ANTHRAX Investigation, International?

  1. This just in from the Miami Herald, in light of yesterdays panic and false alarms, this is informative. I would however also think about the fact the FBI has an ongoing investigation in Ohio regarding a man known to be in the circles of the suicide attackers, who was for many months before the attacks researching the water system and biological "parasites" directly beneath the city and linked to a major hospital. Yes this is important, if it is proven that they obtained this from a state sponsered source. Note that Project Jefferson is ongoing at Battelle Memorial Institute in West Jefferson, Ohio.
    The anthrax strain has already been determined to be "not naturally occuring" that is established despite the urge from day one, "NOT TO WORRY" the man was an outdoorsman ect., ect...
    ( The water story can be found : Terrorist Link Looked at Ohio Water Supply, FBI Probing here: http://www.newsmax.com/archives/arti...8/130559.shtml)

    Investigation could go international
    Experts: U.S., foreign markets both possible points of origin
    BY ALFONSO CHARDY AND RONNIE GREENE
    achardy@herald.com


    If the Boca Raton anthrax outbreak was indeed a deliberate criminal act, investigators must find where the criminals got their hands on the deadly bacteria, and how.

    As authorities chase that trail, following leads in the United States, terrorism experts are also looking abroad.

    They say it's possible the anthrax that killed one tabloid worker and possibly infected another initially originated in foreign countries armed with biological weapons -- but shaky security nets.

    Terrorists with ample funds and medical and biological know-how could obtain the strains in the less restrictive international market -- then ``weaponize'' the culture in the United States, some experts say.

    It's also possible terrorists or others illegally tapped the U.S. market, which is small and tightly regulated after well-publicized security lapses. Indeed, authorities are scouring that market now in the wake of the Boca Raton cases, examining whether the anthrax that killed Sun photo editor Robert Stevens is linked to a strain from an Iowa facility.

    One expert, Raymond Zilinskas, senior scientist at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, said there are five possible sources for an anthrax germ that might be used in a biological attack.

    Zilinskas, who served on a United Nations inspection team of Iraqi biological weapons facilities, said:


    The germ could come from a lab in the United States. Zilinskas said there are probably fewer than 10 such centers in the country. Last decade, a Nevada man was convicted of illegally ordering bubonic plague bacteria by mail, a case that renewed safety measures.

    The sample could come from a sick cow or buffalo, potentially taken by someone scouring news reports of an anthrax outbreak.

    The strains could come from among the 400-plus cell culture collection sites outside the United States, set up for legitimate research. ``We don't know what kind of barriers they have to the sale of cultures to unauthorized people.''

    The strains could come from nations believed to possess biological warfare programs, like Iraq.

    The sample could come from biological warfare facilities of the former Soviet Union. ``The major ones have good security, but we don't know about the ones that are essentially falling apart,'' Zilinskas said.
    He's among those who believe the Florida cases are not tied to an international terrorist attack, because of the ``primitive method of dispersal that apparently was used.''

    But others note that foreign countries have more sources, and less stringent safeguards, than U.S. labs that use anthrax for research.

    ``Could the terrorists have gotten it from a foreign source? I think that's a real possibility,'' said Dr. Frederick Southwick, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Florida College of Medicine. ``Iraq comes to mind.''

    He and others say that, once obtained, anthrax is relatively easy to transport.

    ``I would predict you could slip that by without any problem. It could look quite innocent. It could look like talcum powder,'' Southwick said.

    Harvard University's Matthew Bunn, an expert on nuclear theft and weapons of mass destruction, said Russia is one possible source.


    MASSIVE PROGRAM

    ``Russia had an absolutely massive illegal biological weapons program,'' Bunn said. ``Anthrax was massively, hugely, a part of that. They had the capability in place to produce this stuff in quantities that make no sense.''

    Many of the scientists who worked on the program, which grew during and after the Cold War, are still around.

    ``Nothing could be more dangerous to us than a situation where there are thousands of people who know how to make weapons of mass destruction but don't know how to feed their children,'' Bunn said. ``Because they may want to sell their knowledge.''

    The most notorious case of anthrax exposure was in 1979 in Sverdlovsk, a Russian city of more than one million people. After anthrax was accidentally released through the chimney of a biological weapons plant, 67 people died.

    Philip Hanna, a University of Michigan professor of microbiology and immunology who has studied anthrax, said Russia has not adhered to a treaty signed in 1969 by most nations, including the United States, to abstain from biological weapons research.

    Reports of such research have also come from Iraq, Iran, North Korea and China. But ``no one's program can match the Russians','' Hanna said.

    In the United States, just a handful of civilian and military facilities work with anthrax. The work involves attempts to produce an anthrax vaccine, research into detection of unauthorized production and plans to manufacture a potent strain to determine whether the anti-anthrax vaccine works.

    All research centers say security is extraordinary and that a terrorist would be hard-pressed to steal an anthrax strain. It would also be nearly impossible to buy a strain -- unless you're properly screened and registered with federal agencies.

    It wasn't always that secure.

    In the 1980s, the American Type Culture Collection in Virginia -- one of the world's leading repositories of cell lines, microorganisms and other biological materials -- shipped anthrax strains to Iraq, at a time when that country began a crash program to produce a germ arsenal.


    SALES RESTRICTED

    As a result of fears that Iraq was developing biological warfare capability, U.S. authorities moved to block the unrestricted sale or transfer of biological and chemical agents that could be ``weaponized.''

    Elisa D. Harris, a research fellow at the University of Maryland who was with the National Security Council from 1993 to 2001, said the rules have changed. Now transfers can only occur between laboratories or repositories that have been registered with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Yet concerns remain that criminals with knowledge and determination could obtain strains in the foreign market and weaponize them here.

    A defense official familiar with biological warfare issues cited an experiment conducted by the U.S. Defense Department in the 1990s under which workers built a Nevada factory with a view to growing germs.

    The factory was built from materials openly available in the market but that could have a ``dual use'' for commercial or biological warfare purposes. The defense official said the goal was to see whether U.S. defenses against biological weapons could be breached.

    The official also pointed to Project Jefferson, an effort to develop a powerful strain of anthrax to see if the anti-anthrax vaccine can be defeated. The project is ongoing at Battelle Memorial Institute in West Jefferson, Ohio.

    Katy Delaney, a spokeswoman for Battelle, declined to discuss Project Jefferson but said her company was secure against unauthorized users.

    Another place anthrax strains are kept is BioPort, a Lansing, Mich., corporation assigned to produce the vaccine for the U.S. military. A voice mail on the company's answering machine said the vaccine was not available for civilian use.

    Herald staff writer Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.
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