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UC Berkeley Scientist Says Al Qaeda Sent Anthrax Letters
daily californian ^ | 4/24/02

Posted on 04/24/2002 8:51:24 PM PDT by knak

Physicist’s Theory Differs From Mainstream View

The United States government may still believe that whoever perpetrated the anthrax attacks last year is an American, but a UC Berkeley scientist vehemently disagrees.

Physics professor Richard Muller believes that the real culprit is none other than Al Qaeda. His ideas were published in the April 16 issue of MIT's Technology Review.

White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said in a press briefing on Feb. 25 that that it appears that the anthrax mailings were not a foreign scheme.

"All indications are that the source of the anthrax is domestic," he said.

But according to Muller, the letter attacks follow a scenario set up by the previous airplane hijackings—break no laws, play it safe.

"The scenario is that these people have learned that if they try to do something complicated to the United States…they get caught," said Muller. "Then the FBI is going to infiltrate (them). They try to do things that are absolutely safe."

"When the anthrax hit, a week later, it was exactly in that scenario. This was just what we would expect from Al Qaeda. But it only killed four people. So people say, well, therefore it couldn't be Al Qaeda."

According to Muller, it is wrong when success—in this case a high death toll—becomes equated with intent.

"But (the attacks) failed. That's what people don't appreciate," Muller said. "They had a million lethal doses in these envelopes and they killed four people, total. Bin Laden isn't going to take credit for a failed attack."

"There was every reason for them to expect that the anthrax would kill thousands, because the information on how you spread anthrax is not widely available. What was widely available is the fact that a millionth of a gram is a lethal dose."

Reportedly, two grams of anthrax was in the letter sent to Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Muller asserted that even terrorists are not experts, and the greatest mistake they made during their quest to commit mass murder was believing everything they read.

A Sept. 1 study posted on the Internet by the Defence Research Establishment Suffield in Alberta, Canada suggested that envelope-borne anthrax spores could be aerosolized very effectively by the simple act of opening mail.

According to Muller, the study probably piqued the terrorists' interest, but, for a variety of reasons, most likely did not reflect the behavior of anthrax spores in the real world.

The question that remains is how a million spores did not kill at least hundreds of targeted U.S. leaders and media personalities.

According to UC Berkeley plant and microbial biology professor Antje Hofmeister, if Al Qaeda was the culprit, their dispersal method may have been the plan's fatal flaw.

To obtain a biologically effective anthrax, the spores need to be of a very narrow size range, she said.

"It's really, really challenging to get the right size," Hofmeister said.

The method of delivery could have caused sticking or other side-effects that could have altered its expected lethality, Hofmeister said.

Due to mostly circumstantial evidence in favor of it, Muller said that his opinion is shared by a scant few.

However, his argument may be gaining support from others.

An article published Monday in the political journal The Weekly Standard supports Muller's views, and carefully rebuts the government arguments.

David Tell, the author of the article, who is also the opinion editor of The Weekly Standard, remains just as skeptical as Muller.

"I've never been especially impressed by the FBI's apparent reasons for thinking it is a lone American," he said.

TOPICS: Anthrax Scare; Front Page News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: alqaeda; anthrax; anthraxscarelist; berkley; hijackers; injury; wmd
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1 posted on 04/24/2002 8:51:24 PM PDT by knak
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To: knak
Listen to physicists: they speak seldom and, when they do, usually have reasons.
2 posted on 04/24/2002 8:55:32 PM PDT by TopQuark
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To: knak
Barring evidence from the FBI that supports their lone American theory, I would have to say this actually makes more sense. He is right. There was a ton of Anthrax in that Leahy letter. They talked about it like crazy in the press. At the same time, they began advancing sill ideas like it was a scientist who simply wanted to get some attention but didn't intend to really harm anybody. Remember that? Well it doesn't wash with the quantity of Anthrax in the letter. That alone DOES suggest that the letter was intended to kill a lot of people. It didn't. So the failed terrorist keeps his yap shut out of shear embarrssment.
3 posted on 04/24/2002 8:57:46 PM PDT by bluefish
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To: knak
Occam's razor rules.
4 posted on 04/24/2002 8:58:15 PM PDT by SBeck
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To: knak
But the question still remains: why target the Democrats when they could count on their incompetence, corruption and complicency in things that hurt America?

While it seems obvious that it was A.Q. where did they get such a sophisticated strain? Come on Saddam you can tell me.

5 posted on 04/24/2002 8:59:10 PM PDT by justshutupandtakeit
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To: bluefish
The problem that the administration would have if it acknowledged a link to al Qaeda, and the host-nation that could support the production of weaponized anthrax, is what would our response be? All our WMD attack scenarios lead to a nuclear response on our part and to deploy our weapons could lead to an atomic conflaguration.
6 posted on 04/24/2002 9:02:53 PM PDT by SBeck
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To: knak
It is protection for Saddam to have biological and chemical weapons, because, in the final analysis, if pressed, if he is surrounded in Baghdad, he will threaten to use them. He's capable of that. This is a sort of Samson complex--if you push me too hard, I'll bring the house down, on myself and on everyone else. Washington realizes that this is a possibility. For obvious reasons, it's not talked about openly. No one in Washington wants to tell the American people that Saddam is still capable of blackmailing us. They're acting as if he is capable of blackmailing them, but they are not going to admit it openly.

Said K. Aburish, interview with PBS Frontline

7 posted on 04/24/2002 9:07:44 PM PDT by The Great Satan
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To: Okie01; Mitchell
8 posted on 04/24/2002 9:08:37 PM PDT by Shermy
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To: knak;Fred Mertz;Alamo Girl

...WHY did HILLARY feel compelled early on to announce on TV that these ANTHRAX Attacks were of domestic origin...?

...WHY were HILLARY RODHAM -&- BILL CLINTON organizing Anti-US Demonstrations, bigger by far than the one last weekend in Washington D.C, in the late 1960's early 1970's on behalf of their Partners but our Terrorist and Communist Group/State Enemies...?

...WHY has nothing changed since...?

...WHY were -Friends of HILLARY- DASCHLE, LEAHY, RATHER, BROKAW, JENNINGS amongst the first targeted with ANTHRAX...?

...WHY were the Editors of American Media Inc Publications (National ENQUIRER, STAR, GLOBE Magazines), whose Investigative Reports on the misbehaviors of JACKSON, CONDIT, HILLARY, BILL -&- CHELSEA were spot on, turn out to suddenly be the very first ANTHRAX Target in the History of American...?

...WHY aren't more people asking these very questions...?


9 posted on 04/24/2002 9:11:53 PM PDT by ALOHA RONNIE
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To: bluefish
All true, but why go to the trouble to seal the envelopes so well?

Why announce what the substance was?

If you wanted to have the best chance to reach an important person, wouldn't you dress up your vehicle - by using a larger, classier envelope, maybe even an 8 x 10 manilla envelope?

The contrast here is between the high-tech product in a grade-school device.

10 posted on 04/24/2002 9:14:31 PM PDT by Not_Who_U_Think
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To: knak
Muller asserted that even terrorists are not experts, and the greatest mistake they made during their quest to commit mass murder was believing everything they read.

Not unlike some other people I know.

We shouldn’t underestimate these types but we shouldn’t overestimate them either. They are not the sharpest knives in the drawer and the more I learn about them the more I am convinced that they are incapable of much original thought.

Evil yes but not big on thinking things through.

11 posted on 04/24/2002 9:15:29 PM PDT by another cricket
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To: SBeck
You are right, but that leads me to wonder: We can't respond b/c it would have to be nuclear. So we don't respond b/c they failed. Does that mean that if a nuclear missile was launched against us in the 80s but turned out to be a dud, we wouldn't have responded? So we sit and wait until lots of people are dead before responding? Or do you suppose a real response is happening behind the scenes?

The last question is probably correct. Too many people here on FR believe that everything disseminated through the news media is the administration's true stance and all behind the scenes activity is based on those "public" statements. It is as if nobody recalls some basic diplomacy or disinformation crap.

Despite Bush's statements about a Palestinian State for instance, none of us really know for sure that Cheney wasn't over there telling Sharon to level the "occupied territories." A sort of "despite what we say for Rather, Brokaw and crew, we got your back." None of us know how many implicit or explicit assassination threats were made through diplomatic channels to various leads of various terrorist nations. With stakes this high, we can only sit back and watch with interest. I certainly don't believe that I know what is best.

12 posted on 04/24/2002 9:15:33 PM PDT by bluefish
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To: Shermy
Being published in a college newspaper, this story is a dead end and will go nowhere.

We're not supposed to figure it out...just yet.

13 posted on 04/24/2002 9:19:56 PM PDT by okie01
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To: justshutupandtakeit
"But the question still remains: why target the Democrats..."

To the outside world, Democrats are erroneously thought to be the bigger friend of Israel.

Even so, Republicans were also targeted.

14 posted on 04/24/2002 9:20:50 PM PDT by Southack
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To: The Great Satan
Muller is an interestinging character. From his web site:

Physics for Future Presidents

An explosion occurs when a great deal of energy is "released" into a small volume in a very short period of time. It doesn't matter what the source of the energy is; it could be chemical (stored in food), or kinetic (the result of motion).

Before we get too abstract, let's consider an example that amazes most people when they first see it. In the table below, we'll give the amount of energy present in different objects. We'll take the mass of each object to be the same: 1 gram. (There are three grams in a penny, five in a nickel, one in a cubic centimeter of water, 28 in one ounce, 454 in one pound, and 1000 in one kilogram.) We'll measure energy in "Calories", also known as food calories.



Calories in one gram



chocolate chip cookies


bullet (moving at speed of sound)


methane gas (CH4)


battery (flashlight)


battery (computer)


hydrogen gas (H2) for fuel cell


TNT or dynamite, by convention*

1 (see footnote *)

real TNT (trinitrotoluene)


modern High Explosive (PETN) 1.06
meteor (at 30 km/sec) 100
Study that list. There are some real surprises in it. Chocolate chip cookies contain fives times as much energy as the same weight of TNT! That is the example that surprises the most people. How can that be true?

The answer is that TNT is not used because of its enormous energy. It is used because it can release that energy very quickly. Power is the rate of energy release. TNT has greater power than chocolate chip cookies. Power = Energy/time. Energy = Power x time.

Springtime, Taxes, and the Attack on Iraq Crop duster terrorism

Al Qaeda's Anthrax -- who is responsible for the anthrax mailings?

A New Theory of Glacial cycles.

The Search for Nemesis

The Sins of Jesus

15 posted on 04/24/2002 9:21:40 PM PDT by LarryLied
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To: bluefish
As you correctly infer, you cannot understand anything this administration does unless you understand the anthrax letters. Any time you see an article purporting to analyse our ME policy or the War on Terrorism which does not take the anthrax threats as its starting point and determining context, you can safely tune out and ignore what the author has to say.
16 posted on 04/24/2002 9:21:43 PM PDT by The Great Satan
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To: Not_Who_U_Think; lazamataz; RJayneJ
"If you wanted to have the best chance to reach an important person, wouldn't you dress up your vehicle - by using a larger, classier envelope, maybe even an 8 x 10 manilla envelope? The contrast here is between the high-tech product in a grade-school device."

Bingo. A high-tech state "sponsor" and a low-tech grunt carrying out the delivery points clearly and directly to a foreign attack.

17 posted on 04/24/2002 9:24:13 PM PDT by Southack
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To: aristeides; bvw; Mitchell; gumbo; ALOHA RONNIE; Alamo-Girl; dogbyte12; Betty Jo; Nita Nupress; Sal
Due to mostly circumstantial evidence in favor of it, Muller said that his opinion is shared by a scant few.

His opinion makes the most sense to me.

18 posted on 04/24/2002 9:26:10 PM PDT by Fred Mertz
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To: Shermy
Al Qaeda's Anthrax

By Richard A. Muller
April 16, 2002

Is Osama bin Laden behind the mail attacks?

October 5 may not be as famous as September 11, but it may prove more historic and seminal. On that day last year the United States suffered its first death ever from a biological warfare attack. Over the following two months, 21 additional people were infected with anthrax, and four of them died. We don't know who planned the attack or who perpetrated it, where they obtained the anthrax or why it was done. The delivery weapon was the U.S. mail, although even that isn't certain for all the deaths. The World Trade Center attacks are clear and well-understood, compared to the anthrax mystery.

Although the evidence remains circumstantial, most experts continue to believe that the anthrax terrorist was a disgruntled U.S. citizen, working alone, trying to frighten and kill, or perhaps to probe our biological warfare defenses. Much of this theory is based on handwriting analysis of the anthrax letters, along with reports that the anthrax was the American Ames strain, apparently refined for military use. Barbara Rosenberg of the Federation of American Scientists gives an extensive review of the data (see the FAS website), and argues that the FBI knows the identity of the perpetrator but is keeping it secret, perhaps to protect classified programs.

I disagree with these experts. Judging from such factors as the timing of the anthrax mailings, the delivery method, the quantity of spores used and the information that was publicly available about anthrax's lethality, I think it likely that the anthrax terrorists were working for Osama bin Laden, and intended to murder thousands of people. In other words, the letters were the main salient of the "second wave" of al Qaeda terrorism. Many political questions cloud the issue—for example, why bin Laden would want to target Senate Democrats. I'd like to set those aside for a moment and explain the scientific reasoning behind my view. My hypothesis may not be widely shared, but unless we consider it seriously, we risk overlooking many productive trails toward a solution of the anthrax mystery.

First, look at the delivery method. A study posted on the Web by the Defence Research Establishment Suffield in Alberta, Canada on September 1—well before the anthrax letters were mailed-suggested that envelope-borne anthrax spores could be aerosolized very effectively by the simple act of opening the mail. The report stated that anthrax dispersal from letters was "far more effective than initially suspected"; greater than 99% of the respirable aerosol particles in an envelope were released into the air when test envelopes were opened. (Steven Block of Stanford alerted me to this site.) The report concludes that lethal doses can spread rapidly throughout a room where an anthrax-laden envelope is opened. Any terrorist checking the Web in early September might have found this report and decided to act on it.

Next, consider the amounts of anthrax used. Other data in the public domain suggested that even a few grams of anthrax could, if dispersed with perfect efficiency, kill millions of people. Any terrorist who put this information together with the Canadian study might have concluded that the post was an ideal way to kill a building-full or even a city-full of civilians. If this is true, then the attack was not to be a demonstration; it was not planned to disrupt the mail, or even the U.S. economy. It was intended to commit mass murder, including United States leaders and media personalities.

If mass anthrax deaths were part of the perpetrators' plan, how did it go so wrong? I suspect that the terrorists were influenced by the misleading technical concept of "lethal dose." Consider the following paradox: Senator Patrick Leahy, after a briefing on the possible contents of the letter sent to him, announced on Meet the Press that it might contain "100,000 lethal doses." Yet only five people died from all the letters. Was Leahy exaggerating? No. He was being conservative.

How can we reconcile five with 100,000? Based on primate experiments, the Defense Intelligence Agency estimates that 2,500 to 55,000 spores are enough to trigger fatal pulmonary anthrax infections in half of those exposed (the dose epidemiologists call "LD50"). It is possible that any one spore can trigger the disease, but the probability is low, so many are required, on average. Ninety-four-year-old Ottilie Lundgren, the fifth and last victim, may have been killed by just a few spores. That would explain the absence of detectable anthrax in her home and belongings.

To penetrate into the most sensitive areas of the lungs, the spores or clumps of spores must be small, with diameter not much larger than three microns and a weight of about 10 picograms. Leahy's letter was reported to contain two grams of finely divided anthrax, 200 billion such particles. If we assume 10,000 particles is a reasonable average for LD50, then the letter contained 20 million lethal doses. So Leahy's estimate of 100,000 was actually low.

In the worst-case scenario (or the best-case-from the terrorist's point of view), the anthrax spores sprinkle out of an envelope, disperse like dust, are swept up into a building's ventilation system and get mixed and uniformly diluted in the recirculating air. A human breathes about a cubic meter of air every hour. With 10,000 particles in each cubic meter, two hundred billion particles from one letter could (in principle) contaminate 20 million cubic meters, almost the volume of the entire New York City subway system.

This worst-case scenario, however, is highly misleading. The primary challenge in the military use of anthrax has always been to find methods to mix the spores thoroughly with the air, and keep them there long enough to be breathed. Most dispersal methods are extremely inefficient. Lethal doses, per se, aren't meaningful.

I suspect the terrorists didn't appreciate this. In my scenario, they had managed to obtain a few grams of spores, perhaps stolen from a U.S. research facility. They correctly estimated that they had several hundred million lethal doses. Even at only 1% efficiency (a conservative estimate, they mistakenly thought), they could kill 2 million Americans. Of course, the lethality might be limited to one building, and maybe some surrounding area, so only thousands would die—or only hundreds, if they were very unlucky.

But their initial anthrax attack was a disappointing failure; only one person died, Robert Stevens, a photo editor at the Sun, a tabloid newspaper. The Canadian test, thankfully, may not have been good predictor of anthrax spores' behavior in the real world. In that study, the anthrax was folded in a contained sheet and was ejected when the sheet was pulled and opened. Perhaps the terrorists just dropped the anthrax into the envelope, where it remained. It is also possible that the anthrax had migrated out of the sheets during the extensive handling by the post office and settled to the bottom.

And finally, maybe the anthrax did disperse, but only through the rooms where the letters were opened; the Canadian tests did not include measures of dispersal through ventilation, and this kind of dispersal may not be so efficient. In the tests, the half-life of the anthrax exposure in the chamber was about five minutes, suggesting that it settles quickly. (The air in the test chamber was recirculated, so the loss wasn't through dilution.) Five minutes is long enough to infect people in the room, but not for spores to migrate far.

At this point, I believe, the U.S.-based al Qaeda agents panicked. They had failed in their mission, and they didn't know why. They guessed that their anthrax had lost its potency, and in desperation, they mailed out all of the remainder, much of it in pure undiluted form, on October 9.

Anthrax spores were eventually detected not only at the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, but also at the White House mail facility, the Supreme Court, the CIA mail facility, the Pentagon, and all over Washington, DC. The prevailing belief is that spores spread to so many sites through cross-contamination in the mail rooms. But I think it worthwhile to consider the possibility that some of the detections were from early, diluted letters. In their first mailings, the terrorists assumed the anthrax could be diluted, and spread in this way to more locations. This may also account for several of the "hoax" letters that Rosenberg describes.

My scenario may seem complex, but real scenarios always are. I don't claim to have the details correct. No scenario presently explains everything, and to make sense of the complex situation, you must judge your evidence. Which is more credible when the conclusions conflict: a handwriting analyst who says the terrorist was American, or a medical doctor, Dr. Christos Tsonas, who had treated the leg of Ahmed Alhaznawi, one of the September 11 hijackers, and says "the most probable and coherent interpretation of the data available" is that the infection was skin anthrax? If we are searching only for an American who could have mailed the anthrax, we might miss the American who didn't mail it, but did steal it—or maybe just failed to destroy it, when ordered to do so.

My opinion is in the minority—in fact, the tiny minority. According to the October 27 Washington Post, a senior official said "nobody" believes the anthrax attack was the second wave. "There is no intelligence on it and it does not fit any [al Qaeda] pattern." But whether it fits the al Qaeda pattern depends, in part, on the intended scale of the carnage. It may be a mistake to assume the attack worked out as planned.

If I am right, the terrorists may now be disillusioned with anthrax attacks. But it would be foolish to relax. Bin Laden was building laboratories in Afghanistan that, given time, could have produced not grams but kilograms of spores. Tons of anthrax were grown in Soviet laboratories, and buried on Vozrozhdeniye Island in the Aral Sea (just north of Iran and Afghanistan)—possibly along with some smallpox virus. (It was treated with bleach, but tests show much of it is still viable.) The Soviet anthrax was reported to be resistant to most antibiotics. So, despite the limited casualties of this first biological warfare attack on the United States, the prognosis is bleak.

Biological terror is likely to prove more accessible and easier to implement than nuclear terror. The "mad scientist" of future fears is more likely to be a biologist than a physicist. Even though I am a physicist, that thought does not give me much comfort.

Richard A. Muller, a 1982 MacArthur Fellow, is a professor in the Physics Department at UC-Berkeley where he teaches a course entitled, "Physics for future Presidents". He is also a faculty senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

19 posted on 04/24/2002 9:31:01 PM PDT by LarryLied
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To: justshutupandtakeit
Why did they target the Democrats when the Dems were already doing such a good job of undermining America? You might also ask why they targeted New York City, citadel of anti-American mass media. I think the answer is that Al-Qaeda aren't Americans and don't understand the dynamics of American politics and society. The Nazi Germans and the imperial Japanese made some dumb moves in WW2. Let's hope Islamic terror does likewise.
20 posted on 04/24/2002 10:13:41 PM PDT by TheMole
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