U.S. Germ Warfare Research Pushes Treaty Limits
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
This article was reported and written by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg and William J. Broad.
Over the past several years, the United States has embarked on a program of secret research on biological weapons that, some officials say, tests the limits of the global treaty banning such weapons.
The 1972 treaty forbids nations from developing or acquiring weapons that spread disease, but it allows work on vaccines and other protective measures. Government officials said the secret research, which mimicked the major steps a state or terrorist would take to create a biological arsenal, was aimed at better understanding the threat.
The projects, which have not been previously disclosed, were begun under President Clinton and have been embraced by the Bush administration, which intends to expand them.
Earlier this year, administration officials said, the Pentagon drew up plans to engineer genetically a potentially more potent variant of the bacterium that causes anthrax, a deadly disease ideal for germ warfare.
The experiment has been devised to assess whether the vaccine now being given to millions of American soldiers is effective against such a superbug, which was first created by Russian scientists. A Bush administration official said the National Security Council is expected to give the final go-ahead later this month.
Two other projects completed during the Clinton administration focused on the mechanics of making germ weapons.
In a program code-named Clear Vision, the Central Intelligence Agency built and tested a model of a Soviet-designed germ bomb that agency officials feared was being sold on the international market. The C.I.A. device lacked a fuse and other parts that would make it a working bomb, intelligence officials said.
At about the same time, Pentagon experts assembled a germ factory in the Nevada desert from commercially available materials. Pentagon officials said the project demonstrated the ease with which a terrorist or rogue nation could build a plant that could produce pounds of the deadly germs.
Both the mock bomb and the factory were tested with simulants benign substances with characteristics similar to the germs used in weapons, officials said.
A senior Bush administration official said all the projects were "fully consistent" with the treaty banning biological weapons and were needed to protect Americans against a growing danger. "This administration will pursue defenses against the full spectrum of biological threats," the official said.
The treaty, another administration official said, allows the United States to conduct research on both microbes and germ munitions for "protective or defensive purposes."
Some Clinton administration officials worried, however, that the project violated the pact. And others expressed concern that the experiments, if disclosed, might be misunderstood as a clandestine effort to resume work on a class of weapons that President Nixon had relinquished in 1969.
Simultaneous experiments involving a model of a germ bomb, a factory to make biological agents and the developoment of more potent anthrax, these officials said, would draw vociferous protests from Washington if conducted by a country the United States viewed as suspect.
Administration officials said the need to keep such projects secret was a significant reason behind President Bush's recent rejection of a draft agreement to strengthen the germ-weapons treaty, which has been signed by 143 nations.
The draft would require those countries to disclose where they are conducting defensive research involving gene-splicing or germs likely to be used in weapons. The sites would then be subject to international inspections.
Many national security officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations opposed the draft, arguing that it would give potential adversaries a road map to what the United States considers its most serious vulnerabilities.
Among the facilities likely to be open to inspection under the draft agreement would be the West Jefferson, Ohio, laboratory of the Battelle Memorial Institute, a military contractor that has been selected to create the genetically altered anthrax.
Several officials who served in senior posts in the Clinton administration acknowledged that the secretive efforts were so poorly coordinated that even the White House was unaware of their full scope.
The Pentagon's project to build a germ factory was not reported to the White House, they said. President Clinton, who developed an intense interest in germ weapons, was never briefed on the programs under way or contemplated, the officials said.
A former senior official in the Clinton White House conceded that in retrospect, someone should have been responsible for reviewing the projects to ensure that they were not only effective in defending the United States, but consistent with the nation's arms-control pledges.
The C.I.A.'s tests on the bomb model touched off a dispute among government experts after the tests were concluded in 2000, with some officials arguing that they violated the germ treaty's prohibition against developing weapons.
Intelligence officials said lawyers at the agency and the White House concluded that the work was defensive, and therefore allowed. But even officials who supported the effort acknowledged that it brought the United States closer to what was forbidden.
"It was pressing how far you go before you do something illegal or immoral," recalled one senior official who was briefed on the program.
Public disclosure of the research is likely to complicate the position of the United States, which has long been in the forefront of efforts to enforce the ban on germ weapons.
The Bush administration's willingness to abandon the 1972 Antiballistic Missile treaty has already drawn criticism around the world. And the administration's stance on the draft agreement for the germ treaty has put Washington at odds with many of its allies, including Japan and Britain.
The Original Treaty
During the cold war, both the United States and the Soviet Union produced vast quantities of germ weapons, enough to kill everyone on earth.
Eager to halt the spread of what many called the poor man's atom bomb, the United States unilaterally gave up germ arms and helped lead the global campaign to abolish them. By 1975, most of the world's nations had signed the convention.
In doing so, they agreed not to develop, produce, acquire or stockpile quantities or types of germs that had no "prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes." They also pledged not to develop or obtain weapons or other equipment "designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict."
There were at least two significant loopholes: The pact did not define "defensive" research or say what studies might be prohibited, if any. And it provided no means of catching cheaters.
In the following decades, several countries did cheat, some on a huge scale. The Soviet Union built entire cities devoted to developing germ weapons, employing tens of thousands of people and turning anthrax, smallpox and bubonic plague into weapons of war. In the late 1980's, Iraq began a crash program to produce its own germ arsenal.
Both countries insisted that their programs were for defensive purposes.
American intelligence officials had suspected that Baghdad and Moscow were clandestinely producing germ weapons. But the full picture of their efforts did not become clear until the 1990's, after several Iraqi and Soviet officials defected.
Fears about the spread of biological weapons were deepened by the rise of terrorism against Americans, the great strides in genetic engineering and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which left thousands of scientists skilled in biological warfare unemployed, penniless and vulnerable to recruitment.
The threat disclosed a quandary: While the United States spent billions of dollars a year to assess enemy military forces and to defend against bullets, tanks, bombs and jet fighters, it knew relatively little about the working of exotic arms it had relinquished long ago.
Designing a Delivery System
In the mid-1990's, the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies stepped up their search for information about other nations' biological research programs, focusing on the former Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq and Libya, among others. Much of the initial emphasis was on the germs that enemies might use in an attack, officials said.
But in 1997, the agency embarked on Clear Vision, which focused on weapons systems that would deliver the germs.
Intelligence officials said the project was led by Gene Johnson, a senior C.I.A. scientist who had long worked with some of the world's deadliest viruses. Dr. Johnson was eager to understand the damage that Soviet miniature bombs bomblets, in military parlance might inflict.
The agency asked its spies to find or buy a Soviet bomblet, which releases germs in a fine mist. That search proved unsuccessful, and the agency approved a proposal to build a replica and study how well it could disperse its lethal cargo.
The agency's lawyers concluded that such a project was permitted by the treaty because the intent was defensive. Intelligence officials said the C.I.A. had reports that at least one nation was trying to buy the Soviet- made bomblets.
A model was constructed and the agency conducted two sets of tests at Battelle, the military contractor. The experiments measured dissemination characteristics and how the model performed under different atmospheric conditions, intelligence officials said. They emphasized that the device was a "portion" of a bomb that could not have been used as a weapon.
The experiments caused concern at the White House, which learned about the project after it was under way. Some aides to President Clinton worried that the benefits did not justify the risks. But a White House lawyer led a joint assessment by several departments that concluded that the program did not violate the treaty, and it went ahead.
The questions were debated anew after the project was completed, this time without consensus. A State Department official argued for a strict reading of the treaty: the ban on acquiring or developing "weapons" barred states from building even a partial model of a germ bomb, no matter what the rationale.
"A bomb is a bomb is a bomb," another official said at the time.
The C.I.A. continued to insist that it had the legal authority to conduct such tests and, intelligence officials said, the agency was prepared to reopen the fight over how to interpret the treaty. But even so, the agency ended the Clear Vision project in the last year of the Clinton administration, intelligence officials said.
Bill Harlow, the C.I.A. spokesman, acknowledged that the agency had conducted "laboratory or experimental" work to assess the intelligence it had gathered about biological warfare.
"Everything we have done in this respect was entirely appropriate, necessary, consistent with U.S. treaty obligations and was briefed to the National Security Council staff and appropriate Congressional oversight committees," Mr. Harlow said.
Breeding More Potent Anthrax
In the 1990's, government officials also grew increasingly worried about the possibility that scientists could use the widely available techniques of gene-splicing to create even more deadly weapons.
Those concerns deepened in 1995, when Russian scientists disclosed at a scientific conference in Britain that they had implanted genes from Bacillus cereus, an organism that causes food poisoning, into the anthrax microbe.
The scientists said later that the experiments were peaceful; the two microbes can be found side-by-side in nature and, the Russians said, they wanted to see what happened if they cross-bred.
A published account of the experiment, which appeared in a scientific journal in late 1997, alarmed the Pentagon, which had just decided to require that American soldiers be vaccinated against anthrax. According to the article, the new strain was resistant to Russia's anthrax vaccine, at least in hamsters.
American officials tried to obtain a sample from Russia through a scientific exchange program to see whether the Russians had really created such a hybrid. The Americans also wanted to test whether the microbe could defeat the American vaccine, which is different from that used by Russia.
Despite repeated promises, the bacteria were never provided.
Eventually the C.I.A. drew up plans to replicate the strain, but intelligence officials said the agency hesitated because there was no specific report that an adversary was attempting to turn the superbug into a weapon.
This year, officials said, the project was taken over by the Pentagon's intelligence arm, the Defense Intelligence Agency. Pentagon lawyers reviewed the proposal and said it complied with the treaty. Officials said the research would be part of Project Jefferson, yet another government effort to track the dangers posed by germ weapons.
A spokesman for Defense Intelligence, Lt. Cmdr. James Brooks, declined comment. Asked about the precautions at Battelle, which is to create the enhanced anthrax, Commander Brooks said security was "entirely suitable for all work already conducted and planned for Project Jefferson."
The Question of Secrecy
While several officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations called this and other research long overdue, they expressed concern about the lack of a central system for vetting such proposals.
And a former American diplomat questioned the wisdom of keeping them secret.
James F. Leonard, head of the delegation that negotiated the germ treaty, said research on microbes or munitions could be justified, depending on the specifics.
But he said such experiments should be done openly, exposed to the scrutiny of scientists and the public. Public disclosure, he said, is important evidence that the United States is proceeding with a "clean heart."
"It's very important to be open," he said. "If we're not open, who's going to be open?"
Mr. Leonard said the fine distinctions drawn by government lawyers were frequently ignored when a secret program was exposed. Then, he said, others offer the harshest possible interpretations a "vulgarization of what has been done."
But he concluded that the secret germ research, as described to him, was "foolish, but not illegal."
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
Inquiries Expand in Three States
Sunday, October 14, 2001
Officials in New York, Florida and Nevada reported new incidents or information involving anthrax yesterday, heightening concerns nationwide but demonstrating no links among the cases.
In New York, investigators announced that they had located the source of the anthrax that sickened one, and perhaps two, NBC employees at Rockefeller Center: a letter mailed to the television network from Trenton on Sept. 18.
That finding meant a sharp turn for an investigation that until yesterday had been focused on a separate set of three letters, all postmarked from St. Petersburg, Fla., and sent to NBC, to The New York Times and to The St. Petersburg Times. Tests on those letters have been negative, leading health officials in New York to all but dismiss the possibility that they posed a health threat.
"We're very confident that at this point we're ruling it out," New York City's health commissioner, Dr. Neal L. Cohen, said at an afternoon news conference with Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and officials from the federal government and NBC.
In Nevada, Gov. Kenny Guinn and other state officials said that tests had shown that pictures contained in a letter sent from Malaysia to a Microsoft office in Reno were contaminated with anthrax. Several people at the office may have come into contact with the letter, but no one has tested positive for exposure, officials said.
In Florida, five more employees at American Media tested positive for anthrax exposure. Three employees of the Boca Raton publishing company had previously tested positive, including one who died.
The New York Times reported yesterday that both letters sent to NBC, from Trenton and St. Petersburg, were turned over to the F.B.I. on Sept. 26.
But Barry W. Mawn, the assistant director in charge of the F.B.I.'s New York office, said yesterday that the bureau did not learn of the Trenton letter until Friday, when investigators went to the network's studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza following confirmation that an assistant to the NBC anchor Tom Brokaw had tested positive for anthrax. They picked it up and turned it over to health officials who tested it and confirmed the presence of anthrax.
"Now we have identified the missing link, so to speak, the actual cause of the anthrax that created this whole situation," said NBC's chairman, Robert Wright. "So we are no longer dealing with an unknown time, date and place and that is very important."
Several people handled the Trenton letter when it was first received at NBC, perhaps as early as Sept. 19, including Mr. Brokaw's assistant, Erin M. O'Connor, and the woman who opened it, a clerical employee whom network and health officials would not identify. That woman, they said, has had a fever, a rash and swollen lymph nodes, symptoms consistent with anthrax exposure, and is being treated with antibiotics. Officials are awaiting results on a definitive exposure test, which should be available within the next day or two. Health officials said that like Ms. O'Connor, the woman was thought to have been exposed through her skin, not as a result of inhaling anthrax spores, and was expected to fully recover.
Officials at NBC have not been able to say definitively when the woman first opened the Trenton letter in the offices of NBC Nightly News on the third floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, only that it was between Sept. 19 and Sept. 25. The letter arrived in a white envelope with no return address. The president of NBC News, Neal Shapiro, said that when the clerical employee opened it, a brown granular substance fell out. The woman brushed much of the sand like material into a trash can near her desk, he said, and the letter was eventually placed in another envelope and added to a stash of hate mail that the company collects and occasionally forwards to authorities. It is unclear when Ms. O'Connor came into contact with the Trenton letter, or if she was initially told of the substance that had fallen from the envelope.
Other than a small group of people who handled that letter, estimated at no more than half a dozen, health officials said yesterday that there appeared to be very little risk to other NBC employees and that they thought there was no remaining danger of infection at the building.
To ensure that no else has been exposed or infected, more than 400 NBC employees who had visited the NBC Nightly News offices around the time the letters were received have been tested, but the results of those tests were not yet available. Yesterday, NBC employees continued to line up at the network's offices to get the tests, which now are being recommended for anyone who may have been in the area between Sept. 19 and Sept. 25.
Last night, NBC News broadcast its evening news from the Today Show studio across the street from 30 Rockefeller Plaza, as employees were still being kept away from the "NBC Nightly News" offices.
"The public health risks associated with that building right now are minimum, and pretty close to negligible," said Stephen M. Ostroff, chief epidemiologist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "So people who work in that building, spend time in that building, should go about their business."
Health officials were awaiting a final round of tests on the letter sent to The New York Times, which was received Friday morning by Judith Miller, a reporter who covers bioterrorism. After opening that letter, which had been sent from St. Petersburg, a white powder dusted Ms. Miller's face, hands and sweater. But Dr. Cohen said he was very confident that these final tests would also come back negative, meaning that none of the letters sent from St. Petersburg are contaminated.
Since the first case of anthrax was confirmed in Florida earlier this month, dozens of reports of other possible cases have spawned investigations.
Many reports, though, turned out to be false.
Yesterday, passengers who had flown from Chicago were temporarily detained aboard their United Airlines jet after landing in San Jose when a passenger reported that a man had stood up in mid-flight and released a powdery substance from an envelope.
Fire department personnel boarded the plane, took the man off, stripped him of his clothing, washed him down with detergent and dressed him in a hazardous materials suit that prevents vapors from passing out of it. The substance turned out to be confetti that spilled out of a greeting card.
A suspicious powder at a post office in Parker, Colo., turned out to be pudding mix.
As reports of anthrax findings continued to spread, Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary for health and human services, convened a conference call yesterday with federal health leaders and public health directors around the country.
One person who participated, Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, described it as "an information-sharing update call," and said while such calls have occurred in the past, this is the first time he can remember that a cabinet official participated.
"The real number of letters with anthrax could continue; we don't know how long that will happen," he said. "The bigger risk right now to the system are the hoax letters in terms of just choking the system up."
Work has already started in New Jersey to try to determine the source of the anthrax sent to NBC. But an F.B.I. official there said that the Trenton postmark means that the letter could have come from a wide section of central New Jersey, since there is a regional postal center in Trenton.
"There are over 100 different collection boxes or post offices it could have come from," said Sandra Carroll, an F.B.I. spokeswoman.
October 17, 2001
he discovery of what government officials say is high-grade anthrax in a letter mailed to Congress is the most worrisome development yet in a series of bioterrorist attacks that has already rattled the nation.
The officials and weapons experts said yesterday that it suggested that somewhere, someone has access to the sort of germ weapons capable of inflicting huge casualties.
So far, the officials said, the attacker or attackers have used a rudimentary delivery system: the mail. Their intent and capabilities remain unknown, as does the amount of anthrax available to them. But what worries the officials in Washington is the possibility that an adversary with even a small quantity could easily find much more effective means of spreading the disease.
Until yesterday's preliminary analysis of the letter received by Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, the spate of anthrax-laced envelopes stirred considerable anxiety but posed a limited threat. Some experts assumed that the anthrax being sent around the country was crudely made, composed mostly of large particles that fell to the ground and thus endangered primarily those in the immediate area.
What government officials say arrived in Senator Daschle's office was significantly more threatening. Following the use of anthrax in Florida, it suggests that for the first time in history a sophisticated form of anthrax has been developed and used as a weapon in warfare or bioterrorism.
The key to understanding the danger, experts said, is in the size of the particles. The anthrax sent to Mr. Daschle, government officials said, was finely milled so that it would float a considerable distance on the smallest of air currents.
Producing germs that could be spread as a mist had been the main technical challenge facing germ warriors throughout the 20th century. Anthrax is what the Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg calls a "professional pathogen," a hardy germ that could wreak havoc if inhaled. The trick was turning it into an aerosol that lingers.
Decades ago, Soviet and American scientists separately devised methods to dry and grind anthrax into the tiny particles five microns or less that could easily enter the nostrils and lodge in the lungs.
Experts say an adversary armed with anthrax in this form would have a host of possible targets for mass terrorism. Experiments by the United States in the 1960's showed that anthrax released in the New York City subway could spread widely underground, infecting large numbers of people. Federal officials used a benign germ related to anthrax to demonstrate the possible effects.
An enemy with large quantities of high-grade anthrax could mount a credible attack on a city or large office building. Dried anthrax could be spread using a crop-duster or small airplane equipped with the appropriate nozzles. Buildings are an easier target and could be contaminated with a much smaller amount of anthrax pumped through a garden spray bottle, experts say.
Victims of an anthrax attack can be easily treated with antibiotics, but that requires that public health officials recognize the germ has been dispersed at a particular location. Experts say that detection equipment is far from reliable, which means the first signs could come when people show up in the emergency room with flulike symptoms.
Anthrax was one of the most important weapons in both the Soviet Union's and the United States' germ weapons arsenals.
Officials from both countries say they never used germ weapons, though Ken Alibek, a prominent defector from the Soviet germ warfare program, maintains that Moscow may have used germs as weapons against Germany and in Afghanistan.
The United States abandoned its own germ program in 1969, and soon after most of the world's nations signed an international treaty banning the development and possession of such weapons.
The Soviet Union also signed the pact, but cheated on a massive scale, say former Soviet officials who worked to refine the strains of anthrax, among other germs, until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990.
In the 1980's, other nations, notably Iraq, began developing the germ as a weapon. Iraqi scientists spent more than five years on the project, cultivating anthrax and processing it into a wet slurry that was loaded into bombs and missiles.
United Nations inspectors who later studied the Iraqi program said Baghdad did not manage to produce dry anthrax that could be delivered as an aerosol though it did buy specialized nozzles for its fleet of crop- dusters.
In the years since, United Nations officials say, Iraq has acquired the capability to produce the high-grade, dry anthrax of the appropriate particle size.
None of this history gives investigators much of a hint as to the origins of the current attack. It is not clear whether the anthrax sent to Senator Daschle was produced by the attacker or attackers, bought from a foreign nation or made with the help of a rogue scientist.
Nor was it known whether the attacker or attackers could make or obtain larger quantities.
Former germ weapons scientists say that neither is easy. It took experienced Iraqi scientists several years to figure out how to cultivate large amounts of anthrax, which is the crucial first step to making a weapon.
Drying the germs is relatively straightforward. But that process creates a mix of particles that stick together, and most of them are far too large for use as an effective weapon. Grinding the material to a small, uniform size without damaging a significant portion of the germs is not easily done, former American and Soviet germ scientists say.
The discovery of expertly processed anthrax, one former scientist said, casts serious doubt on the theory advanced by some investigators that the germ attacks were the work of a lone amateur with a smattering of knowledge about biology.
"I do think in one form or another, a state was involved," one former American scientist said. "It could be employees of a former state, such as a Russian scientist."
Nor is it clear whether Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's network, was involved in any way. American intelligence officials say Mr. bin Laden has tried to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Until now, there has been no suggestion that he has succeeded in this goal, although there have been reports of testing chemicals and crude biological weapons on animals at one of his training camps in Afghanistan.
The attempted use of anthrax against a United States senator takes President Bush into a new, uncharted realm, particularly if the attack is ever linked to a specific nation. On the eve of the gulf war, his father weighed the question of whether to respond with nuclear weapons to a germ attack against the United States-led coalition. After a discussion among his senior advisers, President George Bush decided against such retaliation. Instead, American officials sent Baghdad an ambiguously phrased warning that was delivered in a letter from Mr. Bush to Saddam Hussein.
"Your country," the letter said, "will pay a terrible price if you order unconscionable acts."
A NATION CHALLENGED: NBC;
Doctor in City Reported Anthrax Case Before Florida
By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN
Three days before anthrax was first detected in Florida, a Manhattan doctor called the New York City Department of Health to report a suspicion: one of his patients might have contracted anthrax.
The doctor, Richard P. Fried, said his concern was based on the irritating skin lesion that his patient, Erin O'Connor, an NBC employee, had developed on her chest after powder from an envelope had spilled on her at work.
''I expressed my concerns about what this could be'' to the health department, Dr. Fried said. He stated those concerns, he said, first on Oct. 1 and in later conversations with a health department epidemiologist, but the department did not notify the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or send specimens there.
Dr. Marcelle Layton, an assistant commissioner in the health department's communicable disease bureau, confirmed the gist of the account by Dr. Fried, a specialist in infectious diseases. The C.D.C. was not notified, Dr. Layton said, because the initial culture tests performed on Ms. O'Connor and on the letter showed no evidence of anthrax.
''Everything Dr. Fried did was right and reasonable,'' Dr. Layton said, but the initial situation ''did not reach a level of concern because it was too early to do so.''
Ms. O'Connor's case of cutaneous anthrax was diagnosed on Oct. 9, rattling the city and setting off an intense investigation into its source.
Dr. Fried said that on Oct. 1, after he first examined Ms. O'Connor, he told her she might have an infected spider bite or Lyme disease, but he did not mention anthrax. ''I just did not want to alarm her,'' he said.
Nevertheless, Dr. Fried said he took the precaution of prescribing Cipro in the event that Ms. O'Connor did indeed have the disease.
Dr. Fried said he re-examined Ms. O'Connor on Oct. 3 and on Oct. 8, when the lesion had developed into a black crust, which is characteristic of cutaneous anthrax. But Dr. Fried and the health department were perplexed because anthrax did not grow on the culture taken from the skin lesion.
News reports of anthrax in Florida raised Ms. O'Connor's concern, and she sought other opinions.
The second infectious-disease specialist, who asked not to be identified, had seen many anthrax cases while working in a developing country. When he saw Ms. O'Connor's chest, he said, the lesion ''was as classic-looking as you can get.''
Ms. O'Connor then went to Dr. Marc Grossman, a dermatologist at Columbia-Presbyterian Center, who had never seen a case of anthrax. But on Oct. 4, when the first case of anthrax was reported in Florida, Dr. Grossman had readied and given a lecture on cutaneous anthrax to young doctors at the school.
So when Ms. O'Connor came to his office on Oct. 9, the diagnosis was obvious, he said.
The source of her anthrax became evident only when it was found in the powder from a different envelope.
Ms. O'Connor did not wish to be interviewed, an NBC spokeswoman said.
Checked for Anthrax; U.S. Officials Acknowledge Underestimating Mail Risks
Stung by Criticism, Aides Gather to Coordinate Efforts on Anthrax
By Judith Miller and Sheryl Gay
Washington, Oct. 24 - After a day of recriminations over how the government handled information about anthrax attacks, public health and law enforcement authorities gathered at the White House tonight to devise a strategy for responding to future strikes, which they say are almost certain to occur.
The closed session in the Roosevelt Room, led by Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, followed complaints by several government officials that better sharing of information might have saved the lives of two postal workers and prevented others from falling ill.
Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, the parent agency of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have complained privately that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the anthrax inquiry, did not pass along information about the potency of the anthrax contained in the letter sent to Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader. That letter, which was opened by an aide to Mr. Daschle on Oct. 15, passed through post offices in Trenton and Washington, where postal workers became sick this week.
For their part, F.B.I. officials said they had fully shared what they knew about the deadly anthrax.
And they moved today to alert the public to the possibility of additional attacks. "We are assessing threats in real time and providing warnings to your cities and your nation," Robert S. Mueller III, the bureaus director, told the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "And I must tell you that the threat level remains very high. More attempts and possible attacks are a distinct possibility."
The question of how dangerous the Daschle anthrax was has been the subject of intense debate. Despite Bush administration officials earlier efforts to minimize the threat, scientists, and public health and law enforcement officials agreed today that the anthrax in the letter to Senator Daschle was especially dangerous.
"When I saw that, I said to myself, this is material that is quite formidable, that is infecting people with inhalation anthrax, infecting them in the absence of direct contact," Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. "You can call it whatever you want to call it with regard to grade and size or weaponized or not weaponized. The fact is, it is acting like a highly efficient bioterrorist agent."
Dr. Fauci added, "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the it is a duck."
Several public health officials complained today of a failure of communications that they said began on the day the Daschle letter was opened. Instead of being sent to the C.D.C., the agency analyzing anthrax samples from Florida and New York, the letter was sent by the Capital police to the Armys biological laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md.
Stung by Criticism, Officials Try to Join Anthrax Efforts
As postal workers began falling sick this week, tensions erupted between these two agencies as well as with the F.B.I., which was supposed to be sharing information each laboratory was producing. At issue is whether a communications failure prevented the centers from taking more aggressive steps to protect postal workers.
"Its fair to say that had we known the concentration of the material, that would probably have given people cause to say, boy, we had better go look at this more carefully," said a person who has been briefed on the investigation. "Im not sure that it meant you would have done any more with the mail people, but you sure might have."
F.B.I. officials said today that senior law enforcement officials and a scientist from the Army laboratory discussed the potency of the Daschle anthrax in a conference call on Oct. 15, the day the letter was opened. The disease control agency participated, they said.
John Collingwood, the bureaus spokesman, said in a statement tonight, "On the same evening after the letter was opened, the Army laboratory described to the F.B.I. along with other appropriate agencies, law enforcement and public health alike, the extreme virulent nature of the anthrax. Thanks to their quick work the seriousness of the situation was unmistakable and was widely broadcast. We have nothing but the highest praise for both the Army laboratory and the C.D.C."
But centers officials said the tests on the anthrax were not completed by the time of that conference call. They said that only after postal workers died did they realize that the anthrax sent to Mr. Daschle was probably deadlier than the material they had analyzed from NBC in New York and from the American Media building in Florida.
What distinguished the anthrax in the Daschle letter, experts said today, was its ability to waft easily through the air like an aerosol.
Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, the director of the disease control agency, said tonight that the agency now believed that the Daschle letter, and possibly others, "contained in a form that permits it to permeate the letter or escape through the letter in some way."
One official said, however, that the agency had not initially been made aware that the anthrax particles in the Daschle letter were small enough to have escaped a sealed envelope.
Had the agency known this from the outset, the official said, it might have moved quickly to test post offices in Washington and New Jersey, and screen workers there to determine if they had been exposed to anthrax. Instead, the agency advised postal officials that there was no need for immediate testing and screening.
Officials at Health and Human Services, Ft. Detrick and the disease control agency declined to comment on the discrepancies in testing or on their different approaches.
Tensions over what the disease control agency was told, and when, erupted during a closed session in the office of Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, on Tuesday morning. One official said Dr. Fauci, in particular, was angry about public statement by administration officials that suggested the Daschle anthrax posed only a limited threat.
The lapses have been compounded by a culture of mistrust between the Army laboratory, which focuses on defending American forces against biological attack, and the Atlanta-based disease control agency, which only recently has become involved in antiterrorism preparedness. Scientists at the Army laboratory have long been concerned that their agency counterparts underestimate the threat posed by bioterrorism.
Normally, scientists prefer to analyze all samples from an investigation in the same laboratory. In this case, officials from both laboratories said the reason that they did not communicate directly about their respective findings was that the letters were the subject of a criminal investigation that was being led by the F.B.I. Therefore, they felt that it was incumbent upon them to report only to the bureau and to let law enforcement make the decision about what information to disseminate.
Some officials said, however, that the miscommunications may not have affected the public health response. "This is the first time something like this has happened," one official said. "There was no way of knowing that the anthrax in the post office would ever have spread that far."
Contradicting Some U.S. Officials, 3 Scientists Call Anthrax Powder High-Grade
Two Experts say the anthrax was altered to produce a more deadly weapon
By William J. Broad
Scientists in and out of government said yesterday that the anthrax strike on Capitol Hill involved an advanced, highly refined powder that is quite dangerous and not the primitive form of the germ that some federal officials have recently described.
Three top scientists - all with experience in germ weapons and knowledge of the federal investigation - said in interviews yesterday that the powder was high-grade and in theory capable of inflicting wide casualties.
And, two of the scientists said, the anthrax was altered from its natural state to reduce its electrostatic charge, a process that prevents small particles from sticking together and to nearby objects, thus making them more likely to become airborne.
The experts noted that turning anthrax into a weapon of mass destruction still required added steps, like making the powder in quantity and learning how to disseminate it effectively. One expert said that only the United States, the Soviet Union and Iraq were known to have developed the necessary technique. But the experts said some officials were playing down the powders potency out of ignorance or an impulse to reassure a frightened public.
Federal officials and weapons experts have given varying descriptions of the powder in the 10 days since an aide to Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the majority leader, opened a letter containing the anthrax.
Some federal officials have said the germs were an unrefined preparation of microbes, while others have warned that they were potent and easily turned into a cloud that could infect many people. Anthrax spores in the powder contaminated at least 28 people in Senate offices.
None of these people have become sick, but federal investigators said the Daschle letter may have leaked anthrax in transit from New Jersey and infected postal workers there and in Washington. Two Washington postal workers have died of anthrax.
William Patrick III, a microbiologist who designed germ weapons for the United States before President Richard M. Nixon renounced them in 1969, said he had learned details of the federal inquiry from a senior investigator. The Senate powder, Mr. Patrick said, was quite capable of sailing far through the air to hurt many people.
He said the makers of the anthrax spores sent to Mr. Daschles office had produced a dry powder that was remarkably free of extraneous material.
"Its high-grade," said Mr. Patrick, who consults widely on making germ defenses. "Its free flowing. Its electrostatic free. And its in high concentration."
Experts in germ weaponry agree that the removal of electrostatic charges is a major step toward making an effective munition. The Soviet Union and United States developed sophisticated ways of diminishing this attraction and helping the particles float more freely, increasing their ease of dissemination and likelihood of inhalation.
Mr. Patrick said that whoever sent the Daschle letter had clearly achieved this step. "Its fluffy," he said, quoting experts who examined the powder. "It appears to have an additive that keeps the spores from clumping." Removing the charge, he added, is a black art, few details of which are known publicly.
Assertions by some federal officials that the material was not the type that would be used in weapons are "nonsense," he said. "The only difference between this and weapons grades is the size of the production. You can produce a very good grade of anthrax in the lab. The issue is whether those efforts can be expanded in scale, so you can make large quantities."
Richard Spertzel, a microbiologist and former head of biological inspection teams in Iraq for the United Nations, said he, too, had talked to federal investigators about the Senate powder.
"There is no question this is weapons quality," Dr. Spertzel said. "It has all the characteristics - fine particles and readily dispersible." Particles must be small to penetrate deep into human lungs, where they can start a lethal infection.
Al Zelicoff, a physician and expert on biological weapons at the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, who is developing a computerized system to allow epidemiologists to track suspicious disease outbreaks, said his conversations with federal investigators had alarmed him.
"These people know what theyre doing," Dr. Zelicoff said of the anthrax terrorists. "Im truly worried. They have the keys to the kingdom."
He cautioned, however, that the federal investigation was continuing and had produced results that were preliminary, with no firm conclusions.
"But if they have indeed perfected the aerosolization process," Dr. Zelicoff said of the terrorists, "its strongly suggested they can do large-scale dissemination when they wish."
October 27, 2001
Outbreak of '57 Felled a Mill but Yielded Answers
MANCHESTER, N.H., Oct. 25 It started with a scratchy throat, a parched sensation that would not go away no matter what Albert Langlois did. It was 1957 and Mr. Langlois had started a new job just two months earlier, working at the Arms Textile Mill, pulling out wool and goat hair that was too short to be made into fabric.
But one day in late October, Mr. Langlois, 33, told his wife that he did not feel well.
"For a few days he says, 'Gee my throat is so dry,' " recalled his wife, Stella, 73. "All he did was drink water. He kept drinking and drinking. We thought it was the flu or something. We didn't know what it was."
It turned out to be anthrax, and Mr. Langlois, the father of two young sons, died a few days later. He was one of nine men at the mill who were infected. Four died of inhalation anthrax in what is still the nation's only outbreak of the disease.
The mill on the banks of the Merrimack River is now gone, destroyed in what was then one of the world's largest decontamination projects ever, and most people in Manchester have forgotten about the outbreak. Nevertheless, the millworkers who died left a legacy that reverberates now as the nation confronts a battery of anthrax attacks. The episode enabled science to show that the anthrax vaccine works.
"It's the only anthrax epidemic we've had in this country," said Dr. Philip S. Brachman, an expert in anthrax epidemiology, who in 1957, the year the Arms Textile Mill workers became ill, was in the process of testing an anthrax vaccine for the Centers for Disease Control. By coincidence, he had chosen the Manchester mill as a site for his experiment. The fact that no vaccinated workers got anthrax during the epidemic, he said, "really suggested that the vaccination was effective."
Equally important, the Manchester outbreak gave scientists glimpses of how hardy and opportunistic anthrax bacteria can be. The nine victims five with inhalation anthrax and four with cutaneous anthrax became infected while working at the Arms Textile Mill here, but not in the same room or at the same time. Some worked in the carding room, some in the weaving department, and some operated the combing machines, where they removed short lengths of hair or wool called noils. The men became ill over a period of 10 weeks.
What they had in common, epidemiologists later discovered, was that at some point all had handled the fibers of a single shipment of black goat hair from Pakistan. The anthrax, Dr. Brachman said, must have been stubbornly present in that shipment.
"It was the only lot that all the workers had contact with," he said. "The hair from this one particular lot was going to machinery that all these employees were working at when they got ill. But some were at the beginning of the process, some were in the middle of the process, and some were at the end."
Cutaneous, or skin, anthrax, characterized by black lesions on the hands, was not unheard of in textile manufacturing at that time. The Arms Textile Mill, which turned goat hair and wool into lining for fashionable suits, recorded more than 100 cases of it from 1941 to 1957.
Anthrax is caused by bacteria that typically infect animals. For this reason, it was considered, in its cutaneous form, to be such an occupational hazard that it was known as wool-sorter's or ragpicker's disease. It was treatable with antibiotics.
"My guess is at some level anthrax was accepted back then," said Frederick A. Rusczek, director of the Manchester Health Department. "It was an occupational illness."
Perhaps that is why more workers did not participate in the vaccine study that Dr. Brachman was conducting. Few, if any, would have known about inhalation anthrax, rarer and more deadly than skin anthrax. The study sprang out of the cold war fear that enemies would seek to use anthrax as a biological weapon, and Dr. Brachman's task was to see if the vaccine worked.
In May 1957 he enlisted participants at three mills in Pennsylvania and at the Arms mill, one of a cluster of imposing 19th-century red brick buildings near downtown Manchester. At Arms, about 300 of the 600 employees agreed to participate in the study. Half of those received the vaccine, half a placebo.
During the epidemic, from late August to early November, four of the nine who got infected had received the placebo. Two of those infected, including Mr. Langlois, began working at the mill after the study began and therefore could not participate. The other three chose not to participate, Dr. Brachman said.
One of those was Antonio Jette, 49, who worked in the carding room, placing the goat hair, wool and fibers into machines, which straightened and aligned the strands.
Both carding and combing, Mr. Langlois's work, generate dust, and the epidemiologists found that most of the anthrax infections occurred in those two departments.
Mr. Jette's daughter, Anita Simonds, now 74, said her father never mentioned anything about the vaccination experiment.
"We never heard of that," she said. "In them days you never knew anything unless you were very intelligent and asked a lot of questions." She remembers her father became ill in September, cutting short a Labor Day trip to a state fair to come home. A few days later, he went upstairs and lay down on his bed.
"He never seemed to wake up," Mrs. Simonds said. "My God, he'd never been sick a day."
After the epidemic, Dr. Brachman's team decided to jettison the experiment and vaccinate all workers at the mill. With vaccination a condition of employment, no more millworkers became infected, but in 1966, Norbert Lemoine, a 46-year-old worker at a machine shop across the alley from the mill, died after contracting inhalation anthrax, presumably from spores that had wafted over from the building.
The nation's current supply of anthrax vaccine, derived from the experiments of 1957, was licensed in 1970 by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent the form of anthrax that afflicts the skin. The vaccine is given to military personnel and is not commercially available.
In 1968, Arms Textile went out of business and the mill was sealed while health officials figured out how to make sure that anthrax spores there could not escape.
Unlike the epidemic, which received little attention in newspapers, the mill's future was big news. "Lethal Spores Could Menace All Manchester," declared a 1970 headline in The Manchester Union Leader.
In 1971, the decontamination process began, with workers who were vaccinated and dressed in protective suits and oxygen masks and tanks spraying first a detergent solution and then concentrated formaldehyde over the mill. In 1976, faced with trying to revitalize Manchester's fading factory row, the city decided to raze the building, worried that anthrax might still be hiding in the crevices of the old timber and brick, Mr. Rusczek of the Manchester Health Department said.
As the building came down, it was sprayed with a chlorine solution, he said. The timber was incinerated, and the bricks, doused in chlorine again, were buried a half-mile away.
Today, there is no sign of the epidemic that hit this sturdy river town. The site of the mill is now a parking lot, bordered by a hip bistro called Cotton and another factory building, which is now home to high-tech firms and tae kwon do gyms.
The place where the bricks were buried is a parking lot, too, for the Singer Family Park, where ball games and concerts are held.
For those who never forgot the anthrax epidemic, today's events are a chilling reminder of their helplessness long ago.
"We're learning more about anthrax now," Mrs. Simonds said, "than we ever knew then."
October 27, 2001
Czechs Confirm Iraqi Agent Met With Terror Ringleader
By PATRICK E. TYLER with JOHN TAGLIABUE
WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 - The Czech interior minister said today that an Iraqi intelligence officer met with Mohammed Atta, one of the ringleaders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, just five months before the synchronized hijackings and mass killings were carried out.
The official confirmation of the
meeting, the details of which remain a mystery, does not amount to proof
of Iraqi involvement in the attacks. But after weeks of speculation
and conflicting reports about Iraqi contacts with a cell leader who plotted
the attacks, today's
Federal law enforcement officials say that the meeting, in Prague, fit into Mr. Atta's itinerary this way: on April 4 he was in Virginia Beach. He flew to the Czech Republic on April 8 and met with the Iraqi intelligence officer, who was identified as Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani. By April 11, Mr. Atta was back in Florida renting a car.
A senior Bush administration official tonight indicated that the Czech decision to go public with the information about the meeting had taken Washington by surprise.
As for the meeting itself, the official said, "We are not sure we know exactly the full meaning of this, but we have known about it for some time." He said the administration would pursue the investigation "wherever it leads", adding, "We are relying on the intelligence agencies, investigators and law enforcement officials around the world to help us."
The public linkage of Iraq's intelligence service and the Al Qaeda terrorists also raises the question of whether those ties suggest Iraqi complicity - either through financing, training or the providing of forged travel documents - in the attacks last month.
The Czech authorities confirmed the meeting at a time of spirited debate in the Bush administration over whether to extend the antiterrorism military campaign now under way in Afghanistan to Iraq at some point in the future. Such a widening of the campaign is opposed by Arab countries and European allies already nervous that the American campaign is being seen as a Western assault on Muslims, despite repeated assurances that the target is not Islam but terrorism.
Speaking at a news conference in Prague, the Czech interior minister, Stanislav Gross, said that Mr. Atta met Mr. Ani, an Iraqi diplomat identified by Czech authorities as an intelligence officer, in early April.
Mr. Gross and other Czech officials suggested earlier this month that while there was evidence that Mr. Atta had visited Prague, there was none he had actually met with Iraqi agents. It was unclear what prompted them to revise their conclusions, although it seemed possible that American officials, concerned about the political implications of Iraqi involvement in terror attacks, had put pressure on the Czechs to keep quiet.
Mr. Atta, who had lived as a student in Hamburg, Germany, was unknown to Western intelligence services at the time, and did not attract the attention of the Czech authorities, according to Hynek Kmonicek, then deputy foreign minister and now ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Kmonicek on April 20 informed Mr. Ani that he was being expelled from the Czech Republic for activities incompatible with his diplomatic status, a code phrase for espionage.
"It's not a common thing," Mr. Kmonicek said, "for an Iraqi diplomat to meet a student from a neighboring country, though it is still premature to speculate further" on what transpired during the meeting.
Although Mr. Atta had been a student
in Hamburg, he had, by April of this year, shifted his operations to the
United States, where he and other members of the hijacking teams attended
flying schools in Florida and elsewhere, conducted surveillance of airports
and financed their preparations with large cash transfers from banks in
the United Arab
Mr. Ani was under surveillance because he had been observed near the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty headquarters in Prague, which Czech officials think has been selected for attack and is now heavily guarded. After Sept. 11, Czech officials worked frantically to trace Mr. Atta's movements, and his identity was established with help from airline passenger lists and passport records.
"The Czech confirmation seems to me very important," said R. James Woolsey, former director of central intelligence who has become a strong advocate outside government for a rigorous investigation of Iraq's possible role in terror against the United States. "It is yet another lead that points toward Iraqi involvement in some sort of terrorism against the United States that ought to be followed up vigorously," he said.
Today's news from Prague fits into a matrix of circumstantial evidence that is emerging on the question of Iraqi support or contact with terrorist groups, but none of it directly connects Saddam Hussein to the events of Sept. 11.
A senior Israeli official said today that the country's intelligence services had not come up with any evidence linking Iraq to those attacks, or to the anthrax scare in the United States. "We don't see any evidence of Al Qaeda in Iraq," the official said. "Not as a base, not as financial support." Still, he said, proof could emerge. "The only reason they might cooperate is the basic common hate of America and Israel," the official said. "But we don't think he's the bad guy - he's the bad guy, but not for this story."
New information does suggest that Mr. Hussein was actively training terrorists to attack American interests throughout the 1990's.
One example is the testimony of Sabah Khodada, a captain in the Iraqi army who emigrated to Texas in May after working for eight years at what he described as a terrorist training camp at a bend in the Tigris River just southeast of Baghdad.
Mr. Khodada's past was unknown to American officials until an Iraqi intelligence officer, who defected to Turkey earlier this year, told his debriefers about the training camp, at Salman Pak, and said Mr. Khodada had been an instructor there.
Mr. Khodada was interviewed for the PBS documentary program "Frontline," and he described the camp as a highly secret installation run by an international terrorist known only as the Ghost to the staff.
The camp brought non-Iraqi Arabs from Persian Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Mr. Khodada said, and gave them training "on assassinations, kidnapping, hijacking of airplanes, hijacking of buses, hijacking of trains, and all other kinds of operations related to terrorism."
Though security was tight there, Mr. Khodada said the Ghost and the other trainers who instructed the non-Iraqi Arabs talked about operations they were proud of.
"For example," he said, "they were telling us about how they were able to penetrate the American forces during the 1991 gulf war, where they went inside Saudi Arabian territory, and they were able to bring coordinates, exact coordinates of the Dhahran air base, which was hit by Scud missiles and many Americans were killed."
Such an account of Iraqi penetration behind American lines in the Persian Gulf war has not been asserted before, but an Iraqi Scud missile did hit an American barracks on Feb. 25, 1991, killing 28 soldiers and wounding nearly 100.
Mr. Khodada's account has yet to be independently confirmed, but the existence of the terrorist base where he worked was confirmed by United Nations inspectors, who searched Iraq for secret defense and weapons facilities during much of the 1990's.
Raymond Zalinskas, a member of the United Nations inspection force in 1994, said that during searches for biological weapons facilities at Salman Pak the inspectors learned of an "antiterrorist" training camp nearby that was in fact a terrorist training camp, according to intelligence reports they read.
"They called it an antiterrorist
training camp, but there was intelligence given to us that they actually
were training terrorists there," he said today. One of the prominent features
of the camp, he added, was a Boeing 707 that was used in hijacking simulations.
Mr. Khodada's identity might never have been known, were it not for the Iraqi National Congress, an opposition group headed by Ahmed Chalabi, a math teacher turned banker who emerged at the end of the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 to call for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
His group was involved in an abortive C.I.A. attempt to build an alliance in northern Iraq to challenge Mr. Hussein's rule. The recriminations over the failure of that effort have left bitter feelings on both sides and in Congress, where Mr. Chalabi continues to have some support. But senior officials in the State Department and the C.I.A. view information that comes from the group with skepticism.
In the case of Mr. Khodada, American
officials appear to have concluded that since he cannot provide hard evidence
that the terrorist training he observed resulted in specific acts of terror,
his information is of limited use. Still, a significant group of senior
administration officials, nominally led by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul
One of the most persistent assertions, again arising from information provided by Mr. Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, is that Mr. Hijazi was dispatched by Mr. Hussein in 1998 to meet with Osama bin Laden and offer him and his supporters in Al Qaeda a safe haven in Iraq.
Mr. Hussein was said to be so impressed with Al Qaeda's bombing strikes on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that he wanted to take control of the group's operations to serve Iraqi interests.
Turkish intelligence officials said this week that they had no information that Mr. Hijazi had traveled to Afghanistan or anywhere else to meet with Mr. bin Laden.
Still, Mr. Hijazi's connection to Iraq's secret service, notorious for internal repression and overseas assassinations, has caused embarrassment for Turkey, and Mr. Hijazi raced home to Baghdad on Sept. 24 after reports in the United States, still unconfirmed, asserted that he had met with Mr. bin Laden in 1998.
Zaben al-Kubaisay, the undersecretary of the Iraqi Embassy, said today from Ankara that Mr. Hijazi returned to Turkey this week. He also maintained he was unable to speak to reporters because of his heavy workload.
Bush administration officials seem at a loss to say how they would react if a smoking gun emerged on Iraqi terrorism against the United States, something that Mr. Wolfowitz at the Pentagon has warned the administration to prepare for.
Mr. Woolsey, a member of the Defense Policy Board that advises Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, says the answer is simple: "It is perfectly reasonable for the administration to focus first and foremost on the Taliban while gathering information about other possible states involved."
If such information proves such involvement, he added, the administration should, after careful consideration, take action, including military steps against Baghdad.
Another member of the Defense
Policy Board and a former defense secretary and C.I.A. chief, James R.
Schlesinger, is more circumspect. "We should be cautious before taking
action against Iraq which might destabilize one of the more moderate Arab
regimes," he said, "but more importantly, such action must be successful,
or it should be avoided for
Excruciating Lessons in the Ways of a Disease
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
This article was reported and written by William J. Broad, Stephen Engelberg, Judith Miller and Sheryl Gay Stolberg.
The diagnosis of inhalation anthrax in a New York hospital worker throws into question many of the assumptions about an outbreak for which the scientific and medical wisdom was already being revised daily, sometimes hourly.
Just a few days ago, it seemed possible that the spate of infections could be traced to a handful of anthrax-laced letters, in particular a remarkably potent one that wound its way from New Jersey to a Washington mail collection center and then, finally, to the office of Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader.
That now seems increasingly unlikely. And what was striking yesterday as officials struggled to explain the latest twist the infection in the hospital employee, who works in a basement stockroom and neither handles the mail for a living nor appears to have been the target of an anthrax-tainted letter was their acknowledgement of how much they do not know.
"It is unclear whether this particular instance is part of a pattern of other cases or whether it represents something different," said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We are making no assumptions as to where this exposure occurred."
Since the first case was diagnosed in Florida a month ago, almost every assumption about anthrax has been challenged, if not disproven outright. Finely ground anthrax, it now seems, can form a lethal mist with no more sophisticated a delivery system than an envelope in the mail. Powerful antibiotics, doctors have learned, can offer a fighting chance of survival even after symptoms have appeared. Yet the amount of spores needed to produce inhalation anthrax, the deadliest form of the disease, could be far smaller than previously believed.
The most recent case is even more confounding. Could a wisp of the anthrax mailed to Washington have found its way to the basement of a Manhattan hospital before settling in the lungs of the worker? Were there other letters and, if so, where are they? Or is this latest infection a harbinger that something worse is to come an anthrax outbreak in which the spores are being spread in some way other than the mail?
The inability of scientists to answer these questions points up how little experience they have with the illness.
Anthrax is an ancient disease, refined in the 20th century into a weapon of war. But there is little human data on how the infection takes hold in individuals or how an outbreak moves through populations.
There is also enormous uncertainty over who might have the capability to produce such a weapon. While only a few nations are known to have made anthrax in the form found in the letter to Senator Daschle, the technology for producing such finely ground particles is now widely available. While it might take more than a Ph.D. in microbiology to make the weapon, it is not beyond the ability of a terrorist group or even a lone individual trained in the arts of pharmacology.
"This is a classic who, what, when, where and why," said Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota. He added: "We are going to have to start getting used to this uncertainty in the short term, because it is going to take a while for these cases to be fully investigated."
A Public Health Puzzle
From a public health standpoint, the troubling, unanswered question about the 61-year-old New York hospital worker, who has been identified as Kathy T. Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant, is whether she is what epidemiologists term an outlier someone who fails to fit the pattern of an outbreak and therefore represents a harbinger that an epidemic is about to grow more dire.
"The obvious thing here is, it is not clear what her source of exposure would be," said Stephen S. Morse, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at Columbia University. "She doesn't fit the normal pattern. She's not a mail handler who was working in a facility where there was a lot of mail going to the media, or government offices, or an obvious target."
Before the outlier question can be settled, some old-fashioned disease detective work must be done. Authorities must track Ms. Nguyen's habits and whereabouts in the weeks before she became ill all without her help, since she is too ill to talk. They must test for anthrax in her home and workplace; the stockroom where she worked shared space with the hospital mailroom until recently. Some tests have already been conducted, and the few results that have come back so far have been negative.
"We are making no assumptions as to where this exposure occurred," Dr. Koplan said today, "and we have to both investigate and rule out where she worked, did she have other jobs and where else she might have been exposed, what were her patterns of activity."
He added, "And we don't have answers on all of those yet."
In any public health investigation, authorities zero in on the "mode of transmission" the way a disease is spread. In the case of anthrax, the mode of transmission so far has been the mail. But anthrax germs are being spread intentionally, not naturally, so officials must be open to the possibility that the mode of transmission may have changed.
One important clue is that the woman has developed inhalation anthrax, which occurs when microscopic spores lodge in a person's lungs. Although experts have theorized in recent weeks that anthrax might be spread when letters cross- contaminate one another in postal facilities, many are skeptical that the woman got infected this way.
One comforting sign, experts say, is that so far, no one else has gotten sick. If someone intentionally released anthrax spores in the hospital or some other place the woman visited, "you would probably see an epicenter of several people being infected," said Dr. Irwin Gelman, an infectious disease expert at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan.
So it may take additional anthrax cases if any emerge before authorities can determine whether the woman's infection is the result of exposure in the mail, or whether anthrax is being disseminated in a different way. That will help experts determine who else may be at risk.
"If you're investigating a serial killer, it's very hard to know the pattern of that serial killer after one or two murders," said Dr. Osterholm, of the University of Minnesota. "By the seventh or eighth murder, things start to appear in a particular way. As more cases come in, we will learn a lot about the epidemiologic pattern, and the risk factors for developing this infection."
Today, New York City public health officials urged doctors and hospitals to be alert for additional cases of inhalation anthrax. "You need to be watchful for those first cases that don't fit any established pattern," said Dr. Morse, of Columbia, "because they may tell you that there is another pattern that you need to be looking for."
The Contamination Chain
In theory, a single letter containing anthrax, like the letter sent to Mr. Daschle, could contaminate other letters moving with it through the postal system with enough anthrax to infect a person.
To some, that situation seems unlikely.
"The whole secondary spread is very dubious to me," said Dr. Philip S. Brachman, the researcher who did the pioneering studies of anthrax in the United States in the 1950's following an outbreak at a textile mill in New Hampshire. "If you did have an envelope that had spores in it and some of the powder gets out and lands on something else, I'm not sure it becomes aerosolizable. I can envisage large particles coming out, but for them to re-aerosolize in a manner in which they would be inhalable, that would take a tremendous amount of energy. I don't know if that's aerodynamically possible."
But other experts said that, given recent events, spreading of the spores in this way could not be ruled out.
The issue arises because anthrax spores, if properly grown and processed, are incredibly potent. Federal officials have disclosed that the powder in the Daschle letter was an advanced formulation, with a compound added to keep the anthrax spores from sticking together, enabling them to float more freely, spread more widely and potentially infect more people.
One gram, or one twenty-eighth of an ounce, of such high-grade anthrax can hold up to 100 billion spores, said Ken Alibek, a former top official of the Soviet germ weapons program who is now president of Advanced Biosystems Inc., a consulting company in Manassas, Va. Estimated conservatively, at 10,000 spores to a lethal dose, one gram in theory could cause about 10 million deaths.
Representative Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican whose office last week was found to be contaminated with a few spores, said in an interview that he had been told by federal investigators that the letter sent to Mr. Daschle contained two grams of anthrax enough to make about 20 million lethal doses, assuming it could be distributed with perfect efficiency.
But this letter caused only minor problems in the Senate office building itself, because most of the spores probably stayed put and only a fraction rose into the air, weapons experts said. Moreover, only a tiny fraction of the floating particles were inhaled.
The anthrax in the Daschle letter was found to have contaminated 28 people. None of these people became sick. But federal investigators said the Senate letter may have leaked anthrax in transit from New Jersey and infected postal workers there and in Washington. And perhaps it could even have tainted other letters, spreading the germs to other buildings in Washington.
"If you shake it somehow," Dr. Alibek said, a contaminated letter might let loose a lethal puff of anthrax spores. "It's possible to re- aerosolize enough to become infected," he said. "The probability is low but you cannot rule it out."
Another possibility, he said, was that a poisoned letter could hold so little anthrax that the spores would be essentially imperceptible. "It might be that you wouldn't see the actual product," Dr. Alibek said.
"It could be a very tiny amount," he said, but still harbor enough spores so more than one person would come down with the disease.
Dr. Alibek said that when he directed the production of mass quantities of anthrax in the Soviet Union, scientists were amazed at its ability to spread. The anthrax he perfected at the Stepnogorsk plant in remote Kazakhstan, he noted, was found in many unlikely places.
"We found them in zones of our production building where they were never supposed to be," he said. "But you can't control wind direction, and you really can't control their movement."
The scientists did not fall ill, however, "because we had a very powerful vaccine, and we were all vaccinated, repeatedly."
Other Means to an End
As investigators and scientists study the question of whether tainted letters alone could have caused all of the cases of infection and contamination, they find themselves confronting an array of other possibilities, some more likely than others.
The most improbable would be a large-scale outdoor release of spores by an airplane or sprayer driven around by car or van, experts agreed. Such attacks are hard to pull off successfully, especially in urban areas, because fickle winds, heat effects and other meteorological variables would tend to disperse spores harmlessly. Also, they said, such an attack might produce more cases of anthrax than have been reported so far.
"You'd think there would be more cases by now, because people are so vigilant," said Jonathan B. Tucker, a germ-weapons expert in the Washington office of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. "It seems unlikely that this is the first of a wave of new cases."
But strikes in indoor spaces, like buildings and subways, would be easier, experts said, though they agreed that medical evidence for such attacks is so far lacking.
Moreover, hitting a building through its ventilation system can be risky and highly unreliable, said Ashok Gadgil, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., who studies germ terrorism.
For instance, he said, if the two grams of anthrax powder sent to the Senate in a letter had instead been scattered at the building's air intake, the results could have ranged from catastrophic to nothing at all. The outcome, he said, would depend on the quality of the air system.
"If the filters were good and that's a big if two grams of the stuff going into the air intake wouldn't have killed anybody," Dr. Gadgil said. "But if they were lousy, it would have killed everyone." (This, of course, assumes that the attack went undetected and that no one received treatment.)
Dr. Alibek, the former Soviet germ official, said that medical evidence of a large strike, if it occurred, would emerge within days as patients began streaming into hospital emergency rooms.
"If not, if we see nothing in two or three days, it means the attack was maybe small" and most probably the result of mail contamination, he said, referring to the most recent case of the New York hospital worker.
Steven M. Block, a germ-terror expert at Stanford University, noted that science rests on the philosophical view known as Occam's razor, which holds that the simplest explanation of an event is usually the best and most likely to be correct.
By that logic, he said, it is only after the mails have been ruled out in the New York case as a source of contamination that "we'll have to look for a second source."
A Question of Numbers
Much of what is known about anthrax has been drawn from studies of monkeys by the United States and other nations that developed germ weapons. There has been little research on the effect of the disease on people since it is unethical to perform human experiments with a germ that is fatal if left untreated.
Dr. Brachman, the scientist who closely studied the pattern of anthrax infections among millworkers in New Hampshire and elsewhere, is one of the few researchers to have ever looked closely at inhalation anthrax. He said in an interview that the recent outbreak offered important insights on both the course of the disease and its treatment.
The victims of inhalation anthrax, he said, appear to be faring far better than similar patients a half-century ago. Modern intensive-care units, with respirators, intravenous antibiotics and fluids, have allowed several people to survive the sort of massive infections that killed millworkers.
One of the key uncertainties that remains about anthrax is the dose of spores necessary to cause the disease. At the mills he studied in the 1950's, Dr. Brachman found that workers were exposed to approximately 500 spores each eight-hour day. It is not clear how many of these reached the lungs, or how few spores could cause inhalation anthrax.
The monkey studies suggest concentrations of 8,000 to 10,000 spores will kill half of those exposed. Experts note that this finding means some of the animals were susceptible to far smaller concentrations of spores.
Dr. Matthew Meselson, a Harvard University biologist who has studied biological warfare, said some monkey experiments suggested that a single spore would be enough to infect and kill particularly vulnerable animals.
This may be relevant to people. For every case of inhalation anthrax, many more people breathe spores and fight off the infection, Dr. Meselson said. But the spores can remain suspended in the air for a considerable time, and a susceptible person distant from any known source of anthrax could inhale a single spore and become sick, he said.
Dr. Bradley Perkins, a leading anthrax expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who directed the investigation of the Florida cases, told reporters today that "we can be pretty assured that if you have 1 or 2 or 5 or 10 spores, that they pose very little danger."
Dr. Meselson questioned this assumption and said it might be leading authorities to assume that there may be a second letter somewhere causing further infections or that postal workers would not be harmed by tiny releases from sealed letters.
"There is no theoretical justification for assuming there is any threshold at all," Dr. Meselson said. "A single organism has a chance of initiating infection, although in monkeys that chance seems to be very small," he said.
The issue could be significant in understanding the recent progression of cases. If relatively small amounts of anthrax can be lethal for some people, it might explain how someone with a limited exposure a recipient of a letter coated with a few hundred spores, for example might become ill.
Dr. Martin Hugh-Jones, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University, said epidemiologists would learn much from studying the current round of cases, particularly those that proved fatal. In a 1979 accident at Sverdlovsk in the Soviet Union, when powdered anthrax was released from a weapons factory, researchers found that a disproportionate number of the 68 reported victims were older men.
Dr. Hugh-Jones said this suggested a link between susceptibility to inhalation anthrax and a compromised immune system.
Similarly, he said, the victims of the biological attack on the United States were all older, over 45. "Did they have bronchitis, a cold?" he asked. "Is the lethal dose closer to 3,000 spores for people over 60 or someone who has been smoking all their lives?"
Search for an Origin
Bush administration bioterrorism experts remain befuddled by the origin of the anthrax.
So far, all the anthrax samples discovered have characteristics of the so-called Ames strain, a variety the United States used in its germ weapons program. That suggests the possibility that the anthrax was domestically produced, the experts say. So too, they say, does the presence of silica in the anthrax sent to Mr. Daschle. Silica was the additive American bioweapons developers chose to remove electrostatic charges from anthrax spores to prevent them from sticking together. Other countries used different materials.
But those who favor the theory that the anthrax has a foreign source say that both the Ames strain and silica along with other hallmarks of the American program have become well known to foreign scientists.
While some experts initially contended that only three countries the United States, the former Soviet Union and Iraq were known to have made the high-grade anthrax powder that floats easily in the air, many others disagreed.
They say that the techniques used in those programs are now sufficiently common that a well-trained scientist in a private laboratory could have produced similar results, at home or abroad.
Reluctantly, White House officials have come around to that view.
Experts also agree that the list of countries that could have produced the high-quality anthrax is long and growing. A National Intelligence Council report issued last January concluded that more than a dozen states either have or are actively pursuing germ weapons capabilities.
The report identified only Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria, along with Russia. But the Monterey Institute of International Studies has complied a list of 13 countries, including Algeria, China, Egypt, Pakistan, Taiwan and Israel.
While a great deal is known about the former Soviet program the world's most sophisticated much less is known about the others. After the Gulf War, United Nations inspectors learned that Iraq had mastered the techniques for making a powdered form of a bacterium closely related to anthrax. But it is unclear whether Iraq ever made powdered anthrax of the sort found in the letter to Senator Daschle.
Even less is known about Iran's program. In the January report, intelligence analysts wrote that Iran had the "technical infrastructure to support a significant BW program." Iran has also hired at least four Russian scientists from institutes associated with the former Soviet Union's program. Iran and the scientists say they are pursuing peaceful research.
Experts are increasingly dismayed by the growing number of possible sources of such anthrax, not just overseas but also in the United States.
Richard H. Ebright, a microbiologist at Rutgers University, said the starter strains, chemical additives and drying and milling machines for processing spores into the small sizes needed to penetrate deep into lungs were widely available around the world.
"A disgruntled professor who didn't get tenure, he could do it," said Dr. William C. Patrick 3d, a microbiologist who designed germ weapons for the United States before President Richard M. Nixon renounced them in 1969. "He wouldn't provide the ultimate, like we did. But he'd do all right."
Fear Hits Newsroom in a Cloud of Powder
By JUDITH MILLER
It looked like baby powder. A cloud of hospital white, sweet- smelling powder rose from the letter dusting my face, sweater and hands. The heavier particles dropped to the floor, falling on my pants and shoes. An anthrax hoax, I thought.
My mind had been on something else. At my desk at The New York Times, I was already focused on what I thought was going to be the story of the day: the Bush administration's effort to seize the assets of more people and groups it said supported terrorism. It was after 9:15 a.m. on Friday, and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill would soon begin discussing the list of 39 additions to his agency's roster of rogue financiers of terror. I was on the phone, talking to Jeff Gerth, my colleague and friend, about the article we were planning to write. As we spoke, I was picking my way through the pile of unopened mail beside my computer.
I had been getting many letters since Sept. 11. Some were complimentary; others were angry about the government's failure to protect Americans from terrorism. But most writers wanted to know how they could protect themselves and their families from bioterrorism, having seen two colleagues and me on television discussing our book, "Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War."
Had I not been distracted, I probably would not have opened the stamped letter in the plain white envelope with no return address and a postmark from St. Petersburg, Fla. My sources and I had been discussing the threat of anthrax attacks ever since the death of a man this month who contracted an inhaled form of the disease at a newspaper office in Boca Raton, Fla. not far from where one of the hijackers of the Sept. 11 attacks had done his flight training.
But I wasn't thinking. I was rushed, absorbed in my work, and only half paying attention to the mail.
The powder got my full attention. I immediately asked the reporters and editors around me to call security. I didn't want to touch the phone.
They looked alarmed. It's O.K., I told them. It's probably just a hoax.
Just then the phone rang. Instinctively, I pressed the headphone button. It was a source. Had I heard, he asked, about Tom Brokaw's assistant? She had contracted anthrax from powder in a letter she opened in late September.
The envelope, he said, had a Florida postmark.
Calm down, I thought. It's still probably a hoax. But when The Times security officials arrived promptly I was relieved to see that they were carrying a plastic garbage bag and wearing gloves. As I moved away from the desk, they gingerly placed the letter and envelope in the bag, and sealed it, along with the glove that had touched them. Perfect, I thought.
As I washed my hands and tried to dust off the powder that clung to my pants and shoes, I thought about what Bill Patrick, my friend and bio-weapons mentor, had told me: anthrax was hard to weaponize. To produce a spore small enough to infect the lungs took great skill. Bill knew that firsthand. He had struggled to manufacture such spores for the United States in the 1950's and 60's as a senior scientist in America's own germ weapons program, which President Richard M. Nixon had unilaterally ended in 1969.
Growing anthrax that would penetrate the skin cutaneous infection, it was called was less difficult, though still not easy.
That's why Bill had been very concerned when he heard about the Florida case. Whoever had done this had been able to produce the tiny spore of roughly one to five microns that could enter the lungs.
The other cases, Bill told me, could well have involved a larger spore that was cut with baby powder or another substance to mask the deadly pathogen with a smell that was reassuringly familiar. Anthrax itself had no smell. And it was almost never white.
By now, I was no stranger to this deadly agent. My education had started with Bill Patrick's demonstration of how easily anthrax could be slipped past airport security. Bill had shown me how the fine powder in the small vial he kept on his desk dissolved like magic into the air when the vial was shaken and poured. Since 1998, I had been touring the laboratories and plants that had been part of the Soviet Union's vast germ empire. I had visited the decaying laboratories in once secret cities and interviewed some of the tens of thousands of Soviet scientists who had worked to perfect mankind's most vicious, efficient killers. I was now familiar with the stench of such places the haunting mix of bleach, dust, animal waste the smell of death.
The research had terrified me at first. Not even the terrorism I had covered as a Times correspondent in the Middle East in the 1980's had so unnerved me. But I had remained, through it all, detached from the reality of my often awful subjects. To do our work, journalists had to be. We were trained to be the cool, professional observers that our business requires and readers demand.
Yet now I was no longer covering a story. I was the story.
Returning to my desk, I was determined to remain calm. Or at least appear calm. If my exquisitely observant colleagues felt that one of their in-house experts was frightened, they, too, might lose their professional cool.
Had The Times planned for such an emergency, I would have been isolated from my colleagues and the potentially deadly letter. But like most organizations, we had not conducted drills for a biological or chemical attack. So a senior editor and friend put his arm around me and went with me to the medical department on another floor. When I returned, concerned colleagues and editors also rushed to my side. Someone brought a cup of tea for me. They, too, are now taking Cipro.
Within 20 minutes of the incident, almost a dozen law enforcement officials from almost as many agencies had arrived in the building, each with its own idea of what to do. While the newsroom floor was evacuated, photographs were made and tests conducted at my desk by police officers, many of them in tan head-to-toe bio- suits with gas masks. I stayed with them to show them where the powder had fallen and where I went after I had opened the letter. I shall never forget the sight of these moon men moving through our normally bustling, now empty newsroom, silent save for the ringing of unanswered phones.
They began questioning me almost immediately. Whom did I know in Florida?
Had I been there recently? Did I usually open my own mail? Was there a reason for someone to want to send me such a letter? Could I describe the powder; where and how had it fallen? I knew they were checking to verify the particle size. The joint terrorism task force officers, dressed in civilian clothes, were polite, professional and clearly concerned. So was Don Weiss, the doctor who headed a surveillance unit of New York City's Department of Health Communicable Disease Program.
Calm, reasoned and well informed, he answered questions from reporters and editors, many of whom had by then drifted back into the newsroom. He and his team stayed with us most of the day, taking swab samples from our noses, dispensing Cipro to those who were at risk and answering the questions all of us had about the situation in New York.
Several times, he was called away to the phone.
At 6 p.m., I started writing my part of the Treasury Department article for the Saturday paper.
By Saturday evening, it was still unclear whether the powder contained anthrax. Two preliminary tests had come back negative and a third definitive test seemed to suggest that the powder was benign.
But I was sure of one thing: similar letters had been sent to a nationally distributed supermarket tabloid published in Florida and to NBC, and now one had been sent to The New York Times. Maybe there was anthrax in my letter, or maybe there wasn't.
It almost didn't matter. What did matter was that this was a relatively inexpensive way to spread maximum terror without having to solve the technical challenges of spreading the disease widely. Whoever did this had spread panic with only a few anthrax spores, or perhaps only baby powder, and the price of a few stamps.
Team Rejects U.N. Plan to Condemn Anthrax Attacks
by Elaine Sciolino
November 1, 2001
WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 - The Bush administration has rejected a proposal by France to win Security Council condemnation of the anthrax attacks in the United States, senior administration and European officials said today.
The administration told the French government that a United Nations condemnation would be appropriate only if there was clear proof that the origin of the anthrax or the plot behind the outbreak was foreign, a senior administration official who opposed the move said.
"Let's assume this was the work of a bunch of right-wing nuts or a Unabomber kind of thing," the official said. "That would make it a domestic criminal matter. The Security Council just has no legitimate role in this."
The rejection came after a debate inside the State Department, with officials disagreeing on whether the anthrax attacks violate the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, administration officials said.
"The French told us this was a clear violation of the convention, but I don't know how it would be if it's a domestic nut case," said the official opposing the initiative.
But another senior administration official said, "I'm not going to deny that there were two schools of thought on this."
The Biological Weapons Convention, which 143 nations, including the United States, have ratified, prohibits the development, production and possession of biological weapons. But when that treaty was negotiated, it had no provision for verification, a major drawback since most of the nations suspected of making biological weapons have signed the accord.
The Bush administration has rejected a draft agreement supported by its European allies and a host of other countries that would have created new measures to monitor the ban. The administration argued that the agreement would have granted foreign inspectors too much access to American installations and companies, and that a nation determined to cheat would find a way to do so.
Much to the dismay of America's allies, the United States is now trying to introduce alternate ways of implementing the convention.
European officials called the administration's rejection of the French proposal condemning the anthrax outbreak shortsighted and a missed opportunity.
"This was the first time that a biological agent was used against a civilian population, and we felt that it was important at the very least that the international community say something about it," said one senior European official. "The goal was to reaffirm the value of the convention and assure solidarity. But the answer clearly was `No.' "
The resolution would have noted that the use of biological weapons under the Biological Weapons Convention was prohibited, and that the United States had the unilateral right of military self-defense against a biological weapons attack under the United Nations charter.
Experts have said that the United States, the former Soviet Union and Iraq are the only countries known to have made the dangerous, high- grade anthrax powder that was found in the office of the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle. But the techniques used in those programs are believed to be common enough that a well-trained scientist in a well- equipped private laboratory could have produced similar results.
York Times, Nov. 2, 2001
By NICHOLAS WADE
The known cases of anthrax fall into a pattern suggesting that most, perhaps all, result from two mailings, one on or around Sept. 18 and the other on Oct. 9, according to data issued yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The centers' compilation, presented in the latest issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, shows two different clusters of anthrax cases, of which the report said there were 16 confirmed and 5 suspected. The centers added a sixth suspected case after the report was released.
The first cluster, with onset of the first case on Sept 22 and onset of the last on Oct. 1, includes seven cases of cutaneous anthrax and two inhalation cases. The second cluster, from Oct. 13 to Oct. 25, has a reverse pattern of disease: eight inhalation cases and four cutaneous cases.
Only three anthrax-tainted letters have been found; officials do not know if there are others. Of the three known letters, two were sent to New York news organizations and were postmarked Sept. 18; the third, postmarked Oct. 9, was sent to Senator Tom Daschle.
The letters postmarked Sept. 18 contained material that was brown and granular, while the Oct. 9 letter to Senator Daschle held a fine white powder that the authorities say contained more finely milled anthrax spores.
The difference might help to explain why the cases in the first cluster were mostly cutaneous while those in the second cluster were mostly of the inhalation variety. The smaller the spores, the more likely they will lodge deep in the lungs.
In the first cluster, the first cases of anthrax occurred four days after the New York letters were postmarked. A similar pattern appears in the second cluster, with illnesses developing four days after the Daschle letter was postmarked.
The two known mailings cannot yet be connected with some anthrax cases, including that of Kathy T. Nguyen, a stockroom worker at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital who died of inhalation anthrax on Wednesday. A centers official, Dr. Julie Geberding, said today that the agency was reviewing the routes by which mail might have reached Ms. Nguyen or her hospital's mailroom but had found no clues so far to indicate that mail was the source.
Some experts said that no conclusions could yet be drawn from the clusters of cases. But others said they feared that a series of experiments was unfolding along an escalating scale of infection.
Dr. Jerome M. Hauer, former director of New York City's Office of Emergency Management and now with the Science Applications International Corporation, said he was not yet convinced that there were differences between the two attacks and that it was too early to draw any conclusions. The material in the first mailing might have been lumpy because the envelope got wet, he said.
But Dr. Matthew Meselson, a bioterrorism expert at Harvard University, said it was possible that the designers of the attack had made spores, maybe in one or more batches, and were using the public as their laboratory.
"That is the chilling part, because if they have no limit to their evil intent, the first step is to see if you can infect people, the second is to make the spores readily aerosolizable, and the third would be to release a heck of a lot of it somewhere," he said. "This isn't just a duty cycle with no end point, it may be a series of experiments that are escalating."
Dr. Henry Niman, a molecular biologist at NetCog, an online financial newsletter, wrote in an article on Wednesday that the existing anthrax cases fell into two clusters following the Sept. 18 and Oct, 9 mailings.
Dr. Niman said it appeared that the mailings were conducted like experiments that had been modified in the light of experience. After official warnings against letters with no return address, like those of the Sept. 18 mailings, a return address was put on the Daschle letter, Dr. Niman noted.
Dr. Niman said he expected that in another attack a different location would be used if the attack were by mail, or a different method of dispersion.
Dr. Meselson, too, expected innovation, saying that "It would be wise for the authorities to be one step ahead, as I assume they are."
Times, November 6, 2001.
Investigators are intensifying efforts to trace the last encounters and daily routines of a New York hospital worker before she died of anthrax last week, hoping to unravel the mystery of who is behind the attacks that killed her and three other people and sickened a dozen more.
The focus remains on 61-year-old Kathy T. Nguyen, according to senior federal law enforcement officials, because investigators believe her habits or relationships may take them somewhere other than the routes of three anthrax-tainted letters mailed from Trenton, N.J., a trail that baffled investigators seem to feel has grown frustratingly cold.
"We're missing something," a senior government official said. "There's something wrong here."
Of the anthrax cases, Ms. Nguyen's stands alone in defying comprehension. She contracted a lethal dose of inhalation anthrax, but no traces of the bacteria have been found anyplace she is known to have been in her last few weeks or on any item of clothing she might have worn.
Ms. Nguyen died Oct. 31, three days after checking into a Manhattan hospital.
"Nothing in her house. Nothing at work. Nothing in her mail. Nothing anywhere," said a senior law enforcement official.
Unpersuaded for the moment that Ms. Nguyen developed the disease from mail cross-contaminated in some fashion by contact with the known anthrax letters, law enforcement officials said it remains possible she actually crossed paths with whoever unleashed the attacks. But where and when that may have happened, or with whom, remain open questions.
That theory is partly a hope built on last-ditch optimism, because the alternative -- that some innocent letter addressed to her was cross- contaminated -- would leave the investigation essentially where it has been almost from the start: nowhere.
Investigators admit that it has been difficult pinpointing everything Ms. Nguyen did in her last days. Did she buy gum here, get coffee there? One momentary encounter might have been the only one that matters.
Epidemiology is a field that learns from patterns, but Ms. Nguyen's case is stubbornly devoid of patterns -- no traces of spores in her environment, no obvious correlation to the known germ-laced letters, no emergence of related cases that point in a direction.
Every day, detectives and medical investigators assemble before wall charts that represent the hospital worker's final weeks. Every day, they hope to fill in more of the chart's gaps. But most of the blanks remain just that: blank, save for the long hours and frequent double shifts she worked at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital on the East Side of Manhattan, according to Dr. Marcelle Layton, the New York City assistant health commissioner.
Still, each day investigators delve anew into those aspects of a structured and quiet routine, looking for some light that has yet to shine. Again and again, a discovery about her life raises hopes only to later deflate them. In one case, investigators were excited to find a receipt for an airline ticket in her apartment. Then they noticed its date -- 1991.
In trying to divine the details of an encounter that caused the exposure, agents of the task force have tried to interview anyone who might known anything about Ms. Nguyen. Father Carlos M. Rodriguez, the pastor at St. John Chrysostom Roman Catholic Church on 167th Street in the Bronx who presided over her funeral yesterday, said investigators visited him looking for details. All he was able to tell them, he said, was that she often attended his 10 a.m. Sunday Mass, and that she also worshiped at a Catholic church in Midtown. He wasn't sure which one. What's more, he told the authorities that she liked to shop for groceries in Chinatown, but he didn't know which shops.
Dave Cruz, the superintendent at the building at 1031 Freeman Street in the South Bronx, where Ms. Nguyen lived on the third floor, said he was interviewed by agents at least twice, once shortly after he dropped her off at Lenox Hill hospital when her illness worsened and again after she was diagnosed with anthrax. He wouldn't discuss what she said to him during the trip to Lenox Hill, and said he knew little of her routines. "That's the mystery right there," he said. "Other than being at work and home, I don't know where she went."
Anna Rodriguez, who lives above Ms. Nguyen's apartment, said that agents have been questioning everyone who showed up at the Ortiz Funeral Parlor in the Bronx on Saturday and Sunday, when Ms. Nguyen's body was laid out for viewing.
"It's a tough one," said Jerome M. Hauer, former director of the city's emergency management office. "It's almost the way you try to find out who murdered her. Who did she make contact with? Where'd she spend her last days?"
As Ms. Nguyen was buried yesterday, and as Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat announced that it would reopen today, a few fresh tidbits about her surfaced. One lead that investigators are pursuing is that Ms. Nguyen, who worked in a stockroom in the hospital's basement, may have moonlighted at a restaurant. It was not clear, however, whether officials knew of a specific establishment, or whether Ms. Nguyen worked there or simply ate there.
Dr. Bradley Perkins, an anthrax expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a conference call with reporters yesterday that, "We do not have any very good leads as to where or how the exposure occurred."
Dr. Bradley said that, amazingly enough, even as many more samples have been tested from the hospital, her apartment, her car, along her daily subway route to work on the No. 6 train, and from other places she was known to have visited, there has not been a single positive reading for anthrax. Investigators have been running swabs over every sweater, tabletop and doorknob that Ms. Nguyen might have touched, rubbed or passed.
Authorities concede that anything is possible, including that Ms. Nguyen did in fact touch a contaminated letter. But if that is true, it would be one more surprise in a succession of anthrax surprises over recent weeks.
From what is known, Ms. Nguyen's case doesn't fit the cross- contamination pattern. Four people have died after developing the disease in their lungs -- the three others being a photo editor in Florida and two postal workers in Washington -- and the same strain of anthrax was identified in all four cases. But in the three other deaths, anthrax was detected at their offices and presumed to have originated in a letter.
Ms. Nguyen's path is not believed to have crossed news media outlets or postal facilities.
She first became seriously ill on Oct. 25. Dr. Perkins said the likelihood was that she was exposed no more than four or five days before then, or around Oct. 20. This is well beyond when the known anthrax letters arrived in New York. Also, other cases of anthrax triggered by cross contamination of letters have been limited to a less-severe form: cutaneous, or skin, anthrax. Given these factors, Dr. Perkins said, it is unlikely that Ms. Nguyen was infected through cross-contamination.
The greatest hope of investigators is that she somehow intersected with one or more people responsible for the attacks.
Frustrated at their inability to achieve a breakthrough, officials have told the F.B.I.-N.Y.P.D. Joint Terrorist Task Force to continue their dissection of her routine, and investigators are believed to be intent on formulating as detailed a biographical portait of Ms. Nguyen as they can.
Their work has been hindered by the fact that Ms. Nguyen, a Vietnamese refugee who arrived here in 1977, died without being able to be interviewed about her life and routines. She lived alone and had no nearby family. Indeed, at her funeral yesterday, it was said that she might have lost almost all of her immediate family during the war in Vietnam. Neighbors in the Bronx depicted her as friendly and unremarkable, but it was unlikely that anyone knew with precision her itinerary in the weeks preceding her death.
Even a $1 million reward for information, which produced a spate of telephone calls and e-mail messages to federal law enforcement agencies over the weekend, has so far left the anthrax investigation starved for promising tips.
Experts See F.B.I. Missteps Hampering Anthrax Inquiry
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
This article was reported and
The federal inquiry into the anthrax attacks has stumbled in several areas and may have missed opportunities to gather valuable evidence as criminal investigators have been unable to fully grasp the scientific complexities of the case.
Government officials, scientists and investigators said the Federal Bureau of Investigation's initial unfamiliarity with the intricacies of anthrax had contributed to a series of missteps and other possible errors.
The F.B.I. came under withering criticism this week in Congress for the lack of progress in the investigation, and bureau officials acknowledged in interviews that they had been forced to turn to outside experts for advice on how to investigate the most serious bioterrorism attack in the nation's history. But they said the inquiry was following a logical strategy.
In a plan announced yesterday by Attorney General John Ashcroft, the bureau, and other parts of the Justice Department, would be revamped to better prevent terror attacks, and the government would use new powers to tap lawyer-client conversations with defendants in terrorist cases.
Several experts, including some on whom the F.B.I. has relied, said the anthrax investigation had taken some wrong turns.
Shortly after the first case of anthrax arose, the F.B.I. said it had no objection to the destruction of a collection of anthrax samples at Iowa State University, but some scientists involved in the investigation now say that collection may have contained genetic clues valuable to the inquiry.
Criminal investigators have not visited many of the companies, laboratories and academic institutions with the equipment or capability to make the kind of highly potent anthrax sent in a letter to Senator Tom Daschle, the majority leader. Where investigators have conducted interviews, they often seemed to ask general questions unlikely to elicit new evidence, several laboratory directors said.
Just this week, more than a month after the first death from inhalation anthrax, the F.B.I. issued a subpoena asking laboratories for the names of all workers and researchers who had been vaccinated against anthrax. And the F.B.I. is only now establishing electronic bulletin boards to allow members of scientific groups to interact with criminal investigators working the case.
"The bureau was caught almost as unaware and unprepared as the public was for these events," said Bill Tobin, a former forensic metallurgist who worked for the F.B.I. crime laboratory in Washington. "It's just unrealistic to ask 7,000 agents to overnight become sufficiently knowledgeable about bioterrorist agents and possible means of theft of those items and how they might be disseminated lethally to an American populace."
There is no reason to believe that any of the investigators' actions contributed to their inability to identify clear leads in the anthrax attacks that have killed four people and led to the treatment of thousands of others.
John Collingwood, the F.B.I.'s spokesman, said last night: "We have a plan and are proceeding based in large part on what the people we are consulting with told us would be the most productive places to begin. We reached out to scientists and public health officials on the best way to proceed."
Asked about the course of the bureau's investigation, a senior F.B.I. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said: "This is a learning curve for everybody. Every single day, if not hourly, we're all learning something about this. If you take several weeks back, the learning curve, we were all behind it."
Last month, after consulting with the F.B.I., Iowa State University in Ames destroyed anthrax spores collected over more than seven decades and kept in more than 100 vials. A variant of the so-called Ames strain had been implicated in the death of a Florida man from inhalation anthrax, and the university was nervous about security.
Now, a dispute has arisen, with scientists in and out of government saying the rush to destroy the spores may have eliminated crucial evidence about the anthrax in the letters sent to Congress and the news media.
If the archive still existed, it would by no means solve the mystery. But scientists said a precise match between the anthrax that killed four people and a particular strain in the collection might have offered hints as to when that bacteria had been isolated and, perhaps, how widely it had been distributed to researchers. And that, in turn, might have given investigators important clues to the killer's identity.
Martin E. Hugh-Jones, an anthrax expert at Louisiana State University who is aiding the federal investigation, said the mystery is likely to persist. "If those cultures were still alive," he said, they could have helped in "clearing up the muddy history."
Ronald M. Atlas, president-elect of the American Society of Microbiology, the world's largest group of germ professionals, based in Washington, said the legal implications could be large. "Potentially," he said, "it loses evidence that would have been useful" in the criminal investigation.
The F.B.I. says it never explicitly approved the destruction of the cultures, but never objected either.
A law enforcement official said that when approached by the Ames laboratory about the destruction of its anthrax inventory, the Omaha F.B.I. office consulted with the Miami F.B.I. office, which was responsible for the initial anthrax case in Florida. He said Miami investigators, after consulting with scientists, had advised the Omaha office that the Ames strain was so widespread that it had no investigative or evidentiary value. "Based on that there were no objections," to the destruction of the material by the Iowa laboratory, the official said.
Several experts said the episode underscored how the bureau traditionally has had trouble understanding the language, and the demands, of science.
"There's a chasm between what's going on in the courtroom and forensic arena," said Mr. Tobin, the former F.B.I. scientist, who has criticized the bureau's investigative methods. The flow of scientific data, he said, "just doesn't seem to make it" into criminal investigations.
And a senior federal scientist familiar with the germ investigation added: "You're still dealing with the mentality that says anthrax is anthrax is anthrax, and doesn't realize that there are deeper signatures."
Intertwined with the mystery of the Ames strain's history is the question of whether it was used in America's abandoned effort to develop anthrax as a weapon from 1943 to 1969, when President Richard M. Nixon renounced germ warfare.
The scientific literature is contradictory. A 1986 paper by Army researchers said the strain did not arise until 1980. But a paper in 2000 by Dr. Hugh-Jones, Paul J. Jackson of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University and five other anthrax researchers asserted that the Ames strain had played a central role in the biological warfare program in the United States.
If true, that could raise the question of whether the perpetrators of the current crimes had learned of the American recipe or even found and exploited lost anthrax stockpiles.
Caree Vander Linden, spokeswoman for the Army's germ defense laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., said officials there had not investigated whether the Ames strain was used in the old weapons program.
The Iowa State archive was destroyed on Oct. 10 and 11, after relatively brief deliberations with the F.B.I., said Julie Johnson, an official in environmental and safety at Iowa State.
It is unclear if the F.B.I. understood that Iowa State had destroyed many strains of anthrax or that the origins of the Ames strain were cloudy. Larry Holmquist, a spokesman for the F.B.I. in Omaha, which runs the bureau's Iowa operations, said the rationale for the destruction was that the strain had been "sent out to numerous places" around the globe in the past "40 or 50 years."
Tom Ridge, the White House director of homeland security, confirmed publicly that the tainted letters contained the Ames strain on Oct. 25, two weeks after the destruction.
Iowa State says it won destruction approval not only from the F.B.I. but also from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which are involved in the federal investigation.
James A. Roth, a microbiologist at the College of Veterinary Medicine who presided over the destruction, said the university's records on its anthrax strains were extremely limited and that the labeling on the vials themselves was often cryptic, leaving officials unsure exactly how many strains the university had.
Even so, "we think they had all the strains already," he said of the F.B.I. and the C.D.C.
The oldest strain in the collection dated to 1928. If the Ames strain was similarly old, experts said, it is conceivable that the potent germs were distributed far more widely than conventional wisdom holds.
Since the destruction, Dr. Roth said, the university has heard nothing from the bureau about anthrax. As for whether the destroyed strains might have clarified the origins of Ames, he said, "now we'll never know."
The F.B.I. has been pressing its investigation in New Jersey, where the letters originated.
When two men from the F.B.I. and the New Jersey State Police arrived last month at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, scientists there saw it as a natural step in the anthrax investigation.
Staffed with microbiologists familiar with how the deadly bacteria grow and filled with the sophisticated laboratory equipment involved, the institute, just 38 miles from the Trenton post offices where the letters were postmarked, was a natural place for investigators to ask detailed questions.
But the two investigators, escorted by the university's head of security, asked the the laboratory's director, Dr. Joachim Messing, only a few general questions about growing bacteria and never mentioned specifically what they were looking for. Finally, Dr. Messing said, he felt obligated to volunteer that his laboratory did not handle anthrax.
"I couldn't give you a clue what they were after," Dr. Messing said in an interview this week. "I asked the person from the F.B.I. if he knows anything about bacteria, some very simple questions, and it was very clear that he didn't have the background to make evaluations."
Tracking the F.B.I.'s investigation near Trenton, and beyond, shows that agents seemed to have passed over some potential opportunities for developing leads.
Though investigators are consulting some members of professional organizations like the American Society for Microbiology and the American College of Veterinary Microbiologists, the F.B.I. is only now establishing an Internet bulletin board to permit members of those groups to pass information to the bureau's leadership, a senior F.B.I. official said.
"That's in the works," he said.
Top bureau officials also appeared to be unaware of last month's international chemical and pharmaceutical convention, ChemShow, in New York City, which attracted hundreds of chemical and pharmaceutical equipment manufacturers, engineers and technicians.
"If they weren't crawling around that show, they should have been," said Richard Barbini, a chemical engineer and salesman for Arde Barinco Inc., in Norwood, N.J., a pharmaceutical equipment maker. "There's all kinds of people there from many different countries, a lot of people who know a lot" about what it takes to make anthrax.
The senior F.B.I. official said he was not sure if any agents had attended the show, and a bureau spokeswoman said the agency would not comment on the matter.
In New Jersey, the F.B.I. has been in regular contact with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, which works with infectious bacteria, but special agents have yet to call bacteria experts at the university's Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, said Michael A. Gallo, a professor of environmental community medicine.
F.B.I. officials say that their investigation is proceeding methodically in an uncharted area and that questions will eventually be asked in all appropriate places.
Several microbiologists suggested that agents should focus on companies that sell new and used laboratory equipment that could reduce anthrax to the micron-size particles found in the letter sent to Mr. Daschle's office last month. That equipment would include either a jet mill or a spray dryer, each of which can be used to reduce bacteria into ultrafine, inhalable powder.
Some companies that deal in that equipment said F.B.I. agents had called seeking detailed information, while others said they had been asked only general questions. Others said they had not been called at all.
A sales official at Spray Drying Systems Inc., of Randallstown, Md., a company that sells spray dryers, said the company had not heard from investigators.
But agents from the Boston F.B.I. office visited some companies, including Sturtevant Inc. in Hanover, Mass., which manufactures jet mills, said a company executive who asked that his name not be used.
"He was asking very good questions," the executive said of the agent.
Eventually, the executive said, he gave the agent lists of his customers and competitors. "There's dozens and dozens and dozens of used equipment dealers out there," he said. "Even the F.B.I. doesn't have enough people to track down the number of machines that are in commerce in the world."
Though they are still compiling a complete list of places anthrax is stored in this country, federal investigators have already visited a number of laboratories, germ warehouses, universities, government agencies and even veterinarians in their search for clues in the anthrax attacks, one federal investigator involved in the inquiry said.
So far, he said, a range of government agencies that maintain anthrax, including the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, have been asked to account for their specimens in detail, and to provide samples to compare with those used in the bioterror attacks.
In addition, organizations like the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association and the New Jersey Pharmacists Association, which has set up a hotline to the F.B.I. to report large orders for anthrax vaccines, said that at least one of their members had been contacted by the F.B.I.
And at the American Type Culture Collection, a vast bioresource center that sells germs, based in Virginia, Nancy Wysocki, a vice president, said the center had "a very close working relationship with many of the federal agencies, including the F.B.I."
F.B.I. agents have also spoken to some pharmaceutical companies, including some based in New Jersey, company executives said. Some have been open with the bureau, others have asked, for legal reasons, for agents to present a subpoena before they would grant access to their files.
"We want to know what you have for anthrax, we want to see the documentation, we want to know who has access to it, where it's shipped from, who works with it, we want to know the protocols," said a senior F.B.I. official. "We're not going to leave these facilities until every question is answered."
Many university laboratories in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York have not been contacted in the investigation.
"I haven't seen neither hide nor hair of them," said Dr. John E. Lennox, a professor at Penn State University's microbiology department, though anyone interested in producing anthrax could find what they need in his laboratory. "There isn't anything they would require that isn't in my lab," he said.
But Dr. Sulie Chang, chairwoman of the biology department at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, said F.B.I. agents called her several weeks ago, saying that they were contacting biology departments throughout the state.
Dr. Chang said they wanted to know if any students had shown a sudden interest in anthrax. In fact, she said, a student there had given a 15-minute presentation on the topic recently and she gave the agents his name. She said she did not know whether they followed up.
Dispute Over Daschle Letter
The F.B.I. was confronted with differing assessments of the anthrax found in the letter to Senator Daschle, a dispute among experts that illustrates the government's slowly evolving understanding of how to investigate an anthrax attack.
An initial analysis by the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, which specializes in biodefense, found that the material was very pure, very concentrated and highly dangerous. The Fort Detrick laboratory began studying the Daschle letter on Oct. 15 and delivered its first assessment to the bureau that night, a spokesman said.
Two days later, the F.B.I. sent a sample for additional testing to Battelle, a military contractor in Ohio that does secret work for the Pentagon and other government agencies.
Officials said the Army laboratory had irradiated part of the anthrax spores before studying them, a safety technique that leaves their aerodynamic and other characteristics undisturbed.
Apparently unaware that the Army laboratory had irradiated the material, Battelle used a different method, officials said, placing the anthrax in an autoclave and killing the spores with intense pressure and steam. Two officials said that this produced a far lower estimate of the concentration level and prompted Battelle scientists to conclude that the material was more likely to clump together, and thus less likely to waft through the air, than the Army scientists had estimated.
Both laboratories delivered reports to the F.B.I. on Oct. 22. One administration official said Fort Detrick found that the Daschle anthrax contained as much as one trillion spores per gram, much more than had been detected by Battelle.
Scientists quickly recognized that the tests had been conducted differently and agreed that Battelle should do a second study using irradiated material. A shipment was sent to Battelle on Oct. 25, one official said, which subsequently produced estimates similar to those of the Army scientists.
While the different findings created intense controversy in scientific circles, senior law enforcement officials said they had had virtually no effect on their conclusion that the material was very dangerous or on what they had told senior officials.
But officials said senior officials at the Department of Health and Human Services were sufficiently curious about the disagreement that they had asked the Army scientists to discuss their findings in person on Oct. 23. Officials said this week that the incident reflected how unaccustomed the bureau was to managing a complicated investigation that turned on scientific analysis.
At an Anthrax Lab, the World Changed Quickly
New York Times
HOUSTON, Nov. 20 - The rectangular box arrived via overnight delivery at Dr. Theresa Koehler's laboratory. That box contained a smaller box, which held a canister. Inside the canister was another canister, which safeguarded a glass vial. And at the bottom of the vial were anthrax bacteria.
The anthrax, sent last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was placed in a refrigerator with six other tubes of virulent anthrax. The refrigerator stands in a small room, which is monitored by a video camera and secured by special locks and an alarm system. There is not even a sign outside the door.
The layers of security at Dr. Koehler's laboratory, at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, are byproducts of the new, suddenly uncomfortable world of anthrax research. The deaths of four people in unsolved anthrax attacks have brought heightened scrutiny to the domestic laboratories where anthrax is stored, particularly now that investigators suspect a home-grown terrorist.
For Dr. Koehler, 42, a microbiologist who has studied anthrax for 20 years, the fact that someone made a weapon from the organism to which she has dedicated her professional life is particularly horrifying, even strangely personal. "Even though I had run in circles for years with people who talked about anthrax as a potential bioweapon, I thought, `No way.'" she said. "I just couldn't believe it."
Accustomed to the quiet obscurity of her field, Dr. Koehler has found her life upended. Her phone has rung for weeks with calls from reporters and scientists, and from companies asking that she test disinfectants and other products that might have some application to anthrax. Her co-workers have so often stopped her in the hall with questions about the risks of exposure to the anthrax in her laboratory that she has held meetings to offer reassurance.
And though university officials refuse to confirm the fact, Dr. Koehler's laboratory is among scores of research facilities nationwide whose records have been subpoenaed as federal investigators compile a list of people who have had access to anthrax. The laboratory is one of a limited number - the disease control centers will not say how many - licensed by the C.D.C. to ship and receive anthrax and other potentially lethal organisms.
Dr. Koehler arrived in Houston in 1991, after doing postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical School, and for the last decade she and researchers in her laboratory have studied the genetics of Bacillus anthracis, the anthrax bacterium.
Until this year, she had used only strains that, through mutation, she and her researchers had made nonvirulent, posing no health risk. Then, in January, one of her eight researchers wanted to study how white blood cells respond to early infection, an experiment that would require a virulent strain. With little hesitation, everyone agreed.
The decision prompted several safety steps: Dr. Koehler's department head provided a small room, situated off a shared equipment room, as a separate laboratory for virulent anthrax. To conduct the experiments, she got supplemental financing from the National Institutes of Health to buy a biosafety cabinet with a protective metal hood. In February, everyone began getting vaccinations against anthrax.
Finally, the research team needed to acquire a virulent strain. Rather than getting one from another laboratory, Dr. Koehler decided to make one from her lab's mutated, nonvirulent strains.
A virulent bacterium is able to produce anthrax toxin proteins and cover itself with a protective layer called a capsule. The mutated strains that the laboratory had previously worked with did only one or the other. But in September, after a number of failed attempts, Dr. Agathe Bourgogne, a postdoctoral fellow, and Melissa Drysdale, a graduate student, created a virulent strain.
"The postdoc who did it said, `Get the champagne!' " Dr. Koehler recalled. "We were very excited. We had a new tool for the lab."
But the celebration was short- lived: the abstract world of the laboratory was soon confronted by the reality of Sept. 11. Administrators immediately began instituting tighter security on the medical school and its laboratories. Before, Dr. Koehler had planned to store the virulent anthrax behind a locked door. But the school quickly installed video cameras, the alarm and a card swipe system restricting access.
Those steps took on greater significance after Oct. 4, when the first case of inhalation anthrax was reported in Florida. Dr. Koehler says her emotions became ragged, her sleep spotty. Having become known through interviews she gave to news organizations, she removed the nameplate from her office and her laboratory, fearing a break-in. She felt guilt, she says, because for years her work had involved studying genes and proteins rather than research directly applicable to human exposure.
"I thought, `God, what have I done for 20 years to put us in a better situation to deal with this?' " she said. "It was like somebody used this organism that we think is fascinating and interesting and fun for such a horrible purpose."
The laws regulating anthrax laboratories will undoubtedly soon change. This week Dr. Koehler received e-mail about legislation before Congress that would require criminal background checks of foreign students working in the labs. Her own laboratory includes students and research fellows from Canada, Germany, France, Cyprus and China.
Many scientists fear additional restrictions, on legitimate researchers who have always been entirely law- abiding. For Dr. Elke Saile, 39, a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. Koehler's laboratory who left Germany for the better educational opportunities in the United States, such prospects are chilling.
"In academia, we don't spend time on trying to make a more potent killer," Dr. Saile said. "We spend time trying to figure out what the organism does in your body."
In that spirit, the researchers are moving ahead with their experiments. The disease control centers recently contacted Dr. Koehler to ask about a presentation in which a research fellow at the laboratory, Yahua Chen, reported at a scientific meeting the discovery of inactive genes in the anthrax bacterium that, if activated, could bring on resistance to penicillin. Penicillin was among the alternative anthrax treatments at which the C.D.C. had already been looking, and so the report raised concern. The centers contacted the laboratory for further study and then forwarded the anthrax sample that arrived last week.
The initial experiments are under way. "I feel like now I am contributing something relevant and important," Dr. Koehler said.
Utah, a Government Hater Sells a Germ-Warfare Book
The How-To Book
New York Times/November 21, 2001
Salt Lake City -- At the "Crossroads of the West" gun show here last weekend, weapons dealers sold semi- automatic rifles and custom-made pistols, and ammunition wholesalers unloaded bullets by the case. But perhaps the most fearsome weapon for sale in the cavernous, crowded exposition center was a book.
Next to the Indian handicraft booth, Timothy W. Tobiason was selling printed and CD copies of his book, "Scientific Principles of Improvised Warfare and Home Defense Volume 6-1: Advanced Biological Weapons Design and Manufacture," a germ-warfare cookbook that bioterrorism experts say is accurate enough to be dangerous.
Mr. Tobiason, an agricultural-chemicals entrepreneur from Nebraska with a bitter hatred for the government, said he sold about 2,000 copies of his self-published book a year as he moved from gun show to gun show across America. The book, which includes directions for making "mail delivered" anthrax, suggests that the knowledge necessary to start an anthrax attack like the one that has terrorized the East Coast is readily accessible.
While Mr. Tobiason's instructions fall short of what would be needed to produce the highly refined form of germ spores found last month in letters to Congressional leaders, experts find much to worry about.
"The guy who wrote this is very smart, very dangerous," said Ken Alibek, a former top official in the Soviet germ-weapons program who is now president of Advanced Biosystems, a consulting company in Manassas, Va. "We shouldn't ignore this.
"It's not sophisticated," he said of Mr. Tobiason's anthrax formula, "but this process is going to work."
F.B.I. officials theorize that the culprit behind the recent attacks might have been a home-grown loner with sufficient scientific knowledge and a deep grudge. Mr. Tobiason denies any knowledge of the anthrax-laced letters, and federal officials say he is not a suspect. But he is part of an American subculture of people with a profound mistrust of government, some of whom traffic in the intricacies of germ warfare.
Federal officials said they monitored Mr. Tobiason for years before the attacks began last month; indeed, there are indications that they recently stepped up surveillance of him and others who have shown inclinations toward antigovernment violence.
The talk from Mr. Tobiason and some who stopped by his table at the gun show reflected the conspiratorial view of government that some investigators believe may have been an ingredient in the anthrax attacks.
"I don't trust him completely, and I don't trust the government completely," a former nurse named Linda said of Mr. Tobiason after buying a $10 CD from him last weekend. One element of her mistrust of the government was the F.B.I., which she said is "taking away civil liberties all the time."
Mr. Tobiason, who is 45 and lives in an aging Dodge Caravan in which he travels the country, traces his own anger at the federal government to patent laws he said cheated him out of money and to what he said was surveillance by the F.B.I.
"If this government continues to do this to people," he said, referring to what he called years of F.B.I. harassment, "they're going to have a lot more Tim McVeighs and Tim Tobiasons."
The sale of survival and doomsday books is not unusual at gun shows and elsewhere, and the Internet is filled with advice on how to make explosives. What makes Mr. Tobiason's writings more dangerous, germ-warfare experts who have read it say, is that it offers anyone with $10 the ability to build crude biological weapons capable of killing thousands of people.
Those experts say Mr. Tobiason's 250-page book does not give specific directions for producing the finely milled anthrax that was sent to Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, and, in fact, contains some errors. The book deals mostly with the production of wet anthrax, though it does suggest a way to grind clusters of anthrax into microscopic pieces, which can settle into the lungs.
But Dr. Alibek said Mr. Tobiason's work "could be a step on the road," for someone intent on producing highly lethal anthrax.
Richard Spertzel, a former head of biological inspections in Iraq for the United Nations, said Mr. Tobiason's instructions would produce "a low- grade product" at best but added that the book, "ought to be damn near illegal, if it's not now."
Mr. Tobiason's work, which he said was drawn from military and biology books he borrowed from the University of Nebraska library, is written in mostly dispassionate, technical terms.
But his anger is hardly hidden. The cover of his germ-warfare manual includes the introduction: "Why pay to recruit troops and build factories to wage war and kill for you when nature can do it for free? Or, if you can make Jell-O, you can wipe out cities. Enjoy!"
In an interview on Saturday, Mr. Tobiason said he had made small amounts of pathogens including anthrax, though he said he had never used them to harm anyone.
He has written about a dozen books on military history and germ warfare and said he planned another soon that would describe how to make "huge scale" germ weapons.
"It will have some planet killers in it," he said at a Sizzler Restaurant after the show. "It will allow anyone to arm themselves with biological weapons in their basements."
Mr. Tobiason said he writes "to fight against dishonest government," and said that if he wanted to, he could initiate a far more deadly biological attack than the recent one.
"It would be a hard thing to do, but I'm prepared to do it," he said.
He said he would kill innocent people if he had to to defend himself. "All my morals and ethics are gone, just like the government's."
Mr. Tobiason has distributed his work widely. In June, he said, he left copies of his book at the offices of dozens of United States senators, including Mr. Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, Fred Thompson, Republican of Tennessee, and Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska.
Mr. Tobiason said he was trying to get the attention of lawmakers for his complaints about the government. If Congress granted him a public hearing, he said, he would drop his plans to publish his next book. But other than a visit by federal agents, Mr. Tobiason said, his book did not get him any notice.
Mr. Tobiason, who grew up in Columbus, Neb., left Columbus High School during his junior year and enlisted in the Navy.
Anthrax Inquiry Looks at U.S. Labs
By WILLIAM J. BROAD and JUDITH MILLER
The F.B.I. has expanded its investigation of the deadly anthrax attacks to include the laboratories of the government and its contractors as a possible source of the anthrax itself or the knowledge to make it, scientists and law enforcement officials say.
While theories about the attacker have focused mainly on domestic loners and foreign states or terrorists, law enforcement officials are now also examining the possibility that the criminal may be a knowledgeable insider.
Asked if the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating American military and nonmilitary laboratories that have had the powdery anthrax strain used in the attacks and individuals associated with such centers, a law enforcement official replied, "Certainly." The official said, "We are aggressively investigating every possible lead and every possible avenue," adding it was logical.
Few details of the insider investigation are known. But federal agents are already interrogating people in the military establishment that replaced the old program for making biological weapons. The facilities for that effort, in western Maryland, are major repositories of the Ames strain of anthrax, the particularly virulent form that federal officials have identified as the type used in the attacks that killed five people.
Col. Arthur M. Friedlander, the senior research scientist at the Army's biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., said in an interview on Friday that officials there were cooperating with federal investigators.
"They've asked us about personnel who had access," he said, speaking reluctantly.
"They didn't talk to me about my personal experience," said Colonel Friedlander, a physician and leading anthrax expert. "They asked me about other personnel."
He went on to dismiss the insider idea as improbable. Whoever made the killer anthrax, he said, "clearly knew what they were doing."
"But to make the leap that this came out of a government lab is somewhat large," he added.
He emphasized that no one in his organization, the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, a leader in developing germ defenses, even knew how to make dry anthrax, as was found in the letters used in the attacks. Instead, he said, scientists there used wet anthrax, which is far easier to make. It is used in developing vaccines and testing their effectiveness.
"We haven't had an offensive program for a long time," Colonel Friedlander said. Nobody at the Army's laboratory, he added, "has that kind of expertise."
A dozen or two American laboratories are said to have the Ames strain, though no one knows for sure because researchers over the decades have informally shared pathogens like anthrax. Military laboratories like the one at Fort Detrick, as well as military contractors, are central to the Ames network, as they have often pioneered the nation's research on vaccines and other defenses against germ weapons.
The United States began its military program to make germ weapons during World War II and over the decades developed many ways to spread many diseases. A top agent was anthrax, a gallon of which was strong enough to kill eight billion people. President Richard M. Nixon, after renouncing germ weapons in 1969, championed a global treaty that, starting in 1975, banned such arms.
Since the start of the anthrax attacks, federal officials, scientists and amateur sleuths have scrambled to identify the source. Some see the attacker as home-grown perhaps a disaffected scientist or a militia group while others discern a conspiracy by a state like Iraq or a foreign terrorist group. In the United States, there are probably scores of laboratories and contractors and hundreds of people who have access to essential anthrax ingredients and recipes.
The insider avenue of inquiry is consistent with the official profile of the suspect, released on Nov. 9 by the F.B.I. The profile describes a man with a strong interest in science who is comfortable working with hazardous material and has "access to a source of anthrax and possesses knowledge and expertise to refine it."
Separately, a private expert in biological weapons, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, has recently published a paper contending that a government insider, or someone in contact with an insider, is behind the attacks.
Though not an expert on criminal profiling, Dr. Rosenberg, a molecular biologist at the State University of New York, has testified on biological weapons before Congress, advised Bill Clinton when he was president and made addresses to international arms control meetings, including one a few days ago in Geneva.
Law enforcement officials said Dr. Rosenberg's assertion might turn out to be well founded, though they emphasized that the investigation was still broadly based. One official close to the federal investigation called the Rosenberg theory "the most likely hypothesis."
Referring to her paper, the official said, "I might not have put it so strongly, but it's definitely reasonable."
Other analysts, including some scientists and experts in germ weapons, expressed more skepticism of the theory that it had to be an insider, contending that the skills and knowledge needed to produce the type of anthrax in this attack were widely available.
The paper laying out Dr. Rosenberg's thesis was distributed on Thursday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an arms control group. Dr. Rosenberg, who is chairwoman of an arms control panel at the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington, has argued repeatedly that states, not individuals, tend to have the wherewithal to make advanced biological weapons. International treaties that prohibit that work, she believes, are thus critical.
Dr. Rosenberg contends that the Ames strain probably did not originate in 1980 or 1981, as is often asserted, but arose decades earlier and was used in the secret American program to make biological weapons.
She agrees with a conclusion, reached by some experts knowledgeable about the investigation, that the anthrax powder distributed in the attacks by letter was treated in a sophisticated manner so it floated easily, as was done in the old American offensive weapons program, unlike Colonel Friedlander's defensive program, which uses the wet anthrax.
"All the available information," she said, "is consistent with a U.S. government lab as the source, either of the anthrax itself or of the recipe for the U.S. weaponization process." Dr. Rosenberg contended that the anthrax used in the attacks either originated in the weapons program itself or was made by someone who had learned the recipe.
The killer, Dr. Rosenberg concludes, is "an American microbiologist who had, or once had, access to weaponized anthrax in a U.S. government lab, or had been taught by a U.S. defense expert how to make it. Perhaps he had a vial or two in his basement as a keepsake."
The paper, "A Compilation of Evidence and Comments on the Source of the Mailed Anthrax," dated Nov. 29, is based on interviews with federal and private experts, published reports and scientific articles.
Richard H. Ebright, a microbiologist at Rutgers University who has followed the anthrax case and has read the Rosenberg paper, said he found it provocative but unconvincing.
"This is one extreme in the theorizing," Dr. Ebright said. "There are elements that are reasonable, but elements that are not. I'm confident that she started with the insider conclusion and then selected the facts." Even so, he said, American foes seem likely to seize on the paper and amplify the provocative thesis.
"Every state that's hostile to the United States is going to pick up on this," Dr. Ebright said. "They'll say it was an orchestrated government attack, which I don't believe for a second. But you can see people believing it."
Dr. Rosenberg's theory is getting attention in Europe, where the environmental group Greenpeace Germany is citing it as credible.
An American official sympathetic to her thesis said the Ames strain might have come from a place other than a military laboratory.
"There are other government and
contractor facilities that do classified work with access to dangerous
strains,"the official said. "But it's highly likely that the material in
the anthrax letters came from a person or persons who really had great
expertise. We haven't seen any other artifacts that point us elsewhere."
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
Postal Center in Connecticut Shows Traces of Anthrax
By MICHAEL COOPER
Trace amounts of anthrax spores have been found in the Connecticut postal distribution center that sorts the mail that goes to Oxford, where a 94-year-old woman who rarely left her house died last month of inhalation anthrax, state and postal officials said yesterday.
The discovery of spores in the building that handled the mail of the woman, Ottilie W. Lundgren, bolsters the theory that she contracted the disease through a tainted piece of mail possibly one contaminated by coming into contact with letters containing anthrax spores that were sent in early October to Senators Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
Last week, state officials detected a single spore of anthrax on a letter that was received by a family in Seymour, Conn., a mile from Ms. Lundgren's home in Oxford. That letter, they said, was processed in a New Jersey mail center within 15 seconds of the contaminated letters that were sent to the two senators.
Postal officials said yesterday that traces of anthrax spores were found on four pieces of machinery at the Southern Connecticut Processing and Distribution Center in Wallingford. The United States Postal Service said in a statement that the trace amounts were most likely left on the machinery when the letter to Seymour went through the Wallingford plant on Oct. 11.
Although the finding casts no light on who was behind the bioterrorist attacks, it could help solve a mystery that unsettled many people: how a quiet elderly woman who rarely left her house and was no one's idea of a target could have been stricken with the disease. While it is still far from certain how Ms. Lundgren got anthrax, the finding of the trace amounts brings investigators closer to closing the loop between her and pieces of mail that were sent to Senators Daschle and Leahy.
Investigators said in recent days that it may be possible for small amounts of anthrax spores to move from letter to letter. And health officials say that while the risk is minimal that such letters could infect people, some, especially the elderly, could be vulnerable to infection by far smaller traces of anthrax than was previously thought possible.
In New York City, investigators trying to determine how Kathy T. Nguyen, a 61-year-old hospital worker from the Bronx, contracted a fatal case of inhalation anthrax in October are also exploring the possibility that she was infected by exposure to a secondhand letter.
Health officials and law enforcement officials in the city have been trying to find a letter that was sent to an address near Ms. Nguyen's home that also passed through the postal sorting machine in New Jersey that processed the contaminated letters that were sent to the senators.
Investigators visited two addresses in the Bronx to see if they could find and test the letter, said Sandra Mullin, a spokeswoman for the city's Health Department. No letter was found, and interviews conducted at the two addresses postal records were unclear on exactly where the letter was sent found no one who had fallen ill. The results of tests taken at the two locations were not available last night, Ms. Mullin said. "No one remembered a letter with a postmark from Trenton," she said.
The letters to Seymour and the Bronx came under scrutiny after investigators tried a new approach in their inquiry last week: they examined the postal sorting machines in Hamilton Township, N.J., that handled the letters that were sent to Senators Leahy and Daschle on Oct. 9, and tried to find the other mail that went through the machines at roughly the same time.
The investigators were aided by the computer bar codes that contain address information and are printed on every piece of mail when it is postmarked. By checking computer records left by the bar codes, the investigators were able to look at letters that sped through the sorting machines at the same time.
The check found that only one letter went to the part of Connecticut where Ms. Lundgren lived and died: the letter to Seymour.
And only one letter was sent to the Bronx, the federal law enforcement official said. In a development first reported yesterday by The Daily News, that letter was sent to an address in "the close neighborhood" of Mrs. Nguyen, although not directly on her postal route, a federal law enforcement official said.
Still, officials cautioned that it was too soon to jump to any conclusions.
Asked yesterday about the case
of Ms. Nguyen, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said, "There are still no new
pieces of evidence that give us any real hypothesis on how she contracted
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
Terror Anthrax Linked to Type Made by U.S.
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
The dry powder used in the anthrax attacks is virtually indistinguishable in critical technical respects from that produced by the United States military before it shut down its biowarfare program, according to federal scientists and a report prepared for a military contractor.
The preliminary analysis of the powder shows that it has the same extraordinarily high concentration of deadly spores as the anthrax produced in the American weapons program. While it is still possible that the anthrax could have a foreign source, the concentration is higher than any stock publicly known to be produced by other governments.
The similarity to the levels achieved by the United States military lends support to the idea that someone with ties to the old program may be behind the attacks that have killed five people. The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently expanded its investigation of anthrax suspects to include government and contractor laboratories as a possible source of the deadly powder itself, or of knowledge of how to make it.
Its high concentration is surprising, weapon experts said, and far beyond what military analysts once judged as the likely abilities of terrorists. Still, experts caution that the emerging evidence is tentative and that it is too early to rule out other possible suspects, be they domestic lone wolves or hostile foreign states like Iraq.
A yardstick for measuring the quality of anthrax emerged almost three years ago when William C. Patrick III, a longtime federal consultant and one of the nation's top experts on biological weapons, wrote a report assessing the possible risks if terrorists were to send anthrax through the mail. Based on the difficulty of developing advanced anthrax, he predicted that the terrorist germs would be one-twentieth as concentrated as what the government developed and what has recently turned letters into munitions.
"The quality of the spores is very good," said a federal science adviser who shared the Patrick report with The New York Times. "This is very high-quality stuff" equal, he said, in concentration to that produced by the United States military before it abandoned germ weapons.
The high quality, the adviser said, lends credence to the idea that someone with links to military laboratories or their contractors might be behind the attacks. "It's frightening to think that one of our own scientists could have done something like this," he said. "But it's definitely possible."
He said the anthrax sent to the Senate contained as many as one trillion spores per gram, a figure confirmed by an administration official.
A gram is just one-twenty-eighth of an ounce. Yet in comprising up to one trillion spores, a gram of anthrax powder has vast potential to kill. If a lethal dose is estimated conservatively at 10,000 microscopic spores, then a gram in theory could cause about 100 million deaths.
The letter sent to Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader, is said to have held two grams of anthrax enough, in other words, to make about 200 million lethal doses, assuming it could be distributed to victims with perfect efficiency.
Analysis of the Daschle powder has been hampered by the small amount recovered after an aide opened the letter, and by technical missteps as the investigation got under way, making some conclusions iffy. That is why investigators are taking great care in opening the anthrax-contaminated letter sent to Patrick J. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The aim is to scrutinize the evidence as closely as possible.
Spore concentration is just one factor experts will examine in the Leahy letter, and their findings could significantly alter their picture of the powder. Other factors that reflect the quality of anthrax production include whether the powder has been ground to a size that easily lodges in the lungs and whether it has been treated to make it static free and free-floating. Investigators will look for antistatic additives that might be a possible hallmark of a particular government's weapons program.
Mr. Patrick, in his risk assessment, sketched out both what the American military achieved and what a terrorist might do. His 28- page report, dated February 1999, was written for a federal contractor advising the government on how to handle the growing number of anthrax hoaxes and what to expect if real anthrax were to be sent through the mail.
"When these hoaxes first came up, we assumed none of the bad guys" could achieve high-grade anthrax, said a contractor official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
It is unknown publicly exactly how makers of anthrax weapons achieve high spore concentrations, but the black art is said to involve precise drying, sifting, milling and removal of impurities.
In his assessment, Mr. Patrick drew on personal knowledge acquired while working in the nation's offensive biological weapons program from 1951 to 1969, when it was dismantled, at which time he was chief of the division of product development. He won five patents with his colleagues for ways to make biological weapons.
His 1999 report focused on what kinds of contamination terrorist anthrax would cause when a letter was opened and what the requirements for decontamination were.
Mr. Patrick postulated that the concentration of anthrax would be 50 billion spores per gram. "This assumes a dried powder of moderate ability to generate into an aerosol when the envelope is opened," he wrote.
He predicted that an envelope would hold 2.5 grams of anthrax an amount strikingly close to what is thought to have been mailed to Senator Daschle.
In his report, Mr. Patrick said the American program had achieved a concentration of one trillion spores per gram what scientists today say is near the theoretical limit of how many of the microscopic spheres can be packed into a tiny space.
Today, no terrorist or scientific maverick is known to have published anything that comes close to describing how to make concentrated anthrax powders. Timothy W. Tobiason, a habitué of gun shows who sells a self-published cookbook on how to make germ weapons, including "mail delivered" anthrax, sketches out only the most rudimentary steps.
Experts judge Mr. Tobiason's recipes as flawed in spots and at best capable of producing only low-quality anthrax. His book deals mostly with the production of wet anthrax, though it does suggest a way to grind clusters of dried anthrax into microscopic pieces, which can settle into the lungs.
It is unclear if any foreign nation has achieved high anthrax concentrations. The United States suspects that more than a dozen countries are clandestinely studying biological weapons, with anthrax among the top agents.
Ken Alibek, a former top official in the Soviet germ weapons program who is now president of Advanced Biosystems, a consulting company in Manassas, Va., said that it was routinely possible to create dry anthrax that contained 100 billion spores per gram and that, with some effort, 500 billion was possible.
"The infectious dose," Dr. Alibek said, "can be quite large."
Still, the 500 billion figure is half the concentration that the American government and whoever sent the letters are said to have achieved.
"I don't think they're manufacturing
this in caves," Dr. Alibek said of the terror anthrax. "It's coming from
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
Anthrax Pervades Florida Site, and Experts See Likeness to That Sent to Senators
By ANDREW C. REVKIN and DANA CANEDY
Two months after the death of Robert Stevens, the first of the nation's anthrax victims, new tests at his Florida workplace reveal a pattern of pervasive contamination that mystifies investigators.
The test results, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency last week, show that anthrax spores spread throughout the three-story office building in Boca Raton that is the headquarters of American Media Inc., a tabloid publisher. Spores ended up not just in the mailroom and on Mr. Stevens's keyboard, but also in such out-of-the-way places as atop a room divider and computer monitors and in a nook between banks of shelves.
Officials involved in the effort said they were surprised by how far the material had spread. Such findings point to an extremely dangerous kind of anthrax preparation, with small particles that can easily float in the air, officials and experts said.
Because of this pervasiveness and the fact that the anthrax infected the lungs of Mr. Stevens and another worker, Ernesto Blanco, some officials and anthrax experts say it appears to have behaved very much like the anthrax shed by letters mailed later to two senators.
Investigators have repeatedly said there was something particularly deadly about the spores sent in letters to Senator Tom Daschle and Senator Patrick J. Leahy. The spores have been tied to the deaths of two postal workers in Washington, and investigators say cross-contamination from the letters may be responsible for the most recent anthrax deaths, of a woman in the Bronx and a woman in Connecticut.
The strain of anthrax in all the incidents is identical, and now, with the test results from Florida, there are at least some hints that the material sent there was equally dangerous and possibly identically prepared, investigators said.
But other contamination discovered in the American Media building conflicts with this interpretation. Investigators said that some sites found to be contaminated closely traced the routes taken by people making regular rounds from the first-floor mailroom up stairs and elevators to dozens of desks and cabinets. Spores presumably were stirred up and transported as mail was sorted and delivered. These findings point to a less-dangerous preparation with spores that do not linger in the air but fall where they are released.
These conflicting results have some investigators pondering the notion that more than one letter was sent to American Media.
But whatever ended up there, it was able to kill Mr. Stevens, 63, a photo editor, and nearly kill Mr. Blanco, 73, who worked in the mailroom. Both men developed the inhalation form of anthrax.
The new findings present a completely different picture of the contamination in the building than was developed after tests in the early stages of the investigation. Those tests, restricted to air vents on the first floor, where Mr. Blanco and Mr. Stevens worked, showed no spores, leading environmental officials to say it was unlikely that anthrax was widely dispersed.
But the full battery of tests found a much different situation. From Oct. 20 to Nov. 8, hazardous-materials teams working for the E.P.A. took 462 samples inside the quarantined building from surfaces, air filters, vacuum-cleaner bags and other spots. A total of 84 places were found to be contaminated.
In the end, two months into the oldest component of the anthrax investigation, frustrations predominate. "We still don't have a letter, we still have a death, and a lot of anthrax that was there," said a federal law enforcement official.
"Could the material have moved on its own, could it be carried on a person or float through the air?" mused the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and said the answer could be all of the above.
The strain of anthrax in all the incidents is identical, and now, with the test results from Florida, there are at least some hints that the material sent there was equally dangerous and possibly identically prepared, investigators said.
American Media said, meanwhile, that it was not any closer to figuring out why it was targeted for a bioterrorism attack in the first place.
The one thing that is clear is that at least one tainted letter came to one of the company's tabloids, The National Enquirer.
This became evident after testing was done of all the post offices that served the area and spores were found leading through the post office that served Lantana, Fla., where The Enquirer had been located until about a year ago.
A clear trail of spores led through that post office to the one for Boca Raton. Spores were also found in a van that Mr. Blanco used to carry mail to the building and all around the mailroom on the first floor.
And the only other employee who was shown by testing to have been exposed to anthrax was another mailroom worker, Stephanie Daley, 36. She never became ill.
Other frustrations were simmering at American Media as well. Company representatives said they were irked by what they said was a lack of willingness on the part of state and federal officials to help with the cleanup of the building.
"I find it a little bewildering," said Michael Kahane, general counsel for the company. "You have this building that is pervasively tainted with anthrax and that the government declares a public health threat, then they close it. Then they do testing and give it back to you and say `Now you need to go out and hire a private contractor to clean it up.' "
Later this week, most of the 400 American Media employees who were put on 60-day courses of the antibiotic Cipro will come to the end of their regimen.
Many already abandoned the medication, some employees said, because of unpleasant side effects and a growing sense that the threat was behind them.
"We're all off Cipro now," said an editorial employee who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Tim O'Connor, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Department, said that the mass administration of Cipro proved to be the right decision.
"Originally we were all figuring that it would be isolated to an office or a little area just in the mail room and Stevens's desk," he said. "The fact that they found it everywhere means there's a good chance that someone else would've gotten sick if we hadn't taken these steps."
December 6, 2001
WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 - After weeks of careful preparation, forensic investigators at an Army research laboratory in Maryland today opened the anthrax-contaminated letter sent to Senator Patrick J. Leahy.
The investigators, speaking through law enforcement officials here, declined to characterize the material in the letter, though they believe it will turn out to be thousands of lethal doses of highly refined anthrax.
As the investigative work on the letter began, two leading bioweapons experts told a House committee that they suspected that the anthrax in letters sent to the Senate and to news organizations was probably not of Russian or American military origin, and that if a state was responsible, the most likely suspect was Iraq.
The hearing followed weeks of statements by the F.B.I. that investigators were leaning toward the theory that the anthrax attacks were the work of a lone disaffected scientist, possibly an American with experience in or access to a United States government laboratory. So the return to an emphasis on Iraq as a potential culprit, in testimony by two veterans of germ weapons programs, was something of a surprise.
The two witnesses, appearing before the House International Relations Committee, were Richard Spertzel, former head of the United Nations' biological weapons inspections in Iraq, and Ken Alibek, a defector from the Soviet Union's biological weapons program who is now president of Advanced Biosystems Inc. They disagreed about the level of expertise required to make such material, but agreed that it had probably not been obtained by using the production techniques of either the former Soviet Union or the American germ weapons program, now defunct.
At the Army's biomedical research laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., meanwhile, scientists wearing hazardous-material suits used a surgeon's scalpel to slit open a seam of the letter sent to Senator Leahy and begin removing what they assume is anthrax. One law enforcement official said the scientists were reluctant to comment on the color, size or other characteristics of the material until a battery of tests was completed.
The letter to Mr. Leahy will be removed after the envelope is decontaminated. The authorities said they wanted to examine the letter for its message and study the paper for clues like fingerprints or DNA.
It took the government more than two weeks to decide how to open the letter, found on Nov. 16 in one of more than 600 plastic bags of mail addressed to Capitol Hill that were set aside after an anthrax letter was opened in the office of Senator Tom Daschle a month earlier.
Having consulted with government and private scientists, F.B.I. forensic experts opened the letter according to a carefully orchestrated protocol intended to save as many spores as possible. Among other things, the investigators brought in highly sophisticated laboratory equipment to reduce the tendency of the anthrax to "aerosolize" - that is, to float easily in air.
Investigators regard the Leahy letter as the most pristine evidence yet uncovered in the anthrax cases. They hope it will prove helpful in solving attacks that have killed five people, the latest a 94-year-old Connecticut woman who died of inhalation anthrax last month in a case believed to have resulted from cross-contamination by anthrax-tainted mail.
The Leahy letter was addressed in the same handwritten block lettering found on the anthrax letters sent to NBC News, The New York Post and Mr. Daschle. And, like the others, it was postmarked at a Trenton postal center. Officials have said the letters were all written by the same person, possibly a loner trained in biochemistry.
A month ago the Federal Bureau of Investigation released a profile that said the anthrax killer was probably a man who worked or had worked at a laboratory and was therefore accustomed to dealing with lethal pathogens.
But in his House testimony today, Dr. Spertzel, the former weapons inspector in Iraq, dismissed the profile as "a lot of hokum." The anthrax in the letters, he said, was "not the kind of thing you mess around with in a university lab."
"This is not the work of a graduate student in microbiology," he said. "I don't think that an individual is capable of doing it."
Preparing anthrax particles so small and concentrated, he added, would endanger people nearby and perhaps expose the culprit himself. "It's not the thing to mess with in a university lab," he said, "unless you don't like your fellow students."
The other expert, Dr. Alibek, challenged that assessment in his own testimony. Dr. Alibek, who said he had seen samples of the anthrax, thought it could have been home-grown. He assumed "preliminarily" that those who had produced it could have been members of a terrorist group who were "not very highly trained professionals."
While the experts disagreed on the level of expertise required to have made such material, they agreed that the anthrax had probably not been obtained by using the production techniques of either the Soviet or American germ weapons programs.
They also agreed - as did Elisa D. Harris, who is not a weapons expert but served for eight years on President Bill Clinton's National Security Council - that if a foreign state was involved, Iraq was a likely candidate.
Dr. Spertzel said that while it was not known whether Iraq had obtained the Ames strain of anthrax - the strain found in all the anthrax letters - Iraqi weapons scientists had repeatedly tried to acquire it. He also said a top Iraqi scientist had directed his team to evaluate mobile laboratories, facilities in which germ stocks could quickly be moved and hidden from inspectors.
And while both Soviet and American weapons scientists had used milling to make smaller particles, Iraq did not; Dr. Alibek testified that the anthrax he had seen showed no signs of milling.
of Anthrax Letter Yields Clues
New York Times
Authors: ANDREW C. REVKIN with PAUL ZIELBAUER
Document Column Name: A Nation Challenged: The Postal Service
The letters took separate routes in the automated system as electronic eyes translated addresses into bar codes and diverted them through different sets of sorters, bins, sacks and ultimately trucks. But anthrax spores that had puffed out of the first envelope during the sorting process evidently settled on the second. And as that letter made its way to Seymour, it retained enough anthrax to mark a route and offer a possible explanation of how anthrax could have reached and killed Ottilie W. Lundgren, a 94-year-old widow who lived a mile from the Farkas home.
Until now, investigators say, no one had thought of the data stored on magnetic tapes in the thousands of sorting machines in the 362 regional sorting centers around the country as anything other than a way to check whether a letter had been lost. But the investigators now realize that the data could conceivably allow them to identify and publicize the tens of thousands of other letters that passed through the Hamilton Township center within an hour or so of each of four known anthrax mailings, to Senator [Patrick J. Leahy], Senator Tom Daschle, NBC News and The New York Post.
Postal officials and experts at
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that even this is not
necessary. Testing of 284 post offices and mail sorting centers -- those
thought to be at greatest risk among the country's tens of thousands of
postal centers -- has found only 23 with anthrax, almost all of which had
only traces of contamination. And all those sites have been decontaminated
with bleach except for the two big sorting centers where the assault began,
in Hamilton Township and Washington, hubs that
Copyright New York Times Company Dec 7, 2001
At 5:27 p.m. on Oct. 9, amid tons of bills, birthday greetings, credit offers and other mail, an anthrax-laced letter to Senator Patrick J. Leahy zipped into the humming, high-speed machinery at a postal sorting center in Hamilton Township, N.J.
Precisely 20 seconds and 283 items later, an envelope addressed to the Farkas household on Great Hill Road in Seymour, Conn., followed it through the machinery.
The letters took separate routes in the automated system as electronic eyes translated addresses into bar codes and diverted them through different sets of sorters, bins, sacks and ultimately trucks. But anthrax spores that had puffed out of the first envelope during the sorting process evidently settled on the second. And as that letter made its way to Seymour, it retained enough anthrax to mark a route and offer a possible explanation of how anthrax could have reached and killed Ottilie W. Lundgren, a 94-year-old widow who lived a mile from the Farkas home.
A similar possible link has since been drawn between mail sent that same day through the same Hamilton Township hub and the anthrax death of Kathy T. Nguyen, 61, a hospital worker from the Bronx. One letter processed in the sprawling building at almost the same moment as the Leahy letter was traced to Ms. Nguyen's neighborhood, although it has never been found.
Investigators looking into these deaths were able to follow such clues only because of the rapidly increasing automation of the postal system, which sorts 95 percent of flat mail items automatically.
As part of an effort to improve the tracking of first-class mail and thus improve service, bar codes are now applied to the back and front of mail as it is canceled, registering the time and place it enters the system. Each letter gains a digital identity at each sorting hub, one that can be precisely tracked backward or forward.
Until now, investigators say, no one had thought of the data stored on magnetic tapes in the thousands of sorting machines in the 362 regional sorting centers around the country as anything other than a way to check whether a letter had been lost. But the investigators now realize that the data could conceivably allow them to identify and publicize the tens of thousands of other letters that passed through the Hamilton Township center within an hour or so of each of four known anthrax mailings, to Senator Leahy, Senator Tom Daschle, NBC News and The New York Post.
Some officials are pressing for the release of that information, saying it could help people avoid exposure to anthrax. But others say such a step would unnecessarily alarm communities that received mail that only theoretically held anthrax traces and that had caused no disease.
Representative Christopher H. Smith, a Republican whose district includes the Hamilton Township center, says it would be worthwhile to follow the trail of at least a sample of potentially contaminated mailings to test for anthrax bacteria.
But postal officials and experts
at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that even this is
not necessary. Testing of 284 post offices and mail sorting centers --
those thought to be at greatest risk among the country's tens of thousands
of postal centers -- has found only 23 with anthrax, almost all of which
had only traces of contamination. And all those sites have been decontaminated
with bleach except for the two big sorting centers where the assault began,
in Hamilton Township and Washington,
The C.D.C. says the fact that surveillance has turned up no anthrax cases since that of Mrs. Lundgren strongly supports the idea that any further risk from the mails is minimal, barring a new round of letters deliberately laced with anthrax.
In an analysis published yesterday in the centers' Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the agency estimated that 85 million letters passed through the Hamilton Township and Washington hubs when both had ''widespread environmental contamination'' with spores shed by the anthrax letters. Yet no new cases of skin or lung infections have emerged among the 10.5 million people in communities served by those hubs, the report said.
''Despite this very low risk,'' the report said, ''persons remaining concerned about their risk may want to take additional steps such as not opening suspicious mail, keeping mail away from your face when you open it and not blowing or sniffing mail,'' as well as washing hands after handling letters and making sure to discard envelopes.
The steady increase in postal automation has contributed both to the investigation of the anthrax mailings and, by raising sorting speeds, to the passage of the spores from letter to machine to letter.
The machines, each canceling, coding and sorting some 30,000 pieces of mail an hour, whip letters so quickly, employees and investigators say, that the lines of dozens of them function in a white haze that is generated as the paper crumbles slightly while flying on its way.
When anthrax was added to that process, the result was akin to turning on a blender, Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, the director of the disease control centers, said recently.
The resulting secondary contamination has been linked to two skin anthrax infections in New Jersey and is a possible -- but only possible -- explanation for the deaths of Mrs. Lundgren and Ms. Nguyen.
The Postal Service is adding filtered vacuum hoses to its equipment to cleanse the air and has ended cleaning practices in which air hoses were used to clear dust from machines, said Patrick Donahue, its chief operating officer.
The first use of the digital records to trace a tainted letter, postal officials say, was on Oct. 16, the day after an aide to Senator Daschle opened the letter to him at his Capitol Hill office, disgorging a puff of powder. Mr. Donahue said that almost immediately, postal officials began asking for testing of their buildings and employees but ''didn't get a lot of cooperation'' at the time from health authorities, who were focused on Capitol Hill.
The postal officials, Mr. Donahue said, sought to determine on their own which machine the letter had passed through at the Brentwood Road sorting center, which serves all of Washington. Tim Haney, the manager there, tracked down the codes imprinted on the letter, and those codes identified the machine.
The postal officials also obtained descriptions of the contents of a previous anthrax mailing, to Tom Brokaw of NBC News, and thought they should search that machine for that kind of material.
''We were thinking sugar, salt, thinking something might be lying on the floor,'' Mr. Donahue said.
Of course, it quickly became apparent that the Daschle letter contained a far finer, and therefore more dangerous, powder. And then came the parade of illnesses in postal workers who had been nowhere near sorting machines, and the death of two of those workers by Oct. 22.
Once the nature of the anthrax preparation became evident, ''it was very chilling,'' Mr. Donahue said.
In looking for the attacker, the F.B.I. and the Postal Inspection Service, using digital printouts, hoped to discern which postal route the letter had come from. They tried to look for any patterns in letters that had spun through the Hamilton Township center about the same time. But no patterns emerged.
The next opportunity to use the data came only after Mrs. Lundgren took ill, before Thanksgiving.
At first, investigators pored over data from the sorting center in Wallingford, Conn., the one closest to her home. But they could find no record of suspicious letters to her, said Dr. David L. Swerdlow, a C.D.C. epidemiologist involved in the work.
The call went out to New Jersey to check printouts from Hamilton Township, on the off chance that something that had passed through there on Oct. 9 had ended up coming her way.
The letter to Seymour quickly came to light. When a team first went to the Farkas home there, no such letter surfaced. But it was found shortly thereafter, and wiped with a swab. One spore took hold in a petri dish and blossomed into an anthrax colony.
The discovery of one spore on a letter to a home a mile from Mrs. Lundgren's, however, does not answer the question of how she could possibly have inhaled a lethal dose of anthrax spores. No contamination has yet been found in her home or at any of the places she visited regularly. So state and federal investigators in Connecticut are still scouring post offices and the Wallingford sorting center for clues.
One hypothesis being tested now, Dr. Swerdlow said, is that a letter contaminated in a sorting machine in New Jersey, Washington or New York City went on to contaminate a postal bin in Wallingford that, in turn, cross-contaminated a letter sent to Mrs. Lundgren's home, in the town of Oxford.
To test that theory, investigators have spent recent days at the Wallingford building, where several sorting machines were found to be contaminated with traces of anthrax last weekend.
Paul Mead, a C.D.C. epidemiologist at the Wallingford center, said the investigative team wanted to complete ''a trace forward and a trace backward'' of any contaminated mail found there. But he added that tracing postmarked and bar-coded letters was easier than tracing prepaid bulk and commercial mail, which carries no postmark or other ''unique identifiers.''
''We have to look at other ways to track that mail forward,'' Mr. Mead said. ''We're working with the Postal Service to come up with innovative ways to do that.''
Indeed, as tests continued on mail, clothing and other belongings from Mrs. Lundgren's home, federal and state epidemiologists continued their crash course in postal routing and sorting.
The goal is to calculate the chances ''that mail she received could have been in the vicinity of mail that could have been contaminated,'' said Mike Groutt, a C.D.C. spokesman. ''They're in the early stages of that,'' he added.
Dr. Swerdlow said he and his colleagues were also considering a variety of hypotheses, ranging from the highly improbable (that Mrs. Lundgren was the target of a mailing) to the convoluted (the notion of double or triple cross-contamination).
''We're trying to leave no stone unturned,'' he said.
and Investigation Unite City for Immigrant
[NY Times - 12/8/01]
CHESTER, PA - People here worry about Dr. Irshad Shaikh, their Pakistani- born health commissioner. Not that he is a terrorist, even though federal agents raided his home last month, looking for anthrax.
They worry about how much longer they will be able to hold on to him.
Not many cities as small as Chester (population 38,000) have a health commissioner with a doctorate in public health from Johns Hopkins University who also holds a faculty appointment at Hopkins.
"We think he's tremendous," said Dr. Thomas McBride, a retired internist who is president of the Chester Board of Health, which hired Dr. Shaikh. "He could probably become surgeon general of Pakistan."
But Dr. Shaikh, who holds out service to humanity as the central tenet of his Muslim faith, says he feels bound to this city on the Delaware River that once built ships and engines and is struggling to reinvent itself in the post-industrial age.
"If it were not for Chester, I would not be in this country," Dr. Shaikh said. "I would not have gotten my doctorate from the greatest institution in the world. It is all because of the city."
Three weeks ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation staged a highly public raid on the house where Dr. Shaikh, 39, lives with his brother and mother. Acting on a tip related to the anthrax investigation, agents broke down his door with guns drawn and carried out his belongings for inspection by men in moon suits. They also raided the home of Asif Kazi, the Chester accountant and a friend of Dr. Shaikh's from Pakistan.
Agents spent hours questioning Mr. Kazi, Dr. Shaikh and Dr. Shaikh's brother, Masood, who runs the city's lead abatement program.
The F.B.I., which was acting on sealed warrants, has not charged any of the men or provided any explanation for the raid, other than to say that the investigation is continuing. The three men have volunteered to answer questions before a federal grand jury on Dec. 20.
Dr. Shaikh, who is from a family of doctors, has been the reluctant center of media attention around the raid, and in the weeks since, the city has embraced him.
"He's no more a terrorist than the police chief or any other citizen of Chester is a terrorist," said Mayor Dominic Pileggi, who accompanied Dr. Shaikh to Baltimore last year for the three and a half hours of oral examinations for his doctorate, and also attended his graduation from Hopkins.
"Even after all this investigation and probing, nothing has changed my opinion of him," Mr. Pileggi said. "We have not gotten a single negative call about him at City Hall. We've had only calls of support."
If Chester has been Dr. Shaikh's Ellis Island, his American dream, then he, in turn, has provided Chester with an immigrant's energy, ideas and devotion.
Seven years ago, the city, with high rates of infant mortality, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse, needed a health commissioner. Dr. Shaikh, who had just completed his master's at Hopkins, needed a job to pay for his doctoral studies and to meet the requirements of his work-study visa.
A bigger city might not have wanted him, he said. At the same time, American-born graduates of Ivy League schools were not lining up for the job in Chester, which then paid $34,000 a year.
David Smith, a professor emeritus of political science at Swarthmore College and the vice president of the Chester health board, said, "We lucked out."
Dr. Shaikh was trained as a radiologist in his country, and in many ways his experience in Pakistan made him well suited to the job.
"They told me, `The city has problems; you don't have a lot of resources; you don't have manpower,' " he said, recalling his interview with city officials. "I said: `I come from a developing country. We never have resources. All you have to do is use efficiently what you have.' "
Professor Smith credits Dr. Shaikh with enlisting the state and county health departments in tackling Chester's problems.
And by winning state and federal grants, some of which have gone to start educational programs for children, he has increased his department's budget to $1.7 million from $400,000.
There is no money in the budget for a grant writer or an epidemiologist. So Dr. Shaikh recruited his brother, who has a master's degree in public health from Hopkins, to do both jobs - without extra pay - in addition to his regular position as head of Chester's lead abatement program.
"We're management," Dr. Shaikh said. "We work 24/7."
He kept working even after the F.B.I. had taken his computer and was at his desk first thing in the morning after the raid.
So eager is the city to keep Dr. Shaikh that it has doubled his salary, to nearly $70,000 a year.
While he declines to say much about the F.B.I. raid other than to state what all who know him say is obvious - that he is not a terrorist - Dr. Shaikh could go on for hours about Chester. He tells reporters to talk to the mayor about what Dr. Shaikh considers the real story of Chester: its ambitious riverfront development, with plans to transform an old power plant with offices, shops and restaurants. Then there is the new city hall in the works, the new housing, the renewed hope.
"If it were not for these people, where would I be?" Dr. Shaikh said, referring to the mayor and the other city officials.
"How can I leave this place?"
Recently Produced Anthrax in a Highly Lethal Powder Form
by William J. Broad and Judith
Government officials have acknowledged that Army scientists in recent years have made anthrax in a powdered form that could be used as a weapon.
As the investigation into the anthrax attacks widens to include federal laboratories and contractors, government officials have acknowledged that Army scientists in recent years have made anthrax in a powdered form that could be used as a weapon.
Experts said this appeared to be the first disclosure of government production of anthrax in its most lethal form since the United States renounced biological weapons in 1969 and began destroying its germ arsenal.
Officials at the Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah said that in 1998 scientists there turned small quantities of wet anthrax into powder to test ways to defend against biowarfare attacks.
A spokeswoman at Dugway, Paula Nicholson, said the powdered anthrax produced that year was a different strain from the one used in the recent mail attacks that have killed five people. Dugway officials said powdered anthrax was also produced in other years but declined to say whether any of it was the Ames strain, the type found in the letters sent to two senators and news organizations.
Government records show that Dugway has had the Ames strain since 1992.
Dugway officials said in a statement that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into "the work at Dugway Proving Ground," along with that of other medical facilities, universities and laboratories. "The Army is cooperating with and assisting the F.B.I.'s efforts," the officials said.
The disclosure at Dugway comes as federal agents, as part of a vast investigation of the anthrax attacks that has made little apparent headway, are trying to figure out where stores of anthrax are housed around the nation and who has the skill to create the powdered form - a major technical step needed to make the anthrax used in the terror attacks.
The F.B.I. declined to detail its strategy other than to say its agents have visited some laboratories and are identifying new ones that may have handled, or had access to, the Ames strain.
"We're following every logical lead," said one law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The F.B.I has subpoenaed records from dozens of laboratories that do pathogen research, drawing up a list of places that possess the Ames strain. The bureau, citing the criminal investigation, will not release the list or identify the labs being scrutinized. But private experts say the list is most likely short.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a biological arms control expert at the State University of New York at Purchase and chairwoman of a bioweapons panel at the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington, concluded that at least 15 institutions had worked recently with the Ames strain. Dr. Rosenberg, who has argued that the likeliest suspect in the anthrax attacks is a government insider or someone in contact with an insider, drew up her list after surveying scientific publications about anthrax and consulting private and federal experts.
Of the 15, Dr. Rosenberg said, four are "probably more likely than the others to have weaponization capabilities" - the ability to turn wet anthrax spores into a fine powder that could be used as a weapon.
Army researchers have previously acknowledged making wet anthrax, but Dr. Rosenberg said the acknowledgment yesterday by Dugway officials that they had produced dried anthrax was the government's only such disclosure. "I know of no case of the United States saying that it has made anthrax powder," she said.
Some details of Dugway's anthrax work were reported yesterday by The Baltimore Sun.
Dugway's disclosure was so sketchy that it was impossible to determine how similar the powdered anthrax produced there was to that sent in the anthrax attacks. In addition to drying, other steps involved in producing the most lethal powders include making the particles uniformly small and processing them so they float freely.
Private and federal experts are clashing over how much powdered anthrax Dugway has made. The issue is politically sensitive since some experts say producing large quantities could be seen as violating the global treaty banning germ weapons.
William C. Patrick III, a scientist who made germ weapons for the United States and now consults widely on biological defenses, told a group of American military officers in February 1999 that he taught Dugway personnel the previous spring how to turn wet anthrax into powders, according to a transcript of the session.
The process, Mr. Patrick told officers at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, was not as refined as the one used in the heyday of the government's germ warfare program, but it worked. "We made about a pound of material in little less than a day," he told the officers. "It's a good product."
He did not say what strain of anthrax was used in this work.
But Ms. Nicholson, the Dugway spokeswoman, said workers there "never produced more than a few grams" of powdered anthrax in any given year. There are 454 grams in a pound.
Experts have said the letter sent to Senator Tom Daschle contained about two grams of anthrax spores - a small amount, but enough, if distributed with high efficiency, to infect millions of people.
Ms. Nicholson said the dry anthrax made in 1998 was of the strain known as Vollum 1B, which the Army used to make anthrax weapons before the United States renounced biological arms in 1969. She said it was used for decontamination studies.
"You have to use live spores because you are determining the rates of inactivation or kill," she said.
She said Dugway did make one- pound quantities of Bacillus subtilis, a benign germ sometimes used to simulate anthrax. Mr. Patrick could not be reached for comment on this point.
Elisa D. Harris, who handled biological defense issues on the National Security Council for the Clinton administration, said she knew nothing about a pound of dried anthrax being made at Dugway. She added that after President Richard M. Nixon unilaterally ended America's germ weapons program, the United States destroyed about 220 pounds of anthrax.
Dugway's production of dried anthrax is part of the government's secret research program on how to defend against germ weapons, which gained momentum in the late 1990's. The Clinton administration began a series of projects aimed at understanding the nation's vulnerabilities to biowarfare and devising ways combat the threats.
Experts like Dr. Rosenberg have argued that some of these programs violate the 1972 global treaty banning germ weapons. Others say these projects, including making small amounts of the germs, are permitted by the treaty and are vital to defense research.
It is uncertain how the disclosure by Dugway will be perceived abroad, where some European countries have recently accused the United States of turning its back on the germ treaty, charges that the Bush administration denies.
It is not known whether Dugway has shared its skills in making biological powders with other institutions, but it has shared its supply of the Ames strain.
In 1997, it sent germs to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, said Christopher C. Kelly, a spokesman there. He added that the institute, a sister lab to the Naval Medical Research Center, uses Ames to develop research assays for biological defense.
F.B.I. agents have interviewed staff members there, he said.
Intelligence officials say that
Battelle Memorial Institute, a military contractor in Ohio, has experience
making powdered germs. They say the contractor participated in a secret
Central Intelligence Agency program, code-named Clear Vision and begun
in 1997, that used benign substances similar to anthrax to mimic Soviet
efforts to create small bombs that could emit
Katy Delaney, a Battelle spokeswoman, would not comment on the laboratory's anthrax work except to say that the lab had always cooperated "with any and all legitimate inquiries from law enforcement."
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
F.B.I. Queries Expert Who Sees Federal Lab Tie in Anthrax Cases
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
F.B.I. agents yesterday questioned a leading proponent of the theory that the anthrax attacks were the work of someone linked to a federal laboratory or contractor, asking her about possible clues to the culprit's identity.
"They wanted to know whether I had ideas about who did it," said the expert, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a molecular biologist at the State University of New York at Purchase and chairwoman of a biological weapons panel at the Federation of American Scientists.
Dr. Rosenberg said that in response she had given the agents detailed information about ideas that she had sketched out in a paper posted on the federation's Web site.
She said the agents had also repeatedly asked her whether she agreed that the perpetrator would have known that anthrax spores would seep through envelopes in which they were mailed. But "I kept disagreeing," she said.
In her paper, Dr. Rosenberg said she believed that the culprit's motive was not necessarily to kill but to stir public fear and so highlight the importance of building up defenses against germ attack.
As the F.B.I. agents consulted Dr. Rosenberg yesterday, a disagreement between federal experts and a former government germ scientist over one narrow issue how much powdered anthrax was made in 1998 by an Army laboratory at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah appeared to be resolved.
Dugway officials had claimed that the amount was small just grams, or a tiny fraction of a pound. But the scientist, William C. Patrick III, who taught Dugway scientists a secret way to turn wet anthrax into powder, had told military officers that Dugway had made about a pound.
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Patrick said he had meant to say that "we could have produced a pound, not that we did." Quantities of a pound that were made, he added, were not anthrax but Bacillus subtilis, a benign germ sometimes used to simulate anthrax.
Pounds of anthrax, Mr. Patrick
said, far exceed what the installation might have needed to test germ defenses,
the reason cited by Dugway for making small amounts of anthrax powder.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
U.S. Inquiry Tried, but Failed, to Link Iraq to Anthrax Attack
By WILLIAM J. BROAD with DAVID JOHNSTON
Shortly after the first anthrax victim died in October, the Bush administration began an intense effort to explore any possible link between Iraq and the attacks and continued to do so even after scientists determined that the lethal germ was an American strain, scientists and government officials said.
But they said that largely secret work had found no evidence to back up the initial suspicions, which is one reason administration officials have said recently that the source of the anthrax was most likely domestic.
For months, intelligence agencies searched for Iraqi fingerprints and scientists investigated whether Baghdad had somehow obtained the so-called Ames strain of anthrax. Scientists also repeatedly analyzed the powder from the anthrax-laced envelopes for signs of chemical additives that would point to Iraq.
"We looked for any shred of evidence that would bear on this, or any foreign source," a senior intelligence official said of an Iraq connection. "It's just not there."
The focus on Iraq was based on its record of developing a germ arsenal and also on what some officials said was a desire on the part of the administration to find a reason to attack Iraq in the war on terrorism.
"I know there are a number of people who would love an excuse to get after Iraq," said a top federal scientist involved in the investigation.
From the start, agents searched for clues in domestic industry, academia and terror groups. But while investigators were racing to link the Ames strain to Iraq, they have only recently begun examining government institutions and contractors in this country that have worked with that strain for years.
In hunting for a culprit in the attacks that killed five people, agents have chased tens of thousands of tips in the past two months and conducted thousands of interviews, law enforcement officials said.
They have traced prescriptions for the antibiotic Cipro, on the chance the perpetrator took the drug to guard against the disease. They have also checked the language and block- style handwriting on letters sent with the anthrax against digital databases of threatening letters maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service and Capitol Police.
But officials said no likely suspects have emerged and they are settling in for what they fear could be a long haul.
The most promising evidence is still the anthrax itself, which federal scientists and contractors are studying for clues to its origin. The government tried to find links to Afghanistan and Iraq in the substance as well.
One discovery early in the inquiry seemed to undercut the foreign thesis. The anthrax used in the first attack, in Florida, and in subsequent attacks turned out to be the Ames strain, named after its place of origin in Iowa. While investigators found that this domestic variety of anthrax had been shipped to some laboratories overseas, none could be traced to Baghdad.
Nevertheless, government officials continued pushing the Iraq theory, scientists and officials involved in the inquiry said. They saw an intriguing clue in reports that Iraq had tried hard to obtain the Ames strain from British researchers in 1988 and 1989, raising suspicions that it had eventually succeeded.
Federal scientists hunted down records and biological samples from an investigation of Iraq's biological arms program, which was conducted by the United Nations in the 1990's. Those samples were analyzed in laboratories run by two biologists, Paul S. Keim of Northern Arizona University and Paul J. Jackson of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New Mexico.
But in the end few samples from Iraq's arsenal were found, and those that were turned out to have nothing in common with the Ames strain, officials said.
A different line of inquiry sought to re-examine seven anthrax strains that the world's largest germ bank, the American Type Culture Collection, in Manassas, Va., sold to Iraq in the 1980's, before the government banned such exports.
None of the strains were identified as Ames. But scientists inside and outside the government speculated that mislabeling might have inadvertently put the potent germ in Baghdad's hands. More laboratory tests were ordered.
Raymond H. Cypess, president of the germ bank, said recent investigations had disproved the mislabeling idea. "We never had it," he said of the Ames strain, "and we can say that on several levels of analysis."
The Iraq inquiry also looked for chemical clues. An early focus was bentonite, a clay additive that is one of the few substances identified publicly that can help reduce the static charge of anthrax spores so they float more freely and potentially infect more people.
Richard O. Spertzel, a retired microbiologist who led the United Nations' biological weapons inspections of Iraq, told investigators that Iraq had explored using bentonite in its germ weapons programs. But Maj. Gen. John Parker of the Army's biological research center at Fort Detrick, Md., said in late October that tests had turned up no signs of aluminum a main building block of bentonite.
"If I can't find aluminum," General Parker told reporters, "I can't say it's bentonite."
Despite the scientific findings, the sophistication of the anthrax found in the letter mailed to Senator Tom Daschle, the majority leader, has kept Dr. Spertzel and others convinced that Iraq or another foreign power could be behind the attacks.
Richard H. Ebright, a microbiologist at Rutgers University who closely follows the anthrax inquiry, recently said that the Baghdad thesis "should not be dismissed as a desperate reach for a casus belli against Iraq" and is still worth investigating.
Publicly, White House officials have made no mention of the failure to find an Iraqi connection, but they have noted the inquiry's intensified focus on the United States. "The evidence is increasingly looking like it was a domestic source," the White House Press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said on Monday.
Tom Ridge, the director of homeland security, said in a statement that he initially assumed that the culprits were foreigners. "Like many people, when the case of anthrax emerged so close to Sept. 11, I couldn't believe it was a coincidence," Mr. Ridge said. "But now, based on the investigative work of many agencies, we're all more inclined to think that the perpetrator is domestic."
It remains unclear whether the focus on Iraq diverted investigators from the domestic inquiry. But some scientists say a decision made early on suggests that it might have.
In early October, the F.B.I. raised no objections when officials at Iowa State University, where the Ames strain was discovered, said they planned to destroy the university's large collection of anthrax spores for security reasons. Many biologists now say that step might have destroyed potential genetic clues to the culprit's identity.
Two months later, the investigation is largely focused in the United States. As the scientific inquiry into the anthrax itself continues, the F.B.I. is also employing more traditional forensic and investigative techniques to find out who sent the lethal letters.
Agents have compiled lengthy lists of who might have manufactured, tested, transported or stored anthrax. They have questioned manufacturers and marketers of biochemistry equipment and specialized machinery needed to make the material. They have inspected scientific literature, which could provide clues about who has knowledge to make anthrax.
But few clues have emerged. So far only three letters those sent to NBC, The New York Post and Mr. Daschle have been analyzed. A fourth letter, sent to Senator Patrick J.Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, is undergoing painstaking analysis by a number of laboratories, officials said.
All of the letters were photocopies and none appeared to contain any fingerprints. The plastic tape on the envelopes was a mass marketed variety. The paper on which the letters were written was an average size. The envelopes were prestamped and widely available. The marks left by the photocopier have been carefully studied, but have revealed no clues.
One senior official said nothing the investigators have found has led to anyone who might remotely be called a suspect. Several people who seemed to fit the F.B.I.'s profile of a science loner had been aggressively investigated, but no one has emerged as a serious subject.
"Still, the more you are out there, the more things bubble up," the official said. But asked whether recent news reports of a possible suspect in the case were true, the official replied, "I only wish that was true."
Some tips have seemed encouraging, but only for a time.
"We run out every lead and we give these people a real hard look and real hard shake before we take them off the screen," the official said. "There have been people who we have placed a little higher priority on than others." But then they fall off.
Some senior Bush administration officials have begun to worry privately that the case might take decades to solve, likening it to the Unabomber investigation that baffled investigators for nearly 20 years until David Kaczynski became suspicious of his brother Theodore and alerted the F.B.I.
Investigators have used various strategies to find suspects, but have often been frustrated. When they tried to track down people who had sought prescriptions for Cipro in the weeks before the anthrax mailings, the effort quickly bogged down. "Do you know how many people take Cipro in this country?" an exasperated official said, explaining that Cipro is used to treat a variety of ailments.
Investigators also said they were continuing to examine the possibility that the culprit might have purchased stock in the company that makes Cipro in an effort to profit from the attacks.
The newest front in the search for culprits is the examination of government research institutions and contractors. The reason to look there is plain: Some of them have the Ames strain and know how to turn it into the kind of deadly powder used in the attacks.
But that has added yet another complication to the already challenging inquiry. After all, investigators have relied on these same experts for scientific advice from the earliest days of the investigation, back when Iraq was a prime suspect.
"It puts us in a difficult position," one senior law enforcement official said. "We're working with these people and looking at them as potential suspects."
Times, January 4, 2002.
Profile of a Killer
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
I think I know who sent out the anthrax last fall.
He is an American insider, a man working in the military bio-weapons field. He's a skilled microbiologist who did not aim to kill anybody or even to disrupt the postal system. Rather, he wanted to sow terror. Like many in the bio-warfare field, he felt that the government was not sufficiently attuned to the risks of anthrax, so he seized upon the opportunity presented by Sept. 11 to get more attention and funding for bio-terror programs like those that have been his career.
How do I know all this? Well, I don't exactly. But talk to the people in the spooky world of bio-terror awhile, sop up the gossip and theories, and as you put the clues together -- as bio-terror experts and F.B.I. officials are now doing -- a hazy picture seems to come into focus. It's not a certainty but an educated guess, circulating among many who know their business.
"I think there are on the order of 100 people who could have done it, who have the access to the spores and the technical expertise to have done it," says one man with long experience in the shadows of the United States bio-defense program. "I've got to admit that I could be a suspect. I've been interviewed by the F.B.I."
The emerging image of the killer that many of the experts see (but not all; anthrax experts agree about as much as economists do) is precisely the opposite of the perpetrator whom we initially imagined. Our first impulse when catastrophes happen is to look for foreigners to round up, as we did after the Oklahoma City bombing and after the crash of Flight 800. The Bush administration tried hard to find evidence to pin the anthrax attacks on Iraq.
In fact, many experts believe that the killer is tied to the American bio-weapons program because the anthrax he sent out is genetically identical to the anthrax kept by the United States Army. A microbiologist named Paul Keim is helping the authorities compare the genetic fingerprint of the mailed anthrax, and every indication is that it derives at least indirectly from the mother lode of the military strain, kept at Fort Detrick, Md.
The mailed anthrax is also astonishingly pure and equivalent (in spore size and concentration) to the best the American Army ever achieved. Making anthrax in a dry powdered form of this quality is difficult, and beginning in 1959 took 900 workers in the "hot" area of Fort Detrick years of effort (and two accidental deaths, including that of an unlucky electrician who changed light bulbs at the wrong time). Thus it seems that the murderer had access not only to the American military germs but also to some knowledge of the American military method of preparing it in its dry form.
Why do specialists agree that the murderer was not trying to kill anybody? Because he taped the envelopes tightly, and as of September nobody expected that the spores could leak through envelopes. Moreover, each of the letters that has been recovered announced that the substance was anthrax and advised the recipient to take antibiotics.
"I don't think that he was trying to kill anybody," said Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a microbiologist who has studied the attacks for the Federation of American Scientists. "I think the motive was to create public fear, to raise the profile of biological warfare."
The F.B.I. may already have talked to the killer. There are not that many people with the access to germs, the knowledge and an anthrax vaccine booster shot in the last year. But the murderer showed a knowledge of forensics (apparently not licking a stamp or envelope, for example, to avoid leaving DNA), and it may be very difficult to move from suspicions to sufficient proof for an arrest.
Washington has been pressing Russia, Pakistan and other countries, quite rightly, to improve their control of germs, chemicals and nuclear weapons. But one of the lessons of the anthrax investigation is that the first thing we need to do to feel safer is put our own house in order. It is appalling that we cannot even determine which labs have exchanged anthrax with Fort Detrick.
Terrorism and laxity, it seems, afflict not only foreigners with different complexions and religions, but -- in exceptional cases -- perhaps also those with white lab coats and military haircuts.
Report Genetic Finding That Could Aid Anthrax Inquiry
January 22, 2002
By WILLIAM J. BROAD and NICHOLAS
In a break for anthrax investigators, scientists say they have discovered genetic fingerprints that may help determine which of many laboratories is the likely source of the virulent microbe used in the attacks.
The advance is a byproduct of a scientific effort to decode the full DNA or genome of the Ames strain of anthrax, the type used in tainted letters that began circulating through the mail last fall, killing five people.
Scientists at the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., a private group working for the federal government, say they have found a small number of genetic differences between the preparation used in the Florida attack and a standard source of the Ames strain.
To the frustration of investigators, conventional methods of genetic fingerprinting have so far failed to distinguish among the various stocks of Ames anthrax possessed by the different laboratories. The new points of difference, which the institute's scientists expect to be verified in the next two weeks, could allow federal investigators to match the attack anthrax to one of the Ames samples they have collected from a dozen or so laboratories here and abroad, and thus perhaps identify where the perpetrator obtained the germs.
The genetic analysis of anthrax stocks "might give us the edge" in cracking the case, said a senior law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity. He cautioned that the work was not finished, and its value so far unknown. "It may potentially have some good yield for us," he said in an interview.
Scientists have never before compared two full genomes of an organism at every unit of its DNA, nor done so as part of a criminal investigation, the institute scientists say. The tool could prove important for law enforcement and fighting terrorism, shedding light on subtle relationships among germs that otherwise appear identical.
The advance comes as the F.B.I. has made little headway in the anthrax case, with no firm suspects, and plans at a news conference this week to raise the reward for information about the case.
Anthrax, like other bacteria, grows by dividing into two daughter cells that are generally identical except for the rare errors made in copying the five million units of DNA that make up its genome, its complete set of heredity information.
When the attacks began last fall, investigators hoped to identify the source of the bacteria by comparing it with a collection of nearly 100 anthrax strains gathered from around the world and curated by Dr. Martin E. Hugh-Jones at Louisiana State University and Dr. Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University.
Dr. Keim, Dr. Hugh-Jones, Dr. Paul J. Jackson of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and other scientists also developed a genetic identification test for anthrax strains, similar to the DNA fingerprinting test used in human forensic cases. They discovered eight markers, or points of genetic difference, that they made the basis for distinguishing one anthrax strain from another.
When Dr. Keim, working for federal authorities, analyzed samples of the attack germs, all turned out to belong to the Ames strain, named after Ames, Iowa, where the bacterium was thought to have arisen.
But this identification proved of little help because the Ames strain had been widely distributed to laboratories in this country and abroad. And though the anthrax fingerprinting test - which looks for unique patterns of repeating DNA - has since been improved to include more than 50 markers, it has still not been able to differentiate between the attack germs and the various samples of the Ames strain anthrax.
Independently of Dr. Keim, however, the Institute for Genomic Research, which specializes in microbial genomes, had been determining the sequence of chemical building blocks in the DNA of the anthrax bacterium. The institute, known as TIGR (pronounced tiger), started the project two years ago at the request of a consortium of agencies, including the Office of Naval Research and the British Defense Evaluation and Research Agency.
The TIGR scientists used a sample of the Ames strain obtained from the British biodefense laboratory at Porton Down in England, which in turn had received it more than a decade earlier from the Army's biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md.
Then, in October, after last fall's mail attacks, TIGR received a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to expand its anthrax sequencing and map the bacteria recovered from the Florida strike.
TIGR scientists said last week that they might have discovered several points of difference between the Porton Down Ames strain and the Florida Ames strain used in the attacks. The differences include both single unit changes in DNA, known to biologists as Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, or SNP's (pronounced snips), and variable repeats, which are sites where the same small sequence of DNA units is repeated a few times. The variable regions, known as VNTR's, for Variable Number Tandem Repeats, are the type of differences used for human DNA fingerprinting.
TIGR scientists said they had communicated their list of DNA differences to Dr. Keim, who is testing the Ames strain samples in his collection to see if he can now distinguish among them. In addition, the F.B.I is giving Dr. Keim new Ames samples to analyze.
The more complete a collection of Ames samples Dr. Keim possesses, the better his chances of identifying the exact laboratory from which the attack strain came. But an unknown number of Ames samples remain outside his collection, at least for now. For example, a Canadian government research group that has the Ames strain said it had received no F.B.I. requests.
"We have never been contacted by any law enforcement agency with regard to our Ames strain," said Bill Kournikakis, a biologist at the Defense Research Establishment Suffield, in Alberta, Canada.
In an interview, the senior law enforcement official said the process of Ames collection was widely under way but sometimes slowed by red tape, especially at private and foreign laboratories. "The official request has been made," he said of the effort to collect an Ames sample from the Canadians.
Timothy D. Read, who heads anthrax genome sequencing at TIGR, said the current plan was for Dr. Keim to test each Ames stock in his possession at the points of difference TIGR has found on the anthrax genome. Each sample will then be scored as to how close it is to the Florida and Porton Down specimens.
If one of Dr. Keim's stocks turns
out to lie nearer to the Florida specimen than do any of the others, that
will point to the laboratory that provided it as the likeliest source from
which the perpetrator stole or grew the attack anthrax. But the tests
may show that all the samples are equally similar to the Porton Down sample,
in which case they will fail to link any laboratory to the attack strain.
Dr. Read said he hoped to learn Dr. Keim's preliminary results in a week or two. Although the test itself can be done in a matter of hours, quality control measures stretch out the time required. Dr. Keim did not reply to requests for comment.
TIGR says it is negotiating for a grant to sequence the full genome of other strains of anthrax and of other samples of the Ames strain. Having the full sequence of several Ames stocks might help pinpoint the source of the attack anthrax if all else fails, and identify the origin of any future attack. Such work, Dr. Read said, would let investigators "move much more quickly" in tracking down the attacker.
Other scientists working on the anthrax case raised doubts as to whether TIGR had found any real differences between the Florida and Porton Down samples. One federal laboratory has sequenced the DNA of several individual genes in various Ames stocks without finding any differences.
A scientist at that laboratory, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the new fingerprint advance sounded like "TIGR overstating their contribution."
But the senior law enforcement official expressed hope that the new genetic techniques would eventually pay off. Indeed, he worried that if the research did advance and the findings were made public, the publicity could tip off the anthrax killer.
What needs to be avoided, he said, is giving the killer "a road map" to the investigation. "The person who made this stuff understands science," he added. "We don't want to give him any little edge, to help him do a better job of covering his tracks."
Dr. Claire M. Fraser, TIGR's director, said that Dr. Keim's findings of whether the genetic differences pointed to particular laboratories might remain secret at the F.B.I.'s request, but that TIGR's own results would be openly published, probably in February.
"We are working on a draft of the paper now," Dr. Fraser said. "Nothing TIGR has done will be censored by the F.B.I."
Gaffe Misguides Anthrax Inquiry
January 30, 2002
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
The postmarks on the deadly letters laced with anthrax made clear from the start that they came from Trenton. But tracing the origin of the strain of anthrax that killed five people last fall has been a far murkier venture. And it now turns out that scientists and investigators have been on the wrong trail all along.
Federal investigators have found in recent weeks that the so-called Ames strain was first identified not in Ames, Iowa, its reputed home, but a thousand miles south, in Texas. The strain of the bacteria was found on a dead cow near the Mexican border in 1981, and the geographic gaffe was the result of a clerical error by a scientific researcher.
It was of little consequence until last October, when investigators determined that the anthrax in the nation's first major bioterrorism attack matched the "Ames strain." Then the clerical error wound up taking the investigation on several wrong turns.
Investigators spent considerable effort trying to find the genesis of the strain in Iowa, issuing a subpoena to Iowa State University, which was known to have a sizable library of anthrax samples. Investigators persisted, even though Iowa state officials said they could find no evidence of the Ames strain.
The discovery of the true origin of Ames "looks like it gets Iowa off the hook," a senior law enforcement official said yesterday.
The criminal investigation also focused on the possibility that the anthrax used in the attacks was left over from the nation's bioweapons program, which was shut down in 1969. A scientific paper published in 2000 said Ames anthrax was a strain used in the program. But now, with the discovery that Ames emerged from Texas in 1981, that part of the investigation has also lost steam.
The discovery of the error also sheds a disturbing light on the prevalence of the virulent Ames strain. Until recently, Ames was seen as a germ that had an uncertain origin in nature and was locked away in several laboratories around the country. But now scientists and veterinary doctors say they believe that Ames is common throughout Texas.
This raises a possible public health concern and increases the possibility that last fall's bioterrorist could have simply dug anthrax out of the dirt in Texas.
"We isolate a lot of anthrax here," said Lelve G. Gayle, director of the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station. He said the Ames strain now appeared to be widely scattered in natural settings. It was found in a dead goat on a Texas ranch in 1997.
The new history of Ames, some of which was reported yesterday in The Washington Post, is being investigated by the F.B.I. along with the National Intelligence Council, which does federal threat assessments, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
"This one is the true Ames," a C.I.A. analyst said of the Texas germ. He added that the anthrax that panicked the nation last fall "all came from Texas."
That history starts in late 1980 when Gregory B. Knudson, a biologist working at the Army's biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., was searching for new anthrax strains to use in tests of the military's vaccine. In December 1980, he wrote Texas A&M veterinary officials, according to documents obtained from Dr. Knudson.
"Unfortunately, I have discarded all my pathogenic cultures," Howard W. Whitford replied in January 1981. But he said warmer weather would probably bring new outbreaks.
Indeed, in May 1981, the disease struck a herd of 900 cows at a ranch near the Mexican border.
"This heifer in excellent flesh was found in the morning unable to rise," Michael L. Vickers, a veterinarian in Falfurrias, Tex., wrote in his case report. "By noon she was dead."
In an interview, Dr. Vickers said: "This is a very lethal strain of anthrax we have down here. It's nothing to play with. I've seen as many as 30 head of cattle die a day until they're inoculated."
Dr. Vickers sent anthrax specimens to the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostics Laboratory, an arm of Texas A&M. The Texas laboratory, remembering Dr. Knudson's request, sent a sample along to Fort Detrick.
That is where the mix-up began. The Texas lab sent the iced specimens to Fort Detrick with a prepaid mailing label that Dr. Knudson has carefully preserved among his papers. Its return address is not Texas A&M at College Station but rather the National Veterinary Services Laboratories, in Ames, Iowa, an arm of the federal Agriculture Department that does diagnostic tests for state and foreign veterinary labs.
The Texas laboratory frequently sent shipments to Ames using prelabeled boxes with prepaid postage. In this case, it put on an additional label to redirect the box to Fort Detrick, with the national laboratory in Ames as the return address.
The return address blur soon became a scientific muddle.
At Fort Detrick, Dr. Knudson had gathered 27 anthrax strains. "I called this `Ames' since it came from Ames," he recalled in an interview.
In May 1986, his vaccine study and the Ames strain made their public debut. Dr. Knudson and Stephen F. Little of Fort Detrick reported in a science paper that the highly lethal strain, which killed six out of six vaccinated guinea pigs, had come from an Iowa cow.
Biologists recycled the mistake. The issue grew muddier in May 2000 when a scientific paper claimed incorrectly that Ames had been used in the American germ weapons program that was shut down in 1969.
The academic confusion became a public drama last fall. After federal experts identified the strain in the bioattacks as Ames, reporters and investigators descended on the city in Iowa.
Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa sent armed troopers and Iowa National Guard soldiers to safeguard Iowa State University's cache of anthrax microbes, which were kept in more than 100 vials. Some news reports said the attack germs had been stolen.
Officials in the College of Veterinary Medicine tore through old files and read cryptic labels on vials but could find no documentation that any of their germs were the Ames strain. They could find nothing to support Dr. Knudson's 1986 paper that said Ames had originated in an Iowa cow.
"We figured it had to have come through here, but we couldn't prove it," recalled James A. Roth, an assistant dean.
In early October, the college destroyed its anthrax collection after deciding that the germs were not worth the trouble of the new high security. In an Oct. 12 statement, the college pointed a finger at its neighbor, the National Veterinary Services Laboratories, saying it "appears" to have shipped the Ames strain to Fort Detrick.
But officials there could also find no evidence of Ames. "The Army said they got it from us," recalled Tom Bunn, head of diagnostic bacteriology there. "But we have no records of this being in our laboratory."
Still, most federal and private analysts concluded that the germ had arisen in Iowa, been isolated at Iowa State, shared with the agriculture lab and from there shipped to Fort Detrick.
By December, analysts were speculating that since Iowa State had destroyed anthrax cultures dating to 1925, perhaps one of those early strains was the true Ames.
Based on that interpretation, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a private expert in biological weapons at the State University of New York at Purchase, concluded in widely cited December report that the powdered anthrax in the attack letters "may be a remnant of the U.S. biological weapons program."
But in December, based on interviews and a review of documents, some from Dr. Knudson's file, investigators began to unravel the true Ames story.
Dr. Knudson acknowledges his mistake, saying, "It's good to get this clarified."
Officials at Iowa State could not agree more. Critics had widely faulted the university for destroying its anthrax collection, saying important evidence in the attacks might have gone up in smoke.
"My life would have been a lot easier if it was known as the College Station strain rather than the Ames strain," Dr. Roth said.
Questions linger. An official of Iowa State's veterinary school has been subpoenaed to testify in early February before a federal grand jury in Washington about the school's handling of anthrax germs.
But the discovery of the true history of Ames has raised new concerns in Texas, where the soils appear to be widely contaminated with the lethal strain. In 1997, a goat on a Texas ranch hundreds of miles from the original site of the Ames discovery died from a type of anthrax that turned out to be genetically identical to Ames.
Ames contamination could become a safety issue if would-be terrorists hunt for lethal germs in Texas soils, experts say.
Timothy W. Tobiason, a self-taught scientist who sells germ-weapon cookbooks at gun shows across the West, has suggested that old cattle trails in Texas and Oklahoma are ideal places to dig for anthrax microbes, and scientists say his logic is accurate enough to be dangerous.
"A lot of big cattle drives originated in this area," said Dr. Vickers, the Texas veterinarian who first isolated Ames. "It could be quite simple" for a terrorist to acquire the lethal spores.
TRACKING THE DISEASE
Scientist's Findings Could Aid Anthrax Inquiry
By NICHOLAS WADE
LAS VEGAS, Feb. 12 In what could provide a major break in the hunt for the sender of anthrax-laden letters last fall, a researcher studying the case for the F.B.I. says he has distinguished between stocks of the anthrax strain kept in different laboratories.
The method should help tell which laboratory's stock of anthrax is closest to that used by the attacker. That could narrow the search to people with access to that particular laboratory and its stock of anthrax.
The researcher, Dr. Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University, made the announcement here at a national conference on microbial genomes.
Asked which laboratories had provided the stocks he studied, Dr. Keim said his agreement with the Federal Bureau of Investigation prevented him from discussing the case. The F.B.I., which refused to comment on his remarks, has said it has no firm suspects, but it has focused on insiders who may have had access to anthrax in laboratories.
Many strains of anthrax exist, but the one used in the attacks is called Ames, first isolated from a cow in Texas in 1981. Because of the strain's virulence, it was studied for years by the Army's laboratory for biological warfare defense at Fort Detrick, Md., and was distributed to several laboratories in the United States and abroad to help them test vaccines.
After the anthrax attacks, researchers tried to discriminate between the various stocks of Ames to see whether they could pinpoint the laboratory of origin. But since all the stocks came from a single source, the bacteria were essentially members of a single large clone, as alike genetically as identical twins.
A DNA fingerprinting test for anthrax bacteria, similar to the test used on humans in criminal cases, had been developed by Dr. Keim and colleagues.
Dr. Keim's fingerprinting test, which was based on eight points of difference, could not distinguish between the different stocks of Ames anthrax, and he set about trying to develop more markers, which are sites on the DNA at which some anthrax bacteria have a different sequence of DNA letters from other bacteria.
To help in the search for new markers, the National Science Foundation asked the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., to decode the full DNA sequence of the anthrax bacteria recovered from Robert Stevens, the photo editor who died in the Florida attack. The institute was already sequencing the full genome of the Ames strain owned by the Fort Detrick laboratory, so it would be in a position to look for DNA differences throughout the bacterium's genome.
The institute focused on the main chromosome of the bacteria, a large ring of DNA now known to contain 5,167,515 DNA letters holding information for 5,960 genes. The bacterium also contains two small rings of DNA known as plasmids, which carry the genes essential for its virulence. The plasmid's DNA was decoded several years ago by scientists at the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory.
Dr. Keim's success came from studying a site on the second of these plasmids called a poly-A tract. He found that Ames stocks held in different laboratories varied in the number of A's one of the four units of DNA they contained in the poly- A tract. The number of A's varied from 8 to 25, the exact number depending on the laboratory that provided the stock.
On the basis of the poly-A test, he said, he has been able to distinguish between the Ames strains of anthrax held in four laboratories, and in a natural Ames isolate taken from a goat in 1997. Because of his agreement with the F.B.I., Dr. Keim would not name the laboratories or say from how many other laboratories he had received samples.
But another anthrax expert at the meeting said that if Dr. Keim had samples from all laboratories having the Ames strain, he should be able to say which one the attack strain most resembled and might have already done so.
U.S. Says Short List of 'Suspects' Is Being Checked in Anthrax Case
By JUDITH MILLER and WILLIAM J. BROAD
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified a "short list" of 18 to 20 people who had the means, opportunity and possible motive to have sent the anthrax-laden letters last fall, law enforcement officials said.
Officials said the list was compiled mostly through tips from scientists and an analysis by investigators of people with skills to have made the highly concentrated anthrax spores that killed five people and prompted doctors to prescribe antibiotic treatment for 30,000 people.
Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, said today that the F.B.I. had several "suspects" in the case, a characterization that law enforcement officials said went beyond the evidence uncovered thus far in the four-month investigation.
In fact, they said, the F.B.I. is still searching for clues that might point to a specific person. "It would be inaccurate to say that these people are suspects in the classic sense," one law enforcement official said.
The short list, officials said, has been whittled down in recent weeks from a larger group of 35 to 40 researchers or technicians believed to have the expertise needed to produce such a lethal product, access to the particularly powerful Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis contained in the letters and a grudge against the government or other possible motive to commit such a crime.
Law enforcement officials said that a description of individuals on the list had been shared with a few senior officials in one or two agencies, but that the names had not been widely discussed or disseminated.
Both the White House and the F.B.I. denied an article in The Washington Times yesterday that asserted that investigators had identified a chief suspect in the case who had learned how to make a weapons- grade strain of the deadly anthrax bacteria at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., and had twice been fired from government jobs.
"There is no prime suspect in this case at this time," said Bill Carter, a bureau spokesman.
Mr. Fleischer, the White House spokesman, gave public voice to the frustration felt by many government officials about the slow pace of the investigation.
"I wish it was that easy and that simple right now," he said, "but unfortunately, there still are several suspects."
The F.B.I. had not "narrowed it down to just one," he said.
"They are continuing their investigation," he added.
The statement by the F.B.I. and Mr. Fleischer came after several months of growing speculation about why there had been no arrests in the anthrax case.
For months, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a microbiologist at the State University of New York who heads an arms control panel for the Federation of American Scientists, has advanced the theory that the culprit is a federal scientist, technician or contractor who gained deadly expertise from work in a military laboratory. In a lecture this month at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Dr. Rosenberg argued that the bureau might be "dragging its feet" in bringing charges because the suspect might be familiar with secret biodefense work that the government does not wish to disclose.
While law enforcement officials confirmed that there were military scientists and contractors on its list, they adamantly denied that the bureau was failing to make an arrest to keep government biodefense programs secret. "We keep knocking that down," one official said, "but the same conspiracy theory keeps popping up in different forms."
One law enforcement official described those being investigated as entries on what he called a "floating list" of people whose names were added and removed as the bureau questioned and investigated them. He described people on the short list as being of "more logical interest" to the F.B.I., but emphasized that any single name on the list could "wash out at any time."
The official said that at the end of every interview, federal investigators asked the person being questioned whether the person knew of any individual who had the means or motive to send out the anthrax letters. Such inquiries had produced a considerable number of names, the official added.
One Washington germ-weapons insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he had provided investigators with several names. He said he had no idea whether they had made it onto the short list.
One person on the short list is from Somalia and did graduate work in biology at a Midwestern university that possessed anthrax, including the Ames strain used in the letter attacks. A Muslim, the student repeatedly sent money home to Mogadishu, the Somali capital well known for its feuding warlords and terrorists.
A senior biologist at the Midwestern university said F.B.I. agents became visibly excited when they learned of the Somali student. But the biologist insisted that the student was beyond reproach and would have no idea how to make an advanced anthrax powder.
"He's a very good guy," the scientist said. "He's one of these academic Africans who put us to shame" with their earnestness and hard work. The F.B.I.'s continuing interest in the Somali student, he added, "is an indication they're at sea."
The student made the ever-changing suspect list because his attributes matched several thought to be possessed by the anthrax killer, especially that he had physical access to the Ames strain and links, however tenuous, to terrorism.
A law enforcement official said the F.B.I. master anthrax data base had the names of hundreds of people linked to more than 30 traits, including factors such as whether they had anthrax vaccinations, Ames access, knowledge of how to make biological powders and a history of resentment against the government.
A person's ranking is roughly proportional to how often the name arises in the matrix, officials said.
As Dr. Rosenberg has suggested, one place where many of the attributes exist is at military laboratories and among contractors that have worked with anthrax, the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, the Army laboratory at Fort Detrick and the Battelle Memorial Institute, a military contractor in Ohio that does secret work for the Pentagon and other government agencies.
A scientist who talks regularly to the F.B.I. said a "recent and intense focus" of activity had been the Fort Detrick laboratory, including current and past employees. "Tens of people," the scientists said, "have been interviewed in last few weeks."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
Labs Are Sent Subpoenas for Samples of Anthrax
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
I n an important step for narrowing the pool of anthrax suspects, the Justice Department is sending subpoenas to microbiology laboratories across the country for samples of the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis, the kind used in the letter attacks in the fall.
Scientists working for the federal government said they hoped that studying the samples' genetic fingerprints would help determine which of 12 or more laboratories is the likely source of the bacteria in the attacks.
Some private experts expressed surprise that subpoenas for the samples were going out only now, more than four months after the Ames strain was identified as the germ in the letters.
But federal law enforcement officials defended their approach as sound, saying it was purposefully deliberate and thorough to ensure that no logical bit of evidence went unexamined and that assembled clues were incontestable.
"The investigation has its own natural course," an official said. "We're making progress," even if the pace at times seems slow.
One factor slowing the subpoenas for Ames samples, the official added, was the need to develop a scientific protocol that describes exactly how the samples are to be taken and shipped. It continues for pages.
"That took time to develop," the official said.
The instructions are meant to insure that the samples are kept alive and pure and that the process of obtaining them, if need be, can one day stand up in court.
"There are serious health risks and a potential for danger," another federal law enforcement offical said.
Institutions that have received the subpoenas include the University of New Mexico and Louisiana State University, which maintains one of the nation's largest anthrax collections.
A spokesman for the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque, Sam Giammo, said its anthrax scientist received the subpoena yesterday and would send a sample of its Ames strain next week.
It was unclear which other institutions have received subpoenas, although private experts estimated that the number would probably exceed 12.
Katy Delaney, a spokeswoman for the Battelle Memorial Institute, a military contractor with headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, said her company would not confirm whether it had received a subpoena but added that it always cooperated with law enforcement officials.
"And we are certainly complying with all legal requests," Ms. Delaney added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which is said to have the Ames strain, also declined to say whether it had received a subpoena.
A federal grand jury in Washington is issuing the subpoenas, scientists and officials said.
Back in October and November, federal authorities sent out a first round of subpoenas meant to find out which laboratories possessed anthrax, particularly the Ames strain. Although federal rules and regulations govern shipping deadly germs, none require central record-keeping of what labs keep lethal pathogens.
As officials looked for the anthrax, three groups of scientists worked to develop methods of finding genetic fingerprints in the Ames strain. In theory, such methods could help pinpoint the laboratory where the attack strain was obtained.
The three groups are led by Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University, Paul J. Jackson of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Claire M. Fraser of the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., a private group that maps microbe genomes.
Dr. Keim, in particular, has reported some progress in finding Ames fingerprints. But it has been unclear how far he has applied the new techniques to actual samples from various laboratories. The evidence of the subpoenas suggests that his analyses have been sketchy.
"Urgent Request," said a cover letter that the Justice Department sent to a university that requested anonymity. The enclosed subpoena, the letter said, "seeks an isolate from each stock of Ames Bacillus anthracis cultured or stored at your facility."
The letter said samples had to be prepared and shipped to Dr. John Ezzell at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, at Fort Detrick, Md.
A scientist at Fort Detrick said the work was under way. "It's no secret that we're the repository for the F.B.I.," the scientist said. "And they've requested that these samples be sent in. We're working on it now."
The samples, he said, will eventually go to Dr. Keim at Northern Arizona and other researchers.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
Antibiotics Found to Have Helped Limit Anthrax Infections
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON, March 7 The widespread use of antibiotics in response to the October bioterrorist attacks spared at least nine people from being infected with inhalation anthrax, the deadliest form of the disease, according to a study released today.
The study, a statistical analysis, tried to forecast how anthrax would have spread in the absence of antibiotics among three affected groups: news media employees in Florida and postal workers in New Jersey and Washington, D.C., all of whom were exposed to letters containing deadly anthrax spores.
The authors of the study calculated that antibiotics, which were given to about 5,000 people in these groups, cut the number of inhalation anthrax cases roughly in half, from an estimated 17 infections to the 8 that the groups incurred.
"This underscores the importance of public health surveillance," said Dr. Ron Brookmeyer, a professor of biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health who conducted the analysis. "Our rapid detection of outbreaks and distribution of antibiotics prevented disease and possibly saved some lives."
A precise number of saved lives is uncertain because the study is based on statistical modeling that depends on certain assumptions. For instance, when Dr. Brookmeyer changed his assumptions, he calculated that as many as 49 infections were averted by antibiotics.
"This is an estimate, based on the model," said Dr. Donald Berry, a professor of biostatistics at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who was not involved in the study. "It may be right. It may be wrong."
The study did not include every group advised to take antibiotics, like Senate workers or employees at some news organizations in New York. Over all, 5 people died and 13 people became ill in the anthrax attacks, which generated intense anxiety around the nation. In response, public health officials, advised by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eventually prescribed antibiotics as a preventive measure to more than 10,000 people, including the 5,000 news media employees and postal workers included in the study.
But the center was roundly criticized for failing to immediately recommend antibiotics to postal workers in Washington, two of whom died. Today, agency officials declined to comment on Dr. Brookmeyer's study, saying they had not reviewed it.
The study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Science, tries to project how anthrax would have spread by relying on data from a 1979 outbreak in Sverdlovsk in the Soviet Union, where a plume of deadly anthrax microbes was accidentally released from a military facility.
The Sverdlovsk incident provided unusually complete data about an anthrax outbreak. But some experts said today that it was not a suitable comparison because the anthrax spores released at Sverdlovsk may not have been as finely processed, or "militarized," as spores sent through the United States mail.
"The Sverdlovsk exposure was very different," said Dr. Brian L. Strom, an epidemiologist who is chairman of a panel of scientific experts for the Institute of Medicine, an independent research group, that recently examined the safety and effectiveness of the anthrax vaccine. "It was an accidental exposure of what probably, in retrospect, looks less likely to be a militarized bacterium."
Dr. Strom said the Sverdlovsk incident had prompted scientists to calculate that a lethal dose for anthrax would be 8,000 to 10,000 spores. But experts said a lethal dose for the anthrax in the October attacks was probably much lower.
Dr. Strom said the study's findings suggested that the extensive use of antibiotics was clearly warranted. "If the model is right, and it saved 9 people's lives, then giving 5,000 people antibiotics" was justified, he said. "We spend a lot of money in order to save a life."
March 23, 2002
Report Linking Anthrax and Hijackers Is Investigated
By WILLIAM J. BROAD and DAVID JOHNSTON
The two men identified themselves as pilots when they came to the emergency room of Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last June. One had an ugly, dark lesion on his leg that he said he developed after bumping into a suitcase two months earlier. Dr. Christos Tsonas thought the injury was curious, but he cleaned it, prescribed an antibiotic for infection and sent the men away with hardly another thought.
But after Sept. 11, when federal investigators found the medicine among the possessions of one of the hijackers, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Dr. Tsonas reviewed the case and arrived at a new diagnosis. The lesion, he said in an interview this week, "was consistent with cutaneous anthrax."
Dr. Tsonas's assertion, first made to the F.B.I. in October but never disclosed, has added another layer of mystery to the investigation of last fall's deadly anthrax attacks, which has yet to focus on a specific suspect.
The possibility of a connection between the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent anthrax-laced letters has been explored by officials since the first anthrax cases emerged in October. But a recent memorandum, prepared by experts at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies, and circulated among top government officials, has renewed a debate about the evidence.
The group, which interviewed Dr. Tsonas, concluded that the diagnosis of cutaneous anthrax, which causes skin lesions, was "the most probable and coherent interpretation of the data available." The memorandum added, "Such a conclusion of course raises the possibility that the hijackers were handling anthrax and were the perpetrators of the anthrax letter attacks."
A senior intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, had recently read the Hopkins memorandum and that the issue has been examined by both the C.I.A. and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"No one is dismissing this," the official said. "We received the memo and are working with the bureau to insure that it continues to be pursued."
In their public comments, federal officials have said they are focusing largely on the possibility that the anthrax attacks were the work of a domestic perpetrator. They have hunted for suspects among scientists and others who work at laboratories that handle germs.
The disclosure about Mr. Alhaznawi, who died on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, sheds light on another front in the investigation. Senior law enforcement officials said that in addition to interviewing Dr. Tsonas in October and again in November, they thoroughly explored any connection between the hijackers and anthrax. They said the F.B.I. scoured the cars, apartments and personal effects of the hijackers for evidence of the germ, but found none.
Dr. Tsonas's comments add to a tantalizing array of circumstantial evidence. Some of the hijackers, including Mr. Alhaznawi, lived and attended flight school near American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., where the first victim of the anthrax attacks worked. Some of the hijackers also rented apartments from a real estate agent who was the wife of an editor of The Sun, a publication of American Media.
In addition, in October, a pharmacist in Delray Beach, Fla., said he had told the F.B.I. that two of the hijackers, Mohamad Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, came into the pharmacy looking for something to treat irritations on Mr. Atta's hands.
If the hijackers did have anthrax, they would probably have needed an accomplice to mail the tainted letters, bioterrorism experts knowledgeable about the case said. The four recovered anthrax letters were postmarked on Sept. 18 and Oct. 9 in Trenton. It is also possible, experts added, that if the hijackers had come into contact with anthrax, it was entirely separate from the supply used by the letter sender.
For his part, Dr. Tsonas said he believed that the hijackers probably did have anthrax.
"What were they doing looking at crop-dusters?" he asked, echoing experts' fears that the hijackers may have wanted to spread lethal germs. "There are too many coincidences."
In recent interviews, Dr. Tsonas, an emergency room doctor, said Mr. Alhaznawi came into the hospital one evening in June 2001, along with a man who federal investigators believe was another hijacker, Ziad al-Jarrah, believed to have taken over the controls of United Flight 93.
They used their own names, he added, not aliases.
"They were well-dressed foreigners," he said. "I assumed they were tourists."
The men explained that Mr. Alhaznawi had developed the ulcer after hitting his leg on a suitcase two months earlier. Dr. Tsonas recalled that Mr. Alhaznawi appeared to be in good health, and that he denied having an illness like diabetes that might predispose him to such lesions. The wound, he recalled, was a little less than an inch wide and blackish, its edges raised and red.
Dr. Tsonas said he removed the dry scab over the wound, cleansed it and prescribed Keflex, an antibiotic that is widely used to combat bacterial infections but is not specifically recommended for anthrax.
The encounter lasted perhaps 10 minutes, Dr. Tsonas said.
He took no cultures and had no thoughts of anthrax, a disease at that time was extremely rare in the United States and was unfamiliar even to most doctors.
In October, amid news reports about the first anthrax victims, Dr. Tsonas, like other doctors, threw himself into learning more about the disease. An incentive was that his hospital is relatively near American Media, so victims there might come to Holy Cross for treatment.
Dr. Tsonas said he forgot entirely about the two men until federal agents in October showed him pictures of Mr. Alhaznawi and Mr. Jarrah, and he made positive identifications.
Then, agents gave Dr. Tsonas a copy of his own notes from the emergency room visit and he read them. "I said, `Oh, my God, my written description is consistent with cutaneous anthrax,' " Dr. Tsonas recalled. "I was surprised."
He discussed the disease and its symptoms with the agents, explaining what else could possibly explain the leg wound. A spider bite was unlikely, he said. As for the hijacker's explanation a suitcase bump he also judged that unlikely.
"That's a little unusual for a healthy guy, but not impossible," he said.
After his meetings with F.B.I., Dr. Tsonas was contacted early this year by a senior federal medical expert, who asked him detailed questions about the tentative diagnosis.
Last month, experts at Johns Hopkins also called Dr. Tsonas, saying they, too, were studying the evidence. The Hopkins analysis was done by Dr. Thomas Inglesby and Dr. Tara O'Toole, director of the center in Baltimore and an assistant secretary for health and safety at the federal Energy Department from 1993 to 1997.
In an interview, Dr. O'Toole said that after consulting with additional medical experts on the Alhaznawi case, she was "more persuaded than ever" that the diagnosis of cutaneous anthrax was correct.
She said the Florida mystery, as well as the entire anthrax inquiry, might benefit from a wider vetting.
"This is a unique investigation that has many highly technical aspects," she said. "There's legitimate concern that the F.B.I. may not have access to the kinds of expertise that could be essential in putting all these pieces together."
John E. Collingwood, an F.B.I. spokesman, said the possibility of a connection between the hijackers and the anthrax attacks had been deeply explored.
"This was fully investigated and
widely vetted among multiple agencies several months ago," Mr. Collingwood
said. "Exhaustive testing did not support that anthrax was present anywhere
the hijackers had been. While we always welcome new information, nothing
new has in fact developed."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
|March 23, 2002
U.S. Says It Found Qaeda Lab Being Built to Produce Anthrax
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
WASHINGTON, March 22 The United States has discovered a laboratory under construction near Kandahar, Afghanistan, where American officials believe Al Qaeda planned to develop biological agents, officials said today.
According to a confidential assessment by the United States Central Command, the laboratory was intended to produce anthrax. The assessment was presented to senior American officials in recent days and is based on documents and equipment found at the site.
No biological agents were found in the laboratory, which was still under construction when it was abandoned. American intelligence officials still believe that Al Qaeda would need assistance from foreign experts or foreign governments to mount an effective program to make weapons of mass destruction.
"There was a lab under construction in the vicinity of Kandahar," an American official said. "It is another example that they had an appetite for developing biological agents."
Throughout the conflict in Afghanistan, American officials have repeatedly asserted that Al Qaeda was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. For months, American officials have been scouring former terrorist camps and other sites to determine the status of Al Qaeda's efforts.
There is ample evidence that the Qaeda organization wanted weapons of mass destruction, including biological agents. Osama bin Laden is said to have considered the acquisition of such weapons a religious obligation.
"Documents recovered from Al Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan show that bin Laden was pursuing a sophisticated biological weapons research program," said George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence. "We also believe that bin Laden was seeking to acquire or develop a nuclear device. Al Qaeda may be pursuing a radioactive dispersal device, which some call a `dirty bomb.'"
But there is still no indication that Al Qaeda ever succeeded in producing biological agents.
In general, Al Qaeda's goal of having an arsenal of unconventional weapons seems to have far outstripped its limited technological capabilities.
According to American officials, more than 60 sites have been investigated and more than 370 samples have been taken. In only five cases were there any apparent indications of possible biological agents and these were only tiny amounts.
Still, American experts are continuing to search Afghanistan for evidence about Al Qaeda's weapons program and to sift through evidence gathered from the sites that have already been discovered.
The latest assessment came this week in a report by the Central Command, which is directing the war in Afghanistan. It noted that in addition to documents found at the site, some unused equipment was also uncovered.
American officials did not describe the evidence in detail but said that it included medical equipment and supplies that would be useful for legitimate research but could also be used to produce biological agents.
Officials also said there was no evidence of pathogens at the Kandahar location. But the evidence, which included documents, indicated that Al Qaeda was interested in producing anthrax. If Al Qaeda had succeeded in producing biological agents in the lab and wanted to put them in missile warheads or bombs, the work would have to have been done at a different site, an American official said.
Officials declined to say whether the information was also based on human intelligence: that is, a former Al Qaeda operative, spy or resident who may have been familiar with the program. But this seemed to be a strong possibility.
An American official said the discovery of the laboratory generally reinforced the prevailing intelligence estimate about Al Qaeda's limited capabilities. Still, the discovery of the laboratory provides additional information about the extent of Al Qaeda's efforts, including the sort of agents it was interested in producing.
Earlier today, there were press reports from London that a biological weapons laboratory had been found in the mountains in the Shah-i-Kot region of Afghanistan near Gardez during the recent United States military operation there.
The reports suggested that this was the reason London had decided to dispatch 1,700 combat troops to Afghanistan.
American officials said, however, that no biological weapons laboratory had been found in that part of Afghanistan. The Central Command said an abandoned factory for making conventional explosives had been found in the area on March 13.
British officials also said that London's decision to send troops was not directly related to Al Qaeda efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. Rather, they said, the British decided to send the troops so that the Central Command would have more forces to conduct mop up operations in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan.
The British decision, the largest British deployment since the 1991 gulf war, was announced on Monday.
The reference to the laboratory
south of Gardez may be a garbled account of the new assessment by the Central
Command about the laboratory near Kandahar. It is possible that the assessment
was disclosed in London to strengthen the case to the British public for
sending British combat troops to Afghanistan.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
Mystery Death From Anthrax Is Analyzed
By DENISE GRADY
ATLANTA, March 26 Ottilie Lundgren, the 94-year-old Connecticut woman who died of inhalation anthrax in November, had the habit of tearing her junk mail in half before she threw it away and may have been infected by anthrax spores as she ripped up her bulk mail, a Connecticut health official reported at a medical conference here today.
How Mrs. Lundgren became infected has never been explained, though the mail has always been suspected. But researchers never found spores in her home or anywhere else that she spent time, even though they took 449 samples from her home and 33 other places she visited, including a beauty parlor and a clinic.
Connecticut's state epidemiologist, Dr. James L. Hadler, said that none of Mrs. Lundgren's first-class mail was found to have passed through contaminated postal centers. But 80 percent of her mail was bulk mail, and some of the bulk mail that went to her town, Oxford, passed through the postal center in Trenton that processed the highly contaminated letters sent to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick J. Leahy. Connecticut mail may have been cross contaminated in Trenton, and then contaminated machines in Connecticut.
Dr. Hadler said extensive testing of the postal distribution center in Wallingford, Conn., found anthrax spores on 4 of 13 sorting machines. One machine that handled mostly bulk mail had three million spores a month after contaminated mail is thought to have passed through it. On another machine, one of 52 columns of mail bins tested positive for spores and it was the same column used for Mrs. Lundgren's mail route.
More than 1,000 postal workers from Wallingford were given a 60-day course of preventive antibiotics.
The question that remains is, Why was Mrs. Lundgren the only person in her town to become infected? Scientists guess that the mail contamination was slight, with too few spores to infect most people. Studies in animals have suggested that a person would have to inhale thousands of spores to become ill. But Mrs. Lundgren may have been especially vulnerable because of her age, and it may have taken very few spores to infect her. However, her death may also mean that the estimates of what makes a lethal dose of spores are not applicable to everyone.
In any case, Dr. Hadler said, he thought it reasonable to advise all people to open their mail gingerly.
Dr. Hadler said the cost of the investigation into Mrs. Lundgren's death was high, though he did not reveal the total.
Bioterror Agents Join List of `Emerging' Ills
By DENISE GRADY
When Kathy T. Nguyen died of inhalation anthrax in New York on Oct. 31, the police and medical investigators were quickly deployed to find the source of the spores that had infected her. They interviewed 232 co-workers, 27 neighbors and 35 acquaintances in an effort to reconstruct her final two months. They searched her apartment and swabbed surfaces there and in her workplace and the subway stations she used. They vacuumed her clothes in search of spores. They used her subway fare card to trace her path around the city, studied her phone records and inspected her usual laundry, post office and grocery store.
They never found a single spore or any other clue to how Ms. Nguyen became infected.
Describing the investigation at a medical meeting last week in Atlanta, Dr. Timothy Holtz, a preventive medicine fellow at the New York City Health Department, concluded with a slide that said, "We will likely never know."
The Atlanta meeting, attended by 2,000 doctors and scientists, was an international conference on emerging infectious diseases, organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and other groups. "Emerging" refers to newly discovered infectious diseases or old ones that have rebounded, turned up in new places or become drug resistant, and whose incidence has increased in the last two decades or threatens to rise soon. Previous conferences focused on malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis, yellow fever, mad cow disease and West Nile encephalitis. Now, anthrax and other potential bioterror agents smallpox, plague, tularemia, botulism, Q fever and the Ebola and Marburg viruses have been added to the ranks of emerging infectious diseases.
Addressing the conference, Dr. James Hughes, the director of the C.D.C.'s National Center for Infectious Diseases, said that although the anthrax attack last autumn was small it killed 5 people and made 17 others ill it quickly overwhelmed the nation's laboratories.
"We learned we were not adequately prepared," he said, noting that America's capacity to deal with a sudden increase in need for services was deficient not only in laboratories, but also in the production of vaccines and antibiotics and the availability of hospital beds. He said the ability to detect outbreaks promptly also needed improving. Dr. Hughes added that bioterrorism and naturally occurring outbreaks of infectious disease would "complicate U.S. and global security over the next 20 years."
The federal government plans to distribute $918 million to the states next month for bioterrorism preparedness. Dr. Hughes and other experts say this is the time to improve the entire public health system to combat other threats from infectious disease, like flu epidemics, antibiotic resistant bacteria and illnesses spread by food, water, insects and animals. In the United States, for instance, 76 million people a year get sick from food-borne infections, and 1 in 1,000 are hospitalized. Over all, the cost is $6.5 billion.
Diseases carried by mosquitoes and ticks are also a considerable problem in the United States. Dr. Duane Gubler, a specialist in insect-borne diseases who works for the C.D.C. in Fort Collins, Colo., said West Nile encephalitis, never detected in the United States before it occurred in New York in 1999, had spread faster than expected.
In 2001, people were infected in nine states and birds in 27 states. Although the disease may cause only a mild illness in healthy people, it can be severe and even fatal in older people. Of 149 known cases, 18 people have died; but there may be more cases that have not been reported because victims did not get very sick. The virus is carried by 29 species of mosquitoes, 100 species of birds and numerous mammals.
"It will continue to spread and will be a major public health problem in the next decade," Dr. Gubler said. "Most states should consider themselves at risk."
He said dengue fever, another viral disease carried by mosquitoes, had become a major problem worldwide, with 50 million to 100 million cases a year, including 200,000 to 500,000 taking a hemorrhagic form that can be fatal. Before 1980, he said, dengue was not a problem in Central or South America, but now it is endemic in 27 countries, including Brazil, which Dr. Gubler described as in the throes of a "roaring epidemic." Last year Hawaii had its first dengue outbreak in 56 years, on Maui.
"My guess is that the next global public health emergency will be yellow fever," Dr. Gubler said.
Yellow fever is also carried by mosquitoes, and epidemiologists expect epidemics to occur in cities in South America, and also Asia and the South Pacific. "It will get here by plane," Dr. Gubler said, "but I don't anticipate a major epidemic here."
A vaccine exists, but it is in short supply.
The comeback of insect-borne diseases has revealed a glaring lack of trained people who know how to collect and identify mosquitoes, and who know how insects interact with microbes and people to spread disease. The field, known as vector biology or medical entomology, began shrinking in the 1970's because diseases carried by insects had diminished so much that there were few jobs for vector biologists.
When West Nile encephalitis broke out in New York, Dr. Gubler said, the city had trouble finding a medical entomologist. Dr. Gubler said he and other researchers hoped that the C.D.C. and the National Institutes of Health would develop training programs to help bring the field back.
Another concern is the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which cause infections that can be very difficult to treat. Dr. Keith Klugman, a professor of infectious diseases at Emory University, described a "global pandemic" of antibiotic resistance in the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, commonly called pneumococcus. It is a common cause of respiratory illnesses and kills more than three million children a year.
The pneumococcus also causes ear infections, and many studies show that the more a child is treated with antibiotics, the more likely resistance is to develop. Low doses of antibiotics given for a long time are especially likely to breed resistance. Particularly worrisome is that the bacteria are becoming resistant to fluoroquinolones, a powerful and much-needed class of drugs. Dr. Klugman called fluoroquinolone resistance a "potential disaster" and said he expected it to increase greatly in the United States in the next four to five years.
Possible solutions include vaccinating children to prevent pneumococcal infections and developing better diagnostic tests to tell viral respiratory infections from bacterial ones, so that antibiotics are not given unnecessarily. Research is also needed, Dr. Klugman said, to determine the best way to use antibiotics; in some cases, the widely prescribed 10-day regimens may be contributing to resistance, and shorter courses with higher doses may work just as well and cause fewer problems.
Speakers at the Atlanta conference also warned that people can catch common infections in utterly unexpected ways.
When salmonella, a common food poisoning infection, broke out last spring at an elementary school in Minnesota, state and county health departments first investigated the school lunch program. But they noticed that the children most likely to be infected belonged to the science club or to another after-school program, the adventure club. Interviews revealed that the science club had been dissecting owl pellets, clumps of indigestible bone and fur that owls regurgitate after eating.
In Minnesota, the pellets were being dissected on a table in the cafeteria. After the science club was finished, the adventure club ate its snacks off the same table, without its being washed. In fact, the table was not washed until the following day by which time another group of children had eaten off it.
The source of the pellets was a barred owl at a local nature center. Cultures of leftover pellets and the owl's droppings turned up the same strain of salmonella found in the children; the bacteria almost certainly came from the owl's diet of thawed, uncooked chicks.
Fred Anderson, an epidemiologist in Washington County, Minn., said there was no reason to ban owl pellets from school programs. But, he suggested, the pellets should not be dissected in the lunchroom. And the young scientists must wash their hands when they are finished. Better still, owl pellets can be sterilized in an oven, or sterilized pellets can be bought from commercial suppliers.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
Anthrax Contaminates Army Lab; Employee Tests Positive
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
WASHINGTON, April 19 A worker at an Army biological warfare research center in Maryland has tested positive for anthrax exposure after spores were detected in a hallway and an administrative room near where anthrax testing was conducted, a Pentagon spokesman said tonight.
Another employee may have also come in contact with anthrax, but tested negative for exposure, said the spokesman, Cmdr. Randy Sandoz. Neither worker was identified.
The tests on the employees were conducted after a researcher on April 8 noticed a deposit on a flask inside the anthrax testing laboratory at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., officials said. Initial decontamination of the area has been completed, Commander Sandoz said.
The institute has been involved in the investigation of the anthrax attacks last fall that killed five people, sickened more than a dozen others and left traces of the biological agent in several federal buildings in Washington. But the laboratory in this episode was not connected to the inquiry into those attacks, said Chuck Dasey, a Fort Detrick spokesman.
Tonight, the Pentagon said, "the presence of the spores appears to be highly localized based on negative results from sampling of surrounding areas."
It added, "There are no cases of illness suggestive of anthrax exposure in the laboratory, and appropriate measures are being taken to ensure the safety" of the institute's workers.
Both of the tested employees had earlier been immunized against anthrax, and are now taking antibiotics as a precaution, Commander Sandoz said.
Officials said they were not certain how the anthrax might have contaminated the hallway and administrative area at the institute, which has strict rules on the handling of the agent.
Anthrax exposure by laboratory workers handling spores has occurred before. Last month, a worker at a Texas laboratory conducting tests on specimens from last fall's anthrax attacks developed the skin form of anthrax, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The worker was processing samples at a private laboratory contracted by the centers to work through the backlog collected during the peak of the anthrax attacks last fall.
The institute at Fort Detrick conducts research on the defense of bioterrorism, and is one of the Pentagon's largest such laboratories.
In October, a letter containing anthrax that was mailed to the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, and was opened in his suite in the Hart Senate Office Building, was sent to the institute for tests. A second, unopened letter sent to Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont that was discovered later was opened at Fort Detrick under special conditions to preserve evidence.
Before 1972, when the United States signed an international accord banning possession of biological weapons, the laboratory was involved in development of germ agents.
The stated mission of the institute now is to "develop strategies, products, information procedures and training programs for medical defense against biological warfare threats and naturally occurring infectious diseases that require special containment."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
|April 22, 2002
Brooklyn Trial Revisits Fears Over Anthrax After Sept. 11
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
In federal court in Brooklyn this morning, a 51-year-old man is scheduled to defend himself against charges that he threw fistfuls of powder into a mailbox outside an elementary school.
If he is convicted, he could face life in prison.
The difference between what might have been just a weird act and a serious crime, federal prosecutors say, was the date of the incident: Oct. 30, 2001, in the midst of the country's anthrax panic.
Tests on the yellowish-brownish powder that was found in the Brooklyn mailbox came back negative for anthrax. But the defendant, Kamal Dawood, a Palestinian construction worker, is charged with threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction: the anthrax that people thought he tossed on the mail.
Courts always exist in a sort of time capsule, poring over events after many people have moved on. Mr. Dawood's case is the latest example of how the anxious mood after Sept. 11 is now being relived in courts everywhere, as cases that started in the months after the terror attack are beginning to move through the legal system.
"The courts are doing what courts always do, which is recreate an event from the past," said H. Richard Uviller, a Columbia Law School professor. "Even in the ordinary robbery case, the court is trying to recreate the fear and panic the victim felt."
But far more than in run-of-the-mill cases, many of the post-Sept. 11 cases are evoking the apprehensions of a jittery time.
A federal judge in Brooklyn recently sentenced a 21-year-old Egyptian man to six months for lying to federal officials. On Sept. 19, officers at Kennedy Airport found him entering the country with a fake pilot's uniform in his luggage. He was never charged with any terrorist ties. But prosecutors said he lied about whether he planned to take flying lessons.
Last month in Manhattan, two state court judges refused to dismiss charges of inciting to riot and disorderly conduct in separate incidents that might, under other circumstances, have been chalked up as little more than very odd behavior.
Both defendants had seemed intent on provoking New Yorkers. One man told a crowd in Times Square a few days after Sept. 11 that "more cops and firemen should have died." The other, carrying a picture of Osama bin Laden, shouted near the World Trade Center ruins in early October that the attacks had been revenge against Americans.
Back on Oct. 19, as the country reeled from anthrax hoaxes and other sources of anxiety, President Bush said "anybody in America who would use this opportunity to threaten our citizens" would be vigorously prosecuted.
In the case of Mr. Dawood's alleged anthrax hoax, lawyers have been battling over how much of the context of those times after Sept. 11 should be discussed in the courtroom.
The assistant United States attorney, Steven H. Breslow, has been arguing to Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. of United States District Court in Brooklyn that only by understanding the context could the jury understand the crime.
Two school crossing guards are expected to testify that they saw Mr. Dawood walk up to a mailbox in front of a Bedford-Stuyvesant school. They told police they saw him drink a cup of coffee, put the cup on top of the mailbox and then reach into his pants pocket several times. Each time, they said, he took out a closed fist and deposited something in the box. He then smoked a cigarette, finished his coffee and left.
The defense denies that Mr. Dawood placed the powder in the mailbox. There has never been any explanation of what he might have been doing.
Mr. Breslow, the prosecutor, has been pressing to recreate the mood of the times. He has asked the judge to allow expert witnesses to describe not only how the powder in the mailbox was handled by officers in protective gear, but also what anthrax is and how it can cause mass deaths.
Mr. Breslow has also asked to introduce news reports from this past fall about deaths from anthrax and fears of its transmission by mail. He has even listed an instructor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, Arlene Morgan, to testify about how much news coverage of anthrax there was at the time.
The context is needed to explain how people interpreted Mr. Dawood's actions, Mr. Breslow said in a letter to Judge Johnson that was filed in court.
"Clearly," the letter said, "the evidence regarding the anthrax bioterrorism of October 2001 is relevant since, before the tumult in the fall of 2001, the defendant's act of placing powder in a mailbox would have been perceived as little more than a tampering" with the mails, a far more minor violation than threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction.
According to the letter, the police say Mr. Dawood acknowledged being at the mailbox, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette, but denied opening the mailbox or putting anything into it. The police also said Mr. Dawood told them he had been in the neighborhood to buy heroin. The defense has asked that his entire statement be kept out of the trial.
Mr. Dawood's lawyer, Deborah A. Colson, has also tried to avoid encouraging the jury to recall too much about anxieties last fall. She asked the judge to keep the prosecution from presenting its planned expert testimony about anthrax and the news coverage about the widespread anxiety.
According to court filings, Ms. Colson offered to stipulate, or agree, that anthrax is deadly and that it was sent through the mails.
Judge Johnson is expected to rule on what evidence will be permitted before the start of jury selection this morning.
One issue he will have to decide is whether the prosecutor will be permitted to show the jury a few things that police found in Mr. Dawood's apartment. The defense says Mr. Dawood's job was to install ceramic tile and that the items were completely innocent.
Even so, the items could evoke anxious memories. They included grout, three bags of some other powder and a respirator mask.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
Anthrax Sent Through Mail Gained Potency by the Letter
By WILLIAM J. BROAD and DAVID JOHNSTON
Deepening the mystery of the biological attacks that terrified the nation last fall, federal investigators have discovered that the anthrax sent through the mail, in general, grew more potent from one letter to the next, with the spores in the final letter to be opened the one sent to Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont the deadliest of all.
The finding has surprised and worried investigators, who say it poses a new riddle: was the culprit an amateur making gradual improvements through experimentation, a malevolent professional intentionally ratcheting up the potency of the germ powder, or someone else entirely?
It also suggests that after more than six months of painstaking effort, government experts investigating the anthrax strikes are still at sea. Part of the problem, they admit, is a lack of advisers skilled in the subtleties of germ weapons.
The discovery of the progressive potential deadliness of the anthrax is the latest conclusion of scientific testing that investigators are hoping will help crack a case that has baffled the F.B.I. since the first anthrax fatality: that of Robert Stevens, a photo editor at a Florida supermarket tabloid, who died on Oct. 5.
With five anthrax deaths linked to the contaminated mailings, the F.B.I. inquiry has consumed millions of hours of interviews, neighborhood sweeps and other detective work. For example, F.B.I. laboratory analysts matched the serrated ends of the strips of cellophane tape used to seal the anthrax letters. That meant that whoever sealed the letters, without leaving any fingerprints, tore off successive strips of tape from the same roll, officials said.
But investigators acknowledge that they still have no idea who is behind the tainted letters. So they are increasingly turning to science to unravel the mystery. Tests being conducted at several private laboratories may reveal the precise biological signature of the anthrax used in the mailings, helping to narrow the search for the laboratory from which it came.
Analyses of the anthrax sample and the chemicals used to coat it could leave telltale clues to the techniques and equipment used to manufacture the germ material.
Investigators previously believed that the anthrax sent to Mr. Leahy, the Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, were identical in strength. Each letter was mailed from Trenton on Oct. 9, 2001. Each had the same photocopied message inside.
But it turns out that the Leahy anthrax is finer, its spores having a smaller range of particle sizes, officials familiar with the federal investigation said.
"It could be that the final steps of the processing were done in steps," a senior government official said. "You take it so far, and take off a bunch. You go further, and take off another bunch."
Despite the increasing sophistication of the anthrax, investigators say they still judge that the deadly powder could have been made in any of thousands of biological laboratories, though getting the right starter germs would have been difficult.
An aide to Senator Daschle opened the letter on Oct. 15, and officials quickly warned that its anthrax was of high quality compared with earlier mailings, to news media offices in New York. The Leahy letter was impounded, along with all other Congressional mail, and was not discovered until Nov. 16. Investigators made painstaking safety and forensic preparations before opening it in early December.
The analysis of the contents of the Leahy letter is proceeding slowly, the investigators say, because they are learning the science as they go along and want to make sure that none of the scarce, lightweight but extremely valuable evidence is lost, corrupted or misinterpreted. They are getting help, they say, from scores of scientists across the nation.
"We'll have to take this into court," the law enforcement official said of the evidence. "We had to assure ourselves that we had a quality program."
A senior Bush administration official expressed sympathy for the F.B.I. because the inquiry had grown so scientifically complex and knowledgeable advisers are so few.
"They're having to review a lot of the initial takes on things," the official said. "There's an evolving picture. The bureau has gone back to scratch to invent the science."
It is sometimes hard even to do reappraisals. In the Florida case, no letter or residual powder was ever recovered, leaving many questions about the anthrax there.
Federal officials said the first wave of well-documented attacks with mailed anthrax in letters from Trenton postmarked Sept. 18 to NBC News and The New York Post was relatively crude. The powder was heavily contaminated, they said, with what biologists call vegetative cells anthrax bacteria before processing in the laboratory turns them into hardened spores. Vegetative cells in dry anthrax powder are generally dead and therefore harmless, experts said.
By contrast, the tiny spores live in a dormant state. Individual ones are light enough to float easily in the air and, if inhaled, small enough to reach deep into human lungs, eventually germinating into bacteria and causing the respiratory form of the disease, which can be fatal. They can also cause the less dangerous cutaneous form if rubbed into the skin.
Last October, alarm bells rang when the Daschle powder was found to be nearly pure spores. The danger was driven home when nasal swabs came back positive for 28 people in the Senate Hart building, where the letter was opened.
The F.B.I. in early November characterized the Daschle powder as "much more refined, more potent, and more easily dispersed" than the New York media anthrax. The mailer's letters hinted at the danger. The media ones warned the openers to take penicillin. But the Daschle letter said flatly, "You Die Now."
As federal experts investigated the residual Daschle sample, they found the picture becoming fuzzier. On one hand, the concentration of the anthrax was extraordinarily high roughly equal to that made in the abandoned American germ weapons program, a trillion spores per gram.
But federal experts now say the particles turned out to have a large size range. While single spores predominated, the experts said, some Daschle clusters ranged up to 40 microns wide far too big to penetrate human lungs. A micron is one-millionth of a meter, and a human hair is 75 to 100 microns wide. The big clusters suggested the powder was far less than weapons grade.
Private experts disagree on just how much less. Ken Alibek, a former Soviet germ official who is now president of Advanced Biosystems, a consulting company in Manassas, Va., called the Daschle anthrax mediocre.
"It was not done with a regular industrial process," Dr. Alibek said in an interview. "Maybe it's homemade."
Recipes that antigovernment militia groups circulate at gun shows might suffice to make the deadly powder, he said.
But William C. Patrick III, a scientist who made germ weapons for the American military and is now a private consultant on biological defense, rated the Daschle anthrax as 7 on a scale of 10.
"It's relatively high grade," Mr. Patrick said, "but not weapons grade."
In addition to particle size, federal experts are investigating whether the anthrax powders have electrostatic charges that affect dispersal and chemical coatings meant to increase potency and shelf life.
Federal investigators saw the Leahy anthrax as an opportunity to clear up ambiguities and deepen the analysis. Since no powder had been lost in the letter's opening, they had more to work with. Still, the amount, typical of the tainted letters, was remarkably small just 0.871 grams. A pat of butter weighs 10 grams.
Last week, government officials said the most recent analyses showed that the Daschle and Leahy powders were quite different, the latter finer and more uniform.
"You can characterize the Leahy as having a smaller particle range," one official said.
In general, he added, the ability of federal investigators to do deeper analyses because of the relatively large amounts of powder in the Leahy letter is producing "real interesting results."
A biologist aiding in the investigation said the increasing potency of anthrax in the letters might suggest that the attacker was a thief who stole several samples.
"Maybe he didn't pocket one vial but two or three, if we're assuming this was an opportunist," this scientist said.
Dr. Alibek raised another possible factor. The F.B.I., he said, needed to weigh the possibility that post office sorting machinery might have had an effect. "It could be an additional process of milling," he said, "like a mortar and pestle."
Experts said the Daschle and Leahy letters, starting at the same place in New Jersey on the same date and ending up at the same destination in Washington, appear to have taken similar if not identical postal routes. Dr. Alibek agreed but said the same sorter could apply more pressure to one letter than another. He added that the overall grade contrasts were probably caused by "different batches of the product, one more sophisticated than the other."
Investigators have also been studying the envelopes, officials say, and have found that the paper had very large pores up to 50 microns wide. That is bigger than the largest Daschle anthrax clusters and suggests how the powder could easily escape individual letters to contaminate the general mails.
"It had to be one of the most porous materials," an official said of the attack envelopes compared with standard ones. "Whether that was by chance or design, I have no idea."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
Postal Theory: Mail Sorter Acted as Mill for Anthrax
By ANDREW C. REVKIN and WILLIAM J. BROAD
Postal investigators say a chance extra run through sorting machines by the anthrax- tainted letter sent last fall to Senator Patrick J. Leahy may explain why its clumps of spores were smaller and more dangerous than those in a letter mailed the same day to Senator Tom Daschle.
The high-speed machines, which handle up to 550 letters a minute, could have acted like a mill, crumbling the microscopic clumps of deadly spores into smaller and more floatable bits with each pass, said an investigator involved in the hunt for the anthrax mailer who killed five people last fall.
"The Leahy letter was definitely handled by machines an extra time," he said.
But federal law enforcement officials, who recently disclosed the discrepancy in the size of the anthrax particles, called the postal investigators' theory possible but unlikely. "There's no enthusiasm for that theory," an official said. "Mail processing would probably not be effective."
Instead, the Federal Bureau of Investigation suspects that whoever prepared the anthrax put material of different grades in the two envelopes, officials said.
Only the smallest particles of anthrax spores are likely to penetrate deep into a person's lungs, where they can start an infection.
Postal inspectors said the letter to Mr. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made a side trip to the State Department after it was mailed in Trenton on Oct. 9 along with the letter to Mr. Daschle, the Senate majority leader. The sorting machine in Trenton that translated the handwritten address on the Leahy letter into a digital bar code made a mistake, turning 20510-4502 into 20520-4502.
After both letters passed through machines in the Brentwood sorting center that serves Washington, the Leahy letter was trucked to a separate sorter at the State Department, while the Daschle letter went straight to Capitol Hill.
Many officials have said the detour by the Leahy letter could explain why a State Department mail handler developed inhalational anthrax. (He recovered.) But this is the first time officials have said the detour may also explain the extra level of potency in that envelope.
Each machine "has a series of belts that take a letter and pinch it, compressing any anthrax," the postal investigator said, adding: "The more times it goes through a piece of equipment, it refines it. That's the most likely explanation" for any difference in the contents.
The official acknowledged that there was still no hard evidence to support the theory.
Some bioterrorism experts have also raised the possibility that mail sorting could explain the smaller size of the clumps of spores in the Leahy anthrax. "It could be an additional process of milling, like a mortar and pestle," said Ken Alibek, a former Soviet germ-warfare official who is now president of Advanced Biosystems, a consulting company in Manassas, Va.
In the absence of new forensic clues, the investigation has fallen back on traditional shoe-leather methods.
In one effort, F.B.I. agents and postal inspectors have visited hundreds of households that received letters mailed through the Trenton sorting hub around the same time as the two letters to the senators.
The goal, postal inspectors said, is to get people to remember where the mail came from. This way, they might be able to trace which neighborhood the particular bin of mail that included the two poisoned missives came from.
With 47 post offices and about 700 blue collection boxes feeding mail into the sorting center, "that's a big universe," a postal inspector said.
Potentially telltale mail was identified using masses of computer data recorded as each letter entering the highly automated sorting centers is scanned for an address, given identifying bar codes recording its time and place of posting, and sent on its way.
The data include digital images of almost every hand-addressed envelope, which optical scanners cannot easily read, postal officials said.
Postal inspectors focused on mail that sped through the hub within minutes of the letters to the Capitol.
"The theory is that there'd be a clumping of mail," a postal inspector said. "In a collection box you'd think it'd have a tendency to kind of stay together."
The effort, at least initially,
is paying off, he said. "Some patterns have definitely developed around
both letters," he said, but he and other investigators declined to be more
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
Analysis May Yield Clues to Origins of Anthrax Mail
By NICHOLAS WADE
Researchers said yesterday that they had found subtle differences among samples of the same anthrax strain, increasing hopes of identifying the laboratory that might have been the source of the microbes used in last fall's anthrax mailings.
The scientists, who work at the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., said it would take only a few weeks to complete some tests on samples that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had collected from research laboratories that possess the Ames strain of anthrax, the type used in the mailings.
Scientists at the institute say it is negotiating with the F.B.I. for a contract to analyze the bureau's collection of Ames samples. A law enforcement official said the institute's analysis "has already gone through one round and we've provided them with other samples that are closer to the origin for comparison."
Dr. Timothy Read, a researcher at the institute, has worked for several years to decode the genome of the anthrax bacterium, choosing an Ames strain of anthrax that came from the British biological-warfare laboratory at Porton Down.
After the anthrax mailings last fall, the Institute for Genomic Research was also asked by the National Science Foundation to sequence the DNA of anthrax bacteria isolated from Robert Stevens, who died after exposure to anthrax in the American Media International building in Boca Raton, Fla.
In a report in today's issue of Science, Dr. Read and colleagues said they had identified roughly 60 sites on the anthrax genome at which the Stevens isolate and the Porton Down isolate had one or more different DNA units.
The issue now is whether a DNA test, similar to those in forensic cases, can be developed for the anthrax bacterium and used to identify the laboratory most likely to have provided the microbes that killed Mr. Stevens and the other victims.
Some 15 laboratories are known to possess or have worked with the Ames strain. The F.B.I. sent out subpoenas in February asking for Ames anthrax samples and presumably now has a reasonably complete collection for analysis.
Dr. Steven Salzberg, a bioinformatics expert at the institute, said it had found many more DNA differences between the two Ames isolates it analyzed than some experts had expected. On this basis Dr. Salzberg expressed confidence that an analysis of the F.B.I.'s sample collection would show which was closest to bacteria that infected Mr. Stevens.
"We would first test these 60 markers," he said, referring to the sites of variability the institute found, "and then look for additional markers and would be able to rule out some labs pretty quickly."
Development of a DNA test for the Ames strain will not be simple. The many strains of anthrax found worldwide are remarkably similar because of the bacterium's degree of genetic stability. It reproduces by dividing into two cells that are generally identical except for occasional errors made in copying the parent cell's DNA.
So the chances of finding DNA differences among the stocks of Ames anthrax at different laboratories did not seem promising at first. Of the 60 sites of variation found by the institute, only one was useful in distinguishing between the Ames anthrax samples possessed by four laboratories, designated as A, B, C and D.
The anthrax genome consists of a single large chromosome and two small circles of DNA, called plasmids, that carry extra genes. At a point on the second plasmid, the DNA consists of a string of A or adenine units, one of the four bases of DNA.
The bacterium isolated from Mr. Stevens has a string of 35 A's at this site, the same as the isolates from Laboratories B and C but different from Laboratory A, with 37 adenines, and Laboratory D, with 30.
The four laboratories' data was first announced in February by Dr. Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University, a colleague of the institute's team and a rival for the F.B.I.'s attention. Dr. Keim had identified the plasmid site of variability because the two anthrax plasmids had previously been decoded at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Working under contract for the F.B.I., Dr. Keim had samples of Ames anthrax from the four unidentified laboratories and tested the 60 sites of variation found by the institute. He is a coauthor with the institute's researchers of the Science article.
Dr. Keim has not found any more such points of distinction, according to scientists at the institute who say their method decoding the entire anthrax genome will bring to light all differences that may exist between laboratory samples.
Institute researchers decoded
the Stevens and Porton Down genomes without F.B.I. money but kept the agency
informed of its progress. Dr. Claire Fraser, the institute's president,
said that when an F.B.I. team visited it, "I was very impressed with their
knowledge of genomics and forensics."
Deepening Anthrax Mystery
It has been seven months since the anthrax attacks claimed their first victims, yet investigators seem no closer to finding the culprit than they were at the beginning. There was encouraging news this week that genetic analysis of the anthrax might prove a useful investigative tool, but for now the goal of identifying where the anthrax came from and who might have sent it through the mails remains as elusive as ever.
The slow progress by the Federal Bureau of Investigation may be due in part to bureaucratic bungling. The F.B.I. has held information tightly to its vest, making it difficult for outside experts to fathom why its forensic analyses have progressed so slowly or suggest ways to speed the process. But it is extraordinarily difficult to analyze tiny samples of highly volatile material without seeing it vanish into the air or damaging its usefulness as potential evidence in court. The job is made all the more difficult by the dearth of experts on the intricacies of germ weapons. Work on offensive biological warfare has been banned in this country for decades, so few American researchers understand its subtleties.
The latest mystery stems from the increasing sophistication of the anthrax attacks as time went on. As William J. Broad and David Johnston reported in Tuesday's Times, the anthrax powder became finer and more potent from one mailing to the next. There seems little doubt that the same person mailed all four letters that have been found the ones sent in September to NBC News and The New York Post, and in October to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. The block lettering on all four is similar, and the F.B.I. has examined the cellophane tape used to seal the letters and concluded that the strips were torn successively from the same roll of tape.
Yet the quality of the powder kept improving. The anthrax sent to the media companies was relatively crude and contaminated with harmless cells. The anthrax that was sent to Senator Daschle was more refined, with an extraordinarily high concentration of spores. It spread rapidly once the envelope was opened, but many of the spore clumps were too big to penetrate deep into the lungs where they could cause damage. The Leahy letter, mailed the same day as the Daschle letter, contained an even finer, highly volatile powder in which the anthrax spores were more uniformly small and dangerous.
So what is going on here? Was the terrorist learning as the attacks went on? Stealing anthrax from several different sources? Increasing the potency as time passed in a malicious demonstration of his capabilities? Did an extra pass that the Leahy letter took through postal sorting machines crumble its anthrax into smaller, more floatable bits than that in the Daschle letter? The only sure thing is that investigators are mystified.
Meanwhile, the universe of potential suspects seems to be growing. Although investigators once hoped to narrow the list to a few dozen suspects or less, lately they seem to be acknowledging that hundreds or even thousands of individuals, in this country and abroad, are probably capable of making the substance that was mailed, provided they could gain access to the needed germs.
Researchers continue to hope that the magic of genetic analysis will come to the rescue by finding biological markers that would pinpoint the source of the anthrax, much as DNA testing can identify the perpetrator of an assault. On Thursday, scientists reported evidence that a genetic comparison should be able to narrow down the number of laboratories that could have produced the anthrax. But it remains unclear whether such analysis will ever provide incontrovertible proof of the precise source of the anthrax.
The F.B.I. remains convinced that the attacks were carried out by an American with scientific training, not by Al Qaeda or a rogue nation, but critics fear the bureau is so wedded to this theory that it has become blind to other possibilities. What investigators could most use now is a tip that would crack the case open, as it did in the Unabomber case. But Americans who worry about further biological terrorism cannot find much comfort in the fact that after seven months of intense investigation, the best chance of finding the anthrax terrorist is still for someone to simply turn him in.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
F.B.I.'s Anthrax Inquiry
To the Editor:
Re "The Deepening Anthrax Mystery" (editorial, May 11):
Far from "bureaucratic bungling," this complex investigation represents a case study in cooperation between the scientific community and government agencies.
Analysis of the powders collected from each letter has determined that all are the same strain.
There were differences in the samples recovered from the letters mailed to New York and those mailed to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick J. Leahy. But there were no significant differences in the samples collected from the Senate letters, and there was no increase in potency or improvement in quality from one Senate sample to the next.
You say "the F.B.I. remains convinced that the attacks were carried out by an American with scientific training, not by Al Qaeda or a rogue nation." In fact, we have not precluded any category of suspect, motive or theory.
JOHN E. COLLINGWOOD
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
U.S. Intercepting Messages Hinting at a New Attack
By JAMES RISEN and DAVID JOHNSTON
WASHINGTON, May 18 American intelligence agencies have intercepted a vague yet troubling series of communications among Al Qaeda operatives over the last few months indicating that the terrorist organization is trying to carry out an operation as big as or bigger than the Sept. 11 attacks, according to intelligence and law enforcement officials.
But just as last summer's threats left counterterrorism analysts guessing about Al Qaeda's intentions, and believing that the attack might be carried out overseas, the new interceptions are so general that they have left President Bush and his counterterrorism team in the dark about the time, place or method of what some officials refer to as a second-wave attack. As a result, the government is essentially limited to taking broad defensive measures.
"It's again not specific not specific as to time, not specific as to place," one senior administration official said.
The officials compared the intercepted messages, which they described as cryptic and ambiguous, to the pattern of those picked up last spring and early summer, when Qaeda operatives were also overheard talking about a big operation. Those signals were among the evidence that intelligence agencies presented to President Bush in August about the possibility of an imminent attack against the United States.
The senior official said Friday that the amount of intelligence relating to another possible attack, in Europe, the Arabian Peninsula or the United States, had increased in the last month. Some of it comes from interviews with fighters captured in Afghanistan.
But despite the disruption of Al Qaeda's operations around the world since Sept. 11, and despite major spending increases and shifts of resources to counterterrorism operations, American officials say they have not been able to fully piece together the clues about Al Qaeda's plans.
"There's just a lot of chatter in the system again," the official said. "We are actively pursuing it and trying to see what's going on here."
The government's frustration underscores the problem in fighting an unconventional foe like Al Qaeda.
Interviews with law enforcement and intelligence officials suggest that in the eight months since Sept. 11 the government has made only limited progress in its ability to predict Al Qaeda's next move, and that many proposed improvements in counterterrorism operations have yet to be put into effect.
This is despite considerable advantages that the United States lacked a year ago. The war in Afghanistan has provided a wealth of new information about Al Qaeda's structure and organization, for example.
In addition, the United States is also interrogating captured Qaeda fighters about the organization's plans. Officials say that debriefings of detainees have in some instances provided general warnings of another major attack that dovetail with the threats picked up in the intercepted communication traffic.
Facing intense criticism in recent days over disclosures that a series of possible clues about Al Qaeda's plans fell through the cracks in the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, officials say that some significant changes have been made in the way threat information is studied and circulated within the upper reaches of the Bush administration.
For the first time, the C.I.A. and F.B.I. now compare notes on all terrorist threat information that comes in each day, filtering the intelligence through what they call an analytical "matrix" to determine which threats are the most credible and deserve the most attention. Their daily threat report is distributed to senior policy makers, including the White House director of homeland security, Tom Ridge. It provides a structure for debates among senior officials about whether to issue public threat warnings.
President Bush also now receives daily briefings from both the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, and Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, are frequently present during those White House sessions. That way, each agency is able to hear the other's latest advice to the president. Before Sept. 11, he received a daily briefing only from the C.I.A.
Although officials say some potential attacks have been foiled, that has been largely credited to the arrest of terrorist operatives overseas by foreign governments rather than to intelligence gleaned from intercepted communications.
United States intelligence officials said that they began to intercept communications among Qaeda operatives discussing a second major attack in October, and that they have detected recurring talk among them about another attack ever since. Some of the intercepted communications have included frightening references to attacks that the Qaeda operatives say would cause vast numbers of American casualties.
The intercepted communications do not point to any detailed plans for an attack, and even the messages mentioning mass casualties do not refer specifically to the use of weapons of mass destruction like chemical, biological or nuclear devices.
Still, American officials say they believe the intercepts represent some of the most credible intelligence they have received since Sept. 11 about Al Qaeda's intentions. They have provided a troubling undercurrent for the Bush administration as it tries to sort through the hundreds of other terrorist threat warnings it has received over the past few months.
The pattern of intercepted communications that began last October has helped prompt at least five public threat alerts issued by the F.B.I. since last fall.
By contrast, federal law enforcement and intelligence officials say they have been skeptical of many of the far more specific threats they have received from individual informants over the past few months. One of the problems now facing American counterterrorism experts is that they say communications intercepts, while vaguely worded, are often highly credible threat warnings, while the very detailed and specific threats passed on by individual informants are often far less reliable.
Individual informants who approach American investigators in the United States or overseas often know what kind of story will get the biggest reaction. They also often come forward because of hidden motives, perhaps hoping for money or entrance into the United States. The C.I.A. routinely gives its informants polygraph tests in an effort to validate their stories.
But officials say that in some cases they have been forced to take tales told by informants more seriously than they otherwise might, at least in part because officials suspect from the intercepted communications that Al Qaeda is planning something big.
In recent months, officials have issued threat alerts regarding nuclear plants, financial institutions and even specific structures like the Seattle Space Needle and the Golden Gate Bridge, even as some counterterrorism experts privately regarded those threats as not based on solid intelligence.
Some officials say the government's new color-coded threat alert system is less useful than the system it replaced, because it is subject to political influences from appointees who are fearful of being criticized if they fail to pass on every possible threat, no matter how remote.
Yet even as the less credible threats have been widely publicized, the more worrisome and credible undercurrent of intercepted communications has not been made public.
In hindsight, analysts now view the pattern of intercepted communications they saw last May, June and July as a sign of the impending attacks. Those intercepts, coming after embassy bombings in Africa and the suicidal bombing of a Navy ship in an Arabian port, were sometimes alarming.
Their references to mass attacks against American interests prompted a series of public alerts against possible terrorist attacks last summer, including one concerning a possible strike over the Fourth of July holiday. Officials said that they never had any evidence that an attack would occur inside the United States, and instead focused most of their attention on possible strikes against American facilities in the Middle East, Europe or Asia.
After the summer holiday passed quietly without any attacks, American analysts were relieved, but still believed that an attack might be coming. However, they lacked any further details of where or when the strike might come, and some officials began to think that the immediate danger might have passed. Now that analysts are seeing a similar pattern of communications intercepts, they say they are determined to avoid a repeat of that mistake.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
Justice Planning Polygraphs for Federal Workers About Anthrax Attacks
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department is preparing to give lie detector tests to hundreds of federal workers at two facilities where anthrax is stored, hoping to identify suspects in the letter attacks, a law enforcement official said Monday.
Beginning in June, the government will administer the tests to workers at Fort Detrick, Md., about 40 miles northwest of Washington, and Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, about 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
The government will focus on workers who had expertise in preparing anthrax for use as a weapon and those who may have had access to it, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
ABC News, which first reported the plans for testing, said some former employees of both facilities may be given polygraph tests as well.
The law enforcement official said the plan to test employees does not mean the government already has a suspect.
The investigation into who sent several anthrax-laced letters last year has produced few leads and investigators acknowledge the trail is growing cold. The government has begun a strategy of focusing on possible sources of anthrax rather than identifying suspects from the few clues gained from the letters.
Officials at Fort Detrick and Dugway did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment Monday.
Army scientists in Utah have been developing a powdered form of anthrax for use in testing biological defense systems, military officials have said.
The Army said in a recent statement that small quantities of anthrax have routinely been produced at Dugway, and then shipped to the Army's biodefense center at Fort Detrick.
Fort Detrick, which also is home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, has anthrax samples from other sources as well.
Investigators began interviewing employees at Fort Detrick after anthrax-laced letters were sent to members of Congress in Washington and to television network offices in New York last year. Along the way, anthrax spores leaking from the letters contaminated post office buildings in Washington and New Jersey.
Two Washington postal workers died of inhaled anthrax, as did two women thought to have been infected from the mail. At least 13 people developed either skin or respiratory anthrax, but recovered.
The strain of anthrax found in letters mailed to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy is called Ames, after the city in Iowa where researchers first isolated it. Scientists at Detrick obtained a sample from the Agriculture Department in the early 1980s for vaccine testing and gave samples to at least five other labs.
Since the attacks, security at Fort Detrick has come under fire.
One former researcher at the infectious-disase center there said recently that nothing would have prevented workers from removing deadly germs from the labs.
"As far as carrying anything out, microorganisms are small," said Luann Battersby, a biologist who left voluntarily in 1998 after eight years. "The problem would be getting in, not getting out."
Another scientist, Richard Crosland, said supervisors did not often check whether researchers were keeping track of lab materials as required. When they did, some researchers just submitted photocopies of old reports, said Crosland, who was laid off in 1997.
Fort Detrick spokesman Charles Dasey declined to comment on the allegations of lax security.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
New York Times Editorial
Connecting Deadly Dots
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Why didn't the Bush administration connect the dots and take aggressive measures before 9/11?
For the same reason we're not doing so today: distractions and a lack of urgency. Forget about the blame game for it's just that kind of distraction. It's more important to look ahead and try to block the next attack. Where are the dots today?
One dot is Osama bin Laden's fervent efforts to obtain bio-weapons, reflected in the lab he was building near Kandahar, Afghanistan, to produce anthrax.
Another dot is Iraq. Hazem Ali, a senior Iraqi virologist involved in his country's bio-weapons program, has admitted working with camelpox virus. It's a puzzling choice for a bio-weapon because it's a mild disease except, as Jonathan Tucker notes in his book "Scourge," Iraq may be genetically engineering camelpox into something closer to smallpox. A scientist who once worked in the Soviet bio-weapons program told me of a visit by Iraqi scientists inquiring about genetic engineering of germs.
A third dot is our vulnerability. The Brentwood mail-sorting facility in Washington is still closed because of contamination, as is the Hamilton Township processing center in New Jersey. Just 100 anthrax letters, if mailed around the nation, could close down the U.S. postal system.
A fourth is our failure to capture the anthrax killer, suggesting to Iraq and other potential perpetrators that they might get away with an attack.
So connect these dots and what do they suggest? A biological threat that requires much more vigorous and urgent countermeasures.
Richard Danzig, a bioterror expert and former secretary of the Navy, noted that the anthrax attacks in the fall could be thought of as 5/11: 5 people died, and 11 were infected with inhalation anthrax. Today people worry more about 9/11 scenarios than about 5/11 attacks even though a bioterror attack could be incomparably more devastating.
"The more significant national security issue is 5/11," Mr. Danzig said. "The risk of recurrence is high, and could involve anything from a few casualties to tens of thousands. Accordingly, I think this is urgent."
The government once conducted an experiment using a Navy ship two miles off San Francisco to release harmless spores that had the same size and weight as anthrax. Experts tracked the spores and concluded that had this been anthrax, several hundred thousand people might have died although no one would have been aware of the attack until the victims developed fevers four days later.
One of the first steps we can take to reduce our vulnerability is to light a fire under the F.B.I. in its investigation of the anthrax case. Experts in the bioterror field are already buzzing about a handful of individuals who had the ability, access and motive to send the anthrax.
These experts point, for example, to one middle-aged American who has worked for the United States military bio-defense program and had access to the labs at Fort Detrick, Md. His anthrax vaccinations are up to date, he unquestionably had the ability to make first-rate anthrax, and he was upset at the United States government in the period preceding the anthrax attack.
I say all this to prod the authorities, for although the F.B.I. has known about this handful of people since October, it has been painstakingly slow in its investigation. Let's hope it will pick up the pace, for solving the case would reduce our vulnerability to another attack.
At a policy level, how are we doing at reducing our vulnerability?
"I don't think anything significant has been done to reduce our vulnerability just yet, aside from creating greater awareness," said Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a microbiologist who studies bioterrorism for the Federation of American Scientists.
So what should be done? Experts offer suggestions like these:
Smallpox vaccination should begin on a voluntary basis.
Air filtration should be upgraded in landmark buildings. Humidity should be kept above 20 percent so that particles will clump together and aerosol attacks are less effective.
Germ detectors developed by the
military should be installed in Grand Central Terminal and elsewhere in
New York City. These detectors don't work well, but they are being used
at key locations in Washington though not in New York. The message seems
to be: "Pentagon to City: Drop Dead."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company