Skip to comments.Anthrax Inventor: Can't Trace Spores
Posted on 12/29/2001 12:07:33 AM PST by Mitchell
WASHINGTON - The scientist who helped the United States refine anthrax and turn it into a weapon says the bacteria spores used in the recent attacks could have been processed in a variety of ways, making it impossible to trace their source.
``You can process the stuff in so many different ways, I don't think that it will be the smoking gun,'' William C. Patrick III said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press.
Patrick, who holds patents for techniques used to make weapons-grade anthrax, said that the type of spores mailed to the offices of Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., could have been processed in a crude laboratory ``as long as you are dealing with small quantities of material.''
He said anthrax can be cultured on many different growth mediums and that there are many ways to purify and dry it.
Patrick led the Army's biological weapons program at Fort Detrick until the program ended in 1969. Since then, he has worked as an adviser and consultant on biological warfare issues for the Defense Department. In 1998, he taught scientists at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah how to turn wet clusters of bacteria spores into a dry powder, according to The Washington Post.
That technology is not difficult, Patrick said Tuesday. He said the key to turning anthrax into a weapon is the genetic strain of the microbe.
``It is all in the strain,'' he said. ``If you have poor strain you're not going to make a good product.''
The strain used in the letters mailed to media offices in New York and in Florida has been identified as Ames, a strain that was used in Defense Department testing.
Patrick said that spores mailed to the senators offices are ``one step removed from weapons grade.''
``It has small particles, with good concentration, (but) it is electrostatic (carries an electrical charge),'' said Patrick.
To make the mailed spores suitable for military weapons, the electrical charge would have to be removed. The electrical charge helps make the spore become airborne at the slightest puff of air.
Investigators have said that the anthrax spores in the letters sent to the senators offices were so charged that they tended to jump off microscope slides and fly about the chamber where they were being examined.
Patrick said the same thing would have happened to anyone who made spores for the anthrax-by-letter attacks.
``It would have been flying all over the room,'' he said, with up to half the material lost.
If the processing room had a window to the outside, he said, ``you could get people infected if they were just passing that window.''
A person making the spores in a home laboratory, said Patrick, could have protected themselves by wearing a special, easily purchased mask and by taking an antibiotic to prevent infection. But the process still would have contaminated the room where the work was done, he said.
Patrick said that to turn anthrax into a weapon would involve mixing a cluster of spores with a liquid compound that would cause the individual spores to separate and stay apart.
``How you treat the liquid material determines what the particle size (of the spores) is going to be and what the concentration will be,'' he said.
Drying the wet spores ``is not a technically demanding task,'' he said. ``You can dry it in many ways - even with a heat lamp.
``If you purify the material and dried by a vacuum drum or by spray drying or by freeze drying, the material will be the same,'' said Patrick.
He said the spores would bear chemical traces of the material used in the wetting compound. Asked about a report that the spores in the senators' offices bore traces of silica, a drying agent, Patrick said: ``I am not going to discuss silica, either the presence or the absence of it.''
Another anthrax expert, who asked not to be named, said the characteristics of the spores found in the senators offices suggest the material was spray-dried. This means that the wet spores would have been sprayed into a drying chamber that absorbed the moisture and trapped the dry spores which could then be packaged.
Patrick said that a person making an anthrax weapon could store the material at room temperature in a wide-mouthed glass vessel with a screw-on lid called a biological jar. He said the lid could then be taped and the material stored in an ordinary cabinet.
I'm a bit confused on the electrostatic charges. The mailed material is said not to be weapons grade because the particles were electrically charged. But the description makes it sound as if that actually makes it more dangerous, because it becomes airborne more readily. Am I missing something, or did the reporter make a mistake here?
Why "for the foreseeable future"? Wouldn't an effective vaccine end the problem?
I know there are problems with the BioPort vaccine. But haven't the Russians offered us theirs? Is theirs not effective, or does it have side-effects problems like BioPort's?
That would be God.
There is also the unresolved matter of the Arab microbiology graduate student in New York connected to Al-Qaida who disappeared about the time of the 9-11 attack. His apartment was only a few hundred feet from that of the Vietnamese lady who died of anthrax of unknown source.
We also know that Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence people just prior to 9-11, and may have received anthrax spores from them. The Iraqis are known to have militarized the Ames anthrax strain, which is the one found in the attacks.
The article does make it sound like this, but it is wrong.
Contrast this statement: To make the mailed spores suitable for military weapons, the electrical charge would have to be removed... with this one that follows: ...the anthrax spores in the letters sent to the senators offices were so charged that they tended to jump off microscope slides and fly about the chamber where they were being examined.
It is my understanding removing the electrostatic charge so the particles "float" in the air is a big part of weaponizing anthrax.
I don't get this part of the article, unless the reporter made a big mistake, or we are purposefully being fed disinformation. I tend to think the former is probably true.
I've thought for some time that this is the most likely explanation for the anthrax mailings.
I don't think that this will be a permanent stand-off however (unlike the situation with strategic nuclear weapons in the Cold War). The U.S. will find a way to conduct the war and eliminate this threat. (If necessary, the government will take the risk of civilian casualties now, in order to eliminate the much greater threat of a Saddam Hussein 10 years from now with nuclear weapons. I believe the American people would support such a course of action.)
An effective anthrax vaccine would help, but unfortunately it would not eliminate the problem. Saddam Hussein could simply switch to another biological agent, or to a chemical weapon (I understand he's used these with horrifying success against the Kurds in his own country).
After all, the warning wasn't really that he had anthrax. We could have guessed that. The warning was two-fold:
This is a tricky military question, but I don't think Hussein is right. This is not the same as the "mutual assured destruction" of the Cold War. That was a fairly symmetrical situation (vis-a-vis the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.). The situation today (with respect to the U.S. and Iraq) is highly asymmetrical: the countries' strengths and weaknesses are very different, and, overall, the U.S. is much stronger, both militarily and economically.
The U.S. couldn't have attacked the Soviet Union during the Cold War without risking total destruction. In contrast, the U.S. can overthrow Saddam Hussein without risking annihilation. We would obviously want to minimize civilian casualties (and I speak as somebody who lives in a U.S. city), and time things accordingly (a supply of anthrax vaccine and smallpox vaccine could help here), but we cannot let the risk of such casualties deter us. The reason is the danger we are facing will get dramatically worse over time if we don't do something about it. If we let Saddam Hussein reach the point where he has nuclear weapons, then the balance of power would be tipped in a way that would be very bad for the world.
One might think that our nuclear weapons would be an effective deterrent against biological and chemical weapons, but that's apparently not so; they're only a deterrent against a massive use of such weapons. It's already been demonstrated that a small-scale biological attack doesn't elicit an immediate response. What if 100 people had been killed, or 1000? A nuclear response would seem out of proportion to such an attack. If we're not careful, Hussein can keep ratcheting up the acceptable level of casualties, never getting a response (like the story of the frog in boiling water).
On a related note, what would our response be to, say, a nuclear weapon that turns out to be a dud? This is important, because it's not unlikely (Iraq and al-Qaeda try dramatic actions, but they often don't carry them out well). Politically or morally, could we really carry out a nuclear retaliation against an attempted nuclear attack that killed no one or only a very small number of people?
In any case, I think the main point is that there are now many weapons of mass destruction for which there are no good defenses. We must defend as best we can, but ultimately the only defense is the certainty of retaliation. I believe Pres. Bush is taking a wise course of action. Iraq is being isolated politically; the other Muslim countries are increasingly unlikely to side with Iraq after seeing our overwhelming and rapid success in Afghanistan. The groundwork is being laid to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
We must not be overconfident however. Our military success so far has been against Afghanistan and the Taliban. It's not clear to what extent we've defeated the terrorist network (although we've clearly deprived al-Qaeda of a very useful operational base, and made it much harder for them to find some other country to harbor them).
The other wild card in all this is China. I'm not suggesting any specific evidence of Chinese involvement, but, at the very least, China is an important strategic factor and cannot be ignored.
I agree that Iraq is likely to be involved, but is this specific statement right? I think you're talking about Waly Samar, who was linked to the 1993 WTC bombers. That was a long time ago. I haven't heard any evidence that he disappeared around 9/11/2001. He probably graduated and left years ago.
I tend to agree with the above statement. Charged particles will "dance" away from each other but will be attracted to any surface with the opposite charge. This would make them "become bound" to a surface and not likely to float anywhere else. What is needed to be a airborn weapon is a particle that has neutral boyancy in the air and therefore is uncharged and tiny.
Of course there are polar molecules (like water ) in the air which raises the possibility of particles being attracted to them and carried in the air. But polar molecules like this tend to already have their neutral charged particles with them.
The plan we have seen unfold -- the destruction of the WTC, the attack on Washington, DC, and the subsequent threat to unleash bioweapons on our civilian population -- is totally consistent with the character, motivations, and known technical capabilities of the Iraqi dictator. An Israeli scholar had this to say on the subject of Saddam's personality after the Gulf War:
In post-Persian Gulf War analysis, one critical point has not been stressed sufficiently. This is Saddam's personality and its significance to the future so long as he is in Baghdad. Again and again, the man has been called a thug, a mafioso, a ruthless dictator, crazed with blood-lust, drunk with self-love, devoid of all humane impulse. All of this is deserved. Less tribute is paid to his intelligence, his cunning, his adaptability, his perseverence, his coolness under duress -- and to his leadership,. Indeed, few have noted the heroic measures of these qualities....The quote is from Laurie Mylroie's startlingly prescient book, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War on America. This should be required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the 9/11 attacks and the anthrax threat campaign which immediately followed. I might add, her chapter on the expulsion of the UNSCOM inspectors from Iraq is the single most devastating indictment of the Clinton administration I have ever read.
Saddam Hussein does not forgive and forget. His foes brought him close to perdition and then let him off.... He will strive to exact revenge as long as there is life in his body.... And when he does hit, he may, by the grace of God, miscalculate as he has miscalculated in the past. But even so the innocent will pay by the millions. This must never be put out of mind: Saddam Hussein from now on lives for revenge.
19 February 1998
Dear Mr. President,
Many of us were involved in organizing the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf in 1990 to support President Bush's policy of expelling Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Seven years later, Saddam Hussein is still in power in Baghdad. And despite his defeat in the Gulf War, continuing sanctions, and the determined effort of UN inspectors to fetter out and destroy his weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein has been able to develop biological and chemical munitions. To underscore the threat posed by these deadly devices, the Secretaries of State and Defense have said that these weapons could be used against our own people. And you have said that this issue is about "the challenges of the 21st Century."
Iraq's position is unacceptable. While Iraq is not unique in possessing these weapons, it is the only country which has used them -- not just against its enemies, but its own people as well. We must assume that Saddam is prepared to use them again. This poses a danger to our friends, our allies, and to our nation.
It is clear that this danger cannot be eliminated as long as our objective is simply "containment," and the means of achieving it are limited to sanctions and exhortations. As the crisis of recent weeks has demonstrated, these static policies are bound to erode, opening the way to Saddam's eventual return to a position of power and influence in the region. Only a determined program to change the regime in Baghdad will bring the Iraqi crisis to a satisfactory conclusion.
For years, the United States has tried to remove Saddam by encouraging coups and internal conspiracies. These attempts have all failed. Saddam is more wily, brutal and conspiratorial than any likely conspiracy the United States might mobilize against him. Saddam must be overpowered; he will not be brought down by a coup d'etat. But Saddam has an Achilles' heel: lacking popular support, he rules by terror. The same brutality which makes it unlikely that any coups or conspiracies can succeed, makes him hated by his own people and the rank and file of his military. Iraq today is ripe for a broad-based insurrection. We must exploit this opportunity.
Saddam's long record of treaty violations, deception, and violence shows that diplomacy and arms control will not constrain him. In the absence of a broader strategy, even extensive air strikes would be ineffective in dealing with Saddam and eliminating the threat his regime poses. We believe that the problem is not only the specifics of Saddam's actions, but the continued existence of the regime itself.
What is needed now is a comprehensive political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam and his regime. It will not be easy -- and the course of action we favor is not without its problems and perils. But we believe the vital national interests of our country require the United States to:
Recognize a provisional government of Iraq based on the principles and leaders of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) that is representative of all the peoples of Iraq.
Restore and enhance the safe haven in northern Iraq to allow the provisional government to extend its authority there and establish a zone in southern Iraq from which Saddam's ground forces would also be excluded.
Lift sanctions in liberated areas. Sanctions are instruments of war against Saddam's regime, but they should be quickly lifted on those who have freed themselves from it. Also, the oil resources and products of the liberated areas should help fund the provisional government's insurrection and humanitarian relief for the people of liberated Iraq.
Release frozen Iraqi assets -- which amount to $1.6 billion in the United States and Britain alone -- to the control of the provisional government to fund its insurrection. This could be done gradually and so long as the provisional government continues to promote a democratic Iraq.
Facilitate broadcasts from U.S. transmitters immediately and establish a Radio Free Iraq.
Help expand liberated areas of Iraq by assisting the provisional government's offensive against Saddam Hussein's regime logistically and through other means.
Remove any vestiges of Saddam's claim to "legitimacy" by, among other things, bringing a war crimes indictment against the dictator and his lieutenants and challenging Saddam's credentials to fill the Iraqi seat at the United Nations.
Launch a systematic air campaign against the pillars of his power -- the Republican Guard divisions which prop him up and the military infrastructure that sustains him.
Position U.S. ground force equipment in the region so that, as a last resort, we have the capacity to protect and assist the anti-Saddam forces in the northern and southern parts of Iraq.
Once you make it unambiguously clear that we are serious about eliminating the threat posed by Saddam, and are not just engaged in tactical bombing attacks unrelated to a larger strategy designed to topple the regime, we believe that such countries as Kuwait, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, whose cooperation would be important for the implementation of this strategy, will give us the political and logistical support to succeed.
In the present climate in Washington, some may misunderstand and misinterpret strong American action against Iraq as having ulterior political motives. We believe, on the contrary, that strong American action against Saddam is overwhelmingly in the national interest, that it must be supported, and that it must succeed. Saddam must not become the beneficiary of an American domestic political controversy.
We are confident that were you to launch an initiative along these line, the Congress and the country would see it as a timely and justifiable response to Iraq's continued intransigence. We urge you to provide the leadership necessary to save ourselves and the world from the scourge of Saddam and the weapons of mass destruction that he refuses to relinquish.
Hon. Stephen Solarz Former Member, Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. House of Representatives Hon. Richard Perle Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute; Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Hon. Elliot Abrams President, Ethics & Public Policy Center; Former Assistant Secretary of State Richard V. Allen Former National Security Advisor Hon. Richard Armitage President, Armitage Associates, L.C.; Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Jeffrey T. Bergner President, Bergner, Bockorny, Clough & Brain; Former Staff Director, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hon. John Bolton Senior Vice President, American Enterprise Institute; Former Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Bryen Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Hon. Richard Burt Chairman, IEP Advisors, Inc.; Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany; Former Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Hon. Frank Carlucci Former Secretary of Defense Hon. Judge William Clark Former National Security Advisor Paula J. Dobriansky Vice President, Director of Washington Office, Council on Foreign Relations; Former Member, National Security Council Doug Feith Managing Attorney, Feith & Zell P.C.; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Negotiations Policy Frank Gaffney Director, Center for Security Policy; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces Jeffrey Gedmin Executive Director, New Atlantic Initiative; Research Fellow, American Enterprise Institute Hon. Fred C. Ikle Former Undersecretary of Defense Robert Kagan Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Zalmay M. Khalilzad Director, Strategy and Doctrine, RAND Corporation Sven F. Kraemer Former Director of Arms Control, National Security Council William Kristol Editor, The Weekly Standard Michael Ledeen Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute; Former Special Advisor to the Secretary of State Bernard Lewis Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern and Ottoman Studies, Princeton University R. Admiral Frederick L. Lewis U.S. Navy, Retired Maj. Gen. Jarvis Lynch U.S. Marine Corps, Retired Hon. Robert C. McFarlane Former National Security Advisor Joshua Muravchik Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute Robert A. Pastor Former Special Assistant to President Carter for Inter-American Affairs Martin Peretz Editor-in-Chief, The New Republic Roger Robinson Former Senior Director of International Economic Affairs, National Security Council Peter Rodman Director of National Security Programs, Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom; Former Director, Policy Planning Staff, U.S. Department of State Hon. Peter Rosenblatt Former Ambassador to the Trust Territories of the Pacific Hon. Donald Rumsfeld Former Secretary of Defense Gary Schmitt Executive Director, Project for the New American Century; Former Executive Director, President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board Max Singer President, The Potomac Organization; Former President, The Hudson Institute Hon. Helmut Sonnenfeldt Guest Scholar, The Brookings Institution; Former Counsellor, U.S. Department of State Hon. Caspar Weinberger Former Secretary of Defense Leon Wienseltier Literary Editor, The New Republic Hon. Paul Wolfowitz Dean, Johns Hopkins SAIS; Former Undersecretary of Defense David Wurmser Director, Middle East Program, AEI; Research Fellow, American Enterprise Institute Dov S. Zakheim Former Deputy Undersecretary of DefenseOrganization affiliations given for identification purposes only. Views reflected in the letter are endorsed by the individual, not the institution.
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