on Sat, Sep. 14, 2002
The Miami Herald
TV dots airwaves with inaccuracies
''It seems like everyone connected the dots here,'' WSVN-Fox 7 anchor Christine Cruz said during the sixth hour of the marathon coverage of Friday's bomb scare on Alligator Alley. ``It seems like everyone did what they were supposed to be doing.''
Like a lot of what was said during the coverage, that was about half right. Television reporters were certainly connecting dots -- lots of dots, some of them seemingly from another planet -- but if journalism is about facts and not hype, then they definitely weren't doing what they were supposed to do.
Friday's coverage was the source of a staggering amount of misinformation. Among the inaccurate reports:
* Several stations reported that a woman in Georgia told police three Middle Easterners were coming to Miami to blow something up. (That's not what she said.)
* Several also said cops spotted the men after they roared past a tollbooth on I-75. (One car rolled by at a normal rate of speed; the other stopped and paid the tolls for both.)
* The cops used explosives to detonate a suspicious knapsack found in one car. (They didn't.) Channel 7 reported that explosive ''triggers'' were found in one of the cars. (There were no ''triggers'' or anything else to do with explosives.)
* Channel 7 also reported that cops were searching for a third car. (They weren't.)
It was a wretched performance -- worse yet, a wretched performance that dragged on for eight hours, terrorizing South Florida and smearing the daylights out of three medical students who can be counted on to contribute heavily to the next edition of the travel guide What Sucks About South Florida.
''This is what is wrong with local news,'' said Bill Pohovey, news director at WPLG-ABC 10, one of the two stations that kept their perspective on the story and stuck with regular programming. (WLTV-Univision 23 was the other.) ``This is why viewers get disgusted with local news.''
My only quibble with Pohovey is the word local. The worst parody of journalism Friday was actually on CNN, where the high-paid-low-rated anchor Paula Zahn speculated, without a jot or tittle of evidence, that the three men were coming to Florida to blow up the Turkey Point nuclear reactor. Now you know why CNN promotes her sex appeal rather than her news judgment.
Local stations at least had the excuse that when you go live for six to eight hours, you've got to fill up the airtime with something -- especially when the pictures are dull shots of cops standing around empty automobiles. At best, that means stuff will get on the air without being as thoroughly checked as it should be; at worst, it means your telecast devolves into rampant speculation and hype. We had plenty of both Friday.
The most egregious offender was WSVN 7, where it sounded like the staff had to hold anchors Christine Cruz and Tom Haynes back from storming onto the causeway and personally administering lethal injections to the three detained men they'd already tried and convicted.
Over and over, the cops and public officials interviewed by the station's reporters cautioned that there was no physical evidence against the men (WSVN's false report of explosive ''triggers'' notwithstanding), they hadn't been arrested, and they weren't even being called ''suspects'' yet. Over and over, Cruz and Haynes ignored them.
''This story started as Sinister Plot,'' Cruz warned darkly. ``Now it's become Attack on Miami.''
Haynes wondered whether ''these guys, apparently on their way to Miami to do some harm to the city of Miami,'' were tied to al Qaeda. ''This looks like some loosely pulled together plot,'' he added. Later, he called them ``three men apparently on their way to Miami with some ill intentions.''
Sometimes I seriously wondered if Haynes was listening to his own station. At one point, WSVN aired an interview with the Georgia woman who reported the three men to the police. She described overhearing one man ask, ''Do you think we have enough to bring it down?'' and another answering, ``If we don't have enough, I have contacts. We can get enough to bring it down.''
Seconds after the interview ended, Haynes summarized like this: Three men ''talking about driving down to Miami and using some sort of explosive device to blow it up.'' How he read all that into those two simple sentences, I'll never know. Though I'll bet Paula Zahn can tell us.
hunt conspires to dent confidence
By Edward Alden
The Financial Times
Published: September 18 2002 5:00 | Last Updated: September 18 2002 5:00
A year ago today the first anthrax-laced letters were mailed in the US, igniting something close to panic among Americans facing their first terrorist attack with biological weapons.
The two letters, dropped into a postbox in New Jersey, were headed for the New York Post and for Tom Brokaw, the anchor at NBC News. Over the next months Americans would don masks to open their mail and rush to fill prescriptions of the antibiotic Cipro as additional letters went to other news organisations and to Democratic political leaders.
By the time the letters stopped, 18 people were infected and five dead. The Washington DC mail sorting facility, where two postal workers died of anthrax exposure, has yet to reopen.
But after a year of investigation, US officials seem little closer to identifying the perpetrator. Their failure has generated a host of conspiracy theories and produced an ideological battle over whether the US has more to fear from Islamic extremists abroad or rightwing zealots at home.
Conservative groups argue that a foreign government most probably sponsored the attack, and continue to point to Iraq as the only country with the means and the motive to carry it out.
Liberal opponents of bioweapons research say the attack was almost certainly an inside job, probably launched by a disgruntled US weapons researcher intent on warning the country of the dangers of a foreign biological attack.
The speculation has been encouraged by the huge holes that remain in the investigation. So far, the only progress has been technical. Scientists consulted by the government have identified the anthrax as coming from the Ames strain. This strain - developed from natural sources in the US - was first used in American bioweapons research in the early 1980s and is probably available to weapons researchers in the UK, Canada and Israel as well.
In addition, the letters sent last year to Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, the Senate Democrats, contained highly refined, dry powder anthrax that could be easily inhaled.
Producing such lethal anthrax required advanced knowledge, equipment and working conditions, according to a recent summary prepared by Milton Leitenberg, a bioterrorism expert at the University of Maryland. But such conclusions have done little to narrow the range of suspects.
"I've heard nothing that has changed my mind," says Richard O. Spertzel, the former head of biological weapons inspections for the United Nations inspections team in Iraq, who is persuaded the anthrax attack involved active state sup port. "You could not possibly make that quality of product in a clandestine fashion. It's not the sort of thing you can do in your garage or in your basement."
He said the "floundering" of the investigation - which has focused largely on domestic suspects - is because investigators are "looking in the wrong place". That argument has received a steady drumbeat of support from conservative publications such as the Weekly Standard and the National Review, anxious to finger Iraq and bolster the US argument for ousting Saddam Hussein.
On the other side, a group of mostly liberal scientists has pushed the notion that the perpetrator came from within the US weapons establishment.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a molecular biologist at the State University of New York, first promoted the theory that the letters were the work of a disgruntled insider determined to demonstrate his own expertise while warning the country of the threat of a bio-attack.
FBI investigators, too, have focused on domestic suspects, saying that psychological profiles and the characteristics of the anthrax indicate it was probably cooked up by a US biodefence scientist. Fewer than 50 researchers fit that profile.
Last month those suspicions converged on Steven Hatfill, a 48-year-old former researcher at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in Maryland, which works with the Ames strain of anthrax. Mr Hatfill, identified by the FBI only as a "person of interest" before they raided his apartment last month, appeared to fit Ms Rosenberg's theory precisely. But Mr Hatfill has vigorously maintained his innocence against what he charges is a public smear campaign launched by ideological opponents.
"This assassination of my character appears to be part of a government-run effort to show the American people that it is proceeding vigorously and successfully with the anthrax investigation," said Mr Hatfill last month.
Underlying all the accusations, however, lies the much bigger question of how the US should be defending itself against future biological attacks by terrorists, when it still knows so little about who launched the last.
Since the anthrax scare, Washington has approved more than $6bn (€6.2bn) in new spending, much of which will go to defensive research on bioweapons. The National Institutes of Health, for instance, plans to double the number of facilities it has to study the most dangerous pathogens.
If the threat is from abroad, the new money should indeed help the US strengthen its defences against attack. But if the threat is at home, argues Eileen Choffnes of the National Academy of Sciences, the money will simply expand the number of people with access to deadly germs and the knowledge of how to use them. "This," she says, "is a recipe for disaster."
in biological weapons warning
By Stephen Fidler in London
Published: September 18 2002 17:26 | Last Updated: September 18 2002 17:26
The US has threatened to name countries it says are trying to develop biological weapons if an official conference to discuss the Biological Weapons Convention later this year is not cut short.
In a blunt message to Western governments, the Bush administration also said it would oppose any further official meetings under the convention's auspices until the next scheduled review of the treaty in 2006.
The move is designed in part to forestall public criticism of Washington for its opposition to strengthening the convention.
The US position calling for a "very short" conference in November was disclosed in "talking points" handed to western governments in Geneva this month.
The document was distributed on an electronic discussion forum on chemical and biological weapons run by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
"A prolonged meeting would generate into a heated battle, which will detract from the positive efforts already under way to combat the scourge of [bioweapons]. In this case, the US would be forced to name countries we believe are not complying with their obligations and would need to press for explicit termination of the Ad Hoc group," the document said.
The 2001 review of the treaty was adjourned in disarray last November for 12 months, following a stormy session in which the US named four alleged violators of the treaty, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Libya. Two others, Syria and Sudan, not parties to the treaty, also were alleged to have bioweapons programmes.
The US has said more than a dozen countries have bioweapons programmes, though it was not clear whether the US was threatening to name countries beyond those so far mentioned.
The US also said that if the November meeting was allowed to drag on, it would use the time to press for the explicit termination of the so-called Ad Hoc Group set up to negotiate a new protocol to the BWC. That proposed protocol, opposed by the US but backed by most western governments, would add verification procedures to the convention.
The talking points said the US believed the sole purpose of the N ovember meeting should be to agree to hold another review conference in 2006. But in an interview with the FT at the weekend, John Bolton, under-secretary of state for arms control, said he would be open to a broader agreement, incorporating US and other ideas about how to deal with the threat - providing its terms were agreed beforehand.
anthrax spores entered Boca sewer
By John Murawski, Palm Beach Post
BOCA RATON -- When FBI investigators came out of the quarantined National Enquirer building during their two-week anthrax search here, area residents were assured the agents were immediately washed down to decontaminate their protective suits.
But few people outside the tight-lipped circle of federal investigators and scientists knew that the decontaminated anthrax runoff was dumped into Boca Raton's sewer system and then made its way to the municipal water-treatment plant.
Some of that runoff was recycled into reclaimed water that's designated by state law for irrigation. It would have ended up sprinkling the emerald lawns of the Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton Community Hospital and others among the 600 customers who are hooked up to reclaimed irrigation water in the city.
Any anthrax spores that might have clung to a protective suit and escaped from the American Media Inc. building would have been chemically treated and killed after the wash down, posing no public safety threat, said Boca Raton Utility Services Director Mike Woika.
Most of the runoff was pumped out to the ocean through a pipe that discharges treated waste water 1 mile out at sea, Woika said. None was mixed with the city's drinking water, which comes from 56 wells.
"Everything that we did, we wanted to make sure that our system and our residents were protected," Woika said.
The details of the decontamination procedure were so guarded that not even the mayor or city council knew that lifeless anthrax spores would flow through the sewer system into the municipal water-treatment plant.
The procedures were worked out by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the wake of last year's anthrax mailings that killed five people, including an AMI photo editor. The disposal procedures were first tried out here in October when federal agents tested for anthrax in the AMI building at the Arvida Park of Commerce.
As federal officials were formalizing their decontamination and drainage procedures into a national response plan, AMI executives were unsuccessfully arguing that the federal government take over the building and clean it up. The supermarket tabloid publisher commissioned a cleanup cost estimate from an environmental consulting firm, which advised AMI in April that no toxic waste site in the country would accept anthrax waste.
The FBI declined to comment on the cleanup methods. But Woika said all the runoff tested negative for anthrax before it was drained into a sewer on the AMI site on Broken Sound Boulevard. On the FBI's "advice," Woika said, he could not show the test results.
"Generally, there's some secrecy involved with the FBI investigation, or what's construed as the investigation," Woika said.
After last year's anthrax attacks, the federal government moved quickly to develop new bioterrorism protocols in case of future attacks. Boca Raton, the site of the nation's first attack at the AMI building, became the de facto testing ground for many of those new techniques.
Inside the three-story AMI building, the FBI prepared to plot three-dimensional maps to trace the distribution patterns of anthrax throughout the 68,000 square foot office.
Outside, the AMI site would serve as a laboratory to test the "containment, disinfection and discharge of suspected anthrax contaminated water, including protocols and standards," Woika said in an April memo to City Manager Leif Ahnell.
"The AMI incident initiated the need for a national policy," Woika wrote, "and the City of Boca Raton's actions in this incident is being used as their model."
The FBI, assisted by scientists from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, entered the building more than 550 times, removing nearly 5,000 pieces of evidence, including more than 800 letters contaminated by anthrax.
Each time the teams emerged, they entered a setup resembling a shower and were hosed down, Woika said. The runoff was collected in tanks of 500 gallons and 1,000 gallons in capacity. The liquid was disinfected with high concentrations of chlorine.
In all, Woika said, less than 3,500 gallons were collected and disinfected during the search, which was conducted from Aug. 27 to Sept. 8. The city's water treatment plant processes about 15 million gallons of water a day, Woika said.
The vats, all testing negative for anthrax, were slowly drained into a sewer, Woika said.
Dr. Larry Bush, the JFK Medical Center physician who treated Sun photo editor Bob Stevens for anthrax, said the feds' disinfection system is safe for a number of reasons.
Very few anthrax spores would have stuck to the protective suits and come out of the building, said Bush, who is director of infectious diseases at the Atlantis hospital.
Those few spores would have been killed by the chlorine and then diluted into oblivion by millions of gallons of water.
Even if a spore survived and was somehow swallowed, it would have been ineffective against humans, he said.
"You'd have to swallow a huge amount of spores -- thousands to hundreds of thousands," to get sick from gastrointestinal anthrax, Bush said. Stevens died Oct. 5 of inhalational anthrax.
Anthrax spores exist naturally, in the soil and in the wool of sheep and in goat hair, but natural inhalation of anthrax leading to illness is rare.
Whether inhalation or gastrointestinal anthrax, it would take such large quantities to create conditions for one spore to be able to reproduce itself faster than the body's immune system can counter-attack, said Martin Hugh-Jones, a veterinary epidemiologist at Louisiana State University.
Hugh-Jones said dumping the anthrax runoff in city sewers is "no problem."
"Yeah, put it in your flower bed and get some fertilizer out of it," he said.
Staff researcher Krista Pegnetter contributed to this story.
of 'person of interest' sought
Ashcroft asked to define term in anthrax probe
By Toni Locy
WASHINGTON -- A U.S. senator has asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to explain his repeated description of former Army scientist Steven Hatfill as ''a person of interest'' in the probe into last year's deadly anthrax attacks.
In a letter to Ashcroft on Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sought written proof of the existence of Justice Department policies that define the term ''person of interest'' and explain its use.
Veteran FBI agents say they are unfamiliar with the term.
Ashcroft has used it in news conferences and in several television appearances to explain the focus on Hatfill, 48, a former researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md.
Hatfill was one of about 40 scientists in the USA who had both access to anthrax and the expertise on how to handle it.
Five people died and 22 others were infected last fall when five letters were mailed to the media and two U.S. senators. Hatfill has been the focus of an ongoing investigation and has complained about Ashcroft's description. He also blames Justice officials for his firing on Sept. 3 from a department-funded bioterrorism training program at Louisiana State University.
Grassley, a frequent FBI critic, said he has ''no views'' about the FBI's focus on Hatfill.
''It is important that the government act according to laws, rules, policies and procedures, rather than make arbitrary decisions that affect individual citizens,'' he said.
Bryan Sierra, a Justice Department spokesman, declined comment on Grassley's request.
Pat Clawson, a spokesman for Hatfill, said Grassley's questions are ''right on target and go to the core of the abuses of civil liberties here.''
Traditionally, the FBI has used terms such as ''suspect,'' ''subject'' and ''target'' to describe people under investigation. The terms are used at different stages of a probe and differ legally.
A USA TODAY search of the U.S. Attorneys' Manual -- the handbook for federal prosecutors -- on the Justice Department's Web site Wednesday yielded no hits on the term ''person of interest.''
The manual contains several references to suspects, subjects and targets. A suspect is used generally to describe anyone who comes under suspicion by law enforcement. A subject is defined as ''a person whose conduct is within the scope'' of a grand jury probe. A target is ''a person as to whom the prosecutor or the grand jury has substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime.''
Grassley asked Ashcroft to provide examples of others who have been publicly named in the past three years as ''a person of interest'' in an investigation.
The senator also requested information about Justice's policy on seeking the removal of a person from a department-funded program.
Anthrax Attacks Pushed Open an Ominous Door
By BARBARA HATCH ROSENBERG
September 22 2002
PURCHASE, N.Y. -- On this first anniversary of the anthrax attacks, a number of conclusions can be drawn even without an arrest by the FBI. First, the strain and properties of the weaponized anthrax found in the letters show that it originated within the U.S. biodefense program, where the necessary expertise and access are found. Government officials recognized that the anthrax source was domestic less than two weeks after they learned of the letters, and nothing in their investigation has led them to say otherwise since.
One can also conclude that, given the origin of the anthrax and the warnings contained in the letters, the perpetrator's motive was not to kill but rather to raise public fear and thereby spur Congress to increase spending on biodefense. In this, the attacks have been phenomenally successful.
Paradoxically, however, by breaking the taboo on using biological weapons, the attacks have engendered a threat that could dwarf Sept. 11. Modes of successful attack and public responses have now been demonstrated for the instruction of future terrorists. What's more, it seems to have been easy to hide incriminating evidence, and, after a whole year of FBI bumbling, it looks likely that the attacker will get away with the crime. Although the death toll was relatively low, the strikes crippled business, government and postal services. Contamination in buildings has proved difficult, costly and time-consuming to remove, with some facilities still not restored; the public health system was strained beyond capacity.
Although biodefense has gotten a shot in the arm, it is important to understand that the goal of defending against bioweapons is not primarily public protection--which is largely impossible, as last year's attacks demonstrated. It is rather "to allow the military forces of the United States to survive and successfully complete their operational missions ... in battlespace environments contaminated with chemical or biological warfare agents," according to the annual report of the Department of Defense's Chemical and Biological Defense Program.
Biological weapons are preeminently anti-population weapons. But it would be impossible to provide the entire country with protective suits, masks, detectors, shelters, training and vaccinations against the large and growing array of potential agents. In any event, vaccinations can have serious side effects and can be overcome if the dose of the pathogenic agent is large or if the agent has been engineered to evade the vaccine.
Instead of protection, the civil defense response is entirely concerned with limiting the damage should an attack occur. There are also paradoxes here. Because of the rush to "do something," large amounts of government money are being thrown, without sufficient forethought, at research involving potential biological weapons agents. Scientists go where the money is, and we're now seeing a crowd of biologists lacking in relevant experience trooping to the trough.
The number of research laboratories and personnel handling dangerous pathogens is about to mushroom, making oversight and adequate safety and security control much more difficult to impose--particularly with the increased emphasis on secrecy. Ultimately, the very problem that made the anthrax attacks possible will be magnified.
One can confidently expect the U.S. to squander resources that could far better be used to extend the modest improvements being made in the public health system. Natural outbreaks of disease, including rapidly emerging new diseases for which we are unprepared, are a far more likely hazard for most people. Improving the public health system's ability to respond would help combat these diseases as well as biological attacks.
The anthrax probe has disclosed an astounding degree of irresponsibility and lack of security at Ft. Detrick, Md., home to the nation's premier existing biodefense laboratory. The problems stretch back for decades and extend beyond the anthrax attacks. In spite of a security crackdown there following the attacks, two incidents have occurred this year at Ft. Detrick in which spores escaped from a high-containment laboratory and were found in hallways, offices and locker rooms. One case was recognized only when an unauthorized employee took swabs outside the laboratory to check for anthrax contamination--something no one had thought of doing there before.
The anthrax investigation has raised questions about the nature and value of the work at Ft. Detrick and has brought to light the granting of security clearance and free access to highly dangerous biological agents to someone with falsified credentials--very disturbing whether or not he turns out to be the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks.
Even more serious concerns have been raised by the discovery of secret biodefense projects that push against the limits of international prohibitions. It was recently revealed that an Army laboratory in Utah has been secretly making weaponized anthrax for some years. Another secret project involved the construction of bomblets designed for dispersion of biological agents, although the Biological Weapons Convention explicitly prohibits developing, producing or possessing "means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes." Such projects have raised suspicions abroad that the U.S. continues to develop biological weapons--suspicions that, even if not true, are likely to spur a new biological arms race.
Experts agree that a significant bioterror attack today would require the support of a national program to succeed. But for two years now, the U.S. has opposed every international effort to monitor the ban on the development and possession of biological weapons by states or to strengthen the toothless Biological Weapons Convention in any way.
The anthrax attacks have not altered that stance. Two weeks ago, I attended an informal meeting in Geneva where diplomats from six continents struggled in the face of U.S. intransigence to map out a joint strategy for combating the global biological threat. The United States had demanded that a formal Biological Weapons Convention conference, scheduled to take place during two weeks in November, should instead disband in one day with only an agreement not to meet again until 2006. To make sure that the American resolve prevails in this setting where international consensus is de rigueur, the U.S. demand was accompanied by an overt threat to disrupt any further proceedings with accusations that would make productive international action impossible.
At that Geneva meeting, the assembled diplomats, representing the political spectrum from our closest allies to declared enemies, were uniformly frustrated. They find it hard to comprehend why a country that has just been the victim of bioterrorism should stand in the way of peaceful efforts supported by all its allies to deter bioterrorism.
It is surprising how quickly public terror in response to the anthrax attacks turned to public indifference. But the story isn't over. The likelihood of bioterrorism is increasing, and the American public is still the preferred target. Government decisions will be critical in determining the sequel. The preservation of public health and safety, like freedom, will now require public vigilance.
September 24, 2002 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0924/p11s02-lehl.html
Academia becomes target for new security laws
Foreign students have helped propel the research for which US universities are famous. New security concerns could limit their ability to contribute.
By Mark Clayton | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
When William Stwalley got word this summer about what had happened to his foreign graduate students, the usually mild-mannered physics professor could barely keep himself in his chair. He was livid.
Just over a year ago, he had traveled to Beijing to interview candidates for the University of Connecticut's graduate research program in physics this fall. But of the nine students accepted into the program, all were denied a student visa by the US State Department.
In the past, most applicants got a green light. But since Sept. 11, visa "horror stories" have popped up at universities nationwide, many say.
Such snafus may seem unremarkable in the wake of intensified concerns about foreigners entering the US under false pretenses. But they are just the most visible sign of a deeper shift taking place in higher education as the nation pushes for more safety and security in a post-9/11 world.
Academia is suddenly finding itself a central target of new security laws and regulations. To some, the greater scrutiny is natural, given that universities are home to many foreign students and much potentially sensitive research. But as fall semester gets under way, university scientists worry that freedom of inquiry, open access, and internationalization – long valued in US higher education – are at risk.
They say such security measures, though well intentioned, could undermine the free flow of intellectual exchange – both on campus and with researchers abroad – that has made US higher education a huge winner internationally. Tight security could also slow the work of labs that rely on foreign students as researchers or that have long-established ties with foreign counterparts.
"We're seeing a fundamental clash of values between university openness and national security interested in clamping down," says Eugene Skolnikoff, professor emeritus of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "There's this push by government, saying, 'We've got to keep information out of the wrong hands.' Universities are essentially being asked to exclude foreign students from some projects."
One observer points to dozens of bills proposed in Congress since Sept. 11 with features that restrict higher education. The White House has its own plans, too. Key developments include:
* A category of "sensitive information" being developed mainly for nonclassified, government-owned research. Some worry it could easily be expanded to include other government-funded university research.
* The Bioterrorism Preparedness Act – passed in June – which mandates tighter scrutiny and background checks for microbiologists working with any of 36 pathogens on the US list of "select agents."
* A government panel to review visa applications of foreign students applying for advanced study in fields including lasers, high-performance metals, navigation and guidance systems, nuclear engineering, biotechnology, and missile propulsion.
Stunting basic research
About 550,000 foreign students study in the US – double the number from 15 years ago – and about half of US engineering PhDs are foreign-born. Such restrictions will sharply curb today's influx of foreign graduate students, stunting the basic research that undergirds America's technology-driven economy, some argue.
"We can't fill our own schools with people from the US," says Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences. "They're just not coming through the system, not willing to work that hard. Higher education has been one of our greatest exports. If we give foreign graduate students the impression they're not welcome or they are second-class citizens, then we'll repel a lot of that talent."
The new Interagency Panel for Advanced Science and Security (IPASS), which includes law-enforcement officials, will weigh applicants' countries of origin, area of study, and previous education, along with the nature of the research. When the panel is up and running, about 2,000 foreign nationals will be scrutinized each year out of roughly 500,000 applicants, officials say.
"Universities have concerns [about new security laws], but most of these haven't translated into real concerns yet," says John Marburger III, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which has been working with universities on limiting the impact of security regulations on higher education. "One area we are working on is the backlog on visas [for foreign students and researchers].... It has had some impact that we're concerned about."
Some in the higher-education community are relieved the focus will be on identifying individuals before they get a visa – rather than fencing off whole fields of study to foreigners.
"A lot of these policies are just getting put into place now, and it's going to take a while to assess how serious their impacts are," says Al Teich, director of science and policy programs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which represents 135,000 scientists and engineers. "It's not just visas. Restrictions on publishing scientific papers – nonclassified basic research – are of great concern because then you're restricting the lifeblood of science and higher education."
Under the new laws, colleges have, so far, won exemptions from publishing restrictions for basic and applied university research. Still, Dr. Skolnikoff and others cite a threat from potential and actual new restrictions.
Some constraints aren't new
Some constraints on foreign scholars' access to basic research have been around for years. Export controls on research developed in the space sciences are one example. But in other disciplines, such as microbiology, the rules are only beginning to be felt on campus.
Students from the seven nations the US State Department lists as sponsors of terrorism will find it tougher to do university research in microbiology. There were 3,761 students last year from Libya, Sudan, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Cuba. The list could be expanded to a second tier of restricted countries, observers say.
The new Bioterrorism Act and the USA Patriot Act provide criminal penalties for anyone possessing select biological agents or delivery systems not justified by "bona fide research." And "restricted persons," including faculty, students, or staff from nations on the terror list, may not possess, transport, or even see secretarial paperwork regarding them.
But more rules are coming. Acting on a request by Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, the Office of Management and Budget is drafting rules for a new sensitive-information category for government-owned research, less secret than classified information, but still restricted. Such rules could spill over to other government-funded research on campus.
"These regulations could have a chilling effect on the very research the university community is being asked to do to develop countermeasures to terrorist weapons," says Janet Shoemaker, director of public affairs for the American Society for Microbiology in Washington. "We have to have reasonable balance."
Dr. Alberts, of the National Academy of Sciences, worries about censorship and even self-censorship developing in university labs. The NAS is convening a conference on the topic this fall. Likewise, the American Association of University Professors in Washington last week created a special committee to analyze "conflicts between the imperatives of national security and the imperatives of free researching."
Some see risk, some see benefit
But where some academics see a risk of science being entangled in red tape, others see value in creating a balance between openness and rules to ensure that the wrong people don't gain access to scientific information that might be used to create terror weapons.
"We don't see research being shut down," says George Leventhal, senior federal-relations officer with the Association of American Universities. "My impression is that the [Bush] administration has made reasonable efforts when the regulations have affected the academic community."
Richard Harpel, director of federal relations for the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, worries about damaging research. Still, "not all of this is bad," he says. "Many of those [restricted] select agents have been lurking in the back of refrigerators for decades. If for no other reason than housecleaning, this is worthy of our efforts."
Such housecleaning was the undoing of Tomas Foral, a University of Connecticut graduate student who, in July, became the first person charged under the Patriot Act with unlawful possession of anthrax.
Mr. Foral came across the substance, left over from 1960s experiments, while helping clean out a laboratory freezer last October. Graduate students are drilled to save specimens. In this case, however, university officials claim Foral was ordered to dispose of it but did not. FBI agents later found two vials in his section of a freezer at the Storrs campus.
The Czech-born US citizen has hired a lawyer. He is being investigated by his university and his name has been added to a watch list. "I think this is going a little bit too far," Foral told the L.A. Times. "I saved many other tissues that day. This is one of the samples that I saved. That's all that happened."
Intentional or not, his story has become a cautionary tale. "We're going to feel these restrictions more as time goes on as part of an internal self-conscious worry – and from more government oversight," says Ronald Atlas, a microbiologist and dean of the graduate school at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. "The international exchange of information in the biological sciences may become more regulated. The impact could range from nil to major. I think the inability of researchers overseas to collaborate or come to the US or to publish results would be major."
The Bioterrorism Preparedness Act, signed into law by President Bush in June, is so new its final regulations won't be done until December. But the act makes clear it is not just students who will be under the federal microscope: Colleges and universities as institutions will be scrutinized, too. The Department of Health and Human Services will inspect college labs to ensure compliance with select agent possession, use, transfer, and security requirements.
Universities and colleges already had to scramble to meet a Sept. 10 deadline to notify federal authorities if they had any of the 36 select agents, pathogens like ebola or anthrax. Under the new law, institutions also must limit access to researchers and students with a "legitimate need." The American Council on Education says this shift "represents a major compliance challenge."
But to the Bush administration, pressing for such changes is not unreasonable. "Everybody should be vigilant about maintaining the openness necessary for effective scientific research," Dr. Marburger says. "It can't be carried out in a closed community.... You know, I think it's a very healthy posture for the higher-education community to be alert [to security threats].... Universities have been helpful in working with my office and working on some good ideas."
To Professor Skolnikoff and others, such steps may presage curbs that could critically undermine higher education. In space sciences, for instance, it's a delicate dance to comply with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which are Reagan-era export controls on technology. In March, the State Department tightened ITAR controls, further limiting a higher-education exemption that permits communicating about research with foreign colleagues if they are from NATO countries. Besides being difficult to understand, such rules leave researchers fearing fines or jail for discussions with foreign colleagues.
The result: University scientists often feel compelled to apply for export licenses when doing collaborative research with foreign graduate students and faculty. They might even drop the experiment because of the hassle.
John Mester, a senior physicist with Stanford University, is working on a satellite-based experiment overshadowed by ITAR controls. He hopes the experiment, to be launched next spring, will spot where Einstein's general theory of relatively breaks down by measuring gravity fluctuations in space. "I'm very concerned that they might restrict access to foreign nationals and to what research people can publish in open literature," he says.
He is also working on another satellite-based experiment in collaboration with European researchers. He worries it may not get NASA funding due to tighter ITAR controls.
Dr. Mester recalls, too, the example of past graduate students Haiping Jin, a South Korean, and Peter Wiktor, a German. The two worked on the gravity project a few years ago and helped produce a breakthrough in thruster research. Their research was handed over to an aerospace company, which built the research satellite with thruster technology based directly on the duo's work.
Still, neither foreign student ever got to see the actual thrusters or even their designs. Both men were nonresidents and barred under ITAR rules from seeing the technology.
Dr. Mester says excluding foreign students from seeing the fruits of their labor is unfortunate, but not critical to knowledge building, or their dissertations. "The students are really at the core of what we do here," Mester says. "If we were to restrict their access, it would have a huge impact. We couldn't even develop all the technology we've got now. We've been walking a fine line to satisfy both Stanford's openness requirement and the government restrictions."
In the end, professors and students hope the open door will prevail.
Chun Tai, a former student in UCLA's department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, graduated this spring and now works for a private company. "My view of a great America is that it should be the way it was before [9/11]," Mr. Tai says. "The top people from all over the world come here because most agree this is the best place to work together. If the government closes the door on people like me, it would be sad. They can do that, but that's not the American way."
Restrictions frustrate foreign students
Even in the go-go 1990s, bright foreigners had to work hard to get visas to become graduate students in the United States. But the bureaucratic hurdles since 9/11 are now so difficult that many will seek to attend university elsewhere, many say.
Just ask Xiaoyong Wang, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at the University of California at Los Angeles. He got into the US to study before the attacks – but now his friends, who thought they would follow, are stuck back in China.
"I know it is getting harder because this year, some of my friends got the offer from the universities, but they couldn't get a visa from the embassy," he says.
In a sign of the times, Chinese students turned down for US student visas held rare public protests twice last month at the US Embassy in Beijing. The increasing difficulty of getting US student visas is just beginning to be documented.
The Institute of International Education in New York reports that students may choose Canada, Britain, and Australia instead of the US because of these visa issues. The American Physical Society says early results of an e-mail survey of 184 physics departments indicates Chinese students are having the worst problems.
But don't tell that to Mohammed Alsaid, a Saudi Arabian student pursuing his PhD in computer science at the University of Southern California. Like many from the Middle East, he has a visa "horror story."
"My two friends were already students at USC for three of four years," he says. "They have apartments here, cars here, but when they went back to Saudi Arabia to renew their visas and see their families, they got stuck."
Those students have been neither approved nor denied, but just told to wait, he says. Mr. Alsaid thinks the visa slowdown will harm US higher education.
"I never thought of going to Europe when I planned to get my master's," he says. "We all believed the US has the best education in science and engineering. This [slowdown] is going to [mean that students] go elsewhere. I totally understand the US position, though. They have to be careful."
Roshanak Roshandel is an Iranian graduate student also in USC's computer-science department. Hailing from a nation on the US State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism, she is familiar with all the background checks. It took her six weeks to pass an FBI check in 1996. She says other students she knows in Iran despair of ever getting to the US. "Almost all the Iranian students I know who came here as graduate students have had a hard time."
She has a green card that used to allow her to view restricted data as part of her research for a branch of the US government. Now an escort takes her to the data.
"It would be impossible for the [US] Department of Defense to do all the research they need without foreign students," she says. "They need us."
Self-censorship on the horizon
It was the 1940s, and Hitler's Germany was racing to build an atom bomb. Sensing the Germans were on the wrong trail, and not wanting to help, American university scientists collectively did the nearly unthinkable: They all but stopped publishing about nuclear physics.
Flash forward to this summer. Amid the new "war on terror," a university researcher discovers how to create the polio virus with mail-order materials and a genetic blueprint. Another discovers how to modify a smallpox-like virus, making it more virulent. Both publish their findings in scholarly journals.
Debate flares. Might not terrorists use such research as a cookbook to create more dangerous biological weapons, policymakers wonder?
A few microbiologists are already asking journals if they can publish their research but omit the methods that others would need to know to reproduce experiments, says Ronald Atlas, president of the American Society for Microbiology. That idea, he says, is a "nonstarter." It would prevent peer review and undermine science.
Still, Dr. Atlas has called for serious debate about security and self-censorship within the academy. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) plans to host a November conference to debate such issues. And the American Association of University Professors announced last week it would create a committee to review the impact of new security laws on academic freedom.
A key concern: government censorship. This summer, the Department of Defense circulated a 111-page draft directive outlining criminal sanctions for open discussions of certain types of research on campus. The draft was buried, its recommendations too controversial even within the Pentagon. It's the sort of thing that makes many shudder.
"Our nation's security depends on the balance between openness and security," says NAS president Bruce Alberts. "We have to get that balance right."
year later: anthrax probe seems stalled
By JOAN LOWY
On Oct. 4, 2001, a nation still reeling from a horrific act of terrorism on U.S. soil awoke to a new nightmare - bioterrorism - as authorities in Florida announced the verification of a case of suspicious anthrax.
Over the next few weeks, deadly spores from anthrax-filled letters sent to the news media and the Senate killed five people, infected 18 others, forced the virtual shutdown of Congress, wreaked havoc on the U.S. Postal Service, sent thousands of panicked Americans scrambling for the antibiotic Cipro, and spurred the government to launch a massive expansion of biodefense programs.
One year later, no one has been arrested in the anthrax attacks and the FBI's investigation into the case appears to have stalled. Critics of the FBI probe fear that other would-be bioterrorists may be encouraged by the fact that the attacker has eluded authorities.
"A how-to message has been sent to future bioterrorists and the only way to combat that is to show you can't get away with that," said Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a microbiologist at the State University of New York at Purchase and chair of the Federation of American Scientists' Chemical and Biological Arms Control Program. "We haven't done that and that concerns me greatly."
In the immediate aftermath of the anthrax attacks, many experts insisted the letters were most likely the work of a terrorist group that had acquired the anthrax germ from a state-sponsored bioweapons program. The weaponized condition of the anthrax spores in the envelopes, they reasoned, indicated an attacker with sophisticated knowledge of anthrax, a complex set of skills, and access to specialized equipment.
The Islamic and anti-American rhetoric in the text of the letters - dated Sept. 11, but not mailed until Sept. 18 from a postal box near Princeton, N.J. - were clearly an attempt to tie the anthrax attacks to the 9/11 attacks.
However, the FBI investigation was soon narrowed to a search for a domestic perpetrator, most likely a lone individual in the biodefense field. The anthrax in the letters was identified as the Ames strain, which was originally isolated in the United States and adopted by the U.S. biodefense program in the late 1970s as the anthrax strain-of-choice, although it was also shared with Great Britain, Canada and Israel.
The spores in the letters were also coated with a chemical used in the U.S. biodefense program to keep them from clumping. Other state bioweapons programs tended to use a different chemical.
Criminal profilers say the wording of the anthrax messages appears to be the work of a native English speaker trying to throw suspicion on Islamic terrorists in an effort to disguise his identity.
Clint Van Zandt, a 25-year veteran of the FBI and a former supervisor of the agency's criminal profiling unit, sees parallels between the anthrax attacker and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
The anthrax attacker is "somebody cut out of a similar bolt of cloth who did it for purposes he thought were greater than himself," said Van Zandt, now a private consultant.
"Kaczynski tried to warn about the dangers of technology. McVeigh tried to warn about excesses on the part of government, and the anthrax sender, I believe, did it because he felt the United States was not responsive (to the threat of bioterrorism)."
Rosenberg also has postulated that the anthrax attacker was a disgruntled biodefense scientist trying to send a message about the threat of bioterrorism and the need to beef up America's biodefenses.
Rosenberg laid out her theory for key Senate staffers and the FBI at a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill in June. Rosenberg said she has never named any individual as a possible suspect, but after the meeting the FBI appeared to step up its investigation of Steven Hatfill, a former microbiologist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., the government's principal biodefense laboratory. Hatfill's apartment has been searched three times and so have his girlfriend's apartment and a storage locker he keeps in Florida.
Hatfill has denied any involvement in the attacks. His supporters have accused the FBI of persecuting the scientist to deflect attention from the agency's lack of progress in the case.
Meanwhile, Congress has approved more than $6 billion in new biodefense research and preparedness since the attacks.
The rapid expansion of biodefense programs has some scientists questioning whether the government's response to bioterrorism will inadvertently increase the likelihood of future attacks by greatly boosting the number of researchers with access to dangerous pathogens and the skill to turn them into weapons.
The rapid expansion of research has not been accompanied by a corresponding tightening of security, said Richard Ebright, a microbiologist at Rutgers University.
Ebright said the only national restrictions on who can work with dangerous pathogens like anthrax are: No illegal aliens, no citizens of countries that sponsor terrorism, no convicted felons, no admitted or convicted drug users, and no one who has been judged mentally incompetent or confined to a mental institution.
"This actually represents less vetting than required to operate a school bus in many parts of the country," Ebright said. The government has for decades imposed far greater security limitations on nuclear scientists, for example, than on scientists in the biodefense field.
In part, that's because in biodefense, the knowledge required to defend against dangerous germs is nearly the same as the knowledge required to turn them into deadly weapons, said David Heyman, director of science and security initiatives at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"If we're going to do a lot of research which we haven't done in the past we need to have some sort of self-governance mechanism or an oversight mechanism to make sure that research that has clear national security implications doesn't fall into the wrong hands or is compromised," Heyman said. "That doesn't exist today."
On the Web:
Joan Lowy is a reporter for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail LowyJ(at)shns.com
Shaggy Dog Story
By Notra Trulock
September 27, 2002
From AIM - Accuracy In Media
The bloodhounds were "barking and howling and straining at their leashes." That was the sensational lead to a Newsweek story that has become one of the particulars in the public "indictment" of Dr. Steven Hatfill for last fall's unsolved anthrax killings. Newsweek said that the FBI took bloodhounds to Hatfill's Maryland apartment in early August. It claims a law enforcement official told them, "They went crazy." Not surprisingly, Newsweek's story was picked up and replayed as far away as Qatar. But is the story accurate?
Newsweek reported that the bloodhounds matched scent lifted from the anthrax letters to Hatfill. Newsweek said that the dogs also "reacted" at his girlfriend's apartment and a Denny's restaurant in Louisiana. Newsweek reporters told AIM that the FBI had employed a "new technology" to collect scent that involves "vacuuming" it onto a sterile gauze pad directly from the letters. The FBI told Newsweek that the Bureau does not have its own dogs and had flown in bloodhounds for use by the Washington Field Office.
Hatfill says that Newsweek's description of the dog's visit to his apartment is inaccurate. He says that the Bureau took him to an empty apartment in his complex and directed him to one of three chairs. A bloodhound was brought in and Hatfill, a dog lover, scratched the dog's ears. When the dog began to return the affection, an agent started screaming "the dog is reacting, the dog is reacting!" Also, a Baltimore Sun reporter determined that none of the twelve Denny's in Louisiana had been visited by the FBI and bloodhounds.
AIM contacted a national training coordinator of the Law Enforcement Bloodhounds Association (LEBA), a police officer with fifteen years of experience handling bloodhounds, about Newsweek's story. He and his dog form one of fifteen teams, all from the law enforcement community in the part of Maryland that includes Hatfill's apartment. Among this group is a team on the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team call list that participated in the search for suspected Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph. None were called upon by the FBI in this case and they too have been wondering whose dogs were used. The LEBA training coordinator confirmed that the FBI doesn't have its own dogs, never uses volunteers, and always contracts with local law enforcement dog teams in such cases.
Asked about the "new technology," the officer laughed and said that the reference was to a "scent machine," probably the STU-100, invented by William Tolhurst and Larry Harris, two well-known dog handlers and experts on the use of bloodhounds in police manners. Mr. Tolhurst, who lives in upstate New York, told AIM that it is "very possible" that his STU-100 was used and his website does list the FBI's Washington Field Office as one of his customers. Tolhurst and Harris have sold their $600 STU-100s to local police forces, particularly in California where Mr. Harris is based. Mr. Tolhurst believes that scent, derived from oils transferred from a person's skin to a particular article like envelopes, would linger after decontamination. He acknowledged that his device was somewhat controversial, but compared skepticism about its effectiveness to that surrounding earlier tools like the polygraph. He declined to offer any further details citing the "on-going investigation."
AIM has learned that the STU-100 was the "new technology" and that Mr. Harris and his dogs were flown in by the Bureau for the Hatfill search. AIM also learned that both the STU-100 and Mr. Harris are very controversial in the world of police bloodhound handlers. Officer Jerry Nichols, the LEBA President, told AIM that both LEBA and the National Police Bloodhound Association have declined to endorse the STU-100. Officer Nichols was very critical of the methodology used by the FBI and Harris in the Hatfill case, saying it was "badly flawed." Too many people handled the letters, it's not certain that the scent would survive the decontamination process, and a judge threw out a case involving Mr. Harris that was very similar to this. In fact, police handlers were so offended by Mr. Harris' technique in that case, one flew to California from Maryland to testify for the defense.
At first glance, this looks like just another FBI fiasco. But when did Newsweek magazine become an arm of the Justice Department? It doesn't appear to have challenged the shaggy dog story it was fed by the FBI and repeated it verbatim. Neither mind that Dr. Hatfill's career and personal reputation were at stake, Newsweek got a sensational scoop.
Notra Trulock is the Associate Editor of the AIM Report, at Accuracy in Media.
antibiotics work against anthrax
By Michael Smith
SAN DIEGO, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Anthrax can be treated successfully with antibiotics other than the three mainline drugs that were in short supply during the anthrax scare last year, a Turkish researcher said Friday at a microbiology meeting.
"There is a need for other therapies,"said physician Duygu Esel of Erciyes University in Kayseri, Turkey, about 150 miles east of the capital, Ankara, "and these drugs may be the answer."
The three mainline drugs are ciprofloxacin (sold as Cipro), doxycylcine (marketed as Vibramycin) and penicillin, Esel said. All are effective against anthrax and probably will remain the first choice for doctors, she said, especially to treat naturally occurring cases of the disease in agricultural areas.
However, if the disease is used as a weapon, penicillin is less effective and "may result in failure or recurrence" of the disease, Esel told United Press International. All three drugs likely would be in short supply during an anthrax attack, she said.
Two quinolone antibiotics -- the same general type as ciprofloxacin -- work just as well against anthrax, however, Esel said. The two -- gatifloxacin (Tequin) and levofloxacin (Levaquin) -- penetrate lung tissue better than either doxycycline or penicillin, she said.
It also is possible some strains of anthrax may be naturally resistant to penicillin, Esel noted, something that might not be expected with the synthetic quinolones.
The drugs were tested against 40 cultures of anthrax cells taken from human beings with various forms of the disease. Both inhibited the disease as well as ciprofloxacin, Esel said, and were slightly better than penicillin. Doxycycline was not included in the study.
The finding is an "important observation," said physician David Hooper, an infectious diseases specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, because it adds new weapons to the doctor's armory.
"There was an issue last fall of availability (of the mainline drugs)," he told UPI. Although officials have made strenuous efforts to increase stockpiles, Hooper said many hospitals still may not have supplies of ciprofloxacin because they prefer one of the other quinolones.
"It's good to have this information about the alternatives," Hooper said, adding the Turkish study was conducted using isolated anthrax cells and a confirming study, testing the drugs in animals, still is needed before doctors can switch to gatifloxacin or levofloxacin.
Esel and her colleagues are indeed planning to study the drugs in animals, she said.
A spate of anthrax-contaminated letters in the U.S. late last year caused 18 confirmed cases of the illness and five deaths. In 1979, an accidental release of anthrax in the former Soviet Union resulted in at least 79 cases of anthrax infection and 68 deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the numbers of illnesses and deaths could reach into the millions if an aircraft released anthrax over an urban area.
hawk everything needed in disaster
By TIM MCGLONE, The Virginian-Pilot
© September 28, 2002
Last updated: 11:26 PM
VIRGINIA BEACH -- The salesman is kind and friendly, even consoling like a funeral director.
``Everything we do, unfortunately, is disaster-oriented,'' he whispered.
D.E. ``Ed'' Thompson Jr.'s sales table is first on the right, inside the Grand Ballroom at the DoubleTree Hotel.
The sales director for LCM Corp., an environmental cleanup company with offices in Hampton and Roanoke, hawks the stuff emergency workers need in a disaster. He has competed this week with dozens of vendors at the 19th annual Virginia Hazardous Materials Conference.
Spread out on tables is the latest in chemical warfare defense equipment, breathing tanks, ``leading edge'' body bags, fingerprint scanners and American flag hard hats. One vendor displays a decontamination tent. Another offers a $2,995 Civil Defense Simultest Kit, which is designed to detect mustard gas, cyanide, chlorine and other dangerous agents.
Glossy brochures describe other merchandise: an inspection machine to detect and clean anthrax-contaminated mail, for $3,900; Dr. Shrink Zipper Access Doors, plastic entryways with zippered openings, for $17.50 a box; The Commander Brigade Ensemble HazMat suit, which looks more like something worn for a moon walk, for $2,300.
While some companies shy away from selling to the public, others encourage private citizens to take the pricey precautions. One brochure offers a $195 children's ventilation hood in neon yellow for ages 9 and up. It also offers a $99 escape hood that ``can be carried in any briefcase or purse.''
Last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks dramatically broadened the market to equip those who respond to disasters and those who must clean up afterward.
In the past year, the federal government has supplied $4.2 billion to first responders, such as police and fire departments. The war on terror is expected to cost $100 billion through year's end.
The HazMat road show targets all emergency workers as it travels the country. In the Beach version, which runs through noon today, more than 50 workshops have focused on reconstructing the Sept. 11 emergency response and lessons learned in the anthrax contaminations. Others have dealt with smaller disasters, such as challenges posed by chemical tanker-truck crashes and the hazards of dismantling a clandestine drug lab.
But the vendors take center stage.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, Drager Safety Inc. has sold 50 of the $2,995 chemical-detection machines to Washington, 12 to Baltimore and 12 to the D.C. airports.
``It's sad to say, but business has been good,'' Drager salesman Jeff Fleming said.
W.E.L. Inc., an environmental cleanup company with offices in Roanoke and Concord, has been one of the busiest tables, with bowls of candy, key chains, pens, magnets, mouse pads, and plastic bags to haul the freebies.
At the next booth, Richard L. Morgenroth offers a raffle for a television. The sales director for HMHTTC Response Inc. said his company answers emergency calls for highway disasters, chemical spills and attacks by weapons of mass destruction. It has 14 offices nationwide and soon will open a 15th, in Richmond.
``We work on people's worst fears,'' Morgenroth said.
A brochure explains that this year's second round of trade shows is under way and that the company also will participate in a six-city ``whistle-stop tour'' sponsored by Norfolk Southern Corp.
It seems the companies that sell equipment are booming, while others, such as Thompson's LCM Corp., are hurting because of the sagging economy and a lack of incidents to respond to.
After 9/11, Thompson and a partner spent five weeks in New York with his company's nine decontamination trailers, where 200 emergency workers passed through each hour.
The trailers initially were stationed at ground zero. They were moved to the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, where debris was hauled for sifting and disposal. The trailers house powerful showers that wash away blood, disease and chemicals, or forced-air spigots that blow away asbestos and dust.
Thompson shivers when he recalls the 12-hour shifts he worked in New York.
What was the worst? Again, in a whisper, he said, ``The decomposing bodies. There was disease flying everywhere.''
His company wasn't paid for the work, Thompson said. And two contracts to clean up waste sites were canceled for lack of funds.
``It's been hard,'' he said, turning to offer a smile and a handshake to a visitor.
Reach Tim McGlone at 446-2343 or firstname.lastname@example.org
St. Louis native labeled "person of interest" in anthrax case fights to clear his name
BY KAREN BRANCH-BRIOSO
Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — At Mattoon (Ill.) Central Junior High in the late 1960s, kids called Steven Hatfill "Dr. Science" for his intense love of the subject, his James Bond-inspired plans to build a laser and his ever-present slide rule tucked into a leather case.
A nerd, perhaps. Withdrawn, he was not.
"He was on the nerdy side but extremely outgoing," said Terry Vandeventer, a Mississippi herpetologist who attended junior high and high school science classes with Hatfill in the southeastern Illinois town.
"He was popular because he was funny. He got into a little trouble in class because he was a wisecracker. And he was kind of brave. He'd say things to teachers that you or I couldn't have gotten away with."
Today, the nation wonders if that smart-alecky boy became the man who got away with last year's deadly anthrax attacks — or a fall guy whose life has been shredded by a government that has failed to solve the murders.
Hatfill is the only person named in connection with the investigation, which began after the first victim died in Florida, one year ago this week. Attorney General John Ashcroft has called him a "person of interest." The FBI searched his apartment three times this summer.
A St. Louis native and a former Army bioscientist, Hatfill has an expertise in biowarfare that put him among scores of microbiologists who attracted investigators' attention. But several coincidences set him apart:
He worked near the Army's central repository for the strain of anthrax found in the deadly letters.
In 1999, he commissioned an anthrax study that described an anthrax-by-mail attack.
His "secret" security clearance was suspended after he failed a CIA polygraph test in August of last year, just before the anthrax attacks.
He lived at one time near a neighborhood called Greendale, which was used in a phony return address on some of the anthrax letters.
But coincidences don't make for evidence, and Hatfill has been charged with no crimes, nor even named as a suspect. He has proclaimed his innocence and said the public speculation has been devastating.
"Reputation is in tatters"
"My life has been completely and utterly destroyed by the attorney general, John Ashcroft, and the FBI," Hatfill, 48, said in a statement early this month after Louisiana State University fired him from a $150,000 job as co-director of the school's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training.
"I'm now unemployed. Twenty years worth of training is down the tubes. My professional reputation is in tatters."
In a news conference Aug. 25, Hatfill said, "This assassination of my character appears to be part of a government-run effort to show the American people that it is proceeding vigorously and successfully with the anthrax investigation."
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said there was no such motive in the searches of Hatfill's Maryland apartment. The leaks that led to live news media coverage of the searches, he said, were completely inappropriate — whatever the source.
"The bottom line is — our job is — solve this case, and when facts come to our attention, we investigate them," said Bresson, who declined to characterize Hatfill's status in the investigation.
He noted that Ashcroft did so "responding to questions once (Hatfill's) name was already out there." Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was so concerned about Ashcroft's statements that he wrote him last week, asking him to explain. He also asked the attorney general to explain why a Justice Department e-mail ordered Louisiana State to remove Hatfill from any Justice Department-funded programs, including the one he had been hired to run.
People in Mattoon were shocked by Hatfill's sudden appearances on the national news, and some share Grassley's concerns.
"I think everyone around town, whether they liked Steven or not, feels this was highly unjustified and that is not what the FBI should do," said Timothy Tutt, an electrical engineer in Mattoon. Before you kill a man's career, you'd better make sure you got a smoking gun."
Hatfill declined to be interviewed for this story, according to his friend and spokesman, Pat Clawson, a former St. Louis television reporter.
From Mattoon to Africa
Born in St. Louis, Hatfill and his family moved to Mattoon, in Coles County in central Illinois, where his father became president of the town's electric-meter factory.
Hatfill was an impressive student, even in junior high school.
"Nobody ever had any thoughts in their minds other than the fact he was going to be highly successful — he was going to get doctorates in science and mathematics," said Vandeventer, one of the junior high schoolmates impressed by Hatfill's detailed diagrams for a laser.
Hatfill graduated from Mattoon High School in 1971 and attended Southwestern College, a small Methodist school in Kansas, where he studied biology.
In items he later submitted to his hometown newspaper and to his college alumni magazine, Hatfill detailed his further education:
He took a leave for a year to work with a Methodist doctor in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, returning there in the late 1970s to earn a medical degree from the Godfrey Huggins School of Medicine. He cited three separate master's degrees in microbial genetics, medical biochemistry and experimental pathology, as well as a doctorate in molecular cellular biology, most earned in Africa.
Hatfill said he served with the U.S. Army's Institute for Military Assistance in the former Rhodesia, as well as with the white-ruled government's Special Air Service and Selous Scouts that unsuccessfully fought black rebels to stay in power.
Hatfill's early years in Rhodesia coincided with a 1979 outbreak of anthrax that affected roughly 10,000 people. It was long rumored to have been an attack launched during the civil war by white-run government forces. Nevertheless, many renowned anthrax experts have discounted that theory, attributing it to naturally occuring skin anthrax spread by contact with infected cattle.
During several years in Harare, Zimbabwe, he lived near a neighborhood called Greendale, the same name attached to a nonexistent New Jersey school used as a phony return address on anthrax letters sent to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy.
Hatfill left Africa in the mid-1990s.
Working for government
He has repeatedly said he has never worked with anthrax. But his expertise in biodefense and his work at Fort Detrick, Md., have helped spur investigative interest in him.
He took a research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. From 1997 to 1999, he worked at the Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick.
With a research fellowship, Hatfill worked with deadly viruses such as Ebola, but not the anthrax bacteria.
Institute spokesman Chuck Dasey said Hatfill worked in the base's labs, which include a repository for the same strain of anthrax found in the deadly letters sent last fall.
"He didn't work on anthrax, because he was not a bacteriologist. He worked as a virologist," Dasey said. "He could have worked in close proximity to people working on anthrax. He did not have access to that (anthrax repository)."
In January 1999, Hatfill went to work for Scientific Applications International Corp., a defense contractor with an office in McLean, Va., that works with the government in developing defenses against biological weapons. He was there through early March of this year.
Ben Haddad, a spokesman for the company, declined to discuss Hatfill's dismissal. But he confirmed that soon after Hatfill started at the company, Hatfill and a colleague commissioned another scientist to write a study on potential anthrax attacks and decontamination procedures to counteract them. At the time, Hatfill still had access to Fort Detrick's labs under a research fellowship.
The study focused mainly on widespread release of anthrax through means such as crop dusters, Haddad said, but opened with "a scenario . . . about a person in an office who opens an envelope and powder falls out."
"That's not proof"
In August of last year, Hatfill sought a higher security clearance from the government but failed a CIA polygraph examination, reportedly because of answers he gave about his background. The result: His secret-level clearance was suspended.
Clawson said Hatfill appealed the results of that polygraph. "As far as I know, it's still pending." On Oct. 5, the first anthrax victim died. The FBI took over the investigation a few days later, and it wasn't long before Hatfill became the subject of speculation.
He said he was laid off from Scientific Applications International after a reporter phoned the company in February asking questions about Hatfill and anthrax.
On July 1, he got the job teaching at Louisiana State University, but he was placed on leave a month later after the second publicized FBI search of his Maryland apartment. He was fired Sept. 2.
The FBI searched the apartment for a third time on Sept. 11, after Hatfill had moved out.
Bloodhounds who had sniffed swabs of the anthrax envelopes about 10 months after they were mailed reportedly gave an alert in Hatfill's Maryland apartment during one of the searches, another of the bits of investigative material that have yet to add up to solid evidence.
"I have grave doubts as to whether there will ever be an arrest in this case," said a scientist who has closely followed the case and who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Whoever did it was very careful not to leave definitive clues — not to lick stamps or not to leave fingerprints or forensic evidence. Short of that, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence. But that's not proof."
Back in his hometown of Mattoon, there are some, like bookstore owner Chuck Hutton, who will never believe his high school comrade could have been involved. He last saw Hatfill on Aug. 10 of last year at their 30-year reunion at the Ramada Inn.
"He seemed fine. Like Steve. Outgoing. Very friendly. Down to earth," Hutton said. "We didn't talk in-depth about work. We talked about old times. For whatever reason, I believe he's innocent, and I'd stand behind that 100 percent."
Tutt, Hatfill's junior high science rival is less sure. But he's certain that the handling of the case, as seen on the national news, has been wrong.
"The more I watched it, the more
I thought, 'Oh, geez. I really hope Steve is guilty because what the FBI
is doing to him is way out of line.' The more I see, the more I think,
if Steve's guilty, then they really should belly up to the bar."
Reporter Karen Branch-Brioso
case remains frustrating
By Toni Locy and Laura Parker,
WASHINGTON — As the hunt for the bioterrorist who sent anthrax by mail enters its second year, investigators who have logged tens of thousands of hours in their search say they are no closer to solving the case.
FBI agents face the same mystery that unfolded before a horrified nation last fall: There are five fatalities in four states and four "weapons" — letters contaminated with anthrax that seems to have come from the same strain. But there are no links to a culprit and no motive.
"Do I think this case will be solved? Yes, I do," says Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler. "I think there will be something scientific or something behaviorally that will break this case. But Ted Kaczynski took 18 years."
Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber, killed three people and injured 23 with packages he sent through the mail. He was caught after his brother turned him in.
In their crash course about the science of the deadly bacteria, investigators have identified the strain. They have located a mailbox in Princeton, N.J., where they say they believe at least one of the letters was mailed. They have conducted 4,700 interviews. But they lament that they have not reached what one investigator calls "a turning point." They have been unable to link two of the victims — Kathy Nguyen, 61, a New York hospital worker and Ottilie Lundgren, 94, a Connecticut retiree — to any contaminated letters.
The investigation also has been hampered by the recovery of only minuscule amounts of anthrax spores. Investigators must balance the need to use the spores to develop forensic tests against their fears that they are destroying too much of the evidence.
The culprit is also a killer of few words. Unlike Kaczynski, who wrote letters to newspapers and a lengthy manifesto that gave himself away, the four anthrax letters were written in just 78 words.
Another letter that contaminated a Florida tabloid photo editor, the first victim, has not been recovered. So agents can only speculate about its intended recipient.
And investigators have not been able to determine why the recipients of the other four letters — the New York Post, NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw and Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy — were chosen. Knowing why Daschle and the publisher of six supermarket tabloids were sent letters could tell investigators more about the sender. Or perhaps not.
Roscoe Howard, the U.S. attorney in Washington, whose office is coordinating the investigation, says a big break may be needed to solve a case this complex.
"You always need a break," he says. "You just do, whether it's (Lincoln assassin) John Wilkes Booth breaking his leg or Kaczynski's brother coming forward."
The investigation began when the photo editor, Bob Stevens, checked into a Florida hospital with flu-like symptoms. He died two days later, on Oct. 5.
Anthrax-contaminated letters began turning up in Manhattan, at NBC and the New York Post. Then, Daschle received his letter; it contained an especially potent and deadly dose. By late November, four other people were dead and 17 others were sick with anthrax infections.
The general lack of knowledge about anthrax hamstrung investigators at the beginning. For example, ignorance was so widespread that a lab in New York that examined anthrax in one of the letters was contaminated because of faulty procedures.
The investigation was slowed in the early stages in other ways. Agents sorted their way through more than 17,000 hoaxes and false alarms.
The FBI and the scientific community got off to a rocky start, further complicating one of the most complex investigations in the agency's history. During the early days, FBI agents who are used to dealing in absolutes had great difficulty understanding scientists who are accustomed to hypotheticals. That gap frustrated both sides, law enforcement officials say.
Distrust set in as the FBI realized that the very people it was counting on to help solve scientific mysteries — microbiologists and bioterror experts — were also potential suspects.
Van Harp, agent in charge of the FBI's Washington office, wrote a letter in November to the American Society for Microbiology telling the scientists just that.
Bioweapons scientists at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., volunteered to help educate the agents about anthrax, and then submitted voluntarily to polygraph tests to eliminate themselves as potential suspects. But some were asked to sit for hours of polygraphs, sometimes multiple times.
The FBI profile of the anthrax killer originally described an adult male with a science background who worked in a laboratory where he had access to anthrax. Profiles often change during an investigation, but the FBI refuses to discuss any revisions it may have made. Still, agents say they believe they are looking for one culprit.
There is a finite number of people with the expertise to have produced the finely ground anthrax spores found in the letters. Agents have reduced that number to about 30 to 40 scientists.
"We are learning things every day — about spores, about what constitutes a crime scene, about who could do these things," Howard says.
Over the summer, investigators honed in on Steven Hatfill, 48, a former Army scientist who taught police and paramedics how to respond to bioterrorism. He was among those who had voluntarily submitted to polygraph testing.
In June and again in August, the FBI searched his apartment in Fort Detrick. Word leaked to the news media, and the search was conducted with news helicopters hovering. The episode infuriated Hatfill, who has denied any involvement.
Attorney General John Ashcroft stopped short of naming Hatfill a suspect. He describes Hatfill as a "person of interest." It's a term that is unfamiliar to veteran FBI agents and one that does not appear in the U.S. Attorneys Manual, the federal prosecutors' handbook.
Law enforcement officials say the focus on Hatfill has left the false impression that the investigation is narrowing. But, the officials say, FBI agents are almost fearful of ignoring any lead or crossing anyone off their list.
As a result of the attention, Hatfill was fired from Louisiana State University.
For the FBI, the anthrax attacks — more than the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — have forced the agency to re-examine the way it approaches murder investigations. The basics no longer apply. Where exactly was the crime scene — the victims' homes, the postal facilities that handled the anthrax letters, the tabloid headquarters in Florida, the Capitol?
Since the attacks, investigators have returned to all of the sites repeatedly.
"It's a complex crime, one that just needs time and patience to solve," Howard says.
TURNS TO AN OLD PRO TO GETS HIS MESSAGE OUT ; RADIO EXECUTIVE HAS HISTORY
OF DEALING WITH FBI - AS AN INFORMER
Karen Branch-Brioso Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau
30 September 2002
Last month, the world heard the voice of former Army bioscientist Steven Hatfill and his denunciation of the FBI focus on him in the anthrax investigation.
But first, they heard from Pat Clawson: 1970s-era St. Louis journalist turned private eye turned FBI informer. Today Clawson is a Washington radio executive moonlighting as Hatfill's volunteer spokesman.
"Dr. Hatfill has been living a life of utter hell," Clawson said in a booming broadcast voice at the Aug. 11 introduction of Hatfill and his attorney at the first nationally televised news conference. Now, along with his work as sales and marketing chief at a national radio network, Clawson also fields media calls day and night for his friend. The news conferences, too, were his idea.
"Steve was being made out to be a monster in the press - like a wacko Unabomber," said Clawson, 47, who met the scientist five years ago at a regular dinner gathering of professionals in defense, intelligence, law enforcement and media. "So I quite forcefully stated my position that Steve needed to get his story out before the press."
He doesn't mince words in defending his friend.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he's arrested. We've had that suspicion for some time, but not for anything involving bioterrorism, because he didn't have anything to do with that," Clawson said. "When you've got the FBI and Ashcroft crawling up your rectum like they are, they're likely to find something."
Speaking his mind has never been an issue for Clawson. He moved to St. Louis in 1974 for a radio job and eventually became an investigative reporter on television, with his last job at KTVI in the late 1970s. He worked in Michigan and returned to St. Louis to join a private investigative firm, Fitzgerald & Dorsey in 1980. It didn't last long.
The FBI raided the office in September of that year, tipped off by Clawson that the Clayton agency had paid local police to tap into a national crime database and provide the office with confidential arrest records. It led to fines for the agency, as well as for officers in the Clayton, Florissant and St. Louis police departments, many of whom resigned.
It also led to Clawson's arrest on charges that he had asked the agency for $5,000 in return for not providing information to help prove the charges against it. A St. Louis County grand jury refused to indict him on the charges, deemed by Clawson as payback for "blowing the whistle on corrupt cops."
Now the man who once gave a hand to the FBI has become its most public critic in the case of his friend Hatfill.
"You really have a case here of the government run amok," he says.
October 2, 2002
Decades, Mailing Germs Was Routine
Revelations that the U.S. government shipped directly to Iraq samples of germs that could be made into biological weapons raises some obvious questions: How could we have done such a thing? And are we still doing it, if not to Iraq then elsewhere?
The answer to the second question is no - but we were until recently. As for the first, scientists say that what seems clear in hindsight wasn't even on the radar screen a few years ago.
"It was not a good idea, but it was standard operating procedure," Jonathan Tucker, a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq in 1995, said yesterday. For decades, American laboratories routinely sent samples of anthrax and other potential germ-warfare agents around the world. At least 72 shipments to Iraq in the 1980s, now the subject of congressional hearings, were legal and routine at the time.
American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), a nonprofit biological supply center based in Manassas, Va., sent two samples of a particularly deadly anthrax strain to Iraqi labs in the late 1980s. Both were approved by the Commerce Department. In other cases, scientists saw no need to notify the government. "The Commerce Department had restrictions, but most people totally ignored them," said Gigi Kwik, a fellow at the Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies at Johns Hopkins University. "Most research that goes on - 99.99 percent of it - was pretty legitimate."
Iraqi scientists requested anthrax bacteria for research into the cattle-borne disease. It is endemic there, causing major losses of livestock and occasional human deaths. Iraq also requested the germs that cause gangrene, botulism, and West Nile virus infection, all purportedly for research. "You see the dilemma," Tucker said. "These materials are not only biological weapons; they also cause natural diseases."
ATCC, the source of the anthrax shipments, still stores and sends thousands of samples to medical researchers around the world - although it now must get federal approval for the most dangerous pathogens.
Iraq would not necessarily have needed anthrax from America to create weapons. Because Iraq has its own anthrax problem, Iraqi engineers could get the bacteria from the soil or from sick cattle. "The United States government was a bit naive in approving these sales, but at the time there wasn't much concern about bioterrorism," said Tucker, who is now a fellow at the Washington-based nonprofit Institute of Peace.
The anthrax shipments came to light during a 1995 congressional hearing into the possible causes of gulf war syndrome. Then-U.S. Sen. Donald Reigle reported that the United States shipped to Iraq pathogens that might be used for germ warfare at least 72 times. Records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta indicated that the agency sent samples of West Nile and other mosquito-borne disease agents between 1985 and 1989. Iraqi scientists made the request to help study the diseases, a CDC spokesman said. No restrictions were imposed, despite evidence that Iraq had used chemical weapons in its war against Iran earlier in the 1980s.
Concern about the use of germs as weapons began to raise alarms in the United States in the 1990s. During the gulf war, the United States bombed a suspected biological weapons factory in 1991. After the war, weapons inspectors discovered extensive evidence that Iraq had continued making biological weapons at an animal feed factory. The Commerce Department began to more closely scrutinize all exports to Iraq.
In 1993, a coalition of 33 countries voluntarily began controlling the shipments of germs and equipment that could be used to make them into weapons, although the common, informal exchanges of biological agents among research colleagues remained routine. Many were sent in the mail. More alarms went off in 1996, when an American named Larry Wayne Harris ordered a sample of the bacteria that cause bubonic plague through the mail. "There were no questions asked. They shipped material to him," Tucker said, although Harris was later caught. That incident spawned the 1997 federal law requiring the CDC to approve all shipments of 36 deadly agents, including anthrax and plague.
The anthrax-stuffed letters that were sent through the mail last year, killing five people, prompted more restrictions. Now the CDC must oversee not only shipments of anthrax but all labs that possess the germs for research purposes.
Doubts FBI Claims on Hatfill
Phil Brennan, NewsMax.com
Dr. Ken Alibek, one the world's leading authorities on biowarfare, has cast significant doubt on the claims of the FBI that Dr. Steven Hatfill or another American may have been behind last years mail anthrax attacks.
Alibek, former head of the Soviet Union's bioweapons program and now executive director for George Mason University's Center for Bio-Defense and a distinguished professor at GMU, offered his candid comments about the Hatfill case on NewsMax's exclusive "Off The Record" Club audioprogram.
Alibek, who has been consulted by the FBI on the anthrax attacks, said that an analysis of available evidence suggests that there is reason to believe that the source of the anthrax attack was foreign, not domestic, as claimed by the FBI.
Though not precluding the possibility the anthrax was from a domestic source, Alibek says on "Off the Record" that he has serious questions about this theeory.
Alibek cites, among other issues:
The hijackers were looking for crop dusters. He says it's hard to believe that they wanted to use crop dusters for attacking the World Trade Center.
The first cases of anthrax were in Florida, near where some of these hijackers lived. Also, there were reports about a strange anthrax-type ulcer on the leg of one of the hijackers before 9/11.
The timing of the attack in conjunction with 9/11 was "sort of a simultaneous attempt" to cause a greater fear and anxiety. "Sometimes, it seems to me, that somebody actually used this atmosphere of panic, anxiety for sending anthrax in which it could be a domestic case. There are many issues and questions that we still have unanswered, but you notice I don't answer this question to say, 'OK, it was a domestic war' or '... a foreign case.'"
In one of the letters the word "penicillin" was misspelled. Hatfill, a medical doctor, would hardly have not known how to spell the word. "It's hard for me to believe that somebody with medical background would make such a big mistake, if it's not done intentionally, of course."
The FBI failed to conduct an immediate search of the places where the hijackers lived in Florida. Alibek said that "when you do any investigation you shouldn't get rid of any possible opportunity, any possible lead. If you took a week just to reach your conclusion, saying OK, domestic case or foreign case, you can lose some very important evidence. And specifically, if, for example, you narrow down your investigation, at the earliest stage of investigation and then you follow this path, for example, and just, in about six, eight or nine months or a year, you find out it was the wrong case, of course, it's too late to go back to seek for some other cause ... because in many cases, people have short memories."
Alibek said he didn't buy the claims of FBI profilers who think the anthrax attacks were orchestrated by a patriotic American who wanted to warn Americans about the danger of bioweapons. He said those who concocted the anthrax mail attacks were simply cold-blooded killers.
Noting that the FBI early on devoted most of its energies and resources to tracking a domestic perpetrator, Alibek said: "For example, if you investigate something immediately after it happened, people still have something in mind, what they saw, what they knew, and so on and so forth.
"In my opinion, in each case when you do an investigation, of course, you need to keep in mind all possible situations until you have ... very strong opinion or very strong proof that some of the leads are appropriate, I would say. In this case, you shouldn't have done domestic investigation at early stage of this investigation."
In "Off the Record," Dr. Alibek makes more, startling revelations about a possible smallpox attack, and the source of the West Nile virus.
By Notra Trulock, III
October 3, 2002
AIM’s recent column, A Shaggy Dog Story, challenged a Newsweek story that revealed the use of bloodhounds in the investigation of Dr. Steven Hatfill as a "person of interest"in last fall’s unsolved anthrax killings. The FBI told AIM that the column was incorrect, but refused to say how or why. So what did we get wrong?
AIM has confirmed that the FBI did use a vacuum machine to collect scent from an envelope containing an anthrax-tainted letter. The scent was supposedly vacuumed onto a gauze pad and then used to cue the bloodhounds at Hatfill’s apartment and two other locations. AIM reported that Larry Harris, a co-inventor of the vacuum, and his dogs were flown in the from the West Coast for the search. Harris denied this, saying, "That was not Larry Harris." When asked if his dogs were used, Harris clammed up saying that he "was not at liberty to discuss the details of the case." He referred AIM to the FBI in Washington, but spokesmen there cited the "on-going investigation" to decline comment.
AIM stands corrected. The bloodhounds were most likely flown in from three local police or sheriff’s departments in Southern California. Harris is based in Orange County, but AIM has not been able to learn if the dogs were raised or trained by him. The FBI recently told a Baton Rouge reporter that these were the only "scent discrimination" dogs in the country used by the Bureau. In mid-September, the FBI flew three dogs to Louisiana to assist local authorities in the hunt for a serial killer. Naturally, the FBI gave a press conference and demonstrated a "specialized mini-vacuum cleaner device that sucks the scent from the object onto gauze pads," according to Melissa Moore, a reporter at Baton Rouge’s The Advocate. Moore told AIM that the killer is still at large. Her impression: this was a last ditch effort to demonstrate to the public that law enforcement was desperately trying to find the killer. Sort of like the anthrax case.
And there are still unanswered questions about the scent supposedly collected from the envelope. A 1999 article in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin defined scent as "the bacterial, cellular, and vaporous debris enshrouding the individual." This combination is believed to be unique to an individual, which the article says accounts for the "singularity of human scent." The FBI says that scent is to be collected by investigators or evidence technicians from "anything a suspect has touched, worn, or eliminated, but articles of clothing worn close to the skin work best." AIM learned that scent may also be collected from car seats, spent bullet casings, and it may be transferred to sterile gauze pads for storage and later use. This may be done either by the vacuum device or by direct contact between the scent article and the gauze. The gauze pads may be preserved over time in an evidence freezer and be used months later. Experts say that the earlier the scent is collected the better, but the FBI claims that usable scent has been collected from evidence three years old.
Neither the National Police Bloodhound Association nor the Law Enforcement Bloodhound Association has endorsed the vacuum device used to collect the scent in this case. Officials from these organizations say the vacuum itself may contaminate the scent and cite studies showing that temperatures of 650 degrees F are required to completely erase scent from the materials used in the "scent chamber." They say that they have witnessed users swabbing out the scent chamber with alcohol, which for them raises basic contamination issues. The Bureau knows about these disputes, but attributes them to personalities and factionalism within the community of police dog handlers.
However, the Associated Press has reported that forensics examination of the anthrax letters turned up no fingerprints and no saliva residue. The use of envelopes with pre-affixed stamps indicates that the perpetrator took great care to leave no traces. A police detective said that the perp likely donned protective gear to prevent direct contact and infection. So how then could scent have been transferred onto the letters or envelopes? One FBI source, who acknowledged a lack of expertise in these matters, insisted that it was possible to collect scent from the envelopes.
A Maryland state policeman with long bloodhound experience thought that it was theoretically possible that some minimal amount of scent might have survived decontamination of the envelopes. And that scent might have transferred if the perp "leaned over the envelope." But this source says that’s "a lot of variables," and expressed deep skepticism about the FBI’s claims.
Notra Trulock III, is the Associate Editor of the AIM Report, at Accuracy in Media.
year later, yet no anthrax culprit found
By Tim Collie
October 5, 2002
In the year since a wave of anthrax attacks began with the death of a tabloid journalist in Boca Raton, the federal government has pushed pioneering research, developed anti-terrorism measures and bolstered emergency response to biological and chemical assaults.
Everything but come up with the culprit.
On the first anniversary of the mailings that spread the deadly biological agent, the investigation apparently still hasn’t found the source of the anthrax, where it was prepared, how it was handled and most importantly, who sent it.
The answers to these questions could be explosive, the stakes being far higher than the identity of one killer. If the anthrax was posted into letters by a foreign power, as some leading scientists suspect, the attacks would be considered an act of war on par with the Sept. 11th terrorist missions.
But if the perpetrator is an “insider”—a member of the secretive community of U.S. bio-warfare researchers who developed anthrax and other deadly pathogens—then decades of U.S. military research could be discredited.
Investigators are leaning toward the latter theory. So far, only one potential suspect—a former U.S. weapons researcher dubbed a “person of interest” by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft—has been named.
The FBI declined comment, but those among the nation’s small number of bio-terrorism experts consulted early on by the government fear investigators are stymied. Some feel that by publicly focusing on one individual, Steven Hatfill, the FBI is creating another Richard Jewell or Wen Ho Lee—two men whose lives were trashed after being investigated in flawed terror and espionage probes.
“The investigation seems to have ground to a halt,” said Martin Hugh-Jones, an epidemiologist at Louisiana State University who is one of the world’s leading experts on anthrax. “I felt at one point that it was perhaps a domestic expert, but now I don’t know.
“The FBI seems to have put all of their money on this Hatfill, but at the end of the day you have to have the proof, and it appears that they don’t,” Hugh-Jones said.
Others who are in contact with the scientists being consulted by investigators think the probe is closer to the mark than publicly revealed. Still, even they are worried that the most basic questions have yet to be answered: the how and why of one of the worst bio-terror incidents in U.S. history.
Isolating the strain
That isn’t to say that investigators don’t know a lot. Over the last year they have isolated the strain of anthrax, known as Ames, used in the attacks. They have determined that it was likely produced in the last two years, and that it apparently improved in quality with each letter sent. The anthrax that was sent last year to U.S. Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy contained highly refined, easily inhaled powder that was some of the best “weaponized” version of the bacteria researchers had ever seen.
But fundamental questions remain. The method of delivery to the AMI building in Boca Raton has never been determined, and why was it attacked first? The other targets were much better known media organizations and politicians in major East Coast cities. Boca seems like the odd man out.
Moreover, how was the product so expertly refined and handled if the culprit was an American-based loner? Some of the nation’s best minds disagree over whether the anthrax could have been cooked at home or in a lab.
“I’ve never agreed with the course the investigation is apparently taking,” said Richard Spertzel, a former head of the U.N. Special Commission Biological Weapons Inspections force and former deputy commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md.. “This stuff, from what I’m being told, is too good to have been developed in someone’s garage. I also don’t buy that it was snuck out of a U.S. military lab.
“You need very good equipment, very top-notch facilities to make something up like this, and the only ones with those facilities are a foreign country,” said Spertzel. “Iraq definitely has the capability. Iran maybe. Russia. Those are the countries you’d look at.”
But Hugh-Jones and Ken Alibek, who headed the secret civilian arm of the Soviet Union’s offensive biological weapons program, both think that it’s possible a savvy individual could have developed and mailed it in primitive conditions.
“You could go out early in the morning, with a few plastic bags, and pour it into the letters in the open air,” said Hugh-Jones. “As long as you did it with the wind blowing left to right, say, across you, then you’d be pretty safe. What you don’t want is to have it blowing to your back—that creates turbulence and you’d inhale it.
“But after you have it in the sealed envelopes, I don’t see where there’d be any evidence on you,” said Hugh-Jones. “You’d just wash up and toss the clothes into a landfill, where they’d disappear with tons of other garbage.”
Other questions revolve around the strain itself. While Ames was the preferred strain at U.S. weapons facilities, it likely has been shared and distributed to labs in friendly countries like Britain, Canada and Israel, according to scientists.
The investigators themselves seemed to underscore these questions when they returned last month to the scene of the first attack. Over several days they scoured the AMI building again for letters and leads to the quality of that anthrax and the method of delivery.
“The biggest question is where was this done, because whoever did it had to have access to some kind of lab, and the facilities needed to pull it off,” said Milton Leitenberg, a former international arms monitor and a bioterrorism expert at the University of Maryland. “And I think it’s clear that so far, they haven’t figured that out or they don’t have the evidence to prove it.
“What I can say is this: there are closed forums on the Internet in which this is discussed by experts all the time, and there’s more that is known than has publicly been revealed,” Leitenberg said. “Early on, there were five researchers who went to the FBI and shared what they knew, their suspicions about who did this.”
Those tips, along with other evidence gathered, led investigators early on to develop a profile of a lone domestic terrorist, an individual who likely had a background in the relatively small community of scientists who work with anthrax and other agents.
List of 50 scientists
The bureau has developed what investigators describe as a working list of about 50 scientists who fit this profile, perhaps because of troubled job histories or other problems. To winnow down the list, agents have interviewed hundreds of scientists, polygraphed quite a few, and served nearly 2,000 subpoenas on labs, universities, private businesses and homes. In addition, they sponsored research into cutting-edge science that has been used to track down the type and source of the anthrax.
Hatfill, a germ warfare specialist who worked at the U.S. Army’s bio-warfare labs in Fort Detrick, Md., from 1997-99, is the only person on the list who has been identified publicly. A specialist in exotic viruses who claims he never handled anthrax at the labs, Hatfill made the list in part because he lost his security clearance after a questionable polygraph test and discrepancies found on his resume.
Hatfill has maintained his innocence. He and his supporters have said he’s the victim of a witchhunt by those who disagree with his conservative politics. Conservatives in this debate, represented by military researchers like Hatfill, suspect that a foreign government launched the anthrax attack. It’s a position that supports their philosophical reluctance to sign international treaties limiting U.S. bioweapons research.
Liberal opponents of bioweapons research, who suspect that the anthrax terrorist is a U.S. military scientist, think that the motive behind the attack was to boost weapons research by creating a phony foreign threat in the wake of the Sept. 11th attacks.
Since the attacks, the U.S. government has approved more than $6 billion in new spending on defense, much of it geared toward bio-chem resources. That has alarmed the liberal wing of the scientific community.
“The number of research laboratories and personnel handling dangerous pathogens is about to mushroom, making oversight and adequate safety and security control much more difficult to impose…,” wrote Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a researcher with the Federation of American Scientists who has been the chief proponent of the insider theory. The FBI has questioned her about her suspicions that an American scientist was behind the attacks.
“This is most definitely dividing the scientific community, and it’s right down ideological lines,” said Leitenberg. “The people who back Hatfill are the people who worked with him, who mentored him. They stand to lose a lot if it’s someone from the inside who did this. At the same time, those who are on the other side are the ones who believe in international treaties, who think the Bush administration should sign them.”
1: Questions Linger a Year After Anthrax Mailings
Unknown dominates probe
By Laurie Garrett
October 7, 2002
First of Two Parts -- It came into the building in a letter. Somewhere along the way, Ernesto Blanco, an American Media company mail room clerk, handled it. The letter was opened near a stack of reams of paper for the 68,000-square-foot building's copy machines. Eventually, photo editor Robert Stevens held the envelope, unwittingly sprinkling its contents onto his computer keyboard. It spread all over the three-story Boca Raton, Fla., office building as those reams of paper were inserted into copy machines that shuffled the pages about. Or so the Federal Bureau of Investigation would conclude a year later.
It was there, but nobody could have imagined its presence at the time. And nobody would, until Stevens was taking his final breaths and Blanco was lying in an intensive care unit, fighting for his life. Anthrax.
On Oct. 4, 2001, the world learned that Stevens was dying of acute inhalational anthrax disease, and with his death the following day a chain of events unfolded that would permanently imprint the word "bioterrorism" into the consciousness of Americans. It would shake up the country's public health system as nothing ever had. And it would test the resolves of thousands of health workers, the largest group of whom would be scouring the nation's capital and New York City in search of clues and answers.
A year later, those dogged disease detectives have scaled many obstacles, but still face a long list of unsolved mysteries. How two of the five anthrax victims -- including Bronx resident Kathy Nguyen -- contracted the disease remains unknown. The FBI still is searching for the culprit or group responsible for the deadly mailings.
And officials at the federal and local levels still are struggling to reshape America's public health system, trying to mend the enormous holes in the nation's safety net that were revealed last fall. What became clear in the past year is the extent to which the public health system was overwhelmed by just seven known anthrax-laced envelopes.
On Oct. 2, 2001, Stevens, 63, was admitted to a West Palm Beach, Fla., hospital. He was in a terrible state. The American Media photo editor had been on a fishing vacation with his wife, traveling about the South, when he came down with what he thought was the flu, in North Carolina.
That was five days earlier, during which time his condition had worsened considerably. By Oct. 2, Stevens was nauseated and making little sense. He had no idea where he was, what year it was, or who was the president of the United States. Blood tests revealed a war was under way, with millions of white blood cells doing battle with some unknown invader.
While the nearby Jacksonville, Fla., public health laboratory tried to identify that mysterious invader in Stevens' blood, the hospital put him on massive doses of antibiotics. But the anthrax bacteria had long since made their way into Stevens' spinal cord and brain, triggering meningitis. As he lay in intensive care, the bacteria released three powerful toxins into his blood. It would be months before scientists, spurred by the urgency of the anthrax crisis, would study how these toxins kill.
One way, they learned, was by disabling Stevens' immune system, allowing the other two to wreak havoc inside cells all over Stevens' body.
Months later, scientists and clinicians would realize that giving antibiotics to patients as far gone as Stevens only worsens matters, as the drugs kill some anthrax bacteria, which break open, releasing their deadly toxins. The sudden toxic surge flooded Stevens' brain, causing a grand mal epileptic seizure. Were it not for a machine that pumped oxygen into his airways, Stevens would have died immediately.
By Oct. 3, the toxins began killing cells in Stevens' heart. He suffered a heart attack and then went into a coma. He never regained consciousness.
Months earlier, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta had begun a poorly funded effort to upgrade the nation's public health laboratories in hopes of improving local capacity to diagnose rare infections, such as anthrax. A tiny cadre within the CDC, the Army and a handful of other institutions had long feared the potential use of biological weapons and was appalled to learn that most American health labs couldn't run reliable tests for a long list of likely germ weapons.
The gold standard for such lab work was set by CDC lab chiefs Richard Meyer and Tanja Popovic, who had trained several dozen local laboratory staffers before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Yet nationwide, fewer than 100 health laboratories -- out of thousands -- had completed laboratory response network training and equipment upgrades, Meyer said.
Fortunately, one such trainee was Phillip Lee of Jacksonville, the man who grew anthrax from Robert Stevens' blood samples. Lee used the special stains and fluids Popovic had taught him would reveal the presence of anthrax in a fluid sample.
Peering through a microscope at a thousand-fold magnification, he saw Stevens' cerebrospinal fluid swarming with long thin rods, stained a deep purple, and lined up end to end to form chains -- classic attributes of anthrax bacilli. When he called Popovic on Oct. 3 to tell her what he found, the CDC scientist knew the result was solid -- America had anthrax on its hands.
The world's top DNA-PCR (DNA fingerprinting) lab and anthrax diagnostics facility is a two-tiered facility at the CDC. Meyer ran the first tier -- a section that conducted the primary screenings of samples, processing them both for anthrax DNA and as legally certified criminal evidence.
In a higher-security building, Popovic directed the lab that confirmed infection by growing living anthrax bacilli from a sample. Fortunately, Popovic's lab was housed in a brand-new building, completed just weeks before Sept. 11. A few months before, the dangerous work would have been performed in a World War II-era facility in which contamination could not have been easily prevented. By the time she received the fateful call from Jacksonville, Popovic and her tiny staff were working in a state-of-the-art facility, housed under security so strict that its innermost core could be entered only by a handful of people.
Meyer's DNA analysis could give a tentative answer within an hour or two, but Popovic's confirmation couldn't come any faster than the rate at which anthrax grows -- at least seven hours.
Back in Florida on Oct. 3, Lee's anthrax diagnosis was more a matter of puzzlement than anything else. Nobody then could anticipate the national chain of events that would unfold shortly. Lee didn't know that another patient -- mail clerk Blanco -- also was suffering from anthrax, or that the Florida cases were part of a bioterrorism event that had already led to skin infections in New York newsrooms -- infections that wouldn't be properly diagnosed for several more days.
On Thursday night, Oct. 4, the CDC's chief of meningitis and special pathogens, Dr. Brad Perkins, had just nestled in for his daughter's piano recital when his cell phone rang. The CDC caller told Perkins that a Florida man was hospitalized with inhalational anthrax. Fourteen hours later, Perkins was in Florida leading a CDC investigation to determine how Stevens got infected with a remarkably rare microbe. His first stop was the hospital where Stevens remained unconscious and was running a fever of 104 degrees.
"He was intubated, critically ill, unable to speak," Perkins recalled. "But I did not expect him to die that day. And actually the family was very hopeful that he was going to survive."
In Washington, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson officially had announced the ailing Stevens' anthrax case to a nation whose nerves were still very much on edge from the Sept. 11 attacks. He said of Stevens' infection that it "appears that this is just an isolated case" and "there's no evidence of terrorism."
Proceeding on a scientific mission, Perkins took his team to the American Media building, where Stevens had worked for The Sun supermarket tabloid. As they met with editors who knew Stevens, the phone rang. It was the hospital, informing American Media that the photo editor had just died of anthrax poisoning.
"That was a fairly dramatic moment because we were sitting in a room with people who had known him," Perkins said. "This was a universally loved guy. Everyone was just in utter disbelief."
Stevens' Oct. 5 death brought grim urgency to a CDC investigation that spanned four states through which he had recently traveled. And it brought the world's media, numerous state and federal agencies and the White House into the picture.
Thompson once again faced the media, saying the anthrax case was probably of natural origin, based on something Stevens picked up from drinking from a South Carolina stream. Anthrax is not a water-borne organism, however, and the secretary's comment would haunt his department, undermining its credibility for months.
Thompson, a former governor with no scientific or medical training, issued orders that all information to the public and media come from his office, barring government scientists and health experts from providing expert advice or information.
In Florida, meanwhile, Perkins' job was to stay focused on leading a solid, scientific investigation.
He and his small staff meticulously scoured Stevens' home and office, as well as the American Media mail room, swabbing for anthrax spores.
In Atlanta, the CDC was eager to have autopsy results on Stevens, but nobody in Florida wanted to perform the procedure. Pathologist Sherif Zaki, the CDC's top medical examiner, flew to West Palm Beach on Saturday, Oct. 6, and headed straight for the morgue. He found the staff of the medical examiner's office understandably frightened, Zaki said, but willing to assist once he had explained safety procedures.
When they opened Stevens' chest, Zaki recalled, the team found "evidence of anthrax in literally every organ we touched," especially the man's disease-fighting lymph nodes. Those were so saturated with the toxins that they actually disintegrated as Zaki's probes touched them.
The next day, Perkins got word from the CDC's anthrax laboratory that swabs collected from Stevens' computer keyboard and the mail room tested positive for Bacillus anthracis. That finding triggered the FBI's criminal investigation. He also got CDC laboratory confirmation that there was a second case of the disease -- in someone who worked in the same building as Stevens -- and learned about Ernesto Blanco, fighting for his life in another hospital.
At that point, Perkins said, he decided to place thousands of American Media employees and recent visitors on ciprofloxacin antibiotics as a precaution. In coming days television footage of long lines of anxious Floridians queued up to get nasal swabs and pills would spark public anxiety and a demand for antibiotics. Within two weeks the nation's entire supply of ciprofloxacin would be sold out, with none available for treatment of genuine, and often serious, ailments for which it is normally used, such as children's ear infections.
In Atlanta, the CDC was deluged with calls asking who should be given antibiotics. In what doses? What are the symptoms of anthrax? Is the powder in my Alaska office a hoax or the real thing? The agency was in danger of being overwhelmed. And because of the directives from Thompson, most of the queries had to go unanswered.
"We needed information," John Auerbach, executive director of the Boston Board of Health, said recently. "Every kind of government report that we needed was delayed. We were getting information from journalists, for God's sake, not the CDC. There simply wasn't a good, accurate, timely internal communication system."
"We made a decision at CDC that the people who needed information in order to effectively respond should be our priority," Dr. Julie Gerberding recalled. Last fall she was the deputy director of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases. Ten months later, her boss, Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, would be forced to resign and Gerberding would be named CDC director. Few could get information from the CDC for days, Gerberding would later concede, not even America's physicians, most municipal health directors or even members of Congress.
With the exception of New York City, where then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani personally handled all public announcements related to terrorism, the nation's public health messengers were late in communicating. Public health officials learned that their communications systems -- computers, phones, faxes, video systems -- were woefully out of date. Their ranks of skilled speakers and information officers were thin, and their ability to control panic minimal.
A year later, the CDC has built the Health Alert Network, reaching every public health department, no matter how small or remote, in America. But that was a mere skeleton last October. "As events wore on, it became clear the CDC needed to be the primary source of scientific information," Gerberding said in an interview months later. "But once it was obvious to all that we needed to take the lead, we were in a reactive mode. And we are still catching up."
Within hours of the collapse of the World Trade Center, Dr. Kevin Yeskey, director of the CDC's Bioterrorism Response Program, had issued an alert to health departments nationwide "calling for enhanced surveillance, meaning, 'Please be vigilant for anything that might be suggestive of a bioterrorism event,'" Yeskey said. As word of the Florida case spread, health providers and public health officials all over America started remembering that alert, and anxiously sought information from Atlanta.
"I said, 'Let's set up an Ops Center here,'" Yeskey recalled. He sat down with a sheet of paper and drew a pyramid, with CDC director Koplan at the top and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. James Hughes and Gerberding just below. He drew a military-style chain-of-command map that connected Koplan to the field investigators then dispersed over the states tracing Stevens' movements and suspected additional anthrax cases.
Yeskey, a former military officer, marched into Gerberding's office, his chart in hand, and said, "We need a Special Ops Center. This is what it would look like. Field A responds to command leader A here in Atlanta, and Field B ... "
Gerberding stared at the piece of paper and thought it was a crazy idea. Slightly amused, she listened as Yeskey spun a web of desks and phones and chains of command. But under prior bioterrorism preparedness guidelines, she knew some sort of operational center was necessary, so she gave Yeskey the green light to implement what, in the back of her mind, remained a whacky concept.
Within 24 hours, Yeskey's team had transformed the CDC's auditorium into a command center, with portable walls erected according to the chart he had mapped out. In each space were CDC officers, drawn from their normal duties to handle emergency coordination. One desk was Florida. One desk soon would be New York City. As events unfolded, Washington, D.C., and other hot spots around the country got desks, staffed 24 hours a day by high-ranking CDC scientists whose job was to coordinate all the information and logistics in a given field location.
At another desk was a medical team that did nothing but answer questions from physicians. If doctors called in with suspected anthrax cases, that team had a list of questions and symptoms to walk the person through, aimed at winnowing out cases that obviously were not anthrax.
By mid-October, the Ops Center was a noisy beehive, coordinating activities all over the world -- indeed, a global liaison desk was added. Never in the history of the CDC had such a system been used. Of course, Hughes said, "Never in the history of the CDC have we dealt on so many fronts at the same time," even during serious epidemics.
A year later, the CDC is building a multimillion-dollar Special Ops center in Atlanta, and encouraging local health departments all across America to erect mini-versions of such communications and command centers. Looking back on October 2001, health officials shake their heads in wonder that Yeskey's primitive pyramid had somehow gotten them through the chaos of the anthrax crisis.
TUESDAY, in Discovery: A New York Diagnosis
How a suspected case in NYC threaded its way to diagnosis despite initial CDC uncertainty
By Laurie Garrett
October 8, 2002
Second of two parts
A year ago, the nation's public health "surge capacity" was put to the test.
The culprit, anthrax, wound up infecting only 12 people, killing five of them. Yet, it utterly sapped the capacities of public health operations not only in targeted areas, such as New York City, but throughout the nation.
Last October the deadly white powder was seemingly everywhere.
"It was a national problem," Dr. James Hughes, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Infectious Diseases, said in an interview in his Atlanta office. "All the state public health laboratories were overwhelmed with specimens, hoaxes. It was even true internationally."
Such emergencies call for rapid conversion of hospitals, fire departments, public health offices and, perhaps most vitally, diagnostic laboratories into crisis facilities that can process high volumes of material for a sustained amount of time.
"Surge capacity - imagine!" said Hughes. "If it was exhausted for us here at CDC - literally and figuratively - you can imagine what this means at the local level."
In New York as the anthrax crisis heightened, "there were immediate problems," said Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, the New York City deputy health commissioner. "There was an expectation of instant analysis. Doctors wanted answers now. The volume of material far exceeded our capacity. The NYPD was bringing stuff in at all hours, day and night."
The lab was prepared to handle "swab samples," he said, but wound up facing deliveries of easy chairs, briefcases and newspapers - all suspected of being tainted with anthrax. The health department's three bioterrorism-trained lab workers were toiling around the clock, processing hoaxes - a routine that would continue for four weeks.
New York's anthrax vigil had begun in early October, when the first cases were diagnosed in Florida. Even as fears and hoaxes were sending health department labs all over the country close to maximum capacity, the effect was more pronounced here because Dr. Marcelle Layton, head of the city health department's communicable disease section, had faxed a 13-page anthrax advisory to 65,000 physicians in the city, urging them to report suspected cases.
But Layton had a new concern: She was worried about the case of Erin O'Connor, assistant to NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw. O'Connor recalled that on Sept. 25 she opened an envelope addressed to Brokaw and noticed it contained a white powder. A few days later she developed an ugly, yet painless sore on her left collarbone.
Though a series of doctors and O'Connor herself felt certain she was the victim of an anthrax attack, neither the New York City Department of Health lab nor the U.S. Army's lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland was able to find any anthrax spores in the envelope or in O'Connor's skin biopsy.
Layton knew that if O'Connor had anthrax, evidence would be hard to find. That's because a tissue biopsy of the sore wasn't taken until several days after she had been placed on antibiotics by another physician. And effective antibiotic use makes it almost impossible to find intact Bacillus anthracis in the tissue of an otherwise healthy individual.
So Layton called Dr. Steven Ostroff, a Hughes deputy who had been the CDC's point man in 1999 during the West Nile virus outbreak. He was in Washington to address Congress about protecting the nation's food supply, and Layton reached him at the Willard hotel. She knew that the only facility in the world capable of finding anthrax in O'Connor's biopsy - if, indeed, it was there - was the CDC lab known as RRAT.
The Rapid Response and Advance Technology lab in Atlanta, where pathologists are affectionately referred to as "The RRATS," was the brainchild of Sherif Zaki, the CDC's top medical examiner. Over the years he had developed innovative techniques to find obscure organisms in human tissue. And last fall he hastily developed a new approach to identify anthrax: Using mice, he created antibodies to attack three specific proteins found on Bacillus anthracis, and chemically labeled the antibodies with dyes. If anthrax were in a sample of tissue, Zaki would see bright magenta, rod-shaped bacilli under his microscope.
Ostroff recalled that Layton "asked me if I could arrange to have specimens tested that were from an NBC employee. She called me directly, because she had already called the CDC lab and they had said, 'We're already overwhelmed with specimens from Florida.' She wanted a top priority test, no delays."
Ostroff agreed to the testing and the samples were sent overnight via Federal Express from Manhattan to Atlanta.
On the afternoon of Oct.11 - even as the three lab workers in New York were processing hundreds of pieces of paper and desk objects found in O'Connor's work area at NBC, and the envelope that she had opened was delivered to Richard Meyer, a CDC lab chief - the O'Connor biopsy sample reached Zaki's lab. His staff set about exposing it to the dyed antibodies, a process that would take several hours.
Submitting it to microscopic analysis would be a tedious process. The sample - initially in a wax block, roughly one inch square - had been sliced into hundreds of paper-thin pieces, each one separately mounted on a glass slide. And every one had to be viewed by Zaki and fellow pathologists Wun-Ju Shieh and Jeannette Guarner. The trio pored over a microscope that allows up to five people to scrutinize a slide at once.
As they began their night's work, they saw healthy blue-stained human cells against a white background. Here and there they spotted isolated fragments of magenta-colored material, but these were not identifiable as anthrax.
At 1 a.m. they reached some slides that bore significant numbers of magenta pieces. That could indicate antibiotic- destroyed anthrax bacteria. Or it might be something else altogether.
Frustrated and exhausted, they were reaching the bottom of their pile of slides when Zaki spotted a single, isolated, fully intact magenta rod standing out against a sea of blue cells. On the same slide, far away, was another.
He was sure it was anthrax. Shieh and Guarner concurred. But they were mystified at finding only two identifiable organisms in the entire sample. They were well aware the Fort Detrick group had examined tissue from the same biopsy, using a different technique, and found nothing.
"But I was sure," Zaki would say later.
Hughes, the CDC infectious disease center director, called Layton at 5 a.m. to report: "It looks like anthrax." An hour later Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was on the phone, demanding to know: Is it anthrax or isn't it?
"We think it is," Hughes said. Giuliani said he didn't like the uncertainty, but he decided to go ahead and make the CDC's pronouncement public.
On that morning, Oct. 12, the NYPD showed up at the city health department lab with a second envelope addressed to Tom Brokaw that O'Connor had received within a week before the first envelope. It had been in one of O'Connor's file drawers.
"They took it to our lab," Weisfuse said, "and the handling of it caused a contamination event at our lab" later that day. Anthrax powder puffed out of the envelope in clouds, spreading across the lab. Two of the three lab workers inhaled it. Unlike their counterparts at the CDC, they had never been offered anthrax vaccines. They immediately began taking the antibiotic ciprofloxicin.
Their noses were swabbed for signs of anthrax, and results of the tests they conducted on their own samples came up positive. No one would develop symptoms. For their bravery, the lab workers would receive awards from the American Society for Microbiology 11 months later.
But on that October day Weisfuse had a problem. Two of his lab technicians were too traumatized to work, and there were hundreds more samples to test. Worse, the lab was contaminated and had to be sealed shut. (It remains shuttered, despite several gas treatments. So far, nobody has determined how to clean the lab sufficiently to guarantee that no deadly spores remain.)
Late that day, Layton called the CDC to report that this second envelope to Brokaw tested positive for anthrax, confirming O'Connor's exposure. Zaki, relieved to have his diagnosis confirmed, fell into his first restful sleep in days.
But for New York City's lab workers, a nightmare had just begun. The bioterrorism-trained trio "was very, very, very upset," Weisfuse said. And specimens kept pouring in to the city health department. "We needed a good Biohazard Level 3 facility" - where scientists wear protective gear and shower and scrub before entering or leaving - "fast."
New York City, where all emergency response agencies had gone through bioterrorism drills for three years, had another urgent problem. The carefully coordinated working relationship between the Department of Health and the fire and police departments' hazardous materials teams were in tatters, because members of the highly trained teams had perished in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
"So the police didn't know how to handle samples," Weisfuse said. Entirely new lines of communication and understanding between the health department and NYPD had to be created even as both were in crisis mode.
"Communication is the key," Layton said. "And the issue that always comes up is: Who is in charge? There was no question who was in charge in New York City - it was the mayor."
Because Giuliani took command of all direct communication with the citizens of New York, Layton and her colleagues focused on improving lines of information within the health department and to local physicians and hospitals. They had several distinct advantages, Layton said, from their experience handling West Nile virus.
Amid public anxiety in the summer of 1999, the department learned the importance of a daily flow of honest information, separately tailored for the general public and for physicians. They learned to resist the temptation to issue constant reassurances that everything was under control.
"The press would say to the health commissioner and the mayor, 'Can you assure us?' and they said, 'No, I can't reassure you. I can just give you the information accurately,'" Layton recalled.
Every night until well after Thanksgiving, Layton, exhausted, worked into the wee hours writing clinical and epidemiologic summaries of the day's findings on samples and human cases. These bulletins were faxed every morning to hundreds of hospital emergency rooms, infectious-diseases departments and physicians throughout New York City and the suburbs. It was Layton's conviction that physicians would be the first to spot new anthrax cases and were the most credible voices of calm for the worried public.
This simple exercise, copying the effort used successfully for West Nile virus in 1999, cemented lines of communication between the medical community and the Department of Health. "That's the thing I'm most proud of, those broadcast alerts. Physicians were screaming for them," Layton recalled.
Today, having caught their breath, CDC lab chiefs Meyer and Tanja Popovic have tallied the anthrax laboratory toll. All 50 states wound up inundated with suspicious samples by Thanksgiving, Meyer said. In addition, laboratories in 66 nations requested assistance or advice in processing possible anthrax samples. More than 80,000 specimens were analyzed nationwide, 45,000 of them in Florida, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.
Meyer's group processed 7,000 additional samples during the fall. "I missed the entire fall," Popovic said. "I never saw it."
By December, when the federal Department of Health and Human Services declared the anthrax episode over, 12 people had contracted the disease, and five had died of inhalational anthrax. Two cases - those of elderly rural Connecticut resident Ottilie Lundgren and Bronx resident Kathy Nguyen, a hospital clerical worker - remain a mystery. Though it was assumed they were exposed to contaminated mail, no culprit envelopes or papers were ever found in their homes.
The credibility of HHS and its scientists suffered from their inability to explain basic aspects of anthrax. For two weeks early in the anthrax scare, they insisted a fatal case of anthrax required inhalation of some 10,000 spores. But the Lundgren and Nguyen cases forced reconsideration, and by the end of the fall many government experts were saying it was possible, at least theoretically, that inhalation of fewer than 10 spores could be lethal. With that, every aspect of cleanup of contaminated sites became excruciatingly complex, as workers and politicians demanded assurance that not a single spore would remain alive in exposed buildings.
One year and billions of dollars later, the nation has upgraded its public health system, labs, computers, scientific research establishment and training of hospital personnel. Surely, the nation has learned many lessons, insiders say.
But is America ready for another mass mailing of anthrax, or a worse contagious-disease attack?
"We have certainly taken some giant steps forward," the CDC director, Dr. Julie Gerberding, said in a recent news conference. But, she added, "we are not satisfied, we are not finished, we have got more expansion and more work to do."
1) ‘Communication is the key. And the issue that always comes up is: Who is in charge? There was no question who was in charge in New York City - it was the mayor.’ - Dr. Marcelle Layton, head of the New York City health department’s communicable disease section
2) ‘There was an expectation of instant analysis. Doctors wanted answers now. The volume of material far exceeded our capacity. The NYPD was bringing stuff in at all hours, day and night.’ - Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, New York City deputy health commissioner
For full coverage of the anthrax probe, as well as answers to commonly asked questions about the disease, visit www.newsday.com/health
Anthrax probe ignoring foreign links?
Critics question FBI's emphasis on homegrown scientist
Posted: October 8, 2002 - 1:00 a.m. Eastern
Editor's note: This report, the second of a two-part series, explores the government's probe into the post-9/11 anthrax attacks, pointing out seemingly ignored evidence suggesting a foreign connection. Yesterday's installment looked at a mysterious anthrax outbreak in 1957 that coincided with government vaccine testing.
By H.P. Albarelli Jr.
Despite growing evidence that the post-9/11 anthrax attacks were the work of foreign entities and perhaps even persons closely tied to the Sept. 11 terrorists themselves, federal investigators continue to pursue the theory that an American scientist was behind the crimes – an approach not all critics are buying.
The cornerstone of this evidence, according to many knowledgeable observers and scientists, is "the fact that during the 1980s the United States government allowed biological pathogens to be sold to the Iraqi government." Indeed, export records provided by the American Type Culture Collection lists several pages of biological substances sent to Iraq's Ministry of Higher Education. Included on the list for May 1986 is a shipment of "Bacillus Anthracis (ATCC 14185) V770-NP1-R. Bovine Anthrax, Class III pathogen (3 each)." Listed in the information line covering the shipment is also: "G.G. Wright (Fort Detrick) Batch #01-14-80 (3 each)."
"G.G. Wright" is Dr. George G. Wright of the Army's Fort Detrick research facility, the physician who in the 1950s was so instrumental in producing the vaccine for the Arms Textile Mill tests.
Another crucial piece of evidence
cited by those who argue that investigators are not taking the possibility
of foreign terrorist-sponsored anthrax attacks seriously enough is the
meeting hijacker Mohamed Atta held with a high-ranking Iraqi intelligence
operative in Prague. The meeting took place months before the 9/11 attacks,
and, according to Czech U.N. Ambassador Hynek Kmonicek, Atta met with Iraqi
intelligence official Ahmed Khalil Sar al-Ani on "at least one occasion,
perhaps more." Other sources have claimed that Atta and al-Ani met on "at
least four occasions." Just weeks after the alleged meetings, al-Ani was
expelled from the Czech Republic, on April 22, 2001. These reported meetings
are important because there is circumstantial evidence, according to foreign
intelligence sources, that al-Ani may have given Atta "a sealed flask
European newspapers reported several times in October and November 2001 that "special FBI teams were dispatched to Europe" to investigate the Prague reports. An unnamed "Western intelligence official" told The London Times, "If it can be shown that Atta was given a flask of anthrax, then the link will have been made with Osama bin Laden and Iraq."
Two months ago, the German newspaper Bild claimed that, according to Israeli security sources, Atta was given anthrax by al-Ani, "which he took back to the U.S. on a flight to Newark, N.J." In New Jersey, according to other intelligence sources affiliated with Israel's Mossad, letters laced with anthrax were expertly prepared and handed off to other underground terrorist cells that were charged with mailing them to selected addresses.
According to "at least five experts" interviewed by ABC News in October and November 2001, a substance called bentonite was used to upgrade the anthrax found in the letter sent to Sen. Tom Daschle's Washington, D.C., office. Bentonite is an unusual mineral that after processing is used in many common products, including cat litter. ABC's experts, as well as former U.N. inspectors that worked in Iraq, claimed that bentonite "was a trademark of the Iraqi germ warfare program."
Following the ABC report, the Wall Street Journal also claimed that bentonite was detected in the anthrax mailings, but the White House was surprisingly quick and adamant to deny that bentonite was discovered in any of the letters. Many observers were surprised that anyone at the White House even spoke out on the subject.
White House press spokesman Ari Fleischer made the unusual move of taking exception with the findings of ABC's experts. Some experts fired back that Fleischer was wrong. Said one expert, who declined to be quoted by name, "I said that traces of bentonite were in the letter's anthrax. Nobody said that it was Halliburton produced bentonite." The remark was an allusion to the fact that a large bentonite manufacturer is a subsidiary of the company Halliburton, Vice President Richard Cheney's former employer. After ABC News again reported its bentonite claims, another unnamed "senior White House official" made a statement backing away from Fleischer's earlier claim.
Another central piece of evidence in the argument that foreign terrorists were behind the mailings is the report that Dr. Christos Tsonas at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., treated Ahmed al-Haznawi, one of the 9/11 hijackers for a lesion that he thought "was consistent with cutaneous anthrax."
The way the FBI handled the story of Tsonas' encounter with al-Haznawi, which was related to the agency in several interviews, appears perplexing, as does its handling of another related incident examined below. A spokeswoman for Holy Cross Hospital said in response to a request for information about the incident, "We cooperated with the FBI and other authorities. At their request, we will not discuss the matter. ... We have nothing to say."
According to law-enforcement sources in Washington, D.C., a group of microbiologists and experts in weapons-grade anthrax at Johns Hopkins University's Center for Civilian Biodefense also interviewed Tsonas. At the time of the interview, many observers were skeptical about the Center's motivations, because the university over the past 50 years has been the major recipient of millions of dollars in intelligence community and defense department funding for projects, many still classified. However, the group that interviewed Tsonas concluded that the doctor's diagnosis made sound medical sense. They said that their conclusion "of course raises the possibility that the hijackers were handling anthrax and were the perpetrators of the anthrax letter attacks."
The diagnosis of Tsonas is also very intriguing when one considers that hijacker al-Haznawi lived near the headquarters of American Media International in Boca Raton, Fla. AMI photo editor Robert Stevens was the first fatality in the anthrax letter attacks. According to informed sources, al-Haznawi "hated the kind of sensational reporting" that AMI publications featured. Also worth considering is that other 9/11 hijackers rented apartments in Florida from a real estate agent who was married to an AMI corporate official.
If all this isn't enough, there is the report of a pharmacist in Delray Beach, Fla., who was also interviewed by the FDA and FBI. The pharmacist, Gregg Chatterton, told investigators that two of the 9/11 hijackers came into his store, Huber Drugs, looking for medication to treat irritations on Mohamed Atta's hands. Chatterton, whose pharmacy is not far from AMI headquarters, recalled that Atta said, "My hands – my hands burn; they are itching."
The FBI seems skeptical about many of the reports connected to Florida. In March, John Collingwood, an FBI spokesman, said, "Exhaustive testing did not support that anthrax was present anywhere the hijackers had been."
Without question, and without knowing what the FBI knows from its own investigation, the evidence that the deadly mailings are somehow directly linked to foreign terrorists appears far stronger than any other theory advanced thus far. Nearly one year past the first anthrax death the case remains unsolved.
'He knows too much'
Other experts believe the anthrax perpetrator is a former government researcher whose identity is being kept secret.
In recent months, former Army
researchers have speculated that "the anthrax mailer may never be identified
or arrested" because "he knows too much" about surreptitious government
experiments conducted during the 1950s and later. Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg,
a professor of environmental science at the State University of New York
and the chairperson of the Working Group on Biological Weapons at the American
Federation of Scientists, has aggressively advanced the same hypothesis.
According to her "Analysis of the Anthrax Attacks" released on Feb. 5,
2002, and prominently posted on the Internet, "the FBI has known that the
perpetrator of the anthrax attacks is American" for over three months,
but, speculates Rosenberg, the perpetrator may be "untouchable to the FBI"
because he may "know something that he believes to be
To date, Rosenberg has not said what specifically the perpetrator may know that would be damaging, but she has continued to widely imply that she does know the perpetrator's name and that so does the FBI, CIA and the White House. In January, she told National Public Radio, "I think they [the FBI] have known pretty much who it is for at least two months. The problem may be either they're having trouble getting specific, hard evidence to convict a specific person, or there may be some reluctance to pursue this publicly because of the embarrassment to the United States and because of the possibility that it might be difficult to avoid having some classified material come out if he were prosecuted."
In a commentary, NPR reporter David Kestenbaum said, "Rosenberg and other scientists have the strong feeling they may have met or seen the person behind the attacks. Maybe he attended their scientific meetings, stood in back of the room during lectures."
According to several published reports, Rosenberg, who has never identified publicly the person she thinks is the anthrax killer, "reportedly named him as being Dr. Steven Hatfill" in a private meeting with aides of Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, both targets of the post-9/11 mailings.
How details of that meeting were obtained by the media is unknown. But, according to Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Shane, in mid-June, two weeks before the first search of Hatfill's apartment, "Barbara Hatch Rosenberg sent biodefense experts and reporters an account of a 'likely suspect' who 'had access to a conveniently located but remote location where activities could have been conducted without risk of observation.'" That bit of information seemed to neatly fit with the fact that Hatfill, in the past, had visited a "country house" in the Virginia mountains. The house is reportedly owned by George R. Borsari Jr., a lawyer. Borsari told Shane that Hatfill and Pat Clawson, a former CNN reporter and broadcasting executive "who has known Hatfill socially for six years" visited Borsari's country house for weekends of skeet shooting and socializing with friends with Hatfill calling for directions at least once.
On Aug. 11, Hatfill fired back at Rosenberg when he charged in a public statement that, according to a June 27 Frederick, Md., News-Post article, "a woman named Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, who affiliates herself with the Federation of American Scientists, saw fit to discuss me as a suspect in the anthrax case in a meeting with FBI agents and Senate staffers."
Continued Hatfill: "I don't know Dr. Rosenberg. I have never met her. I have never spoken or corresponded with this woman. And to my knowledge, she is ignorant of my work and background except in the very broadest terms. ... I am at a complete loss to explain her reported hostility and accusations."
Rosenberg, who in January told Sun reporter Shane that prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, "There have been a number of occasions when we've said in frustration, 'What we need is a biological weapons attack to wake the country up,'" reportedly is now maintaining a very low profile regarding Hatfill and the anthrax attacks. The Federation of American Scientists in recent days has gone out of its way to put distance between itself and Rosenberg.
Henry C. Kelly, president of FAS, said, "I would like to make clear that Rosenberg's remarks on this topic do not represent the views of the Federation of American Scientists. FAS opposes any effort to publicly identify possible suspects or 'persons of interest' in the anthrax investigation outside of a formal law-enforcement proceeding."
In a Sept. 16 article by David Tell published in The Weekly Standard, Rosenberg is quoted as saying, "No question, it was the FBI who outed [Hatfill]. I have never said or written anything that pointed only to one specific person. If anyone sees parallels, that's their opinion."
Rosenberg has been aided and abetted in her campaign against Hatfill by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize and George Polk Award winner for his reporting, wrote five columns for the Times that appeared solely constructed out of Rosenberg's speculations. Media watchdog groups maintain that Rosenberg and Kristof, both said to be "left-wing activists," have problems with "Hatfill's military background and his belief in a strong national defense against bioterrorism." In an August interview on NPR, Kristof said he wrote about Hatfill "to light a fire under the FBI" because he thought the bureau was not doing a good job. Said Kristof, "It's a very awkward position – this is a crucial public-policy issue and a fundamental matter of avoiding terrorism in the future as well, and so we have to investigate."
on Thu, Oct. 10, 2002
One year after, no anthrax culprit found
BY TIM COLLIE
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - KRT NEWSFEATURES
(KRT) - In the year since a wave of anthrax attacks began with the death of a tabloid journalist in Boca Raton, the federal government has pushed pioneering research, developed anti-terrorism measures and bolstered emergency response to biological and chemical assaults.
Everything but come up with the culprit.
It's been one year this month since mailings spread the deadly biological agent, and the investigation apparently still hasn't found the source of the anthrax, where it was prepared, how it was handled and most importantly, who sent it.
The answers to these questions could be explosive, the stakes being far higher than the identity of one killer. If the anthrax was posted into letters by a foreign power, as some leading scientists suspect, the attacks would be considered an act of war on par with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist missions.
But if the perpetrator is an "insider" - a member of the secretive community of U.S. bio-warfare researchers who developed anthrax and other deadly pathogens - then decades of U.S. military research could be discredited.
Investigators are leaning toward the latter theory. So far, only one potential suspect - a former U.S. weapons researcher dubbed a "person of interest" by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft - has been named.
The FBI declined comment, but those among the nation's small number of bio-terrorism experts consulted early on by the government fear investigators are stymied. Some feel that by publicly focusing on one individual, Steven Hatfill, the FBI is creating another Richard Jewell or Wen Ho Lee - two men whose lives were trashed after being investigated in flawed terror and espionage probes.
"The investigation seems to have ground to a halt," said Martin Hugh-Jones, an epidemiologist at Louisiana State University who is one of the world's leading experts on anthrax. "I felt at one point that it was perhaps a domestic expert, but now I don't know.
"The FBI seems to have put all of their money on this Hatfill, but at the end of the day you have to have the proof, and it appears that they don't," Hugh-Jones said.
Others who are in contact with the scientists being consulted by investigators think the probe is closer to the mark than publicly revealed. Still, even they are worried that the most basic questions have yet to be answered: the how and why of one of the worst bio-terror incidents in U.S. history.
Isolating the strain
That isn't to say that investigators don't know a lot. Over the last year they have isolated the strain of anthrax, known as Ames, used in the attacks. They have determined that it was likely produced in the last two years, and that it apparently improved in quality with each letter sent. The anthrax that was sent last year to U.S. Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy contained highly refined, easily inhaled powder that was some of the best "weaponized" version of the bacteria researchers had ever seen.
But fundamental questions remain. The method of delivery to the AMI building in Boca Raton has never been determined, and why was it attacked first? The other targets were much better known media organizations and politicians in major East Coast cities. Boca seems like the odd man out.
Moreover, how was the product so expertly refined and handled if the culprit was an American-based loner? Some of the nation's best minds disagree over whether the anthrax could have been cooked at home or in a lab.
"I've never agreed with the course the investigation is apparently taking," said Richard Spertzel, a former head of the U.N. Special Commission Biological Weapons Inspections force and former deputy commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. "This stuff, from what I'm being told, is too good to have been developed in someone's garage. I also don't buy that it was snuck out of a U.S. military lab.
"You need very good equipment, very top-notch facilities to make something up like this, and the only ones with those facilities are a foreign country," said Spertzel. "Iraq definitely has the capability. Iran maybe. Russia. Those are the countries you'd look at."
But Hugh-Jones and Ken Alibek, who headed the secret civilian arm of the Soviet Union's offensive biological weapons program, both think that it's possible a savvy individual could have developed and mailed it in primitive conditions.
"You could go out early in the morning, with a few plastic bags, and pour it into the letters in the open air," said Hugh-Jones. "As long as you did it with the wind blowing left to right, say, across you, then you'd be pretty safe. What you don't want is to have it blowing to your back - that creates turbulence and you'd inhale it.
"But after you have it in the sealed envelopes, I don't see where there'd be any evidence on you," said Hugh-Jones. "You'd just wash up and toss the clothes into a landfill, where they'd disappear with tons of other garbage."
Other questions revolve around the strain itself. While Ames was the preferred strain at U.S. weapons facilities, it likely has been shared and distributed to labs in friendly countries like Britain, Canada and Israel, according to scientists.
The investigators themselves seemed to underscore these questions when they returned last month to the scene of the first attack. Over several days they scoured the AMI building again for letters and leads to the quality of that anthrax and the method of delivery.
"The biggest question is where was this done, because whoever did it had to have access to some kind of lab, and the facilities needed to pull it off," said Milton Leitenberg, a former international arms monitor and a bioterrorism expert at the University of Maryland. "And I think it's clear that so far, they haven't figured that out or they don't have the evidence to prove it.
"What I can say is this: there are closed forums on the Internet in which this is discussed by experts all the time, and there's more that is known than has publicly been revealed," Leitenberg said. "Early on, there were five researchers who went to the FBI and shared what they knew, their suspicions about who did this."
Those tips, along with other evidence gathered, led investigators early on to develop a profile of a lone domestic terrorist, an individual who likely had a background in the relatively small community of scientists who work with anthrax and other agents.
List of 50 scientists
The bureau has developed what investigators describe as a working list of about 50 scientists who fit this profile, perhaps because of troubled job histories or other problems. To winnow down the list, agents have interviewed hundreds of scientists, polygraphed quite a few, and served nearly 2,000 subpoenas on labs, universities, private businesses and homes. In addition, they sponsored research into cutting-edge science that has been used to track down the type and source of the anthrax.
Hatfill, a germ warfare specialist who worked at the U.S. Army's bio-warfare labs in Fort Detrick, Md., from 1997-99, is the only person on the list who has been identified publicly. A specialist in exotic viruses who claims he never handled anthrax at the labs, Hatfill made the list in part because he lost his security clearance after a questionable polygraph test and discrepancies found on his resume.
Hatfill has maintained his innocence. He and his supporters have said he's the victim of a witchhunt by those who disagree with his conservative politics. Conservatives in this debate, represented by military researchers like Hatfill, suspect that a foreign government launched the anthrax attack. It's a position that supports their philosophical reluctance to sign international treaties limiting U.S. bioweapons research.
Liberal opponents of bioweapons research, who suspect that the anthrax terrorist is a U.S. military scientist, think that the motive behind the attack was to boost weapons research by creating a phony foreign threat in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Since the attacks, the U.S. government has approved more than $6 billion in new spending on defense, much of it geared toward bio-chem resources. That has alarmed the liberal wing of the scientific community.
"The number of research laboratories and personnel handling dangerous pathogens is about to mushroom, making oversight and adequate safety and security control much more difficult to impose…," wrote Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a researcher with the Federation of American Scientists who has been the chief proponent of the insider theory. The FBI has questioned her about her suspicions that an American scientist was behind the attacks.
"This is most definitely dividing the scientific community, and it's right down ideological lines," said Leitenberg. "The people who back Hatfill are the people who worked with him, who mentored him. They stand to lose a lot if it's someone from the inside who did this. At the same time, those who are on the other side are the ones who believe in international treaties, who think the Bush administration should sign them."
© 2002 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
May Target Hatfill With RFK Tactics
Phil Brennan, NewsMax.com
In an attempt to justify the harassment of Dr. Steven Hatfill, the Department of Justice may resort to tactics used by Robert Kennedy against the Mafia, Hatfill's friend and spokesman Pat Clawson told NewsMax.com.
"You've got the FBI and John Ashcroft crawling up his backside looking for anything they can find," said Clawson, a veteran investigator. "And it's not unheard of for the FBI or the DOJ, once they've got you in their sights, to take the most minor blemish and magnify it into a major federal charge just to preserve their reputations.
"What I can see happening, and Dr. Hatfill's lawyers agree, is that Ashcroft has announced he's using the Bobby Kennedy approach to going after terrorism. When Bobby Kennedy was AG, he adopted the approach with the Mafia that he would use anything he could find, any infraction anywhere of anything, no matter how minor it was, to scoop 'em up and put them away. And Ashcroft has said he's doing the same thing with terrorism."
Clawson recalled the case of a Mafia boss Kennedy wanted to lock up but could find no evidence to arrest for organized crime. He got his opportunity when a game warden caught the mobster with two more turtle doves in his game bag than the law allowed - an offense usually punished with a $50 fine.
Kennedy, Clawson recalled, managed to get the man indicted and convicted for a violation of the Federal Migratory Bird Act and jail him for three years. After that the man's nickname among the mob was "Doves," Clawson said.
Ashcroft could use the same kind of ruse to arrest Dr. Hatfill and justify the huge expense in money and manpower spent investigating a man the DOJ could not connect with the anthrax attacks.
"He'll come out and announce, 'Today we've indicted Dr. Steven Hatfill for littering in a national park,' or some other offense totally unrelated to the anthrax attack."
The FBI's harassment of Hatfill, Clawson told NewsMax.com, is unrelenting.
"The FBI is still following him. Surveillance comes and goes. Some days it's very intense; some days it's not visible at all. But the FBI has been continuing their investigation of him. And apparently coming up empty.
"On September 11 they raided his former apartment. And not long ago they were following him very closely on the Interstate - he was driving from D.C. up to Frederick [Md.], and they were in front of him, behind him and on the side of him as he was going up the freeway."
The effect of all of this on Hatfill has been devastating.
"His life has been ruined by the investigation. His reputation has been totally shredded. And one of the things he's most upset about is that America's getting ready to go to war, he's been trained, and he's being left on the sidelines," Clawson said.
Hatfill, he said, is jobless and running out of money. "He told me: 'I'm out of work; how am I going to pay these lawyers? I've run out of money. I can't keep paying my lawyers.'"
Feds Want to Destroy Him
When Hatfill moved to Baton Rouge, La., to start work at LSU he was promptly fired after DOJ told the university it could not employ him on any projects that received money from the department.
The projects, Clawson explained, were 97 percent funded by DOJ. And LSU, knowing it could not keep him on the payroll, allowed Hatfill to incur the expense of moving to Baton Rouge.
"They did it after he'd already moved his stuff down - it cost him a lot of money to move all his stuff down there and then move it all back here," Clawson recalled.
"They fired him without severance pay. Just goodbye. Since then he's been sending out resumés, he's been knocking on doors, and essentially he's been told he is radioactive - and nobody want to touch him."
Time to Fight Back
Hatfill is planning to fight back. Clawson confirmed that his friend was readying lawsuits against a number of people and groups who have libeled and otherwise harassed him.
"He is planning to file several defamation suits in the upcoming months against several individuals and organizations, but he did not specify against whom the suits would be filed," Clawson said.
"The timing of the suits will depend on what the DOJ decides to do - if they're going to arrest him for something obviously that affects the timing of the suits, it could delay it.
"The bottom line is he's unemployed, he's looking for work, nobody will hire him, he's radioactive until the Justice Department either charges or clears him. The Justice Department is making no effort to move quickly to do either.
There Goes the New York Times Again
"He doesn't have a clue as to why the FBI is doing this. The best we can determine, this investigation started as a direct result of the allegations that were being made by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Nick Kristoff of the New York Times. Kristoff actually acknowledged on an NPR show that he wrote those columns specifically to trigger an FBI investigation of Steve.
"If the FBI had any evidence whatsoever on Steve Hatfill, he would not be walking the streets as a free man today. They're picking up these Arab immigrants on most nickel-and-dime charges they can come up with. Do you really think they would allow the most important mass murderer of the 21st century to be walking around free as a bird?"
'We Don't Have Anybody Else'
The Weekly Standard's David Tell reports that DOJ may be getting nervous about the pursuit of Dr. Hatfill. He writes: "One 'law enforcement official' admits to the Los Angeles Times that, 'to be honest, we don't have anybody that is real good [as a possible anthrax suspect]. That is why so much energy has gone into Hatfill - because we didn't have anybody else.'
"Other 'senior law enforcement officials' express 'embarrassment' to the New York Times over the e-mail directive to Louisiana State University" ordering Hatfill's firing, "acknowledging that the Justice Department 'acted improperly' by demanding the firing of a man who isn't even technically suspected of a crime. Yet another 'senior Justice Department official' said that Ashcroft 'blundered' when he called Hatfill a 'person of interest.'"
dollar lab planned at Detrick
By Katie Dunn
Wednesday, October 16, 2002
FORT DETRICK -- The Army and the National Institutes of Health announced Tuesday they are in the process of planning a biomedical research partnership that will greatly affect the base.
In the near future scientists from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a component of the NIH, will work side by side on base, said Col. John Ball, Fort Detrick Garrison Commander.
Over the next decade new USAMRIID and NIAID biosafety laboratories will be built and connected on a 160-acre plot of Detrick's campus, said Maj. Gen. Lester Martinez-Lopez, commanding general for U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.
The joined facilities will encourage dialogue between scientists who have been working together for about 30 years, he said. They will create a place where the greatest minds in the country can gather to develop pathogen and biological weapon defenses, he said.
"Significant assets of both organizations can come together ... to find some answers to our problems," said Dr. John LaMontagne, deputy director of the NIAID.
Construction on the first building could begin as early as 2004, officials said.
There is a sense of urgency to the plans, said Gen. Martinez-Lopez.
"We are in the middle of a war," he said.
The initiative will allow both institutions to "better respond to the needs of the country," he said.
The civilian sector is threatened by a wider range of biological agents than even the military, said Col. Erik Henchal, commander of USAMRIID. There is potential for diseases to be weaponized, said Col. Ball.
"These problems can't be escaped and we need to be positioned to address them," said Dr. LaMontagne.
Congress understands the need for a partnership and has been very supportive, said Gen. Martinez-Lopez, who was confident of future funding. Money is already set aside for the NIAID building in the U.S. government's fiscal 2003 budget, officials said.
The project is sure to cost billions, but will save money by not duplicating what can be shared between organizations, said Gen. Martinez-Lopez.
Not only will the biotechnology developed by USAMRIID and NIAID at Detrick help scientists develop answers for infectious diseases, it will also bring new industry to Frederick, he said.
"This is an opportunity for the community," he said. Local residents will reap the benefits of biotechnology companies moving to the area, he predicted.
Once serious construction is under way "you will not recognize the place," said Gen. Martinez-Lopez.
"Fort Detrick in a couple of years will not look like Fort Detrick today," he said.
There will be enhanced security on base, said Col. Ball. There will be some form of barrier around the entire campus, he said. The main USAMRID building will probably be leveled, he said.
Local officials have been very supportive, said Gen. Martinez-Lopez.
"The community has always been warm to us," he said.
Detrick will have a public hearing on the partnership to listen to the concerns of the community, officials said.
NEW LABS, MORE TERROR
By Eileen Choffnes
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Sep/Oct 2002
IT HAS BEEN ALMOST A YEAR SINCE THE FIRST anthrax letter was mailed last September 18. Since then, FBI agents and scientists have unraveled many of the mysteries surrounding the strain of anthrax, and have created a profile of the likely perpetrator: a lone man with a scientific background and access to laboratory equipment.
The anthrax he used, the Ames strain, is highly virulent, resistant to many vaccines, and a perennial favorite of military researchers--and bioterrorists. Its extraordinary concentration --one trillion spores per gram--and purity are believed to be characteristic of the kind manufactured using the optimal U.S. process.
Terrorists who want to mount a major attack with bioweapons would need substantial help from state sponsors to do so, according to many military and non-governmental biowarfare experts and a recent report from the General Accounting Office (GAO). But what if the assistance is unwitting, and the country is the United States?
The U.S. government's response to the bioterror threat, coupled with lack of oversight in the civilian biodefense sector, could endanger, instead of protect, the country. The Bush administration wants to build more labs so that more scientists can study the most dangerous pathogens. Such an expansion of the biodefense infrastructure could create a training ground for would-be bioterrorists.
An inside job?
On June 22, senior government officials said that scientists had determined the anthrax sent in the deadly mailings last fall was "fresh," made no more than two years before it was mailed (New York Times, June 23). The finding makes it less likely that the anthrax was stolen from a lab, and more likely that the perpetrator is connected to the biodefense establishment. Although the "Amerithrax" investigation, as the FBI has dubbed it, has turned up no prime suspects, investigators have a long list of "persons of interest," including 20-30 scientists and researchers. One of these men, Steven J. Hatfill, is a biodefense researcher whose house has been searched more than once.
The germs isolated from the first fatal case of pulmonary anthrax in Florida were indistinguishable from those from Fort Detrick, Maryland, and Porton Down, Britain.(n1) This further suggests that the anthrax attacks could have links to a sophisticated government biodefense program.
After the mailings, the U.S., Canadian, British, French, Israeli, and German governments all pledged to invest more money in civilian and military biodefense programs. In his 2003 budget proposal, President George W. Bush asked Congress to commit almost $6 billion of the discretionary budget to biodefense activities. In addition to buying and developing vaccines and drugs, much of the money is likely to be targeted at building a national infrastructure for detecting and treating infectious diseases.(n2)
These increased investments in biodefense are troubling for two reasons. First, last July the United States walked away from efforts to strengthen the compliance and verification protocol of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). Citing doubts about the ability to verify treaty compliance, the administration refused to sign the protocol. The administration was also concerned about its potential impact on U.S. defensive biowarfare research, and worried that pharmaceutical industry trade secrets would be jeopardized by an intrusive inspection regime.
Second, an increase in the biodefense infrastructure, including the creation of new vaccines, could have the unintended consequence of making the country less, not more, secure.
A fool's paradise
The bioweapons treaty bans the development or production of agents and toxins, as well as the means to deliver them "for hostile purposes or in armed conflict," yet permits research for "prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes." But what constitutes permissible defensive research under the treaty remains undefined. As a consequence, there is a growing risk that defensive research--and the knowledge base and infrastructure that support it--may have unintended effects.
Defensive research could act as a smokescreen for offensive military programs. There is ample precedent for this. Iraq, which signed but did not ratify the BWC in 1972, claimed for years that it was engaged in purely defensive bioweapons research, until a defector in 1995 disproved the "official" story. The Soviet Union signed and ratified the treaty in 1972--and from that point on engaged in a massive offensive bioweapons program, claiming it was defensive, until Boris Yeltsin admitted the truth in 1992. And Japan's Unit 731, an offensive biowarfare program of the 1930s and 1940s, was officially described as an "epidemic prevention and water supply unit."
U.S. bioweapons policy has a long history of ambiguity. When the United States renounced its offensive bioweapons programs in 1969, President Nixon reserved the option to conduct offensive research for defensive purposes. In a national security decision memorandum, Henry Kissinger wrote: "The United States bacteriological/biological programs will be confined to research and development for defensive purposes (immunization, safety measures, etc.). This does not preclude research into those offensive aspects of bacteriological/biological agents necessary to determine what defensive measures are required."
This position was fully consistent with several decades of U.S. policy. Sixty years ago, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson advised President Franklin Roosevelt on biowarfare: "To be sure, knowledge of the offensive possibilities will necessarily be developed because no proper defense can be prepared without a thorough study of means of offense."(n3)
After World War II, the British followed the same thinking. The British government wanted to focus on defense against biological attacks, "but felt it was essential to proceed with research into the offensive aspect of biological warfare, as until sufficient research in this sphere had been carried out, the true problems of defensive measures could not be wholly assessed."(n4)
In 1958, Gen. William Creasy, commander of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, told a congressional committee, "A defensive [chemical and biowarfare] program not supported by an offensive program can well be worthless. You cannot know how to defend against something unless you can visualize various methods which can be used against you, so you can be living in a fool's paradise if you do not have a vigorous munitions and dissemination type program."(n5)
The question of intent
Problems with verifying the intent of military medical and scientific research, and the difficulty of detecting the development or use of bioweapons, have led to disputes between treaty members. In 1981, the United States claimed that a strange anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk in 1979 was caused by a Soviet violation of the BWC, but Soviet officials attributed it to natural causes. The U.S. allegations could not be proved. When the Soviet Union broke up, its secret offensive biowarfare program, which had been operating since the time it signed the BWC, was revealed. The Soviet explanation of the Sverdlovsk outbreak was repudiated.
More than 30 years ago, Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg said that "molecular biology might be exploited for military purposes and result in a biological weapons race whose aim could well become the most efficient means of removing man from the planet." These comments seem prophetic in light of revelations about the mousepox experiments by R. J. Jackson in Australia, the Legionella multiple sclerosis studies by Sergei Popov in the Soviet Union, and the fabrication of more virulent or antibiotic-resistant strains of anthrax by the U.S. government.(n6) In this era of "new genetics," the next generation of biowarfare agents could be created--either intentionally or inadvertently--under the guise of biodefense research.
In the late 1990s, the JASONs, a group of academic defense advisers, concluded that "progress in biomedical science inevitably has a dark side, and potentiates the development of an entirely new class of weapons of mass destruction: genetically engineered pathogens, including 'designer diseases' and 'stealth viruses.'" Should such weapons be developed and deployed, the medical, public health, and disease surveillance communities will always be in the position of responding to last year's threat, instead of current or future disease threats.
The last time the world was on
the brink of a biological weapons race, Ronald Reagan was president, and
the "evil empire" representing the danger of bioweapons was the Soviet
Union. Shortly after Reagan took office, his administration stated that
"biological weapons presented a heightened threat to national security."(n7)
In response, between 1981 and 1987, Congress increased the budget of the
army's Biological Defense Research Program (BDRP) six-fold, from $15 million
to $90 million.(n8) By 1990, Congress began oversight investigations to
determine whether the investments in biosecurity were actually increasing
the safety and security of U.S.
Today, two decades after Reagan's
biodefense buildup, the situation is more dangerous than ever. The Bush
administration wants to expand the biodefense infrastructure to agencies
that are unprepared to handle that responsibility. As an example, take
the recent outcry over the creation of a synthetic polio virus. The Defense
Department-funded research was a stunt that contributed nothing to the
field of virology, a "gee-whiz" activity that would never have received
funding had the proposal been properly vetted through an agency equipped
to evaluate the scientific and technical merit of research projects. The
increase in such misdirected funding will weaken and
Another source of danger is the push to improve U.S. bioterror readiness by building more high-containment research facilities. President Bush is proposing an enormous increase and expansion in biodefense funding to combat a new evil--the "axis of evil." In language that is eerily reminiscent of that heard 20 years ago, the call for a "robust" biodefense system has again come to the forefront of national security. But, unlike in the Reagan era, the response to the threat is not limited to the armed forces and the intelligence community.
Now, the civilian research infrastructure will play a much more important role--and the dangers of increasing the number of trained people with access to the building blocks and knowledge base of biowarfare could become all too apparent.
The dual-use dilemma
On March 14, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) detailed their research priorities for countering bioterrorism. Their broad goals include increased funding for treatment, diagnostics, and vaccines, as well as projects in applied immunology and genomics. These include studies on how pathogens affect humans as well as the genetics of biowarfare agents.(n10) The NIH also plans to construct six to 10 new biosafety level-3 and -4 facilities to supplement the seven level-4 facilities that already exist or are nearing completion. In response, several other countries have announced plans to build their own high-containment facilities. This is a recipe for disaster.
At biosafety level-4 labs, the most dangerous of all pathogens--for which there are no known treatments or cures--are studied. These laboratories might become a pathogen-modification training academy or biowarfare agent "superstore." The physical tools and technology of bioterror are relatively cheap--it's the knowledge and experience of working with pathogens that's priceless. Currently, there are no requirements for rigorous background or security clearance checks for those who work in such facilities. Oversight is focused on containment and limiting exposure to the pathogens; making sure those who work with them are psychologically fit to do so is not a priority.
Even more ominous are the military proposals that recently came to light, indicating that both the air force and navy are interested in the development of explicitly offensive anti-materiel biological weapons. Such research would be a direct violation of the bioweapons treaty.(n11)
The best defense may be fixing a flawed public health care system. An example of how bad things are came to light during a 1993 outbreak of Cryptosporidiosis in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the largest epidemic of waterborne disease in U.S. history. The outbreak, which affected more than 400,000 people, went undetected by the public health community until a local reporter discovered an absence of over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications and toilet paper from the shelves of pharmacies and grocery stores.
If access to health care were guaranteed, the chance of detecting an epidemic early on would increase, because people would be more likely to visit their doctors at the first sign of illness. Several victims of the anthrax mailings last fall waited to visit their doctors until they were in the end stages of the pulmonary version of the disease, when it was already too late.
Biodefense research to combat the threat of germ warfare is inherently dual use. To create a working vaccine, one must first be familiar with the pathogen, and with this knowledge comes the capability to create offensive weapons.
To create useful vaccines, scientists must first know what agents are in an enemy's arsenal. If it contains unknown genetically engineered pathogens, it would be fruitless to spend valuable resources creating vaccines. It would be a guessing game. The military could spend millions on a smallpox vaccine, only to find that the enemy has weaponized plague, or a genetically modified strain of smallpox against which the vaccine is worthless. Even excluding genetically altered strains, there are so many pathogens available to potential bioterrorists that an "agent specific" biodefense strategy, one based on vaccine development and deployment, makes little pragmatic sense. Such an approach could also create an unwarranted and dangerous illusion of safety.
On the international level
The best defense against biological attack is a combination of a robust medical surveillance system, universal access to medical care, and domestic and international policies and practices that discourage the development of bioweapons.
Some experts suggest that shortnotice, on-site inspections of declared facilities might help to verify compliance with the bioweapons treaty. But inspections can only go so far--a point well recognized in the United Nations Special Commission's experience in Iraq and in the early U.S. efforts to halt nuclear proliferation. The expertise, infrastructure, and agents needed to produce bioweapons are inherently dual use and can be easily disguised as biodefense activities.
If vaccines against biowarfare agents are developed, the responsibility for this effort should be entrusted to an international body specifically created for this purpose. This was recommended more than 10 years ago in the Final Declaration of the Fourth Review Conference of the BWC and has increased relevance today. State parties to the bioweapons treaty should consider this proposal for their next meeting in November, lest the world become mired in a biodefense arms race.
(n1.) Timothy D. Read, et. al., "Comparative Genome Sequencing for Discovery of Novel Polymorphisms in Bacillus anthracis," Science online, May 9, 2002.
(n2.) "U.S. Bioterror Effort Brings Uncertainty to Global Disease Fight," Reuters, April 16, 2002.
(n3.) Mabel Nevin et al. v. United States, May 20, 1981.
(n4.) Sir John Cunningham at Chiefs of Staff meeting, PRO DEFE 4-3, March 26, 1947.
(n5.) Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Vol. II, CB Weapons Today, (Stockholm: SIPRI, 1971), p. 278.
(n6.) Judith Miller et al., Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), pp. 300-04.
(n7.) Seth Shulman, "Biohazard: How the Pentagon's Biological Warfare Research Program Defeats its Own Goals," The Center for Public Integrity, 1993, p. 13.
(n8.) Chairman John H. Glenn, "Germ Wars: Biological Weapons and the New Genetics," 101st Congress, Senate Hearing, Committee on Governmental Affairs, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Global Spread of Chemical and Biological Weapons: Hearings, February 9-May 17, 1989 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Print Office, 1990), p. 169.
(n9.) Shulman, p. 31; GAO, "Biological Warfare: Better Controls in DOD's Research Could Prevent Unneeded Expenditures," December 1990, Report to the Chairman, Committee on Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate, GAO/NSIAD-91-68.
(n10.) Brian B. Reid, "NIH Outlines Goals to Counter Bioterror," Nature Biotechnology, May 2, 2002.
(n11.) "U.S. Armed Forces Push for Offensive Biological Weapons Development," The Sunshine Project (www.sunshine-project.org), May 8, 2002.
By Eileen Choffnes
Eileen Choffnes is a senior program manager for the Committee on International Security and Arms Control at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The views contained in this article are her own and do not reflect those of the NAS
Volume 16 | Issue 19 | 32 | Sep. 30, 2002
World: Research vs. Security
Nearly three years ago, the federal government gave Nancy Connell the green light to investigate how people respond to infection by Bacillus anthracis, the bacterial agent that causes anthrax. With $3 million (US) from the Department of Defense, Connell hoped to learn how to detect the bacteria within hours of infection. But thanks to the hurdles put in her path, it took until this past July for Connell to get her hands on the bacterial strain for her study. Today, her team at the Center for BioDefense at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey works 12-hour days to make up for lost time.
"It was a really long wait and a frustrating wait,'' said Connell, the center's director. Connell's predicament--and similar ones of other scientists--raises questions as to whether the federal government is working at cross-purposes in its effort to fight bioterrorism. As the National Institutes of Health prepare to spend nearly $2 billion on bioterrorism research, Congress, the military, and commercial organizations have tightened restrictions for getting the strains scientists need to conduct their studies.
"There is a conflict here,'' said Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a molecular biologist who represents the Federation of American Scientists. "They want to set up new labs and have all these people working, but they're making it hard to get hold of [strains]." Government officials say precautions are necessary in a post-Sept. 11 world, where anthrax attacks last autumn killed five people, and where allowing dangerous bacteria to fall into the wrong hands could lead to similar, or even worse, tragedies.
"The frustration is absolutely there,'' acknowledged Carole Heilman, director of the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). "We recognized this would be an issue at the beginning, and we told the [scientific] community we would try to establish a repository [of bacterial strains]. Will it happen tomorrow? Absolutely not.''
FUNDS, RED TAPE APLENTY
In the new 2003 budget, the NIH will get $1.8 billion to encourage scientists to study potential agents of terrorism such as anthrax. One of the government's first responses to last year's anthrax attacks was to direct money to the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Md., to speed TIGR's genomic analysis of at least 14 strains of B. anthracis. The project will create a database of genomic information to help researchers learn more about the genetic variability that causes differences in the biological properties of individual strains.
But even as the government encourages such research, there are reports that government may also be a hindrance. At the moment, the NIH requires research results be made public. Recent developments, however, leave scientists wondering about the ease of future biodefense research, and the public availability of research results.
When Congress last fall passed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Response Act of 2001, one provision tightened regulations for select agents--a special designation for 36 dangerous pathogens, such as B. anthracis, that requires background checks and security clearances before scientists can use them. Congress began tracking the transfer of these pathogens in 1997, after microbiologists Larry Wayne Harris of Ohio and William Leavitt of Nevada were charged with possessing anthrax for use as a weapon.
The congressional act expanded the list of regulated agents to nearly 60. It required anyone possessing such agents to register with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it called for new regulations for handling such agents. Because the government is still writing the regulations, it is impossible to say how restrictive they might be, says Janet Shoemaker, director of public and scientific affairs for the 42,000-member American Society of Microbiology (ASM). The Bioterrorism Act, for instance, calls for labs to implement new security measures while working with select agents. Just how costly, cumbersome, and intrusive those measures might be will remain unclear for some months.
"There's a political reality here that has to be faced by our community,'' Shoemaker said. "We hope the rules of reason and common sense will prevail as these regulations are developed so we don't regulate this research out of existence.''
Efforts are under way to tighten regulations elsewhere: In New Jersey, where the state health commissioner assembled a panel to evaluate transportation of select agents, some are proposing that it be illegal to mail select agents in the state. Others are talking about using police escorts. Some biology journals were reportedly under White House pressure, which the White House denied, to restrict information that could be helpful to terrorists. There are worries that federal agencies may assess the risks of research before agreeing to fund it, may deem new areas of bioscience as government classified, may review work prior to publication, and may insist that the methods sections of some research papers be removed.
Some critics say such actions would stifle research that might prepare America for future bioterrorist attacks. "Questions have been coming up as to whether or not people could withhold [research] materials,'' said Ronald Atlas, president of the ASM. "Once you publish [research findings], others [should] be in a position to repeat the work.''
Connell's experience also raises the question whether scientists seeking dangerous bacterial strains must now go through the nation's military, which for many can be a daunting and lengthy process. After Connell acquired select-agent status, which took the better part of a year, she first tried to get B. anthracis strains from the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), which houses one of the world's largest supplies of bacteria samples. After filling out complicated applications and undergoing rigorous reviews, Connell discovered nearly two months into the process that the ATCC was no longer shipping select agents.
While the organization still maintains select-agent donations, "We have just elected not to distribute it,'' said Nancy Wysocki, the ATCC's vice president of human resources and public relations, who would not elaborate on the reasons. Observers say the decision was based on fears of liability should the shipped materials be used for bioterrorism.
It was nearly winter of 2001, so Connell turned to the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. "We had to do a lot of very complicated paperwork involving lawyers,'' Connell says. "We were pretty much ready to go, and all of a sudden, [the Army] put a hold on shipping out organisms. We waited until July [of 2002], and finally they released the organism.'' The Department of Defense did not return a phone call seeking comment. One scientist who asked not to be named says: "Doing an experiment with the Army just takes forever. There are layers and layers of approvals.''
The ATCC's refusal to ship select agents also complicates the work of Tom Montville, a professor of food microbiology at Rutgers University, who is applying for funds from the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration to develop research surrogates for B. anthracis. Montville contacted one government lab that maintains a nonpathogenic strain of B. anthracis, but "they wouldn't even answer my E-mail,'' he said. "I think ... everybody is scared to hell. The only way to get these strains now is to know someone who has them. At some point, [such restrictions] will impede research to the degree that only terrorists will have the cultures.''
Connell believes some government restrictions are necessary, but so is collaboration. "It's a new era, and we need to feel our way,'' Connell said. "If we can actually coordinate our efforts, ... we can enter into a new age of working with these organisms in a safe manner.''
Dana Wilkie (email@example.com) is a Washington, DC, correspondent for Copley News Service.
of anthrax-related waste coming to Norfolk
By SCOTT HARPER, The Virginian-Pilot
NORFOLK -- State environmental regulators on Friday approved a request to ship one truckload of anthrax-related wastes from NBC headquarters in New York to an incinerator in Norfolk for disposal.
The materials -- protective gear, office equipment, papers, carpets -- will arrive by police escort at American Waste Industries on East Indian River Road some time next week and be burned, officials said.
City officials and local lawmakers were informed of the decision in advance, they said Friday -- unlike in January, when state regulators and the south Norfolk waste company came under fire for not telling people about shipments from anthrax cleanups in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
``All loops have been connected this time; everyone's in line with this,'' city spokesman Bob Batcher said Friday.
Robert L. Earl, president of American Waste Industries, said the material is part of an earlier disposal contract that was put on hold because of national security concerns.
As before, Earl said, the wastes will arrive at his plant after being decontaminated with a chlorine solution and ``really pose no health risk to anyone.''
They are burned at temperatures between 1,400 and 1,800 degrees; anthrax spores are not thought to survive temperatures above 300 degrees, experts have said.
NBC headquarters in New York City was the site of an anthrax attack last year, along with congressional offices and postal facilities in Washington and New Jersey.
Cleanup crews, wearing plastic ``moon suits,'' scoured the buildings before reopening them. Those suits, along with cleanup equipment and any office materials that may have been exposed to anthrax spores, are what will be coming to Norfolk.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality received the shipment request Friday and approved it later that day, spokesman Bill Hayden said.
For security reasons, Hayden would not say what day the materials would arrive or what route from New York would be used.
The materials amount to 60 cubic yards, ``or enough to fill one regular tractor-trailer,'' Hayden said.
Czechs retract terror link
By Martin Walker
PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Czech intelligence officials have knocked down one of the few clear links between al Qaida terrorists and the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, UPI has learned.
Senior Czech intelligence officials have told their American counterparts that they now have "no confidence" in their earlier report of direct meetings in Prague between Mohammed Atta, leader of the Sept. 11 hijackers and an Iraqi diplomat stationed in Prague who has since been expelled for "activities inconsistent with his diplomatic status."
"Quite simply, we think the source for this story may have invented the meeting that he reported. We can find no corroborative evidence for the meeting and the source has real credibility problems " a high-ranking source close to Czech intelligence told UPI Sunday.
The initial report of the meeting in June 2000 claimed that Atta had met Ahmad al-Ani, an Iraqi intelligence official based in Prague under diplomatic cover, whose movements were being routinely monitored by BIS, the Czech intelligence service. The report also suggested that the Iraqi was probably the source of $100,000 that Atta suddenly obtained to finance the U.S. leg of the terror mission.
The report went on to claim that Atta returned to Prague on April 9 last year on a three-day mission to see al-Ani once more, just two weeks before the majority of the hijack team left Saudi Arabia for the United States. The report was then publicly confirmed by Czech Interior Minister Stanislas Gross, on the basis of the initial assessment of the BIS.
The nearest to a smoking gun connecting Iraq to al Qaida, the Czech report was taken very seriously in Washington, in the face of growing skepticism at the Central Intelligence Agency.
But other influential figures in Washington, including former CIA Director James Woolsey and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle pursued their own inquiries using their own sources, and have now also been told by high-ranking Czech sources that they no longer stand by the initial report. Perle, in Prague this weekend for a meeting of the Trilateral Commission, was told in person Sunday that the BIS now doubts that any such meeting between Atta and al-Ani in fact took place.
The question of the Czech meeting, and whether it ever happened, is just one aspect of a growing dispute within the George W. Bush administration, with officials close to the White House leaping to conclusions while the CIA remains skeptical. There is a separate argument over Iraq's attempt to smuggle a consignment of specialized aluminium tubes, cited by President Bush as a sign that Iraq was building a gas centrifuge systém to create weapons-grade uranium.
CIA experts doubt whether the tubes in question were suitable for the supposed task, and believe they were intended instead for use in missile engines, still a clear violation of Iraqi commitments to the United Nations, but not necessarily proof of nuclear intent.
"One of the most dangerous things in this business is to start believing a report simply because it fits with your preconceptions and confirms what you always wanted to believe," a Czech intelligence source told UPI.
Copyright © 2002 United Press International
in Zim, S. Africa
Saturday 19 October, 2002
AS American law enforcement agencies grapple with the frustrating mystery surrounding the October 2001 anthrax attacks, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agents are reported to be in the country and in South Africa in search of information on principal suspect, Steven J. Hatfill, who has lived and worked in both countries.
An impeccable source with the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) revealed to the Sunday Mirror that FBI agents were in the country to try and dig up information on Hatfill’s role in the Rhodesian army’s biochemical weapons project, which led to the outbreak of the worst reported case of anthrax in the world, between 1978 and 1980.
"We are not sure if the FBI is still in Zimbabwe or has gone to South Africa," the source said.
"American law enforcement is in southern Africa to confirm or disprove the many dubious claims on Hatfill’s resume and probably to build a character profile," added the source.
Described by US Attorney-General John Ashcroft as a "person of interest", a vague and rather unfamiliar term to veteran FBI agents, Hatfill has become the leading name in the investigation into the most dramatic act of bio-terrorism that America has ever seen.
The FBI is also reportedly keen to establish the link between Hatfill and the late University of Zimbabwe (UZ) Medical School professor, Robert Burns Symington, who is strongly believed to have worked on the Rhodesian white supremacist regime’s biochemical weapons project during the 1970s anti-colonial struggle.
Symington, whom former colleagues at the then Godfrey Huggins School of Medicine have described as "a little white supremacist", allegedly facilitated the entry into the school of Hatfill in 1979.
"I did suspect that Symington was connected to the military, but I did not know his connection with Hatfill. I only thought Hatfill had come in via the military, since he had connections with the Rhodesian army," said a former colleague of Symington’s, on condition of anonymity. He also lectured Hatfill during his days as a student at the school.
A copy of Hatfill’s military records, obtained by Newsweek, shows that Hatfill joined the US Marines in 1971, but was discharged a year later. During an interview with The Washington Post, Hatfill’s lawyer, Victor Glasberg, refused to respond to questions on Hatfill’s 15 years in southern Africa, saying it was irrelevant to the anthrax investigation, but noted that Hatfill developed his interest and speciality in viruses such as Ebola while in Africa.
Hatfill served in the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS) and the notorious Selous Scouts before enrolling for a medicine degree with the Godfrey Huggins School. Symington and the Rhodesian army are alleged to have brokered an arrangement with university authorities to have Hatfill accepted as a student. The school, even to this day, does not accept foreign students coming from countries with medical training institutions.
Symington later left the UZ for South Africa soon after independence, where he died of a heart attack a year after joining the University of Cape Town.
After graduating from the UZ in 1983, his protégé, Hatfill, also left for South Africa, where he acquired several masters’ degrees before joining the apartheid regime’s military medical corps on a one-year assignment to Antarctica. He returned to the US in the mid-1990s, where he worked as a government bio-defence scientist at Fort Detrick’s Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Hatfill regaled to colleagues with tales of his exploits as a cold warrior in the 1970’s, fighting with the elite SAS troops and the infamous Selous Scouts.
But US records show that he was in America for at least two of the years he claimed to have been fighting in Rhodesia. Apparently, Hatfill’s biography is riddled with gaps where classified projects presumably belong. From 1975 to 1978, he served with the US Army Institute for Military Assistance, while simultaneously serving in the Rhodesian military.
Contacted for comment over reports of the FBI’s presence in the country, US Embassy director of Information Bruce Wharton said: "The case of the anthrax attacks remains an open investigation and a matter of public concern. I can’t speak on the status of the FBI investigations, but as an embassy, I can say that there is no FBI in Zimbabwe right now."
However, US sources close to the investigations said the FBI was in the region to try and fill the gaps in Hatfill’s resume, which centre on his probable links to the Rhodesian army’s bio-chemical weapons project, suspected to have caused the 1978-1980 anthrax outbreak. Nearly two hundred people died, while over 10 738 cases of human anthrax were reported. Thirteen years after independence, a former senior white member of the Rhodesian army admitted the use of anthrax in the war by the military.
"It’s true that anthrax was used in an experimental role, and the idea came from the Army Psychological Operations," he said.
The apartheid regime in South Africa also ran a Chemical and Biological Warfare programme (CBW) in which toxic and poison weapons were used in political assassinations. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1998 heard that in the late 1970’s, the apartheid government provided anthrax and cholera to Rhodesian troops for use against nationalist guerrillas in their war to topple white minority rule. Dr Wouter Basson, a former Special Forces Army Brigadier, ran the South African programme. Infamously referred to as "Dr. Death", Basson refused to testify before the TRC, and when he did, he only gave limited information, just to secure immunity from prosecution. It is not clear whether Hatfill, during his engagement with South Africa’s army medical corps, worked on Basson’s CBW.
"This could be the link the FBI is trying to establish during their visit to that country," said one military source.
Security Minister Nicholas Goche was still unreachable for comment on his mobile phone by last night.
Oct. 28, 2002
Sleuth Without a Badge
Retiree Ed Lake has become obsessed with the anthrax case — and he has a theory about who did it
BY WENDY COLE/RACINE
Ed lake is not a cop. He has no formal training in forensics or any other aspect of law enforcement. But in the past year he has made it his business to master the intricacies of handwriting analysis, envelope technology and the schedule of U.S. mail pickups in and around Princeton, N.J. He can tell you all about cross-contamination, the common misspellings of penicillin and the "pharmaceutical fold" used by chemists for centuries to dispense medicines — and by person or persons unknown to wrap scrawled terror messages around a few billion spores of surprisingly pure anthrax.
Lake, 65, a retired computer specialist, was planning to spend this year writing his seventh screenplay (sci-fi, time travel), convinced that this one would be good enough to get produced. Instead he has become obsessed with the hunt for the anthrax killer. He works on the case up to eight hours a day, reading everything written about the subject and launching his own unofficial investigations. Several times a day he logs on to the Internet to share his findings with four dozen similarly obsessed citizens — some of them journalists, some of them research scientists, some of them, like Lake, armchair detectives who won't rest until the case is cracked. "I don't like to see things incomplete," says Lake. "I see it as a mystery, and I've got all these facts in front of me. I just need to figure out the missing piece."
To help organize his thoughts — and assist fellow investigators — Lake has assembled what may be the most comprehensive website on the anthrax case outside the FBI, anthraxinvestigation.com. Though he insists that he's no G-man wannabe, Lake has sent dozens of his hypotheses to the bureau over the past year — and received some appreciative feedback in return. ("Knowledge is power," wrote a New York City agent in an e-mail thanking Lake for alerting him to the website.) Among the theories Lake has shared with the feds is his idea, based on the "sloped letters and little balls at the end of the strokes," that the notes were written by a child — perhaps the perpetrator's son or daughter — copying the words from a computer printout.
Conventional wisdom among anthrax aficionados is that the mailings were the work of an American scientist with bioweapons experience who was frustrated by how little attention the U.S. government was paying to the threat these weapons pose. Lake likes that theory a lot better than the ones that blame al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein. But he doesn't agree with those who tried to drop a dime on Steven Hatfill. He's the former Army scientist whose house has been repeatedly searched and who was famously described by Attorney General John Ashcroft as a "person of interest" (there are about 25 others, according to the FBI). Lake is convinced that Hatfill must have an unimpeachable alibi or the FBI would have hauled him in months ago.
It may actually be a mistake, Lake thinks, to look for a lone anthrax killer. He speculates that there were two co-conspirators: one who supplied the anthrax and a second who refined the spores and mailed them.
Lake has compiled a profile of the refiner-mailer that is striking in its specificity. It's a man, he writes, probably in his 40s, who lives within commuting distance of New York City; reads the New York Post; subscribes to cable TV; watches Bill O'Reilly on the Fox News Channel; was in the Trenton, N.J., area on Sept. 17 and Oct. 8, 2001; and may have traveled last year to Indianapolis, Ind. (from where a threatening letter to O'Reilly was mailed, its handwriting resembling that on the anthrax-tainted letters). You won't read anything like that on the FBI website. On the other hand, Lake isn't bound by the constraints that keep the FBI from broadcasting even informed speculation; that's part of what makes his work so interesting.
Others have criticized the FBI for foot dragging or worse, but not Lake. It's easy to spin theories, he says. "But the FBI has to make sure it has an airtight case." The bureau, for its part, is less generous, officially saying Lake hasn't added anything to the case that it didn't already know.
Lake remains undaunted. FBI agents come and go. In fact, a key member of the FBI's Washington anthrax team — Arthur Eberhart, special agent in charge — retired last summer. But Lake soldiers on. First thing each morning he's back at his computer scouring the Internet for fresh leads. He vows not to quit until the mystery is solved. And then, maybe, he will get back to his screenplay.
With reporting by Andrea Dorfman/New York and Elaine Shannon/Washington
on Mon, Oct. 21, 2002
The Aberdeen News
Pakistan Police Said to Detain Doctor over Anthrax
ISLAMABAD - Pakistani police, working with US FBI agents, detained a doctor near the eastern city of Lahore Monday and accused him of supplying anthrax to Islamic militant groups, the doctor's brother said.
Imran Aziz told Reuters his brother, Dr. Amir Aziz, was first questioned at his home Saturday by police and two foreigners identified by police as agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
But local police and a US embassy spokesman said they knew nothing about it.
There have been several anthrax hoax attacks--often involving letters containing white powder--in the United States, Europe and Asia since the hijack suicide assaults on New York and Washington on September 11 2001.
Anthrax is considered a first biological weapon of choice because it is easy to obtain. Infection can be treated with antibiotics.
A colleague at the Ghurki Trust Hospital just outside Lahore said police, again accompanied by foreign officials, came to the hospital Monday and took Aziz away for further questioning.
"He has been accused of providing anthrax to militant groups," Imran Aziz said.
"He was a religious man who helped anyone who came to him, as a doctor," Imran added. "He had never indulged in the kind of activity he is suspected of by the FBI."
His colleague said Aziz had been questioned several times in the last four or five months, but local police denied having any information about the doctor or having made any arrest.
"Dr Amir Aziz was not wanted by Lahore police and we have not arrested him," said District Police Official Javid Noor. "We know nothing about him."
A US embassy spokesman in Islamabad said he had no information about the incident.
Locals said Aziz was a respected orthopedic surgeon who had previously worked as chief executive of Lahore's main Jinnah Hospital and had also spent some time as a doctor for the Pakistani cricket team.
Islamic militant groups in Pakistan have been blamed for a series of bomb attacks in the country in the last year, mostly directed at Christian and Western targets.
on the News - Daily Insight
Progress in Battle on Bioterror - Why?
Media presentations of the investigation into the anthrax-letter attacks that last fall killed five people and sickened over a dozen others have been driven by theories, speculation and intense political partisanship. That situation has arisen due to various political forces' desire to kidnap the case in order to cause the U.S. biodefense program to be shut down, and due to a paucity of reliable, hard knowledge. The human mind hates a vacuum and ignorance is a most hospitable host to rampant speculation. Thus do we find ourselves no better informed on the one-year anniversary of the attacks than we were at the time.
With the help of anonymous FBI profilers and activist academics such as Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, the American media have been wed to the notion that a disgruntled, white male loner from within the U.S. biowarfare-defense program at USAMRIID (United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases) in Maryland stole the anthrax bacteria, secretly did the lab work all by himself and carried out the attacks, perhaps to warn the public of the dangers of bioterrorism. Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Shane has dubbed this the "bioevangelist" theory.
The anthrax found in the letters was of the Ames strain, which originated in an infected cow in Texas in 1981. Until a 1997 federal law mandated strict controls and record-keeping for the scientific use and sharing of toxic substances, the Ames strain was passed around the world by scientists via mutual cooperation, with virtually no controls or oversight.
While it is possible that a small sample of the anthrax used in the attack was stolen from a U.S. bioweapons lab and then subsequently grown into larger quantities, it is much more likely that the perpetrator obtained the anthrax from any of a multitude of foreign sources.
Dr. Paul Keim, a Northern Arizona University professor of microbiology, performed an exhaustive genetic analysis on a sample of the attack anthrax, comparing it to the same analysis of Ames anthrax samples held at U.S. bioweapons-defense installations. In Dr. Keim's study, published in the May 9, 2002, edition of Science magazine, he concluded that his results were unable to shed any light on the source of the anthrax — other than to conclude that its original source was the same 1981 Texas cow that was the source of the Ames anthrax samples at U.S. biowarfare-defense installations.
The notion that a single, renegade scientist secretly could have created the weapon has been shot down by Dr. Richard O. Spertzel, the former head of the biology section of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq. On Sept. 18, in London's Financial Times, Dr. Spertzel argued, "I've heard nothing that has changed my mind." Spertzel is persuaded the anthrax attack involved active state support: "You could not possibly make that quality of product in a clandestine fashion. It's not the sort of thing you can do in your garage or in your basement."
While some experts maintain that it would be possible for a determined individual — even a talented bench technician — to produce high-quality anthrax with one trillion spores per gram, it seems extremely unlikely that this could be done without attracting attention. A lone bioweaponeer with the requisite knowledge and skills still would have extreme difficulty transferring the process to the type of setup that could be made in a basement or remote location.
And the cost would run into the millions. The specific equipment used to produce weaponized anthrax — through the various steps of initial bioreaction through weaponization by chemical treatment, proper spore-size control and drying — likely would run to several hundred thousand dollars. Add to that sum the required ancillary equipment, including scanning electron microscopes, not to mention the multimillion dollar infrastructure.
Substituting cheaper equipment for the tools normally used by a skilled scientist would cause serious problems of "process transfer." The preceding term commonly is used in the chemical and engineering community to describe taking a manufacturing process from one site and starting it up at another site, sometimes using different equipment. It almost would be impossible to repeat the original lab process and produce the same high-quality product with a homemade set-up without hundreds of trial-and-error tests. And when the first reasonable-looking, pure anthrax powder was produced, it would be essential to test it. This only can be done by sacrificing hundreds of Rhesus monkeys — an activity that is unlikely to go unnoticed by the neighbors.
If Drs. Keim and Spertzel are correct, the authorities have wasted precious time and resources on a wild goose chase. Hopefully, the lost time has not ensured the escape from detection of the anthrax terrorists.
Nicholas Stix is the associate editor of toogoodreports.com and has published articles in Insight, The American Enterprise and Middle American News.
Is Dr. Hatfill A Person Of Interest?
By Reed Irvine and Notra Trulock sitting in for Cliff Kincaid
October 24, 2002
At an Accuracy in Media conference early this month, Steven Hatfill, who has lost two jobs as a result of the FBI’s targeting him in its anthrax probe, said he was considering filing some law suits. He didn’t say who he might sue. One person of interest to him might be Barbara Hatch Rosenberg. She believes the anthrax letters were sent by a former employee of a U.S. government lab, a description that fits Steven Hatfill.
Rosenberg has been quoted as saying that the FBI knows who sent out the anthrax letters, but isn't arresting him, because he has been involved in secret biological weapons that the U.S. does not want revealed. Senator Tom Daschle has bought her theory, declaring that the source of the anthrax was domestic. Hatfill was then designated a "person of interest" in the FBI search for the anthrax killer.
Rosenberg is usually identified as being with the prestigious-sounding Federation of American Scientists. But the group has moved to distance itself from her, declaring on its Web site that it was "not involved in any effort to publicly identify individual suspects or ‘persons of interest’ in the anthrax investigation. It has not and will not publish such accusations."
Rosenberg’s views on the case have been heavily publicized by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who all but named Hatfill as a "person of interest" in his column. Rosenberg was also an advisor to a TV program on "Bioterror" based on a book, by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg and William Broad. They cite her as an "authority" on the biological-weapons treaty and point out she pushed Clinton to adopt a protocol to the treaty. About one month after the anthrax attacks, Broad and Miller wrote a Times article explaining Rosenberg’s theory of the case and noting that it "is getting attention in Europe, where the environmental group Greenpeace Germany is citing it as credible." [Greenpeace has staged anti-American and anti-NATO demonstrations in Europe, calling a U.S. strategic defense against missiles "madness."]
The Greenpeace connection suggests that Rosenberg travels with the left. She has received funding from the Ploughshares Fund, a radical group that favors a series of treaties that would disarm America in the face of foreign threats. Greenpeace itself noted that her views parallel those of Jan von Aken of the "Sunshine Project," which is based in Germany. Van Aken is a former staff member of Greenpeace Germany.
The Sunshine Project has an anti-American slant and accuses the U.S. of making chemical weapons in violation of a U.N. treaty. In fact, it makes the outrageous claim that an American invasion of Iraq may include "the depravity of the U.S. waging chemical warfare against Iraq to prevent it from developing chemical weapons." The group has called for a U.N. weapons-inspection team to be sent not to Iraq but to America to investigate alleged U.S. violations of international law. It’s bizarre, but the FBI may be taking such nonsense seriously.
year since the anthrax attacks on the US Congress
By Patrick Martin
The Bush administration and the American media have passed by the anniversary of the anthrax attacks on leading congressional Democrats in virtual silence. There has been little media commentary assessing the meaning of the attempt to kill Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, whose offices were targeted with letters filled with trillions of lethal anthrax spores that could have killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people.
The mailings to Daschle and Leahy followed a series of mailings of less potent anthrax spores to media outlets—a tabloid office in Florida, the New York Post, and NBC News. The Democrats and the media are habitual targets of the ultra-right in the United States. But both federal investigators and the media itself have been largely silent about the likelihood of a right-wing political motivation for the anthrax attacks.
Nor has the media spotlight been placed on the manifest failure of federal investigators to apprehend the person or persons responsible for the attacks, which killed five people and caused serious and potentially disabling illness in a dozen others. Once it became clear, within a few days of the attack, that the most likely suspects were fascist-minded elements in the US military-intelligence establishment, not terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda or Iraq, the FBI effectively shoved its investigation onto the back burner.
According to scientists who have discussed the investigation with the press, there are extraordinary delays and unexplained wrong turns in the FBI investigation:
* The FBI could have identified the institutions that possessed the Ames strain of anthrax used in the attacks with a routine database search. But subpoenas for samples of the bacteria were not sent out until February, four months after the attacks.
* Receipt of the samples was delayed by another two to four months because no proper storage room had been prepared at the Ft. Detrick Army germ warfare lab, which was to test them.
* Investigators did not locate the contaminated mailbox in Princeton, New Jersey, where the anthrax letters were likely mailed from, until August, ten months after the attacks. Testing of the 600 mailboxes on that postal route should have taken only two weeks, one expert said.
* Investigators waited until September 2002, 11 months later, to conduct exhaustive environmental testing at the Florida tabloid newspaper building where the first person to die of anthrax, photo editor Robert Stevens, worked.
* Investigators have still not spoken with all of the US scientists who made anthrax for the military’s biological weapons program in the 1950s and 1960s, although only two dozen are still alive. None were interviewed until months after the attacks.
Strangest of all, of course, is the treatment of Dr. Steven Hatfill, whose name was reportedly provided to the FBI within a few days of the anthrax attacks. Hatfill had a grievance against the government because his security clearance was revoked in August 2001, ultimately costing him his job at defense contractor SAIC. He was, according to his own resume, familiar with both dry and wet forms of the anthrax toxin. He had written a novel about a germ warfare attack on the US Congress, and commissioned a study of the threat of anthrax-laced letters that included information on the best size of particles and kinds of envelopes.
Although Hatfill had opportunity, motive and the necessary skills, and reportedly failed several lie detector tests, he was never arrested or detained. His name only came to public attention after a campaign of exposure by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a bioweapons expert at the Federation of American Scientists, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
Rosenberg charged that Hatfill was being given high-level protection by the government because of his involvement in top secret germ warfare projects. “We know that the FBI is looking at this person, and it’s likely that he participated in the past in secret activities that the government would not like to see disclosed,” she wrote. “And this raises the question of whether the FBI may be dragging its feet somewhat and may not be so anxious to bring to public light the person who did this.”
Kristof detailed Hatfill’s role as a military/intelligence operative for white racist-ruled Rhodesia and South Africa. He suggested that Hatfill—whom he initially called “Mr. Z.”, in deference to the government’s refusal to name him—was still on active duty for the US government in operations in Central Asia.
As the World Socialist Web Site commented at the time: “Kristof’s central accusation is that the anthrax investigation has reached a dead end, not because of the lack of evidence, but because the prime suspect has powerful friends in high places and enjoys official protection....Kristof’s column points inexorably to the conclusion that the Bush administration is an accessory after the fact—if not before it—in the attempted assassination of the official political opposition.”
Neither Rosenberg nor Kristof provided definitive proof that Hatfill was the anthrax terrorist. But they detailed circumstantial evidence that was far more convincing than the vague suspicions, or racist innuendo, used by the Justice Department in its roundup of thousands of Arab and Muslim immigrants after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Justice Department’s reluctance to move against Hatfill was in sharp contrast to the agency’s practice in other terrorist investigations. If the prime suspect in the anthrax case had been a Muslim—or even better, an Iraqi—Attorney General John Ashcroft would likely have designated him an “enemy combatant” and had him locked up indefinitely.
That Hatfill had—and still enjoys—high-level protection is demonstrated by political associations that came to light after the FBI was compelled to move more openly against him. After the third search of Hatfill’s Frederick, Maryland apartment, the Justice Department sent a letter to Louisiana State University to forbid the school to hire Hatfill as a $150,000 deputy director of the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, an LSU lab financed by the federal government.
Hatfill fought back, holding a public press conference at which he denied any connection to the anthrax attacks. He has rallied sections of the ultra-right to his defense. His press spokesman and close friend, Pat Clawson, is a former CNN journalist who now works on the radio talk show of right-wing activist and Iran-Contra plotter Oliver North. The right-wing propaganda outfit Accuracy in Media hosted his press conferences and published statements denouncing the alleged FBI “persecution.” Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, raised the issue in the Senate Judiciary Committee and wrote a letter of protest to Ashcroft, declaring, “‘ It is important that the government act according to laws, rules, policies, and procedures, rather than make arbitrary decisions that affect individual citizens.”
Perhaps the most significant intervention came from the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, which denounced Rosenberg and Kristof for pressuring the FBI, and declared that the real culprit in the anthrax attacks was Iraq.
On October 9, the Baltimore Sun—one of the few daily newspapers to pursue the anthrax issue seriously—published a report claiming that Hatfill had lied repeatedly about his educational and employment record, including forging a bogus certificate for a Ph.D. from Rhodes University that he had not received.
Again, the double standard is staggering. Muslim and Arab immigrants were seized by federal authorities and detained indefinitely for missing deadlines for submitting routine paperwork that would never have been the occasion for arrest or prosecution before September 11.
The anthrax attacks had extraordinary political significance. Daschle and Leahy are among the highest-ranking leaders of the official opposition party in Washington. Daschle is Senate majority leader, the top Democrat in Congress, while Leahy’s committee handles such politically sensitive issues as the confirmation of judicial nominees and legislation on abortion, criminal justice and civil rights.
During the first several days after an anthrax-laced letter was opened October 15, 2001 by a Daschle aide, sending spores into the ventilation system of the office building, the entire building had to be closed and cleaned, putting dozens of senators into temporary accommodations for several months. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to adjourn indefinitely, and Senate Republican leader Trent Lott initially proposed that the Senate do likewise.
There is a curious coincidence between what Lott proposed and the decision by the Bush administration after the September 11 terrorist attacks to establish a shadow government in secret bunkers which would provide continuity in the event of a nuclear/chemical/biological attack that destroyed Washington DC. The shadow government was also limited to the executive branch, making no provision for the safeguarding or reconstitution of an elected legislature.
The political consequences of the anthrax terrorism and the Bush administration’s plans for a shadow government dovetailed completely. Both would have shut down the legislative branch and left the executive branch with virtually unrestricted power.
It was revealed last December that the anthrax spores in the Daschle and Leahy letters were genetically identical to those produced at US germ warfare facilities at Ft. Detrick, Maryland and Dugway, Utah. In other words, the Democratic Party leadership was targeted for assassination using weapons produced by (or stolen from) the American military itself. The whole affair exudes the stench of an attempted political coup.
News Repeats Shaggy Dog Story
By Notra Trulock, III
October 23, 2002
The Justice Department has renewed its campaign to indict Steven Hatfill in the court of public opinion for last fall’s unsolved anthrax killings. ABC’s ace investigative reporter Brian Ross, who had reported unfounded hearsay implicating Hatfill last June, returned to the story on ABC’s World News Tonight on Oct. 22, claiming that three bloodhounds had independently led the FBI directly to Hatfill’s apartment after sniffing scent extracted from anthrax letters posted last year.
Accuracy in Media has been looking into this story since Newsweek first reported it in August. We found that the FBI had the dogs flown here from California, even though there are at least 15 police dog teams in Maryland, including one that is on call with the Bureau’s Hostage Rescue Team. Brian Ross, without mentioning the Maryland dog teams, said the FBI considered the California dogs the best in the country, a view not shared by Maryland law enforcement officers. He ignored the controversy over the "new technology" used by the FBI to collect the scent that supposedly led the dogs to Hatfill.
Had Ross done any investigating, he would have learned, as we did, that the FBI has invested in the Scent Transfer Unit-100, which "vacuums" scent from an article onto a "scent pad." The STU-100 is popular in California, but the two national police bloodhound associations claim that it is too susceptible to contamination to be admissible as evidence in court and have refused to endorse its use. They fear that the Bureau’s reliance on the STU-100 could discredit the use of bloodhounds in all criminal cases.
They cite a 1996 case in California in which a jury found a defendant guilty on the basis of the prosecution’s claim that the scent pad from an STU-100 had enabled a dog to track down the defendant. Police bloodhound handlers from the two national associations were incensed by "irregularities" in the dog’s use. A dog expert flew to California to testify for the defense, and one of the most experienced police dog handlers in the country submitted for the defense a detailed critique of the STU-100 and the dog handler. On the basis of this testimony, the judge threw out the jury’s conviction, and this was upheld on appeal.
Police dog handlers in Maryland are critical of the FBI’s efforts to link Hatfill to the anthrax letters using the STU-100. Hatfill says that the special agents had him sit in an empty apartment in the same building where his apartment was located, and one bloodhound was brought in. He says that he scratched the dog’s ear and the dog returned the affection. That led the handler to cry, "The dog is reacting!" Our police sources say that the FBI should have used a "line-up," requiring the dog to single out the one matching the scent. They point out that if Hatfill was the only suspect in the room, a good defense lawyer would argue that the handlers were "directing" the dog to Hatfill, as they did in the California case where the jury verdict was overturned.
Ross said that three dogs "were each given the scent from anthrax letters posted last year, and each independently" led handlers to Hatfill’s apartment. Which apartment? The vacant one in which he was sitting or his own? If the only scent the dogs were given was from an envelope sent through the mail, how could the dogs distinguish between the person who mailed it, those who delivered it and those who determined that it contained anthrax?
Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, the special agent with a Ph.D. in chemistry whose exposure of incompetence and corruption in the FBI crime lab resulted in partial reforms and his separation from the Bureau, says what the FBI did is awful. He would like to know if the FBI has run any scientific validation studies on the STU-100. Such studies would be designed to determine the percentage of the cases in which the dogs are able to correctly match or not match humans with STU-100 scent packs.
Many of the dog handlers interviewed by AIM believe that the reason the FBI took the dogs to Hatfill’s apartment was to see if they could scare him into a confession. These handlers say that is a routine police technique, and it is not illegal. It hasn’t worked in Hatfill’s case, but the FBI, with assists from ABC and Newsweek, persists in persecuting him. They can’t prosecute him since he is only "a person of interest."
Notra Trulock is an Associate Editor at Accuracy in Media.
By Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | October 30, 2002
SO JOHN MUHAMMAD wasn’t an angry white male after all. He wasn’t some 20-something suburban loner, another Timothy McVeigh with militant, right-wing animosities, like all the experts, criminologists, and profilers spent weeks telling us he would be.
His arrest neatly highlights the defects in politically correct profiling, the only sort of profiling that’s still tolerated these days, the kind that invariably concludes that the suspect — never mind the ethnic and religious realities of the War on Terror — must be an LWG, a lone white guy.
It was the LWG theory that caused officials working the sniper case to spend weeks looking in all the wrong places until Muhammad and his sidekick, John Lee Malvo, were kind enough to start dropping hints as to their actual identity. Were it not for their arrogance, authorities would still be pulling over every white van driven by any white male in the greater D.C. area.
Unfortunately, not all terrorists are as helpful or as Muhammad and Malvo. Take those responsible for sending out packets of anthrax to journalists and politicians across the eastern seaboard last year, who still remain at large. FBI officials are convinced that an LWG is responsible. After all, the actions fit the profile.
Maybe it’s time to draw up some new profiles.
Under the current profiling regime, it’s unacceptable for a cop who, while looking for a suspected drug-dealer, decides to pull over a suspicious-looking African-American motorist. And heaven help the airport screener who admits to paying more attention to the young Arab men passing through his security checkpoints. That sort of profiling is considered immoral, rank bigotry, and officially, no one, not even the hard-nosed president or his attorney general, will condone it.
Yet it’s permissible when the profilers look at the circumstances of a crime and draw up an ethnic and personal profile of the likely suspect, as long as the composite sketch comes out male and light-complexioned. Only the sort of profiling that, in the case of the snipers anyway, would have suggested the truth — that the criminal was a non-white, American-hating Muslim — is prohibited.
That’s why throughout Muhammad and Malvo’s shooting spree, the talking heads went to great pains to assure the public that although someone was busily terrorizing the nation’s capital, the acts of terror were most certainly not acts of terrorism.
Yet when authorities found their man, he defied every stereotype the experts had set for him. Muhammad was an African-American, a Muslim convert, and a member of Louis Farrakhan’s odious sect, the Nation of Islam. He openly sympathized with the 9/11 terrorists. On the LWG scale, he was a mere one for three.
Perhaps the LWG theory isn’t the catch-all it’s cracked up to be.
And perhaps now, with the nation at war with Islamic radicals, it’s time to expand our criminal profiles to consider some of the more likely possibilities when it comes to acts of terror. While the War on Terror has netted one LWG — John Walker Lindh — there have been many others who don’t fit the PC profile, starting with the nineteen 9/11 hijackers and the continuing with Jose Padilla and John Muhammad.
The next time a terror attack of some sort unleashes, officials and pundits might want to consider profiles more consistent with the current geopolitical order — ones not confined to the LWG theory. In fact, they might want to broaden their investigation of past attacks, too.
The culprit in last year’s anthrax scare, we are told, is surely some malcontent white guy — a former, mid-level government scientist with an ideological axe to grind. For the better part of the last year, federal officials have trained their attention — without finding any evidence or filing a charge — on Steven J. Hatfill, a former U.S. Army scientist who has repeatedly denied any involvement.
On Monday, the Washington Post exposed the woeful inadequacy of the LWG theory as an explanation for the anthrax attacks. “A significant number of scientists and biological warfare experts,” the paper reported, “are expressing skepticism about the FBI’s view that a single disgruntled American scientist prepared the spores and mailed the deadly anthrax letters that killed five people last year.” Such an attack, the experts observe, “would require scientific knowledge, technical competence, access to expensive equipment [including a $50,000 spray dryer and an electron microscope worth several times that] and safety know-how that are probably beyond the capabilities of a lone individual.”
The weapons-grade anthrax used by last year’s terrorists is 50 times finer than anything ever produced by the onetime U.S. bio-weapons program and 10 times more so than its former Soviet counterpart. To achieve that sort of potency, scientists reason, a terrorist would need a full laboratory, several well-trained assistants, hundreds of thousands of dollars and, most likely, the support of the local government.
It just so happens, according to the Post, that one government is known to possess the necessary equipment to develop precisely that sort of anthrax — Iraq. Moreover, Saddam Hussein’s regime has also been known to use the same sort of dispersant, silica, that terrorists used to spread the spores contained in its lethal envelopes.
Saddam Hussein would seem a more likely suspect in the anthrax attacks than Steven J. Hatfill, but that’s apparently an option the FBI is unwilling to pursue, preoccupied as it is with the LWG theory.
And as long political correctness continues to inhibit the War on Terror, winning it will prove mightily difficult.
November 2002 issue
Into the Spotlight
An FBI search of his home catapulted
an obscure bioweapons expert named Steven J. Hatfill into national prominence
as a "person of interest" in the anthrax investigation. Was this Richard
Jewell all over again?
By Rachel Smolkin
On September 26, 2000, the New York Times printed a highly unusual "public accounting" of its coverage of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, held in solitary confinement for nine months before the government's espionage investigation crumbled.
Although the Times editors remained "proud" of their work, they acknowledged that "looking back, we also found some things we wish we had done differently in the course of the coverage to give Dr. Lee the full benefit of the doubt." The Times editors said the paper "could have pushed harder to uncover weaknesses in the FBI case against Dr. Lee." It could have adopted a more consistent tone of journalistic detachment, avoiding the "sense of alarm" conveyed in official reports and by investigators, members of Congress and administration officials.
Two years later, federal officials and the news media have catapulted yet another private citizen into the public glare. As of AJR's deadline, bioweapons expert Steven J. Hatfill had not been charged with last year's deadly anthrax mailings. Officially, he remains a "person of interest"--a legally meaningless term. Again, the news media have ignited debates about fairness and disputes over the press' role in a high-profile national security investigation. Again, journalistic detachment has been threatened or even sacrificed in the rush to disclose titillating details about Hatfill's allegedly failing polygraph tests and bloodhounds reportedly going "crazy" as they neared his apartment.
But this time the stakes are even higher. In the post-9/11 world, many civil libertarians charge that the federal government, bent on ensnaring terrorists, is trampling basic freedoms. Their fears heighten journalists' responsibility to scrutinize government actions, to question every leak, to rethink every assumption. The Bush administration's law enforcement and security rhetoric, peppered with nebulous phrases such as "links" to terrorism, "person of interest" and "enemy combatant," elevates the need for a skeptical press that cherishes clear English and basic fairness.
The crush of daily deadlines and relentless competition make detached reporting arduous, particularly when dealing with a story of great magnitude. But journalists risk becoming pawns in the war against terrorism when they report leaks without independent confirmation, when they relay administration announcements about alleged terrorists without questioning the timing, when they write breathless profiles of individuals who have not been convicted of or even charged with a crime. Heightening the focus on the motives and actions of government officials could protect innocent people's reputations and preserve journalists' integrity.
"This is a time when so many civil liberties have been suspended or threatened, and there are so many shortcuts in the system, that reporters should really be on guard," says Ted Gup, a journalism professor at Case Western Reserve University and a former Washington Post reporter. "They should be exposing those shortcuts, not benefiting from them."
Clearly, some newsrooms understand this responsibility and warily recall failures in other high-profile government investigations from the recent past. Already, news analysts and editorial writers are asking whether the FBI has focused on Hatfill to shift attention from its failures in the war against terrorism and its lack of progress in the anthrax investigation. Editorials that chastise the FBI and Attorney General John Ashcroft for accusing Hatfill "by indirection, by implication, by actions if not words," as the Omaha World-Herald puts it, inevitably cite another case of intense public scrutiny of a private citizen: Richard Jewell.
After a pipe bomb exploded at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park in 1996, the press designated Jewell, a security guard at the park, as the FBI's "prime suspect." (See "Going to Extremes," October 1996.) The FBI placed Jewell under surveillance and searched his apartment as television cameras recorded every move. Eventually federal authorities cleared Jewell. He sued several media organizations, winning in excess of $2 million, according to published reports.
In an eerie case of déjà vu, television cameras rolled again on June 25, 2002, while federal investigators combed through Hatfill's Frederick, Maryland, apartment. Until that time, no major newspaper had named Hatfill as a subject of scrutiny in the anthrax case, although he had been quoted in the past as an expert on bioterrorism.
Hatfill's anonymity vanished after that voluntary June 25 search, captured by reporters and news helicopters. On August 1, the FBI returned, this time with a criminal search warrant, and the media circus returned as well. Ashcroft and other law enforcement officials described Hatfill as one of a number of "persons of interest" but did not identify others or subject them to a public investigation.
As federal authorities intensified their focus on Hatfill, news accounts explored his past association with the Selous Scouts of the white Rhodesian Army and apparent discrepancies in his résumé over academic degrees and military service. Simultaneously, reporters warned of treating Hatfill like Jewell and reminded readers that Jewell had been wrongly spotlighted. The result was sometimes disjointed. Journalists acknowledged the FBI's fallibility. But instead of questioning the FBI's techniques and approach in the anthrax investigation, many reporters focused almost exclusively on Hatfill's alleged faults.
On August 11, the besieged bioterrorism authority tried to salvage his reputation. Hatfill held a news conference to proclaim his innocence and accused federal authorities of trying to make him the "fall guy" for the anthrax deaths. He held a second news conference on August 25 to blast the FBI for its tactics in the anthrax investigation.
A steady stream of coverage continued to keep Hatfill's name in the news. In early September, newspapers reported that Louisiana State University had fired Hatfill from a research position after receiving a Justice Department e-mail instructing the school not to use him on government-financed work. The FBI searched Hatfill's home again on September 11, this time without live coverage because networks were focused on the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
L. Lin Wood, Jewell's attorney, credits the press with "great improvement" in its reporting on Hatfill vis-à-vis the way it treated his client. "The media has shown greater restraint and has served more as a watchdog than in the Richard Jewell case, where it served as a lapdog for the government," Wood says. "Questions are being asked by the media [such as], 'Why is this information being leaked about Hatfill?' 'Why is he being called a person of interest?' You didn't get any of that with Richard Jewell. The media just marched in lockstep with law enforcement and portrayed him as a bizarre, aberrant individual who most likely was guilty of bombing Centennial Park."
Indeed, some reporters have exposed the apparent fragility of the case against Hatfill. The Washington Post's Susan Schmidt reported that no physical evidence has been found linking Hatfill to the attacks. "FBI officials say Hatfill is receiving the same treatment as others they have investigated," Schmidt wrote. "But to date, they are not known to have subjected others to techniques used in the Hatfill investigation."
The Weekly Standard's David Tell cast doubt on several allegations against Hatfill, including claims about his "racist" past. Hartford Courant reporters Dave Altimari, Jack Dolan and David Lightman provided context by noting that "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."
And after a Newsweek story reported that bloodhounds "immediately became agitated" upon approaching Hatfill's apartment building, the Baltimore Sun's Scott Shane interviewed bloodhound handlers, who expressed skepticism that a useful scent of the anthrax mailer could have remained on the letters months after they were sent and decontaminated.
Mark Miller, a Newsweek senior editor and lead writer on the bloodhound story, says that his reporters had multiple longtime sources, including those with intimate knowledge of the investigation. He says the August 12 story attempted to explain what prompted investigators to obtain a criminal search warrant for Hatfill's apartment, transforming a cooperative relationship into an adversarial one. "That's why we led with the bloodhounds," Miller says. "We wanted to show a sense of these highs and lows with the investigation. They think they have something, and we point out that once they enter Dr. Hatfill's house, they find nothing."
The story also characterized Hatfill as "eccentric" and "arrogant, with a penchant for exaggerating his achievements." Indeed, the images of a social deviant that irked Wood during the media's reporting on Jewell also have permeated many stories about Hatfill.
"The judgment falls on reporters and editors in framing a profile that is fair to the individual," says Bob Giles, curator at Harvard University's Nieman Foundation and former editor of the Detroit News. "If you make too much out of what you might call odd behavior or eccentricities, then you do raise the specter of fairness."
Hatfill's supporters and some journalists, including The Weekly Standard's Tell, contend that the anthrax columns by Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times did not meet basic tests of fairness. Kristof crafted an alarming portrait of a scientist who had sparked speculation in the bioterror community. Urging the FBI to "pick up the pace" in the anthrax investigation, Kristof in a May 24 column introduced the scientist, whom he did not name, as a "middle-aged American who has worked for the United States military bio-defense program and had access to the labs at Fort Detrick, Md."
In subsequent columns, Kristof identified this man as "Mr. Z." He wrote that Mr. Z was once "caught with a girlfriend in a biohazard 'hot suite' at Fort Detrick, surrounded only by blushing germs." He asked whether the FBI had examined Mr. Z's possible connections to the anthrax outbreak that sickened more than 10,000 black farmers in Zimbabwe between 1978 and 1980. He asserted that "[t]here is evidence that the anthrax was released by the white Rhodesian Army fighting against black guerrillas, and Mr. Z has claimed that he participated in the white army's much-feared Selous Scouts." He asked investigators whether they had searched the "isolated residence" that Mr. Z had access to the previous fall and suggested that property, and many others, may be "safe houses" operated by American intelligence.
On August 13, two days after Hatfill's first news conference and more than a month after the scientist's name had surfaced in the press, Kristof acknowledged that Mr. Z was indeed Hatfill. Kristof wrote that "[t]here is not a shred of traditional physical evidence linking him to the attacks," but then asserted, without attribution, that Hatfill "failed three successive polygraph examinations since January"--a claim that Hatfill and his defenders vehemently deny.
Hatfill criticized Kristof during his second news conference in late August. Although the scientist is now declining interviews on the advice of his lawyers, his representatives continue to excoriate Kristof and his work.
"Nick Kristof deserves to be horsewhipped," says Pat Clawson, a friend of Hatfill's and a spokesman for him. "He has vilified an American citizen in the pages of the nation's most important newspaper without any factual proof and without having the decency to contact that person for any comment.... He makes numerous blanket assertions of fact without any attribution to sources, and without any attribution, period. That's a very dangerous thing for a reporter to be doing. Frankly, I'm just appalled that the New York Times editors didn't review this stuff prior to publication and ask some serious questions."
New York Times Editorial Page Editor Gail Collins referred questions to Times spokesman Toby Usnik. In an e-mail, Usnik wrote, "We are confident that Mr. Kristof has been responsible and professional in his research and writing.... Each columnist's work is reviewed before it is published, as was the case with Mr. Kristof's columns on Dr. Hatfill."
Kristof declines to comment on Clawson's charges but says he stands by the facts in his columns. He says he chose the "Mr. Z" designation because his columns focused not on Hatfill but on "the way the FBI had muffed the investigation, and the way that the U.S. biodefense establishment had rather recklessly hired people to work with substances like Ebola. For that, it wasn't necessary to mention his name."
Kristof says his experiences as a correspondent in Japan influenced his approach to national security investigations. After a nerve gas attack in 1994, the Japanese police and press focused on a victim named Yoshiyuki Kono as the suspect. Kono was later exonerated. Kristof wrote in a 1995 article that "[f]ew people perhaps have suffered so unjustly at the hands of journalists." He recalls thinking that Kono's reputation would have been further shredded in the United States, where the press corps is more aggressive than its Japanese counterpart and more inclined to identify a suspect by name.
But Kristof says the Japanese press treated the real culprit, the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, gently. "If the press had aggressively covered the accusations of kidnapping and murder against the sect, made since 1989, then the nerve gas attacks might have been avoided," Kristof wrote in his 1995 article.
He now characterizes coverage of national security investigations as an "exceedingly difficult" ethical dilemma. "There are lots of cases that should leave us remembering that we're dealing with real people," he says. But, overall, his Japan experiences taught him that in major national security cases, "the press is best off investigating, and investigating thoroughly."
While Clawson hones his contempt on Kristof, he also objects to many other media accounts. "Now we've got Ashcroft standing up there, pointing a finger at my friend, saying, 'person of interest,' " Clawson says. "No charges, but 'suspicion.' It's a rerun of the goddamn 1950s and the McCarthy era. Except now instead of McCarthyism, we have Ashcroftism. That's the story. And that's the story that the press corps here is afraid to take on because it requires some work and it will rumple some feathers."
Clawson contends that Ashcroft and other federal officials have violated the Code of Federal Regulations, which specifies what information Justice Department personnel can and can't release to the news media in criminal and civil cases.
Bryan Sierra, a spokesman for the Justice Department's criminal division, cited those same federal regulations and department policy in declining to respond to Clawson's criticisms. "There is no reason to engage in a dialogue," Sierra says. "It does not make sense that if you are being criticized for talking too much that you would respond to that."
The regulations offer reporters a glimpse into how the Justice Department is supposed to deal with the press. Knowledge of these regulations can alert reporters to occasions when federal officials are disseminating information improperly. According to the regulations, "striking a fair balance" between protecting individuals accused of crime or involved in civil proceedings and the public's understanding of controlling crime and administering government "depends largely on the exercise of sound judgment" by those responsible for enforcing the law and by the media.
The regulations further state that Justice Department disclosures should include only factual matters and not subjective observations. It says department employees should refrain from disclosing investigative procedures such as polygraph examinations--which have been cited in Kristof's columns and in other media reports about Hatfill.
In addition, the United States Attorneys' Manual, posted on the Justice Department Web site (www.usdoj.gov; click on publications), establishes specific guidelines consistent with the federal regulations. The manual generally prohibits Justice Department personnel from responding to questions about the existence of an ongoing investigation or commenting on its nature or progress.
But it does make exceptions in matters that "have already received substantial publicity, or about which the community needs to be reassured that the appropriate law enforcement agency is investigating the incident, or where release of information is necessary to protect the public interest, safety, or welfare."
The manual reiterates the federal regulations' assertion that Justice Department personnel should avoid referring to investigating procedures, such as fingerprints, polygraphs and ballistic tests, and should not disclose a defendant's refusal to submit to such tests. Nor should department personnel provide advance information to the media about the execution of a search warrant or arrest warrant.
Once a criminal suspect is charged, the guidelines specify that Justice Department employees may publicize information such as the substance of the charge, the circumstances surrounding the arrest, the length and scope of the investigation, and the defendant's name, age, residence, employment, marital status and similar background information.
Juliette Kayyem, a Justice Department attorney from 1995 to 1999 and a counterterrorism expert at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, says the most disastrous cases during Janet Reno's tenure as attorney general in the Clinton administration were those investigated in public--the cases that ensnared Jewell and Wen Ho Lee.
Kayyem, who served as a legal adviser to Reno and as counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, urged Ashcroft to learn from his predecessor and turn off the microphones as his department investigates the anthrax mailings and other post-September 11 cases. "Since embarking on their antiterrorism mission, Ashcroft and his deputies have displayed a misplaced sense of secrecy," Kayyem wrote in a July opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor. "They are loud during the investigation (when information should be kept quiet) and remarkably secret after they have acted (when constitutional and due-process norms suggest that the public has a right to know)."
As government officials leak or dribble information regarding their investigations and actions, experts warn reporters to treat disclosures with caution. Aly Colón, a member of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute, recommends using anonymous sources sparingly--only when there is no other way to obtain the information and the information is valuable to the public.
Colón cautions reporters to make sure they fully understand the situation they're describing. "One of our first questions that we advise people to ask here at Poynter is, 'What do I know, and what do I need to know?' " Colón says.
That includes putting disclosures into context. If investigators are searching the home of one "person of interest," did they also search the homes of other persons of interest? Did the bloodhounds' agitation necessarily indicate Hatfill's guilt, or might they have displayed such behavior for a reason entirely unrelated to anthrax?
"Reporters need to remember that when they're dealing with law enforcement officials, those investigators have a purpose, which is to solve the crime," adds Giles of the Nieman Foundation. "They're not particularly interested in journalistic fairness. They're interested in prosecuting a suspect."
Matthew Felling, media director at the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., warns that exclusives in high-profile investigations often carry consequences. "Journalists might unwittingly become a participant in the investigation, which is not the journalist's role, and they should be wary of exclusives given to them," Felling says.
And clarity of language is critical. On television broadcasts and in print, reporters have repeated the government's assertion that Hatfill is not a "suspect"; rather, he is one of 20 or 30 "persons of interest." But what exactly does that mean?
Justice Department spokesman Sierra says he cannot discuss the Hatfill investigation, but he does offer insight into the meaning of the phrase "person of interest." Though used infrequently, the phrase is not new to the anthrax investigation.
"Generally, there may be an effort to use that term to deemphasize the media's description of a person as a suspect or target if we feel that is inaccurate," Sierra says. No textbook definition of "person of interest" exists, and the phrase has no legal standing. Still, Sierra says it can help clarify that a person is not a suspect or target. "A lawyer doesn't deal with the same uses of language that reporters and spokespeople do," he says. "Part of the difficulty is the press and prosecutors have different terms."
Imprecise language can carry unforeseen connotations. Hatfill and his supporters clearly don't consider the phrase "person of interest" a benign attempt to soften the focus on him. Rather, they see it as a sinister effort to cast him as the anthrax killer without actually charging him.
Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., says labeling someone a "person of interest" is "such malarkey that it's ludicrous," while Wood, Jewell's attorney, calls Ashcroft's use of the phrase an act of "absolute irresponsibility. When the attorney general of the United States calls you a person of interest in connection with the FBI and terrorist attacks, life as you know it is basically over."
The Baltimore Sun's Shane, perplexed by the term "person of interest," tried to offer readers a more meaningful description. He opted to say that Hatfill was "under scrutiny," which he clearly was.
Wood prefers that law enforcement officers refrain from stating that a private individual is under investigation. But if intense media attention compels officials to speak, Wood urges a "simple and honest" answer designed to inflict the least amount of damage. He suggests government officials acknowledge that a person is under investigation, state why they're under investigation, and remind the public that nothing should be inferred from that because it's standard procedure to check out people in certain situations.
"Person of interest" is just one of several nebulous terms that have gained prevalence since the terrorist attacks and raise questions of fair reporting during national security investigations. The Justice Department has designated two Americans, Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, as "enemy combatants." By calling detainees enemy combatants, federal authorities have declared they may be held without access to courts or attorneys.
But a September report by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights objected to that designation. "The administration has in fact been using the term 'unlawful enemy combatant'--a term not found in international law--as a kind of magic wand, waving it to avoid well-established standards of U.S. and international law," the report declared.
Hamdi, a Louisiana-born U.S. citizen of Saudi lineage, was captured by Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan and transferred to the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where officials discovered his citizenship. As a result, he was moved to a military base in Virginia, where he is being held, without charge or trial, as an enemy combatant.
The first press references to Hamdi came in early April, when he was flown to Norfolk. But coverage of the unfolding legal battle over his classification as an "enemy combatant" has predominantly played out in major papers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Despite the high-stakes legal battle and its implications for the rights of U.S. citizens, most papers have largely ignored Hamdi's plight.
In stark contrast, Ashcroft's announcement of Padilla's capture was splashed across front pages and broadcast prominently everywhere. Padilla, a Brooklyn-born U.S. citizen, was arrested in Chicago on May 8 and initially held as a material witness in connection with an alleged conspiracy to create and use a radioactive "dirty bomb." One month later, he was transferred to military custody in South Carolina as an enemy combatant and denied further access to his attorneys.
Ashcroft opted to make a televised June 10 announcement about Padilla from Moscow. As the Washington Post later described it, "Peering grimly into a Russian camera and bathed in an eerie red glow, Ashcroft broke away from meetings in Moscow to announce that the United States had 'disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot' that could have caused 'mass death and injury.' "
On June 12, a front-page USA Today story headlined "Threat of 'dirty bomb' softened" reported that Ashcroft had overstated the potential threat. "Ashcroft's remarks annoyed the White House and led the administration to soften the government's descriptions of the alleged plot," Kevin Johnson and Toni Locy wrote. The Washington Post followed on June 13 with another story questioning whether Ashcroft's remarks were "unduly alarmist" and quoted an unnamed senior administration official as saying, "We work very hard to inform yet not alarm." The official added that the story "became a lot bigger than any of us thought it would."
But many initial press accounts seemed to assume the veracity of Ashcroft's statements. Some reports asserted the administration had designated Padilla an "enemy combatant" without explaining the unusual use of the phrase or questioning why and how Padilla acquired such a designation.
"One of the things that always has worried me is how much we, being journalists, tend to assume the FBI, or the DEA, or local law enforcement people are right and that they indeed have captured the guilty party," says Joann Byrd, editorial page editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and chair of the American Society of Newspaper Editors' ethics and values committee. When Ashcroft announces that law officers have averted a tragedy, obviously journalists need to report that. But simultaneously, Byrd says, they should try to assess the authorities' version of events.
One way journalists can hold agencies accountable is to challenge their use of language and to avoid using jargon or shorthand. Law enforcement officials have detained others in the United States suspected of "links" to terrorism, a claim repeated in newspapers and on television.
Federal authorities arresting members of a suspected al Qaeda "sleeper" cell in suburban Buffalo said they were investigating whether the cell had "links" to similar groups of alleged sleeper terrorists arrested in Detroit and Seattle.
But "links" can connote varying degrees of guilt or innocence. Harvard's Kayyem says reporters should more aggressively press federal authorities to explain these so-called "links" to terrorism, al Qaeda and Islamic radical groups.
"What's incumbent on reporters, and what has gotten me frustrated, is they don't follow up that issue of links," Kayyem says. "What is that link? Not only is 'links' not a legal standard, I don't think it should be a media standard."
In the anthrax investigation and in other post-9/11 probes, the federal government is forcing journalists into the uncomfortable position of seeming to serve as advocates for those who may seek to harm Americans. But now, even more than during the investigations of Richard Jewell and Wen Ho Lee, fears about Americans' civil rights have cast journalists not only as dispensers of information, but also as defenders of the Constitution.
As professor Ted Gup wrote in a Washington Post Outlook piece, "It is not just Hatfill who is entitled to a higher standard of prosecutorial or journalistic conduct than we have seen in the past few weeks. We all are. Each slipshod case whittles away our collective liberties, our self-respect, our confidence in the legal system. The press, too, is at risk--its credibility in jeopardy, its independence on trial, its privileged position under the First Amendment left exposed."
Another after-the-fact public accounting could come too late to protect the reputations of innocent Americans, too late to preserve the integrity of the legal system, too late to prove the media's impartiality.
But some observers predict that journalists covering the anthrax investigation will feel compelled to amend their alarmist tones and ominous implications. Says Kayyem, "If it's not Hatfill, they're going to be doing another mea culpa like they did after Wen Ho Lee."
FBI Laments Lack of Anthrax Arrests
WASHINGTON -- FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III expressed dissatisfaction Friday that those responsible for last year's deadly anthrax attacks had not yet been caught, saying scientific analysis of the anthrax spores had been difficult.
"Am I satisfied? No, because we don't have the person or persons responsible identified, and charges being brought against them," he said when asked about the FBI's investigation into the anthrax-laced letters that killed five people.
"Are we making progress? Yes. And we continue to make progress. We continue to have a number of individuals that we are looking at," he told a news briefing. The letters were sent to two U.S. senators and to the news media.
"We are looking at the scientific analysis of the anthrax and replicating the ways, or possible way or ways, in which it might have been manufactured," Mueller said.
"But it is not a process that is easily accomplished," he said, explaining that scientists are undertaking analyses that have never been done before to get information that might help find the source of the anthrax, who manufactured it and those capable of obtaining and making it.
"We're looking at the DNA of the analysis. We're looking at the chemical breakdown of the anthrax. We're replicating the manufacture of the anthrax," Mueller said.
"There are ... different scientific studies that are ongoing to give us all of the information available in the scientific community on the anthrax," he said.
"We are going into new territory in some areas," Mueller said.
And the FBI only has a limited amount of anthrax to analyze, he said.
In November 2001, the FBI released a possible profile of the anthrax mailer, saying a man in the U.S. most likely sent the letters and that he was probably a loner with a scientific background.
Mueller said the FBI had not updated its profile, but that did not mean the agency had excluded other possibilities.
"We have never ruled out any scenario, and to the extent that there are leads that come up, whether it be to individuals or methods of manufacturing or what have you, we pursue them," Mueller said. "No possibility has been ruled out."
By CAY DICKSON
ANTHRAX APATHY -- Remember the letters with anthrax in them that were sent out shortly after Sept. 11, 2001? Five people were killed and numerous others became ill as a result of coming into contact with the deadly spores. One man, Ed Lake, decided to investigate the events and gather as much information as he could. You can see the results of his efforts in the Anthrax Cases, at www.anthraxinvestigation.com. He has photographs of the letters and the envelopes that clearly show the handwriting on both. He pores over the intricate details of handwriting analysis, postmark possibilities, anagrams in the return addresses and the actual words used in the letters to arrive at his various theories.
7 November, 2002, 17:56 GMT
Plague scare in New York
Two tourists visiting New York City have been hospitalised after developing symptoms consistent with the potentially fatal bubonic plague.
If confirmed, they would be the first cases of the disease in New York state for more than a century, officials said.
The couple, a 53-year-old man and his 47-year-old wife, arrived in the city from the southwestern state of New Mexico on Friday and were hospitalised on Tuesday after complaining of flu-like symptoms, including fever and swollen lymph nodes.
Preliminary tests on the man later indicated he had tested positive for bubonic plague, while results for his wife are still being awaited.
Both are being treated with antibiotics, but the man is described as being in a critical condition, while his wife is said to be stable.
The bubonic plague occurs in around 10-20 people in the US every year and is considered active in up to 15 states.
The disease is rarely spread through person-to-person contact, instead being passed through infected rodents and fleas.
Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said that rodents in the couple's New Mexico home had tested positive for plague.
Following the anthrax attacks in the US last October, there were fears that terrorists may use biological agents such as bubonic plague against the country's population.
But Mr Frieden stressed that there was no cause for concern among the city's eight million population.
"There is no risk to New Yorkers from the two individuals being evaluated for bubonic plague," he said.
"There is a lot of plague in New Mexico from year to year."
Bubonic plague, sometimes known as the infamous Black Death, is thought to have caused the deaths of up to 200 million people globally in the past 1,500 years.
In the 14th century alone, around 23 million people are thought to have died after the disease ravaged much of Asia and Europe.
Globally the disease still affects between 1,000 to 3,000 people a year, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website.
8 November, 2002, 16:08 GMT
Nasa pulls Moon hoax book
By Dr David Whitehouse
The US space agency (Nasa) has cancelled the book intended to challenge the conspiracy theorists who claim the Moon landings were a hoax.
Nasa declined to comment specifically on the reasons for dropping the publication, but it is understood the decision resulted from the bad publicity that followed the announcement of the project.
Criticism that Nasa was displaying poor judgement and a lack of confidence in commissioning the book caused it to abort the project, agency spokesman Bob Jacobs said.
Nasa had hired aerospace writer Jim Oberg for the job on a fee of $15,000.
He says he will still do the work, although it will now be an unofficial publication with alternative funding.
The book will deliver a point-by-point rebuttal of the theory that the Apollo landings were faked in a movie studio, to convince the world that the US had beaten the Soviets to the Moon.
It will explain why in still and video footage of the landings, no stars can be seen in the Moon sky, why a flag appears to ripple on the atmosphere-free satellite and why shadows fall in strange directions - all "facts", conspiracy theorists say, point to a hoax.
Some commentators had said that in making the Oberg book an official Nasa publication, the agency was actually giving a certain credibility to the hoax theory.
science experiment could help anthrax investigation
By Mike Nartker, Global Security
The FBI’s attempts to recreate the spores used in last year’s anthrax attacks could provide valuable clues and help the bureau focus its investigation, experts told Global Security Newswire last week.
The bureau has been working for months to reconstruct the spores, FBI Director Robert Mueller said Nov. 1, according to The Washington Post. “We’re replicating the way or ways it might be manufactured, but it is not an easy task,” the Post quoted Mueller as saying. “We are going into new territory in some areas,” he added.
Several experts agreed that this new tactic in the FBI’s “Amerithrax” investigation could provide information needed to better determine who might be a possible suspect. By knowing how the spores were produced, the FBI might be able to determine how many people were needed and whether sophisticated materials and equipment were acquired and used, said Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a biologist at State University of New York who has often publicized her views on the anthrax investigation.
With the information learned through the experiments, the FBI will also be able to better educate its field agents, improving their abilities to investigate sites and conduct interviews, said Martin Hugh-Jones, an anthrax researcher at Louisiana State University. It is “a very sensible decision,” Hugh-Jones said in a written response to questions from GSN.
Charles Pena, a senior defense policy analyst at the CATO Institute in Washington, agreed that the experiments should enable FBI investigators to learn what kind of technical expertise was needed to produce the spores.
The FBI should be able to determine whether the spores were made by “an individual in their basement” or if the spores were more sophisticated—something “you need more than high school chemistry, high school biology” to produce, Pena said.
The bureau might also be able to learn whether specialized equipment was needed—and what kind—which could then be used to determine where such equipment could be obtained and by whom, Pena said. “This isn’t the kind of stuff you can go down to K-Mart and get,” he added.
No Solid Leads
The FBI’s decision to attempt to recreate the spores might also be a sign that investigators lack other concrete evidence, Pena said. The bureau’s decision reflects the fact that it does not have any solid leads in the case, and instead is choosing to go back to fundamentals, he said, suggesting that this is a tactic the FBI should have considered earlier.
Pena also criticized the FBI’s apparent decision to base its investigation on a profile that a lone U.S. scientist is responsible for the attacks. In a large-scale investigation, officials tend to follow their initial assumptions, Pena said, adding that it is often difficult to shift an investigation away from those initial assumptions.
The FBI might now be asking, “If we start from zero, where would we go?” Pena said.
Research into how the anthrax spores were produced might help dissuade the bureau away from the lone U.S. scientist profile, said Richard Spertzel, chief biological inspector for the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq from 1994 to 1998.
“If it gets them [the FBI] off the kick that it can be easily and cheaply made, it will be helpful,” Spertzel said in a written response to GSN.
The FBI’s acknowledged months of research into recreating the spores should be an indication that they were probably difficult to produce, Spertzel said. He added that this high level of difficulty should also convince the bureau to shift the focus of its investigation away from Steven Hatfill, the former U.S. Army biologist who has been the public focus of the FBI investigation.
If the FBI were to determine through its research that the spores were coated with a silica compound and created with the use of a spray dryer—expensive and specialized equipment—it might narrow the field of suspects toward a state-run program such as Iraq, Spertzel said.
While the FBI has not publicly provided technical details of its anthrax-manufacturing research, such as whether it is using or producing live anthrax, experts agreed that the work probably does not violate the Biological Weapons Convention. The convention prohibits signatories from producing biological weapons agents except in small quantities for defensive purposes.
Attempt to reverse-engineer the spores would not violate the BWC as long as the quantities of anthrax used are small, Spertzel said.
“Such ‘small quantities’ are acceptable for defensive purposes and investigating a crime would certainly fall into that category,” he said in a written response to questions from GSN.
The FBI might not even need to use actual anthrax in its research, Rosenberg said, noting that simulants would probably be as effective. If the FBI is using live anthrax, however, it should explain the necessity for doing so, she said.
“I don’t see any point in secrecy on this,” Rosenberg said in a written response to GSN. “It just adds to doubts about [the FBI’s] competence in pursuing this case,” she added.
- The Los Angeles Times
Beef Up the Biotreaty
U.S. opposition to strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention defies logic in a time of increasing threats.
November 12 2002
You'd think the U.S. would be eager to embrace the goal of a summit on biological weapons that convened Monday in Geneva: to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention, a treaty drafted in 1972 and since ratified by 146 nations, including this one, to ban the development, production and stockpiling of biological weapons. Improvement certainly is needed; after all, as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton has pointed out, the treaty, though well-intentioned, is toothless, lacking any mechanism to verify compliance.
The impotence of the treaty is alarming because the threat posed by biological weapons, widely recognized since the anthrax attacks, has been growing. For instance, new biotechnologies have made it easy for scientists in hostile nations like North Korea and Iraq to turn harmless microbes into deadly biological agents that are impossible to counter with existing drugs.
Far from cheering on the summit, however, Bolton seems bent on subverting it. Last week, he urged summit leaders to stick to enforcing the existing treaty. He cautioned that Washington would oppose adding any stringent enforcement measures, such as an international system of independent lab inspectors who could travel at a moment's notice to suspect nations like Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Sudan and Syria, as well as to the United States, Britain and other treaty signatories.
The Bush administration objects to such measures because it fears they could compromise national security. It worries that the international lab inspectors might, on a visit to a private drug company or military lab in the United States, pick up commercial or military secrets.
But merely rubber-stamping the current weak treaty would be a big mistake. Here is a key reason: One of its many provisions supposedly bans the development of toxins like smallpox but permits research for "peaceful purposes," thus allowing dictators like Saddam Hussein to use defense "research" as a smokescreen for developing biological weapons to launch a biological attack.
The leader of the summit, Hungary's Tibor Toth, should address the Bush administration's legitimate concerns about national security. Specifically, he should propose that inspectors meet with private-sector and military officials to work out compromises on a case-by-case basis. But Toth should not accede to the administration's request that fundamental improvements to the treaty be delayed until 2006, the treaty's original "review" time.
Inspections, and the Biological Weapons Convention, are far from perfect. But however flawed, they remain our best hope of countering the growing bioweapons threat.
on Tue, Nov. 12, 2002
Study: Low-level anthrax exposure not as dangerous
By SETH BORENSTEIN
DENVER - Anthrax from a tainted letter sent to Congress last year got into far more people than originally suspected, but it wasn't enough to make them sick, according to a newly released study by the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center.
That means that at low levels of exposure, anthrax may not be as dangerous as was believed during last year's scare.
Because anthrax is so rare, researchers haven't had many studies to tell them what levels are safe. While this study is small and preliminary, it offers hope that the bioweapon isn't as devastating as once feared.
On Oct. 15, 2001, an anthrax-laced letter sent to Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., was opened at his quarters in the Hart Senate Office Building. Subsequent analysis found that it was highly potent and professionally milled. Some 28 people tested positive for exposure and were treated with antibiotics. The letter's sender has not been found.
Now a first-of-its-kind study of immune-system responses to anthrax found that the bacteria did affect people nearby - who originally weren't thought to be exposed - in a small, cell-level way.
The Navy study of 20 people found immune-system reactions in about one-quarter of them. These people were congressional workers who weren't in the high-exposure zone - Daschle's office and the one next door. Some were even in other buildings. The study was released this week at an American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene conference in Denver.
Earlier tests had shown that those people had not developed antibodies to anthrax, but the new tests revealed that their white blood cells had changed to fight the bacteria, said Dr. Denise Doolan of the Naval Medical Research Center.
That means they inhaled anthrax. But the impact of the anthrax was far less than feared.
"Low levels don't cause disease, but low levels do induce immune response," Dr. Daniel Freilich, head of blood substitutions at the Naval Medical Research Center and the study's author, told Knight Ridder on Tuesday.
So the dispersal zone from the biological weapon was far wider than initially recognized, but its bite was less deadly than feared.
None of the people in the study got sick. They didn't show symptoms, and most inhaled such small amounts of anthrax spores that they were not harmed, said Dr. Daniel Freilich of the Navy's Biological Defense Research Directorate.
This research correlates with studies that found small amounts of anthrax spores in congressional office buildings other than Hart. Presumably the spores had traveled through ventilation systems, Freilich said.
These conclusions jibe with research from the 1960s and 1970s on wool workers who showed levels of anthrax bacteria in their bodies but no ill effects, said Dr. Edward Ryan, a top infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The Navy's research also found that victims of the anthrax letter - even those who didn't show symptoms but had immune-system reactions - benefited greatly from getting the anthrax vaccine, Freilich said.
Tooele (Utah) Transcript Bulletin
Anthrax use questioned in Dugway investigation
by Michael Rigert
After the FBI revealed that it was attempting to "reverse engineer" the anthrax at Dugway Proving Ground used in last fall's fatal postal attacks, a Salt Lake-based public awareness group is questioning the wisdom of conducting the tests at Dugway and if live anthrax spores are being used in the experiments.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said a week ago that the investigators and scientists were conducting tests to weaponize anthrax in order to discover what resources and capabilities the perpetrator who committed the crime would have required. The hope is that Dugway tests might provide investigators with a short list of potential suspects in a case that has yielded few solid leads.
Steve Erickson, director of the Citizens Education Project, sent a letter to Dugway commander Col. Gary Harter Wednesday posing specific questions about the FBI anthrax testing and the extent of Dugway's safety procedures regarding the experiments.
The letter asks Harter if Dugway
is using anthrax simulants, harmless spores which are designed to react
the same to stimuli as the actual pathogen, or if scientists are using
"killed, attenuated or live
Erickson and his organization also want to know whether the anthrax is being aersolized, how much has been produced, and if other deadly pathogens have also been weaponized as part of the FBI's investigation or continuing Dugway biodefense research.
The group questions why the government has chosen to do the testing at Dugway when the U.S. Army's Fort Detrick facility in Maryland may be better suited for the tests.
"Why is Dugway performing this joint investigative work rather than other facilities such as Fort Detrick, which has similar capabilities and higher-rated containment laboratories (e.g. BSL 4), and is closer to both FBI headquarters and the focus of the criminal investigation," queries the Utah watchdog group in its brief to Harter.
Erickson also asks the Dugway commander whether local regulatory and health authorities have received information regarding the testing and if they are adequately prepared to respond to any accidental exposures to investigating personnel.
"Our primary concerns remain the public health and safety, and the transparency necessary to assure it," he states in the letter.
Paula Nicholson, Dugway's spokeswoman, said Harter has received Erickson's letter, and that any response would be available to the media pending the Citizens Education Project director's approval. She could not say whether or not Harter would be able to answer specific questions in the letter.
Erickson is not overly optimistic
about the prospects of the Dugway commander's reply.
The terrorist attacks sent in
the form of mailed letters in October 2001 in New York City and Washington,
D.C. left five people dead and infected 13 others.
Briefing - 17/11/2002:
Anthrax: a Political Whodunit
[This is the print
version of story http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/stories/s726834.htm]
Brigid Glanville: Travelling and working in America, there is a palpable sense of anxiety. There’s the constant fear of more terrorism, everywhere you go there are extraordinary security measures. There were the Washington snipers who have now been caught, and there’s the ever-present fear of some kind of biological warfare.
On top of it all there’s still the mystery of who sent out the anthrax letters that killed five, and made many more gravely ill. There was enough anthrax loose in America at one stage to potentially kill 20 million people.
Hallo, I’m Brigid Glanville, and while in America, it was the anthrax story that I followed for Background Briefing.
Brigid Glanville: It’s now more than year since the anthrax letters were sent out, and though one, ‘person of interest’ has been named, Steven Hatfill, there have been no arrests.
The FBI says all State and local police and authorities are helping them, but there’s very little hard information. There are several websites devoted to the anthrax story, and dozens of conspiracy theories, from the wacky to the just possible. Many believe the perpetrator is someone so high up in government defence circles, that it is too embarrassing for the Administration to expose them, because it may also expose the fact that America has been working on bio-offence. Or, some say, the motive was to reveal to the government the need for money for research in case of an attack from elsewhere. Or to get America to sign the Biological Weapons Convention at the meeting this month.
The FBI has come in for an extraordinary amount of criticism for poor handling of the case.
A strong critic of the FBI, Pat Clawson:
Pat Clawson: The FBI investigations obviously have been botched right from the beginning. I was really stunned. I was sitting in our news room here in Washington, watching the live televised news conference from Florida with the Head of the FBI office in Miami. The day after Steve Hatfill did his last press conference, the FBI held a press conference to announce they were going back into the offices of the National Inquirer newspaper in Florida, where the first anthrax attack was reported. And I about fell off my chair when I heard the head of the FBI office in Florida say they had never conducted a full crime scene search at the National Inquirer offices. Here we are, almost a year after the anthrax attacks, and the FBI had never conducted a full crime scene search. Now let me put this into perspective for your listeners. You’ve got a bank sitting on a corner. A robber goes into the bank and shoots the teller in the head and flees the bank. The FBI pulls up to the scene, they run into the bank, they pull out the dead teller, they put up the yellow crime scene tape around the bank, and then they leave for a year. That’s what happened here in the anthrax cases. They left for a year! It’s unbelievable, the lousy police work that’s been done in this case.
Brigid Glanville: Pat Clawson is the spokesman for Steven Hatfill, the FBI’s named person of interest. The FBI has never granted any interviews about the anthrax attacks, but did agree to talk exclusively to Background Briefing. We asked why they hadn’t taken more care over the National Inquirer newspaper office. They said they did do a full crime scene search in August this year. But the point remains, that was nearly 12 months after the anthrax letters first arrived there.
The FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., is an old building but just as large and grand as many other buildings in America’s capital. There are American flags everywhere in the grounds, and at the main gates you’re confronted by six policemen in what looks like full riot gear, standing to attention.
On the driveway there are concrete barricades and spikes to make sure no vehicle can do a quick dash in or out.
Two police officers usher me through metal detectors. They searched my bags and my passport was thoroughly checked.
Being escorted down the echoing, cold corridors was an eerie feeling, like entering one of those huge old-fashioned hospitals. We went through five checkpoints before I was showed into the office of FBI Domestic Terrorism Chief, Tom Carey. His section is part of the Counter-Terrorism Division. There’s been very little hard evidence on the anthrax issue, says Tom Carey.
Tom Carey: What we do have and what we do know is that the anthrax was mailed here in the United States; we know it was mailed from 10 Nassar Street, Princeton, New Jersey, from a mailbox. We know the flow of the mail flow, we know the dates that the letters were sent, and it would appear to many of us that have worked this investigation, that it’s much more consistent with someone being an American-born, and having some level of familiarity with the Princeton-[Trenton] New Jersey area versus a foreign operative coming into the US and being able to successfully conduct such an attack.
Brigid Glanville: One of the major criticisms of the FBI, apart from its lack of progress on the case, has been that there seem to have been an extraordinary number of strange leaks coming from the organisation, including a leak that named Steven Hatfill as a person of interest, leading to a media frenzy about his role.
Tom Carey was not happy answering Background Briefing’s questions about the leaks.
Tom Carey: You’d have to talk to the person who leaked that information. I’m not aware of that in terms of who leaked it. I would say it’s unlikely it was somebody from the government, we have nothing to gain by that. We like to keep our investigations discreet, but we have seen more than one instance where we have gone out to places and within minutes there is a news chopper overhead, or news reporters at the scene, so we are as frustrated by it as people that may be potentially persons of interest, and that are being looked at.
Brigid Glanville: Given that there was a leak then, and Hatfill has become a target, why didn’t the FBI release the names of other people as a person of interest?
Tom Carey: Well again, that’s an investigative technique and we’re are not going to let the world know who we’re looking at and why we’re looking at them, because all that is going to do is cause problems for our investigation down the road. He has been, he is the one that’s held all the press conferences. The FBI has not made comments on it, and you can’t control what people say and do with the media, and again there’s a lot of speculation there, there’s a lot of so-called leaks, and I attribute a lot of this to people that are misinformed, but they may have partial information but their information at the end of the day is ultimately incorrect.
Brigid Glanville: The media have raked over every tall tale and true about the anthrax mystery, and there have been very different positions taken on who might have done it, not only among journalists, but among scientists, defence and terrorism academics, and the various police and intelligence services.
In September, the most prestigious journalism school in the world, The Columbia School of Journalism in New York, organised a special Breakfast Forum on what was going on.
The lack of information and the FBI’s refusal to talk to anybody about the case, has raised questions amongst the media and science community about a cover-up about who sent the letters. Most of the speakers agreed that the politics of the case are probably clouding the investigation, and that could be why the FBI are so secretive about it all.
Top reporters talked about how tough it has been to get hard information; others talked of disinformation and poor journalism.
Speaking at the Forum, from The Baltimore Sun newspaper, Scott Shane.
Scott Shane: There have been major erroneous stories, even apart from Hatfill. For example, it was reported by major publications and networks quite definitively that the anthrax powder in the envelopes contained bentonite and that pointed the finger at Iraq. This is going back a ways, now everyone’s focused on Stephen Hatfill, no-one remembers Iraq, but for a while there, Iraq was the culprit and the proof was bentonite and then the guy who was then head of the army’s Biodefence Centre in Frederick at Fort Detrick came out and said that the samples didn’t have aluminium in them and therefore it couldn’t have bentonite, and that story died. Another example was a major network led the evening news one day in December by saying the FBI had identified a leading suspect and the suggestion was they were about to put the cuffs on him. And that too was wrong and disappeared pretty much without a trace.
Brigid Glanville: Scott Shane echoed the opinion of many of the other journalists when he said that the poor media on the story came about because when it first happened, there were many journalists who had no real understanding of anthrax.
Scott Shane: The combination of intense competition on a huge national story, a very unfamiliar topic, you know there were a lot of people posing as anthrax experts early on who some of us found didn’t know all that much about anthrax, and why would they, you know who knows that much about anthrax? So maybe that was the fatal combination, a topic that was unfamiliar to many supposed experts combined with intense pressure of a very competitive national story.
Brigid Glanville: At the Columbia School of Journalism forum, one of the things that was discussed was the lack of hard evidence available.
The FBI says the letters containing anthrax spores sent to various newspapers, and some politicians, are all they’ve got.
On its way through the postal system, the anthrax spilling out of these letters killed several people, including postal workers, and made many others sick.
The letters, which can be seen on the Background Briefing website, hold several clues that are fascinating. It is now accepted that someone in America was trying to disguise himself by making the letters sound as if they were written by a Muslim in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Here’s a reading from one of the letters.
Take penicillin now. Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great.
Brigid Glanville: It’s believed after these initial letters were sent to the media, the perpetrator sent more, even stronger anthrax to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Those letters read:
You cannot stop us. We have anthrax. You die now. Are you afraid? Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great.
Brigid Glanville: It’s believed the letters sent to the Senators had a different motive to the earlier ones. Not only was the anthrax much more refined and pure, but there was enough of it to kill 20-million people.
Quick action and a shut-down of many government buildings prevented any more victims of inhalation anthrax.
One of the biggest anthrax sites in the web is run by Ed Lake. There’s about 300 articles there, with a timeline, and copies of all the evidence so far available. Ed Lake also says the letters hold the key, and they point to the perpetrator being in New Jersey.
Ed Lake: There are a lot of laboratories in central New Jersey where it could have been done. I think when he finished making the anthrax he wouldn’t have wanted to carry it very far, so he mailed them probably within 50 or 60 miles of his home. The return address on the envelope was a combination of things regarding central New Jersey, it was a good central New Jersey zipcode, there was a central New Jersey city, there was a school that can be interpreted, instead of Greendale you get Greenbrook, and you get a school in central New Jersey. There’s a lot of things about central New Jersey that implies that he lives there and knows it very well.
Brigid Glanville: Internet experts of various kinds have also been taking special interest in the case, because of an unusual nine-digit zipcode number.
Brigid Glanville: The man who uncovered the people who created the Melissa and I Love You viruses a few years ago, Richard Smith, says the zipcode in theory narrows down the possible anthrax case suspects.
Richard Smith: When you look at the two addresses first, which is two of the letters were sent to Senators here in the United States, Senator Daschle and Senator Leahy, and you look at the addresses and they’re very well done. There’s a particular way that Senators get addressed and mail sent to them, and the perpetrator had used a very specific format for the address and the code, which is United States zipcode, so let’s say it’s a postal code. And the 9-digit zipcode is fairly unusual, most people still use the older 5-digit form. And what that shows is he, the perpetrator, had copies the address from some kind of directory. And so my interest was to find what directory that was, whether it was a printed directory or if it was gotten from the internet, and that’s sort of an obvious place nowadays for people to get addresses, is from the internet. And had he got it from the internet then he would be traceable by some of the tracks he left at the website, or wherever he got the address from.
Brigid Glanville: Any good mystery or set of coincidences spawns a myriad of conspiracy theories, and the anthrax mystery is a natural. There are enough kooks and loonies on the web to dream up almost anything. Some of the conspiracies are that it was done by one of the big pharmaceutical companies who would then make a lot of money selling medications and vaccines. Another is that a local politician did it, for whatever reason, or even that the CIA did it in order to scare people and raise even more fear of people from the Middle East. But the Islamic connection was so poorly made, no-one takes it seriously now. There’s also the bitter ex-wife theory, but two theories recur time and again.
Ed Lake: The two main theories that are on the internet are that Dr Hatfill did it, or al Qaeda did it. The one that isn’t on the internet that much is that it was done by some right-wing group. You don’t see much in the way of websites about that, but it seems to be what the public seems to believe. There seem to be individuals with wacko theories; they’ll look at some local politician and think that he did it or somebody they met, and I’ve encountered people who think they were followed by Dr Hatfill in a uniform, things like that. But basically it boils down to two theories: Al Qaeda and Dr Hatfill.
Brigid Glanville: But the most plausible theories are money or politics. Or perhaps money and politics. The strain of anthrax used in the letters is now proven to be the Ames strain, and that strain is only found in a small number of laboratories in America. But the most likely is that it came from Fort Detrick, the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, USAMRID.
Fort Detrick, though cloaked in tight security and secrecy, is well known as having been researching biochemical diseases and weapons for decades.
Chairman of the Federation of American Scientists Working Group on Biological Weapons is Professor Barbara Hatch Rosenberg.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg: I suppose I was the first one to point out rather clearly, at least the first person outside government, that the attack was almost certainly come out of the US biodefence program. I think that the US government has supported that position from way back, because in less than two weeks after the attacks were recognised, US officials began saying that the attacks were probably domestic and they’ve never strayed from that as the most probable interpretation. I agree with them, I think that the evidence of the anthrax itself points in that direction, and since then a great deal more evidence has accumulated to support that premise.
Brigid Glanville: Who do you think did it?
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg: I am not in any position to mention specific names because I have no absolute evidence for any specific person as the perpetrator, but I do know that the number of people in the biodefence program who had the expertise and the access to carry out that attack was quite small, and I know this from people in the program who know all the people who could have done it, and who have given names to the FBI way back in the beginning, and I think the agreement is that the number is certainly under 100 and more likely around the 20 to 30 mark for those who really, there’s reason to suspect.
Brigid Glanville: The Ames strain comes in many different strengths after it’s been what’s called ‘weaponised’, that is, made into a state where it can be easily breathed in. You need about 50,000 spores to kill one person.
The anthrax letters sent to Senator Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy had about 1-trillion spores per gram and there were 2-grams in the letters. That means potentially 20-million people could have been killed.
Barbara Rosenberg says because of how pure and refined the anthrax was, it had to be someone within the American bio-defence program that knew about weaponising anthrax.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg: It’s the question of access and expertise. It had to be someone with access to the Ames strain and the genetic evidence strongly suggests that that Ames strain came out of the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease at Fort Detrick. The evidence has not all been published on this, but from the way the FBI has behaved and concentrating on that laboratory and from what I know this is by far the most likely source, so that means someone who either works there now or who has worked there in the fairly recent past, and that limits the number of possible suspects greatly, and then further limiting the number is whether they had the expertise to actually weaponise the material in the highly refined way that they did. And I’ve spoken with people within the biodefence community who have done that manipulation, who have weaponised anthrax and who say that the material in the letters corresponds to the state-of-the-art in the United States, an art that they don’t believe is possessed anywhere else in the world.
Brigid Glanville: It was just after Rosenberg released her report with a profile of who she thought was capable of doing it, that Steven J. Hatfill became a person of interest to the FBI.
Many media reports claim Rosenberg, along with certain journalists, including Nick Kristof from The New York Times, were responsible for naming Hatfill. The leak of his name seems to initially have come from inside the FBI itself.
A virologist, Steven Hatfill had worked at Fort Detrick for 18 months on the Ebola virus, and Rosenberg says would easily have access and the knowledge to weaponise anthrax. And there are other reasons, from his background and from lies he has told, that mean Hatfill can be made to look like a suspect.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg: There’s been a lot of investigation by reporters into his background, and what has been uncovered makes one really worry about the poor security in the US biodefence program, because this person not only has he worked and with racist foreign governments in the past, but he has heavily falsified many of his credentials. He does not have a PHD which he claimed he did; he has not had various trainings and certificates that he claims he has had; and he says that he was in the Special Forces but it turns out that he was asked to leave after a very short tenure because of fraud. His whole background is fraudulent and he has refused to answer any questions about that. So aside from the question of the anthrax attacks, this is hardly the kind of person that we should place our trust in and give access to highly dangerous agents.
Brigid Glanville: All of this is circumstantial evidence and Hatfill has his defenders, who say he is being made a scapegoat and he’s made himself an easy target.
Hatfill is a loud, gregarious character, very popular in his circle. However he was not truthful when he claimed a brilliant career in the US military, bragging to a friend he flew fighter planes and helicopters.
He also claimed he had a PhD from Rhodes University which was later found to be false, and that he forged signatures in the process.
Nevertheless, Steven Hatfill has loudly and publicly insisted he is innocent of any connection with the anthrax mystery. In August this year he held a press conference.
Steven Hatfill: I have devoted much of my professional career to safeguarding men, women and children from the scourge of different types of disease, from leukaemia to infectious disease. I have had nothing to do in any way, shape or form, with the mailing of these anthrax letters, and it is extremely wrong for anyone to contend or suggest that I have. I am extremely proud of my service with the government, and my efforts to help safeguard public health and protect our country against the scourge of offensive biological warfare.
Brigid Glanville: Steven Hatfill then turned his anger on Barbara Hatch Rosenberg for bringing him to the attention of the authorities.
Steven Hatfill: In June 2002, a woman named Barbara Hatch Rosenberg who affiliates herself with the Federation of American Scientists saw fit to discuss me as a suspect in the anthrax case in a meeting with FBI agents and Senate staffers. I don’t know Dr Rosenberg, I have never met her, I have never spoken or corresponded with this woman, and to my knowledge she is ignorant of my work and background except in the very broadest of terms. The only thing I know about her views is that she and I apparently differ on whether the United States should sign onto a proposed modification of the International Biological Weapons Convention. This was something I opposed to safeguard American industry, and I believe she favoured.
Brigid Glanville: This issue of the modification of the International Biological Weapons Convention may be important. World leaders are meeting this month to try to get global agreement on biological weapons inspections, after the anger and disappointment of many, including Australia. America refused to sign the Convention about a year ago. Barbara Rosenberg has been one of the many scientists who have been extremely vocal about why it is important for America to sign the convention, and she says the anthrax attacks prove her point.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg: That Convention is now toothless, it has no verification means at all, and the international community has been trying over the past ten years to give it teeth. Now last November and December the five-year-review of the Biological Weapons Convention took place. On its final session in its final hour, the US pulled out of a tentative agreement with the other parties to follow up with annual meetings and discussions of what can be done to prevent biological attacks. So there is no international agreement now, and because of the confusion resulting from the US pull out that review conference was suspended and will resume in November of this year. In preparation for that, the US has just very recently announced that it wants that meeting to take place in only one or two days, and it wants no outcome except a decision about when to meet next four years from now. This is a shocking position to take, for a country that has just been attacked itself by a bioterrorist when the rest of the world, including the closest allies to the United States, (Australia is one of them) have been pushing so hard for an international joint effort to do something to prevent future attacks.
Brigid Glanville: Barbara Hatch Rosenberg completely dismisses the accusation that she has named Hatfill as a suspect in the anthrax letters, because of his stance that America should not sign the convention. She says the two issues are completely unconnected.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg: Hatfill has said that he thinks that I have been after him because we don’t agree on the Biological Weapons Convention protocol that’s been under negotiation. Of course that’s laughable, because I never knew or cared where he stood on that. He’s not important in that respect; it’s where President Bush stands that matters, and I don’t think he’s been a prime influence on the Administration. I don’t really think this is a point worth making on your program either. I mean it’s stupid, it’s ridiculous.
Brigid Glanville: But how ridiculous is it?
This is the possible scenario: you are a top defence scientist who thinks the US should sign the Biological Weapons Convention and should spend more money on research. You put anthrax out to draw attention to this important cause. But you don’t want to get caught. So first of all you try to make it sound as if the anthrax has been sent out by an Islamic fanatic. Then when that doesn’t work, you point the finger at a hotheaded, slightly suss scientist of a fairly low rank. And who also happens to think the US should not sign the Convention, the perfect person to throw everyone off the scent.
It’s rather convoluted, but typical of the possibilities being discussed in America.
Barbara Rosenberg says she’s only sure of one thing: it’s someone from inside the system.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg: I don’t really care who a perpetrator is, I think he heeds to be apprehended and brought to justice wherever he may come from, because that’s going to send the right message to other bioterrorists that they can’t get away with it. We have not done that yet, and I think this is extremely dangerous. I do believe that all the evidence has pointed to its coming out of the US Biodefence Program and that there was no evidence, only speculation, that the source could have been elsewhere.
Brigid Glanville: Since the press conference he gave in June, Stephen Hatfill has declined all media interviews on advice of his solicitors. He’s now employed a spokesperson, Pat Clawson, to comment. Clawson, a journalist, claims Hatfill has been an easy target for the FBI to name someone and to take pressure of their year-long lack of success.
Pat Clawson: The government has said that they’ve got roughly 30 so-called persons of interest, again that weird term that’s been used by Attorney-General, John Ashcroft.
Brigid Glanville: And they’ve said a person of interest is not a suspect.
Pat Clawson: Well that’s correct, a person of interest is not a suspect, but you know, it’s pretty darned funny that Steve Hatfill is the only person who has been publicly identified on national television by the Attorney-General of the United States, as being a person of interest. Who are these other 29? We’ve never heard, we don’t know who they are.
Brigid Glanville: Why has then the FBI released his name?
Pat Clawson: That’s a darn good question. You know, I’ve been a reporter here in the United States, an investigative reporter covering the FBI and covering the criminal justice system for over a quarter of a century, and it has been my experience that when the FBI goes public on an investigation, in the way they have done on the Hatfill case, it’s because their overall investigation has hit a dead end, and they’re in serious trouble. So what they do is, they go public to some extent, with some of the findings of their investigation as a way of 1) putting pressure on an individual that they suspect might be involved in some kind of a crime, and 2) frankly as a propaganda ploy to convince the American people that the FBI is on the job and actually doing something, when in fact their investigation’s hit a dead end. It’s most often when these kinds of things happen, it’s a red herring, it’s just a propaganda ploy.
Brigid Glanville: Other circumstantial evidence that’s been found that could incriminate Hatfill is that he posed for a magazine article dressed in a bioterrrorism suit, pretending to make anthrax in his kitchen to warn officials of its danger. This has been explained as a mere bit of fun, a favour he did for his friend who was writing the particular article.
When the FBI conducted a search on Hatfill’s home, they found a working novel on the hard drive of his computer.
The story was centred around how man conducted a bioterrorist attack in America, and how he got away with it.
Pat Clawson says it was years ago and it’s purely coincidental.
Pat Clawson: Yes and that again came up from one our dinner conversations years ago, as an offshoot of the magazine articles, or the newspaper articles that you referred to just a few moments ago. After Steve had co-operated with Fred Reid of The Washington Times, and Insight magazine, on the magazine and the newspaper articles, we began discussing the idea, Gee this would make a great Tom Clancy style novel, a bioterrorism attack on the United States.
Brigid Glanville: And how the perpetrator covered his tracks.
Pat Clawson: And how the perpetrator covered his tracks. So he went through, we kicked it around over drinks and over dinner one night, and right, you know, ‘Gee this would be kind of a cool subject for a novel’. I mean some of the people I hang out with here in Washington, some of the people that Steve knows, are journalists, and believe me, every journalist in this town’s working on a book on some subject at some time. And the conversation to the direction that ‘Well, you know the thing that really makes the Tom Clancy novels interesting are all the technical detail that are in them, and we don’t have that kind of technical knowledge, but Gee, Steve, you do; why don’t you do the book?’ So that’s how it came about. And indeed the book is not about anthrax, it’s about a bubonic plague attack on Washington, D.C., anthrax is not involved at all, and it has nothing to do with sending anything through the mail. In this case the book is about a terrorist who goes into the White House in a wheelchair that was equipped to spray bubonic plague germs, and that was the basis of the novel.
Brigid Glanville: In the endless tangled web of possibilities, the fact that an American couple contracted bubonic plague last week now has the authorities scurrying again. While the couple did contract it from a rat on their farm in New Mexico, authorities were still put on full alert of a bioterrorism threat.
The theory that the anthrax situation is connected to whether America will or won’t sign the Biological Weapons Convention this month is one of plausible political possibilities. Another is money. Somebody may have wanted a lot more money spent in the science side of biological weapons and thought this was a good way to get the government’s attention. It seems astonishing that anyone would risk the lives of tens of thousands of Americans to raise awareness of research funding, but no-one says we live in a particularly sane world.
Fort Detrick has faced funding cuts in the last few years, and possibly anthrax research that hasn’t been a threat for some years bore the brunt of it. Raising awareness of how lethal the product can be is a sure way to get more money spent on bioterrorism.
In a private home in Delaware, expert in anthrax, Dr Meryl Nass.
Meryl Nass: These anthrax attacks were designed to seek publicity because they attacked the media, and I think they chose the National Inquirer first because they knew that was one media outlet that was unlikely to be muzzled and was going to write about how it itself has been attacked.
Brigid Glanville: They’re like a tabloid, aren’t they?
Meryl Nass: Yes, they’re a tabloid newspaper. And then they chose some very high profile Senators to attack so that Congress would probably be scared by the possibility of having their own buildings, their own person attacked, and they are the ones who vote funding for bioterrorism preparations and responses. And sure enough, within a few weeks, Congress had voted billions of dollars for bioterrorism.
Brigid Glanville: Who have been the beneficiaries of this bioterrorism scare? Who has received money?
Meryl Nass: Well basically everybody, except myself, in the bioterrorism field has received money, I mean any researcher who has had a good idea about responses to anthrax has gotten money and as a result we are seeing an enormous number of new treatments for anthrax, and that’s going to be very helpful. But you know, the money could have been spent a year or two ago and we would have had an enormous number of treatments for anthrax. We’ve got new anthrax vaccines, new smallpox vaccines, the country has spent $850-million for new smallpox vaccines, $1-billion has been given to the States to improve bioterrorism preparations, there are almost $6-billion in the budget this year for bioterrorism. So the money has been spread widely.
Brigid Glanville: Dr Nass strongly believes it’s been done by someone very high up in the US intelligence community.
Meryl Nass: I think first of all there’s probably certain people that are just not going to be found. If it was somebody who was really high up, let’s say William Patrick for example, the country is not going to identify William Patrick as a perpetrator because he used to run the offensive program and it would be too embarrassing to say somebody like, I don’t think William Patrick did it, by the way, but it would be too embarrassing to say that somebody on that level could have done something like this.
Brigid Glanville: Do you think it is someone on that level?
Meryl Nass: Well I think it’s possible. Certainly it seems that the FBI investigation has had a lot of fumbles and it may be that somebody at a high level has managed to keep the FBI fumbling.
Brigid Glanville: And if the government did know who did it, they would never admit to it when they could jeopardise the public opinion on the stance they’ve taken on the Biological Weapons Convention.
Meryl Nass: Well what’s the government? I mean the government, there’s CIA, there’s FBI, there’s Fort Detrick, there is Dugway; I think that there are almost certainly groups within the branches of government who know more than they’re letting on. Whether FBI has all this information is not clear, certainly evidence has come out for instance that Dugway or Battel were producing powdered weaponised anthrax in the United States. Apparently it took several months for the FBI to learn that, and they should have known it the day after the attacks.
Brigid Glanville: Dugway and Battel are biological weapons testing sites.
Background Briefing was not granted an interview with anyone from the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, USAMRID at Fort Detrick. But we were able to speak to Dr Richard Spertzel who worked in conjunction with them as a chief weapons inspector for the United Nations Special Commission from 1994 to 1998. And he thinks the anthrax letters were sent by someone from Iraq.
He says it’s unlikely to be an American scientist, because contrary to what Professor Rosenberg says, only four or five people in America are capable of making this quality anthrax. Dr Spertzel came into the ABC studios in Washington to speak to Background Briefing.
Richard Spertzel: Very few would have the knowledge and even less would have the capability or opportunity to make it. I contended from the beginning that that quality product could not be made without the complicity of the government in the country in which it was made, because otherwise too many people would have to know about what was going on, and it wouldn’t remain a secret where there is an open press.
Brigid Glanville: Dr Spertzel also argues that Iraq had the perfect motive: that they could shut down the US government and put Iraq in a much stronger position of power.
The FBI disagrees and have said Iraq is not capable of making the anthrax, but Dr Spertzel says Iraq does have the expertise.
Richard Spertzel: Iraq had the full capability and the full knowledge. They knew exactly what to do in order to get this. And one other important feature about that material, that material has been described that the spores were individually coded with the product and the only way I know you can get that is to add the material to the liquid spores before they’re dried, and then you use a spray dryer, a certain type of spray dryer. We know that Iraq knew how to do this and that they had the right kind of spray dryer.
Brigid Glanville: What other evidence since then has led you to believe that Iraq’s involved?
Richard Spertzel: My feeling on Iraq is involved really relates to having all the capability, everything that’s necessary to do it, as well as quite honestly, the motive. Now in addition to that, the al Qaeda contacts with Iraq dates back perhaps as early as 1993, according to defectors. There’s another indication, and I think the evidence is too strong that there has been a steady and continued relationship between the two, and that would have provided Iraq with the opportunity to have what I call delivery boys, that is the al Qaeda. Just because the al Qaeda organisation and the Iraqi State may be at separate ends of the spectrum, or in Islamic religion, it doesn’t mean that necessity doesn’t make strange bedfellows.
Brigid Glanville: Strange bedfellows indeed. During the interview with Background Briefing, the FBI Domestic Terrorism Chief, Tom Carey, wouldn’t elaborate on Dr Spertzel’s views. But he did say that FBI investigations showed that Iraq could not be involved and that people have wrong information about what Iraq possesses.
Tom Carey: What I would say is the information that came out there that led weapons inspectors and others to suspect the Iraq connection was wrong information. Now it doesn’t say we still wouldn’t look for any potential connection to Iraq, or rather any other States sponsored terrorist, but what they specifically referred to didn’t exist, and it was misinformation.
Brigid Glanville: Many scientists, anthrax experts and journalists have heavily criticised the FBI, particularly for the number of leaks that have come out about the investigation. The FBI is not considered a reliable investigator, nor a reliable source of information.
All of them have said the leak to the media about the search on Hatfill’s home only 24 hours before it happened, was inexcusable. Professor Rosenberg was working closely in the beginning of the investigations with the FBI providing information she had learnt from the Biodefence community. And even Rosenberg is critical of the FBI’s work in solving the mystery.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg: It appears to me and I have said so on several occasions in the past, that the FBI was carrying out highly publicised activities just to provide evidence to the public that they were doing something, but that these activities were essentially meaningless. One of them was to send letters to 43,000 microbiologists in the country when they had to know that the possible perpetrators were among a very small number of roughly 30 people connected to biodefence. Another one was passing out samples of handwriting by the thousands to see if anyone recognised it, when it was obvious that the handwriting had been disguised. And I think that the publicised search of suspects apartments, several searches recently, may or may not have fallen into that category. I don’t think it was necessary for them to make that person’s name public and I think it was unfortunate it was unfair, because they have done similar searches of other people’s apartments and homes and those names have not become public.
Brigid Glanville: The issue of whether or not the FBI are involved in a cover-up and whether they are manipulating public opinion by leaking misinformation crops up time and again.
When Background Briefing interviewed FBI Section Chief Tom Carey, we asked him to talk about, for one thing, the leaks about Steven Hatfill and whether or not they were set up by the FBI as to get every possible publicity advantage out of their investigations on him. Tom Carey says the FBI is not responsible for the leaks.
Tom Carey: We’re not taking any responsibility for that. As far as I’m concerned, if a person goes before the media himself and discusses what he views his concerns with an investigation, then that’s all on him, and I’ve watched Hatfill as I’ve watched other people get up and make media presentations and point the finger at the FBI, and as attorneys say, We’ve done this, and we’ve done that, we’ve done the next thing, you have not seen the FBI come back and respond to that, nor have you see anybody from the US Attorney’s Office respond to that. And we’re not going to respond that way. When we respond, we will respond in court.
Brigid Glanville: While the FBI won’t claim responsibility for leaks to the media, the analysis of evidence coming from top scientists seems to indicate it was someone or some people high up in the United States military or science community that sent the letters. Whoever it was had the knowledge to produce anthrax and did it well, because the FBI only has circumstantial evidence, with no witnesses, no fingerprints, or DNA to charge someone.
And as Tom Carey says, without this, murder is hard to prove.
Tom Carey: While circumstantial evidence helps build a case, but at the end of the day you want to have what we call direct evidence, and a significant amount of direct evidence, along with circumstantial evidence in which you’re going to bring somebody to trial.
Brigid Glanville: So what would be an example of circumstantial evidence?
Tom Carey: Well circumstantial evidence could be testimony from other individuals that an individual had access say to a room where anthrax was stored. Or the records would indicate that the person had access, versus real evidence would be their fingerprint on the letter. On the letter that was inside one of the envelopes, that would be the real direct physical evidence.
Brigid Glanville: And there obviously was no fingerprints, there wasn’t much of that kind of direct evidence?
Tom Carey: No, there was next to no physical evidence, nothing that we could use.
Brigid Glanville: No matter who the experts, weapons inspectors or reporters believe who did it, and whether or not it was done by a top military scientist and the government won’t admit to it, the simple fact is, for whatever reason we may never know the truth.
The FBI have admitted there’s possibly only about 20 people who had the knowledge or expertise to conduct these attacks. Given that, you can’t help but wonder what the real reason is why they haven’t found someone.
Tom Carey: I wish I could say that somebody was going to be arrested this afternoon and arraigned tomorrow, and I don’t know when that’s going to be. The only thing I can tell you is that we’re still working it very aggressively. It’s not just the FBI, the US Postal Service, State and local police from a number of jurisdictions, our foreign friends and allies, have provided assistance and continue to provide assistance. This is still a very aggressive investigation and a lot of work is ongoing.
Brigid Glanville: Can you see why people are asking the question, Why haven’t they found anyone? You know, the FBI, the world’s top intelligence.
Tom Carey: We’re the FBI, the world’s top investigative agency, not intelligence agency. There’s a slight difference there, but the bottom line is that at the end of the day no matter how good you are, you have to work with the evidence that you can develop, and there is very scant evidence and this a long road to hoe. It’s been months and months and months. Just on the science part of the investigation, and again not being a scientist there were things that I presume naively we would have answers to in three or four months that might be something we could use to help our criminal investigators. There are tests and science experiments going on now that will still be months from resolution, that may or may not help move the investigation forward.
Brigid Glanville: If you’d like the move the investigation forward, go to the Background Briefing website and have a look at the letters and other links to evidence.
The program’s Co-ordinating producer is Linda McGinness; Research by Paul Bolger; Technical producer, David Bates and Executive Producer, Kirsten Garrett.
You’ve been listening to Background Briefing on ABC Radio National. Now back from America, I’m Brigid Glanville.