News Stories on Human ResearchProtection and
February 13, 2002
Some key questions that the FBI may nothave considered in their search for the anthrax letter sender
Today’s New York Times reports that a major break may havecome in the hunt for the anthrax letter sender. The NYT article is followed by ashort excerpt from an in-depth column by Dr. Meryl Nass, In Search of theAnthrax Attacker, in which she assumes the role of detective, posing severalkey questions that the FBI may or may not have considered:
For example, Why had the anthrax been sent in letters,rather than released in ventilation systems, tunnels or subways?
She explains what makes the Ames strain extremely lethal,and asks: who had access to this material, or knew the method for itsproduction?
Who had the means?
The attacker may well have read Patrick’s report, oreven used it as a model. [William Patrick’s 1999 analysis of anthrax sent bymail was written for a defense contractor report.]
Who had access to this report?
Who are the beneficiaries of a bioterrorism scare?
IN SEARCH OF THE ANTHRAX ATTACKER:
"Senior Bush administration officials have privatelysaid that little progress is being made in the anthrax investigation, which hasinvolved hundreds of investigators, [who] are no closer to finding theculprit." So reported Todd J Gillman and Michelle Mittelstadt of the DallasMorning News on January 31.
It has been four months since the first case of inhalationanthrax was diagnosed. Last week, the FBI announced that it would be sendingflyers to 500,000 residents of the Trenton, New Jersey region, asking for leads.This week, the FBI arranged with the American Society for Microbiology to e-mailits US membership, in another.
One area of wasted investigative effort was the search forthe origin of the "Ames" anthrax strain used. How would tracing backthe Ames strain solve the case? Ames anthrax could have been stolen, shared, ordug up from Texas soil. More likely, it was removed from one of the labs by ascientist with access.
No matter when the government first got its supply ofAmes, the strain was eventually used to create a government supply of dry,weaponized anthrax, which at this time appears to be identical to that used inthe attacks.
Of more importance to the investigation than the origin ofAmes is the origin of both: a) the material added to the anthrax spores thatcauses them to separate from each other, greatly enhancing virulence, and b) themethod that assured the spores were relatively uniform in size, and were sizedfor optimal lethality.
They are what made Ames extremely lethal, and they couldbe used with other strains.
The real question is: who had access to this material, orknew the method for its production? A clue: you will find the attacker among thevery small clique of bioweaponeers with this specialized knowledge or access tothe weaponized end product.
All appropriate biosafety facilities, here and in othernations, should have their logs reviewed. It should be easy to construct listsof those who worked at Detrick and knew Assaad, those who had access toweaponized anthrax or knew the recipe, and those with access to the hot suites.However, if there do exist several attackers, the overlap might be hard to find.This person, or his program, if such is the case, is likely to benefit nicelyfrom the anthrax scare.
The anthrax attacks were a heinous crime in a number ofways. First, they caused the deaths of five innocent civilians, who in militaryjargon might be considered "collateral damage." Second, they directlyattacked the center of our government, and our free press. Third, they appear tohave been motivated by the calculation that the country needed to be scared todeath, in order to act in a way the attacker wanted. And so we have, allocatingbillions of taxpayer dollars for responding to and preparing for bioterrorism.That is not how decisions should be made in a democracy. Finally, biologicalattacks are a clandestine, cowardly method of attack, in which the perpetratoris usually difficult to identify.
If the attacker remains free, the attractiveness of futurebiological attack only increases.
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