courant has learned that Ivins might have had access to Daschle's letter — or at least may have been aware of its potential chilling effect on the vaccine program — because he was a member of a panel that the government convened to study the vaccine's effectiveness. One of the letters containing anthrax was mailed to Daschle.
The committee was formed by the Department of Defense before the anthrax mailings and was still meeting at the time the letters were mailed, according to Chairman Jack Melling. He is the former head of Porton Down, the British equivalent of U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, where Ivins worked.
In the letter to Rumsfeld, Daschle raised concerns that the vaccine didn't work and may have made soldiers sick. He noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves drugs only after they are proven safe and effective.
"A growing number of people believe that the use of the anthrax vaccine as currently formulated to protect humans against inhalation of anthrax spores fails to meet this test," wrote Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat. "We all acknowledge that the threat posed by biological weapons, including anthrax, is a real one that the Administration and the Congress have a responsibility to address."
The letter, also signed by then House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, was sent to Rumsfeld on June 21, 2001. The first anthrax letters were postmarked Sept. 18, 2001. The anthrax-laced letters sent to the offices of Daschle and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy were postmarked Oct. 9, 2001.
Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, was killed in November 2001 when she opened an anthrax-laced letter that passed through the same sorting machine in a New Jersey postal facility as the letter to Daschle.
Daschle could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. He has criticized the FBI investigation of the anthrax letters and the agency's refusal to update him and other victims on their progress. The FBI is expected to meet with the victims and their families today and might release documents that authorities say link Ivins to the crime.
Daschle got involved in the anthrax vaccine issue through U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose office represented Connecticut National Guard members who refused to take the anthrax vaccine.
Blumenthal said Tuesday that attorneys in his office worked closely with Dodd and Daschle to craft the letter to Rumsfeld.
"We were strongly questioning the efficacy and the safety of the vaccine and were looking for anybody who could help us," Blumenthal said.
After the anthrax letters were discovered, talkes about halting the vaccine's use stopped. In 2004, a federal court halted production because the vaccine wasn't properly licensed; the FDA OK'd it in 2005.
Among the documents and reports used to win FDA approval were four studies, all involving Ivins, performed at USAMRIID. The testing was done on animals.
Federal sources have said new DNA testing allowed them to determine that the anthrax used in the letters came from Ivins' work area at USAMRIID. While the scientific advancement helped isolate where the anthrax came from, proving that Ivins produced it would have been more difficult because several other scientists had access to the material.
For the past year, the FBI has followed Ivins, retraced his steps around the time of the 2001 mailings and interviewed numerous scientists who worked with him on producing the anthrax vaccine.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Ivins stood to make money on a patent for the next generation of the anthrax vaccine through a contract the government awarded to VaxGen, a California company. But the company was never able to produce a new vaccine.
Melling said Tuesday that Ivins' work on the committee was the main reason Ivins was honored in 2003 with the Decoration of Exceptional Civilian Service, the highest honor given to non-military employees of the Defense Department.
Melling said he was surprised to hear Ivins' name associated with the anthrax mailings. "He came across to me as kind of an ordinary guy who certainly didn't seem to have any chip on his shoulder or have any crazy ideas," Melling said.
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State Officials Surprised By Ivins' Possible Motive
By DAVE ALTIMARI
When Connecticut authorities led the fight to end the production of an anthrax vaccine they say made soldiers ill, they never imagined that their effort might eventually serve as motivation for the man suspected of mailing the anthrax-laced letters that killed five people in 2001.
"Our goal was to protect the military men and women from a vaccine that was neither safe or effective," Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. "If you decided to concoct a mystery thriller plot based on a story where an angry scientist put anthrax in the mail to somehow save a vaccine program it would strike most people as bizarre and far-fetched."
For years after the anthrax deaths, federal officials operated under the theory that the killer was a lone scientist whose motive for mailing the deadly pathogen was to scare the country into spending more money on bioterrorism.
Last week, federal authorities said Army scientist Bruce Ivins was the killer but that his likely motive was concern that the vaccine program would be halted under increasing criticism.
The fight against the vaccine started three years before the Sept. 2001 letter attacks. Several Connecticut National Guard members refused to take the series of shots out of concern that it sickened soldiers who served in the first gulf war. The Guardsmen were disciplined for their decision.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jeffrey A. Taylor said last week that federal authorities believe Ivins tried to save the program by mailing anthrax to U.S. senators and media outlets. Ivins committed suicide days before federal authorities revealed that they believed he was the killer.
"One theory is that by launching these attacks, he creates a situation, a scenario, where people all of a sudden realize the need to have this vaccine," Taylor said.
Ivins' own e-mails, released by the government, show that he wasn't concerned about bioterrorism, but instead was focused on saving a vaccine program that had turned into what he called a "fine mess."
One of the Connecticut Guardsmen, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said federal authorities should have focused more quickly on scientists who worked on the controversial vaccine after the letter attacks.
"They tried to blame it on al-Qaida, then [scientist Steven] Hatfill, and finally, reluctantly, on an actual U.S. Army employed scientist," the Guardsman said. "They should have immediately been looking at the folks with something to gain by the vaccine program continuing ... or those who no longer would be embarrassed because their program and life's work was under attack."
For several years, the FBI focused its investigation on Hatfill, a scientist with ties to the U.S. Army lab at Fort Detrick who fit an FBI profile of the killer and who had talked openly over the years about how the nation was unprepared for a biological attack. The government eventually settled a lawsuit and paid Hatfill nearly $6 million.
Taylor said a scientific breakthrough in late 2005 determined that the anthrax used in the attacks came from a batch stored at Fort Detrick by Ivins. Scientists at the Fort Detrick lab had been heavily involved in trying to help the manufacturer of the anthrax vaccine, BioPort, fix production problems and test the potency of the vaccine.
In e-mails starting in the summer of 2000, Ivins detailed the efforts to save the program from political pressure, including from presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush.
"Apparently Gore (and maybe even Bush) is considering making the anthrax vaccine for the military voluntary, or even stopping the program. Unfortunately, since the BioPort people aren't scientists, the task of solving their problem has fallen on us," Ivins wrote in a June 28, 2000, e-mail.
In another e-mail a few weeks later, he wrote: "I think the **** is about to hit the fan ... bigtime. The final lot ... isn't passing the potency test, and now there's nothing to back it up. Plus, the control vaccine isn't working. It's just a fine mess."
The first anthrax letters were placed in a mailbox in Princeton, N.J. Three weeks later, a more potent batch was mailed to Democratic Sens. Thomas Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Five people died, including 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford, and 17 were sickened.
Some scientists familiar with the anthrax vaccine question whether saving BioPort's vaccine would have been a motive for Ivins.
Dr. Meryl Nass, who has treated many of the returning veterans suffering side effects from the vaccine, wondered in a blog why Ivins would want to do BioPort a favor. "Bruce had created new anthrax vaccines designed to replace BioPort's vaccine," she wrote in the blog.
Several members of Congress have indicated that they plan to hold hearings to get more information about the FBI's case.
Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., said the theory that Ivins mailed the anthrax to save the vaccine program was, like much of the FBI's case, "plausible, but in some ways also a stretch."
"This case won't be brought to closure in a court of law now, so I expect there will be some kind of formal congressional setting to ask more questions," Holt said.
"I'm pleased to see they are making progress, but I won't be satisfied that this case is closed until we can give people the assurance there isn't still a murderer at large."
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Labs That Perform Bioterrorism Research Proliferating
By DAVE ALTIMARI | Courant Staff
The number of individuals performing bioterrorism research on deadly pathogens across the country has jumped to nearly 15,000, and most of them are authorized to work with anthrax, federal records obtained by The Courant reveal.
The proliferation of labs working on vaccines for potential biological weapons — which started after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax mailings — has drawn heavy criticism from experts worried that too many people have access to dangerous materials.
The recent revelation that an American scientist, Bruce Ivins, was about to be charged as the anthrax mailer has only increased those concerns.
"We just went tearing down this road without thinking about the potential risks, including who was going to have access to all of these biological weapons," said Elisa Harris, a senior research scholar at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland.
Authorities initially thought the anthrax mailings, which killed an Oxford woman and four others, were the work of foreign terrorists. Shortly afterward, Congress provided millions of dollars for work on finding an anthrax vaccine.
Two federal agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, began keeping track of who was researching biological agents in 2003, under federal legislation known as the select-agent rules.
Records obtained by The Courant show that the number of individuals registered with the CDC to work with biological agents jumped from 9,840 in 2006 to 10,461 in 2008. The USDA has 4,336 currently registered, although figures from previous years were not available.
There are 326 laboratories authorized by the CDC to work with biological agents, an increase from 194 in 2003. Another 73 are authorized by the USDA.
Among the concerns is that background checks conducted by the federal government before lab workers are allowed to work with substances such as anthrax aren't thorough enough, said Gigi Kwik Gronvall, a senior associate at the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
The criteria include that the individual have no convictions of a crime punishable by imprisonment exceeding one year, not be a fugitive from justice or an illegal alien, and that the individual not have been dishonorably discharged from the Army.
Gronvall said there are other concerns in addition to inadequate background checks.
"Nobody is checking to see if people being approved to work with anthrax or other biological agents actually have the scientific skills to work with it," Gronvall said.
Of the 399 institutions registered to work with biological agents, 234 are working with anthrax, the records show. Many of them are working with, or at least storing, the "Ames strain," which was used in the anthrax mailings.
Martin Hugh-Jones, a professor at Louisiana State University, said obtaining permission to work with that strain has become almost like a status symbol for labs. LSU was one of 16 laboratories identified by the FBI as working with the Ames strain of anthrax before the letters were mailed.
Those labs were a mix of private companies that do work for the federal government, such as Battelle Memorial Institute, based in Columbus, Ohio, and universities, such as LSU and the University of Scranton.
One of the USDA-registered labs is on Plum Island in New York, 8 miles off Connecticut's coast. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to upgrade the security level of the lab and the research conducted there, although the lab is likely to be moved from the island to some other location, most likely in Mississippi. Also in New England, Boston University is building a level 4 lab.
Federal officials will not release a list of the institutions registered with either the CDC or USDA to work with biological agents, citing security concerns.
"There is clearly greater access to virulent anthrax strains today, simply based on the fact that much more money is being spent on anthrax research and many more papers are being published. But it is difficult to say more precisely how the numbers compare to pre-2001 levels," said Alan Pearson, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
Pearson said there are other strains of anthrax besides Ames used in research, and it is unclear how many of the institutions possessed those strains before the select-agent rule took effect.
Before the 2001 attacks, there was little federal oversight over institutions that work with deadly pathogens. Now, the government tracks the use and transfers of those pathogens between labs.
For instance, federal records show there were 469 transfers of registered pathogens in 2007, up from 178 in 2003. The number peaked at 611 in 2004, when much of the federal research money would have reached the labs. Transfers of anthrax also peaked in 2004 at 243. Anthrax transfers increased from 72 to 98 from 2006 to 2007.
In the five-year period through the end of 2007, there have been 2,210 transfers of biological agents, and about 570 of them involved anthrax, records show.
Following the 2001 attacks, many scientists said the government would have difficulty tracking the location and uses of the Ames strain of anthrax. They told stories of trading anthrax at conferences and carrying it on planes.
Gronvall has testified before Congress as it prepares to extend the regulations on tracking pathogen use with an eye toward possibly tightening them. Some members of Congress had started to question whether expansion of vaccine research programs was happening too fast well before Ivins was identified as the anthrax mailer.
Even so, the federal government plans to increase by nearly threefold the number of "biosafety level 4" labs, places allowed to study lethal pathogens, such as Ebola, which have no known human treatment or vaccine. Before the anthrax attacks, there were five level 4 labs. At least 12 are now planned across the country, according to federal officials.
There hasn't been a major disaster at a biological laboratory, but there have been recent dangerous incidents. Three researchers at Boston University developed tularemia after being exposed to the bacteria, while in 2004 live anthrax was accidentally shipped to a children's hospital research lab in Oakland, Calif.
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