- Dr. Nass and Dr. Rosenber have made amazing
progress on unveiling the anthrax attacker. We must, however, go a step
further and look into other members of the Camal Club as well as those
who were colleagues of the Camal Club, such as Dr. Ken Alibek.
- I do find that the William Patrick's
1999 analysis report of anthrax sent by mail, written for a defense contractor
(and not widely circulated) to be a good clue in finding the mastermind
of the 2001 letters.
- Furthermore, the lettering on the anthrax
letters of 2001 matches the hoax letters of 1998. This could be either
1. the hoax letters culminating in the real anthrax letters were sent by
the same person or persons. or...2. The mastermind had seen the hoax letters,
as would have been discussed in meetings of biotech kingpins and had copied
the lettering style.
- I truly believe that the mastermind won't
be sending out anymore anthrax letters as his point was made, his company
and his patent profited and there is no further need to incriminate himself.
- It is quite possible that the case may
close and no culprit ever named.
- Be on the look out for the Washington
Post article on Dr. Assad, former Ft. Detrick scientist who was accused
of being the anthax mail sender. Dr. Assad was a member of a group of
Ft. Detrick scientists who called themselves "the Camal club".
- About two days before the first Anthrax
Letter was received, a letter went to Quantico describing Dr. Assad as
a bioterrorist. The letter went on to describe the Camal Club and their
clandestine nocturnal activities in the Detrick labs.
- I believe that the author of that letter
which pointed the finger at Dr. Assad, was actually the anthrax attacker.
- Now, we must go back and look at the
years when Dr. Assad was working at Detrick. Part of that time when Dr.
Alibek was at Ft. Detrick. A time when Alibek was walking those halls as
- In Search Of The Anthrax Attacker - Following
- By Meryl Nass, MD 2-3-2
- "Senior Bush administration officials
have privately said that little progress is being made in the anthrax investigation,
which has involved hundreds of investigators, [who] are no closer to finding
the culprit, they say." So reported Todd J Gillman and Michelle Mittelstadt
of the Dallas Morning News on January 31.
- It has been four months since the first
case of inhalation anthrax was diagnosed. Last week, the FBI announced
that it would be sending flyers 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-mail its US membership, in another attempt
to reach out to scientists that might have insight into the attacks.
- Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, an arms
control expert at the State University of New York, Purchase, and chair
of a bioweapons panel at the Federation of American Scientists authored
an analysis of the attacks that may have prodded the FBI into investigating
the US bioterrorism establishment. She thinks the scientific details could
be too complicated for investigators to grasp.
- But if the FBI has no anthrax expertise,
there are plenty of scientists who do, and who would be happy to assist
in the investigation.
- Last October, both Ken Alibek (the defector
who was #2 in the Soviet biowarfare establishment, and who also developed
the most virulent Soviet anthrax) and William Patrick (the man who was
#1 in the US biowarfare establishment, and developed a powder used for
weaponizing anthrax, allegedly the same material used in the attacks) were
quoted as saying that no one had sought their help in the investigation.
That made me extremely curious, since they were two public figures most
knowledgeable about weaponized anthrax, and would know how to analyze the
anthrax and identify its origin.
- Why had the anthrax been sent in letters,
rather than released in ventilation systems, tunnels or subways? The (estimated)
two trillion spores per letter could have caused a lot more mischief in
- Something else was odd. The attacker
had actually warned the recipients that the letters contained anthrax,
and suggested they take penicillin. Then a lightbulb went off: someone
was sending these letters to create an effect, not to cause damage. The
letters were sealed with tape, presumably to further prevent the escape
of spores. The point was to frighten, not to kill. And the targets were
chosen with an eye to getting publicity and making an impact on Congress.
- The attacker also had familiarity with
forensic investigations. He avoided using saliva on the letters, used a
form of printing that is most difficult to analyze, and otherwise left
a paucity of evidence. Did he have professional help?
- (I am referring here to the anthrax attacker
in the singular and using the male gender, although I suspect that, for
logistical reasons, it is unlikely that one person acted alone, or was
even a loner, as the FBI profile has suggested.)
- I subsequently learned of William Patrickís
1999 analysis of anthrax sent by mail, written for a defense contractor.
Iíve not seen the report, but have been told he did not consider
that envelopes contained pores, and was not aware that postal machines
squeeze and compress the mail, forcing anthrax spores out of intact envelopes.
- The attacker may well have read Patrickís
report, or even used it as a model. Who had access to this report?
- To commit a crime one must have a motive.
Because of the unpredictability of who might become ill, or die after exposure
to the letters, I doubt that the attacker had specific victims in mind.
A grudge against Tom Brokaw or Senator Daschle has been postulated. Did
the attacker really think they opened their own mail?
- More likely, the attacker wanted to frighten
Congress, which controls spending for bioterrorism. If new appropriations
for bioterrorism defense are a measure of the attackerís success,
he has certainly triumphed.
- Who are the beneficiaries of a bioterrorism
- The biowarfare establishment has benefited
so far: CDC got $450 million extra for bioterrorism, and the states will
get $1.1 billion dollars. More money has been spent on stockpiling antibiotics,
and the government has contracted for 209 million doses of smallpox vaccine,
at a cost of $850 million. Other biowarfare vaccines in development have
probably had new life breathed into them.
- The US Army Medical Research Institute
of Infectious Diseases (where the Armyís center for biodefense,
Fort Detrick, is located) will receive increased funding and stature. Bioport,
the anthrax vaccine manufacturer that tried in vain for the past 2 years
to get FDA approval, after as major overhaul of its facility, just got
it - though Congressman Ben Gilman has asked the GAO to investigate this,
and the Defense Department has declined to say whether anthrax inoculations
for the military will resume.
- Who had the means?
- After the attacks it was revealed that
the powdered, weaponized anthrax is identical to that made by our own biowarfare
establishment; that is, by the same people who are benefiting from the
- One area of wasted investigative effort
was the search for the origin of the "Ames" anthrax strain used.
It was reported initially that hundreds of labs held Ames anthrax samples.
Then it turned out that few actually did.
- On October 11, after receiving FBI approval
to do so, Iowa State University destroyed their anthrax collection. Did
this result in the loss of crucial evidence?
- But how would tracing back the Ames strain
solve the case? Even if only 20 labs had samples, not all of them had high
levels of security. After all, some are university labs. Scientists share
strains with hardly a thought. Ames anthrax could have been stolen, shared,
or even dug up from Texas soil. Or removed from one of the labs by a scientist
- Dr. Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University
maintains an extensive anthrax database; he examined the Ames anthrax used
in the attacks with a series of genetic probes, and said it was identical
to the strain held at several government labs. But to be certain, the entire
genome of the attack anthrax and the government anthrax are being deciphered,
so that individual differences can be counted and examined, and estimates
made as to precisely how close (or how many generations apart) the two
strains really are. (Of course, this assumes that the actual government
strain, and the actual letter strain were provided to the Institute for
Genomic Research in Rockville, Md.)
- Reading William Broadís article,
"Geographic Gaffe Misguides Anthrax Inquiry," in the January
29 New York Times, one finds confusion over the meaning of the strainís
origin. Broad also takes Dr. Rosenberg to task over her earlier statement
that the anthrax "may be a remnant of the US biological weapons program."
- Broad discovered that the Ames strain
came from a cow that died in Texas in 1981, not from a cow that died in
Iowa in the 1930ís. He then inferred that the strain did not come
from the US biowarfare stockpile, which was officially destroyed by 1975,
when the Biological Weapons Convention went into effect.
- But a CIA memo signed by Thomas Karamessines,
and provided to the Senate, informs us that the CIA (at least) kept 100
grams of anthrax, illegally, after the Convention went into effect. So
some of the old stockpile could still be around.
- The fact that the Ames strain was isolated
from a cow in 1981, and from a goat several hundred miles away in 1997,
indicates that there is a lot of Ames in Texas, and it most likely was
there well before 1981, and ever since. So it could have comprised part
of the old US stockpile. William Patrick and others would know, and there
should be records to show what was actually produced.
- The more germane issue, however, is whether
the isolation of Ames in 1981 exonerates the Defense Department, CIA, or
US government contractors from possible involvement in the anthrax attacks.
It does not.
- No matter whether the government first
got its supply of Ames before or after 1970, when it officially ended its
offensive biowarfare program, Ames was eventually used to create a government
supply of dry, weaponized anthrax, which at this time appears to be identical
to that used in the attacks.
- Of more importance to the investigation,
however, is the origin of:
- a) the material added to the anthrax
spores that causes them to separate from each other, greatly enhancing
- b) the method that assured the spores
were relatively uniform in size, and were sized for optimal lethality.
- Although Ames was shared, this method
of production, as well as the additive, would have been closely-guarded
secrets. They are what made Ames extremely lethal, and the same could be
done with other strains.
- Furthermore, the Biological and Toxin
Weapons Convention, which the US initiated and signed in 1972, prohibits
the possession of biological agents that are not used for defensive purposes.
No defensive use for this form of anthrax has ever been publicly disclosed.
- In contrast, the Ames anthrax that is
used in (defensive) vaccine experiments is dispersed by an aerosolizer
from a liquid slurry. No dry anthrax is used. (In liquid form, anthrax
is a poor weapon.)
- To test our defenses against dry anthrax,
you can use a benign Bacillus spore, a cousin of anthrax. The mere possession
of dry, weaponized anthrax could be deemed illegal under the terms of the
Convention. So the United States kept its existence secret, and would have
had little reason to share it. We wouldnít want the material or
recipe for making highly dispersible spores to reach potential enemies.
- The real question is: who had access
to this material, or knew the method for its production? A clue: you will
find the attacker among the very small clique of bioweaponeers with this
specialized knowledge or access to the weaponized end product.
- Now to the question of whether the anthrax
was homemade, or snatched from a government inventory. It is much more
likely to have been snatched, but either is possible.
- Anthrax cannot be produced without leaving
evidenceótelltale spores that have escaped into the environment.
Companies that use spore-forming organisms to manufacture vaccines (for
tetanus and botulinum toxoid, for instance) can never use the facility
for making other products, due to persistent contamination with invisible
spores. The Hart Senate Office Building clean-up took 3 months and cost
$14 million, and may not have rid the building of every anthrax spore.
- Therefore, production in a basement lab
could lead to spore detection (and proof of guilt) for the foreseeable
future, if environmental samples were obtained and cultured. Furthermore,
the equipment and materials the attacker purchased to produce the anthrax
could be traced.
- In addition to increasing the attackerís
chances of being detected, spore production is dangerous. Remember, this
is someone who knows all about anthrax. He knows what these spores can
do, and would not have wanted to expose himself to them.
- Anthrax experts know that physical protection
(particularly the use of a self-contained breathing apparatus) is your
primary protection from inhaled anthrax. It has long been established that
large spore counts can overwhelm vaccine-induced immunity and antibiotic
protection. In fact, for a long time the Ames strain was called "vaccine
resistant" at Fort Detrick. So anyone in-the-know would have worked
with the spores in a safe setting. They might well have been vaccinated
and used antibiotics, but would not have relied on them exclusively for
- Therefore, anthrax was almost certainly
manufactured, mixed with the anti-cling powder, and placed into envelopes
in a protected environment.
- Placing the spores - two trillion at
a time - into envelopes would have been particularly dangerous. These spores
floated off the glass slides when scientists first tried to look at them.
You canít fill an envelope without losing millions or billions of
spores in the process.
- It is only logical that the filling occurred
within an official anthrax "hot suite"- a Biosafety Level 3 or
4 facility, by someone in a "moon suit" using a protected air
supply. There are a small number of these facilities. They must have substantial
security, possibly video cameras, and there must be logs that indicate
who used them.
- If the attacker used government-made
(or defense contractor-made) anthrax, and filled the envelopes in hot suites
already contaminated with Ames anthrax, he will have left no evidence.
He could walk out of the hot suite with his filled envelopes in a plastic
bag or other secure container, and no one would be the wiser.
- Furthermore, the first known letters
were postmarked September 18, and contained a fake Islamic message.
- Yet another clue: although anthrax degrades
extremely slowly, and could have been obtained or produced at any time,
the choice of September and an Islamic message suggests the first envelopes,
at least, were filled between September 11 and 18. Who used the hot suites
- This past week a new, important wrinkle
was reported. An Egyptian-born scientist, Dr. Ayaad Assaad, had been fingered
as a possible bioterrorist in an anonymous letter sent to Quantico Marine
Corps Base, before any anthrax letters had even been discovered. It is
unclear whether the letter was sent to the military or to the FBI, which
maintains a substantial presence on the base.
- Assaad had worked at Fort Detrick for
years, but was laid off in 1997, and had an age discrimination lawsuit
pending against his former employer. Furthermore, while at Detrick he had
been the butt of a salacious and demeaning poem circulated by a group of
coworkers- all Army scientists- who called themselves the "Camel Club."
Unauthorized nighttime research and missing anthrax slides at the lab where
the club members worked embellish the story.
- Although one might manage to grow anthrax
from a spore found on a stolen pathology slide, itís unlikely. Slides
are generally heated, and the material may have been treated with formaldehyde,
which kills anthrax. There must be easier ways to obtain anthrax, especially
if you work at Fort Detrick. Although itís a juicy story, there
is a huge divide between anthrax on a pathology slide and the production
of weaponized anthrax. They do not equate.
- At first glance, the letter about Assaad
seemed to have been written by a former Camel Club member, who decided
to revive an old antagonism. But it is much more likely that the real attacker
knew of the club, and meant to lay guilt on former club members. (The club
members were not anthrax scientists, but instead worked on pathogenic viruses.)
- Letís look more closely. The first
letters to arrive with anthrax took a long time to cause illness. Until
then, they were dismissed as hoaxes. The letters to the New York Post and
NBC were postmarked September 18; the letter to The Sun, a Florida-based
tabloid, has never been found. The first anthrax case was diagnosed in
Florida on October 3, probably 15 days after the letter was sent.
- It seems logical, therefore, that the
Quantico letter (that insinuated Assaad was a bioterrorist) was meant to
arrive after the public had become aware of an anthrax attack. Had that
happened, the letter would have been perceived as a response to the attacks.
But since it arrived first, indicating foreknowledge of the attacks, it
could only come from the attacker himself.
- Therefore, where the letter came from,
when it was sent, and the personal details of Assaadís life that
it contained are vitally important. Only a small number of people could
be sufficiently familiar with Assaad and the Camel Club shenanigans to
have written it.
- A very important clue: one of these people
is the perpetrator. He may also have some connection to Quantico.
- Where does this leave us?
- Most likely, the suspect still works
in the biodefense field, but might be a former employee. He may have read
William Patrickís report on mailed anthrax. Places where the perpetrator
likely worked may include Fort Detrick, Dugway Proving Ground (where a
large Biosafety level 3 facility for testing biowarfare aerosols exists),
Battelle Memorial Institute, CDC, and Bioport, but there are others. All
these entities potentially stand to benefit from the new interest in bioterrorism.
The person probably worked at Fort Detrick years ago, and knew Assaad and
the Camel Club members. Either recently, or in the past, the attacker had
access to weaponized anthrax. He used a high containment, Biosafety 3 or
4 facility to prepare his anthrax-laden envelopes between September 11
- Where do we go from here?
- People who fit this profile should be
investigated, to include interviews possibly using lie detectors. If warranted,
their homes and businesses should be carefully cultured for stray spores.
Retired Fort Detrick workers, who are familiar with what was stockpiled,
and how anthrax products were made, should be interviewed. Several are
on record as saying they have not been approached. All appropriate Biosafety
facilities, here and in other nations, should have their logs reviewed.
It should be easy to construct lists of those who worked at Detrick and
knew Assaad, those who had access to weaponized 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 nicely from the anthrax scare.
- The anthrax attacks were a heinous crime
in a number of ways. First, they caused the deaths of five innocent civilians,
who in military jargon might be considered "collateral damage."
Second, they directly attacked the center of our government, and our free
press. Third, they appear to have been motivated by the calculation that
the country needed to be scared to death, in order to act in a way the
attacker wanted. And so we have, allocating billions of taxpayer dollars
for responding to and preparing for bioterrorism. That is not how decisions
should be made in a democracy. Finally, biological attacks are a clandestine,
cowardly method of attack, in which the perpetrator is usually difficult
- If the attacker remains free, the attractiveness
of future biological attack only increases.