Terror Anthrax Linked to Type Made by U.S.
December 3, 2001
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
Source New York Times
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
It is unknown publicly exactly
how makers of anthrax
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
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
It is unclear if any foreign
nation has achieved high
Ken Alibek, a former top official
in the Soviet germ
"The infectious dose,"
Dr. Alibek said, "can be quite
Still, the 500 billion figure
is half the concentration
"I don't think they're manufacturing this in caves," Dr. Alibek said of the terror anthrax. "It's coming from another source."