QUESTIONS UK SCIENTISTS
Sunday Telegraph (London)
March 31, 2002
FBI anthrax attack
team to question Porton Down scientists
FBI agents tracing the source of deadly anthrax attacks in America want to question scientists at Porton Down, the British defence establishment over fears that the spores may have been smuggled out of a British laboratory.
They have established that the Ministry of Defence's centre in Wiltshire has experimented on the Ames strain of anthrax - identical to that sent to American journalists and politicians. Agents in Washington will request a list of scientists who have had access to the samples of anthrax used in MoD laboratories over the past 15 years. The British Government is currently developing a new vaccine against the disease.
FBI officials confirmed that they would approach British scientists while tracing the anthrax strain. A spokesman said that officers are aware that the strain was kept in Britain and are covering all possible outlets.
Sue Ellison, the spokesman for Porton Down, confirmed last night that the authorities were aware of FBI inquiries and would help when approached. "We keep a full list of where the anthrax samples are sent, and would give these details to the relevant authorities. In the UK, we work closely with our American partners and we will continue to do so."
An American investigation to discover the source of the anthrax was launched last September after contaminated letters were sent to Congressmen and journalists. Four American citizens died after more than 20 parcels and letters were found to contain a fine, white powder that was a refined form of the deadly bacteria. Scientists and law enforcement agents have established that anthrax sent in some letters was the Ames strain of the virus - originally used by the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), in Ford Detrick, Maryland.
Bulk quantities of the Ames strain were sent to Porton Down in the mid-1980s because British scientists wanted to develop vaccines against the disease.
FBI agents want to establish who has had access to anthrax at Porton Down over the past 15 years. They have already contacted at least four other laboratories around the world that have also been sent the Ames strain. American investigators believe that most of the anthrax sent in letters was manufactured in a military installation or research laboratory.
Van Harp, the FBI's assistant director, told CNN last week: "Contrary to what was initially out there at the beginning of the investigation, this anthrax, we do not believe, was made up in a garage or a bathtub."
A spokesman for USAMRIID confirmed that the Ames strain was sent to Ministry of Defence scientists in the 1980s. "We have provided a list of places where we sent the disease to the appropriate authorities," she said.
Scientists at Porton Down are testing a vaccine against anthrax contamination that will require only one injection. At present, vaccines require a series of injections. They are also testing a range of genetically modified superbugs, including bubonic plague, smallpox and gangrene.