Skip to comments.Anthrax whodunit may have political subplot
Posted on 04/04/2002 6:28:03 PM PST by H.R. Gross
Anthrax whodunit may have political subplot
INDIANAPOLIS – Science and politics never mix very well; war and politics can never be separated. Put all three together, and you get a jumble that breeds anthrax, biological terrorism's prime example of a weapon of mass disruption.
Anthrax is capable of mass destruction, too, and on a horrifying scale. But last year's anthrax attack killed fewer Americans than the flu does on any given weekend, points out Stanford biologist Steven Block, one of the nation's leading experts on biological weapons. On the other hand, anthrax's terror generated massive political, economic and social disruption, he notes, from closing down the Supreme Court and slowing down mail service to inflicting millions of dollars in cleanup costs.
Yet despite the scale of the anthrax disruption, efforts to identify the perpetrator of the attack have apparently been ineffectual. The FBI's performance in the anthrax case would not make for a very impressive CSI episode. But Dr. Block says that more is known about the killer than many people realize, and he hints that political considerations may end up protecting the culprit's identity.
Speaking in Indianapolis last month at a national meeting of the American Physical Society, Dr. Block reviewed the chronology of last year's anthrax episodes and highlighted some of the conclusions that the evidence to date suggests.
For one thing, the anthrax used in the attacks was almost certainly derived from the U.S. military anthrax research program, he said.
"Nearly all the clues so far point to the possibility that this was in fact a domestic source, an inside job," Dr. Block said.
The American process for preparing anthrax is secret in its details, but experts know that it produces an extremely pure powder. One gram (a mere 28th of an ounce) contains a trillion spores.
"A trillion spores per gram is basically solid spores," Dr. Block said, which is why the U.S. method is regarded as "optimal" for weaponizing anthrax. And the evidence indicates that the anthrax powder used in the mail attacks must have been effectively weaponized.
"It appears from all reports so far that this was a powder made with the so-called optimal U.S. recipe," Dr. Block said. "That means they either had to have information from the United States or maybe they were the United States."
By that he meant the culprit or culprits may have been participants in U.S. government anthrax research. And that, he said, "raises the serious possibility that the United States may be violating" the international treaty outlawing the development of offensive biological and chemical weaponry.
Only about 200 researchers participate in the U.S. program, Dr. Block said, and fewer than 50 would have possessed the knowledge and skills needed to produce the high-purity spores.
In a group of scientists that small, it should take no more than a handful of clues to pinpoint any individual. Say, for illustration purposes only, that the prime suspect was a science writer. If investigators revealed that the guilty one usually drove long distances to attend science meetings, always sat in restaurants where he could see the door, and included a note in the envelope saying journalism is dead, dozens of other science writers would know immediately who it was.
Similarly, enough is known about the anthrax letters that at least one researcher would almost certainly have a pretty good idea who sent them.
So maybe the FBI already knows who did it but doesn't have enough evidence to make an arrest. There is, however, another possibility, Dr. Block mentioned at the physics meeting. Perhaps the FBI knows who did it but also knows that it is someone who knows too much.
"The FBI, after all these months, has still not arrested anybody," Dr. Block said. "It's possible, as has been suggested, that they may be standing back because the person that's involved with it may have secret information that the United States government would not like to have divulged."
It's a scenario that would make a good conspiracy-theory movie script. But real-life events argue that such suspicions should be taken seriously. After all, Dr. Block noted, both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations have resisted adjustments to the international biological weapons treaty that would have allowed inspections of U.S. research facilities.
Of course, other possibilities remain. It may be that clues have been manipulated to deceive investigators and the public; perhaps foreign terrorists were involved in the anthrax attacks. Maybe a domestic terrorist illicitly gained access to anthrax without the knowledge of any U.S. researchers.
So unless the guilty party decides to go public and confess, there may never be any way to know if the cover-up scenario accurately reflects the facts. And if it does, nobody who really knows is free to say, and nobody who's free to say really knows. But anybody who knows anything knows that when science clashes with politics, there's always more to the story than most people will ever know.
The idea that the prime suspect isn't being arrested because he/she may "talk" about State bioweapons secrets is just dumb. What's keeping this person from talking now?
No offense meant to you, H. R., but the guy who wrote this is just filling space.
Anything else is American disinformation!
"California Chemist Ahmed Arrested
Friday April 5, 2002 4:50 AM
"SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - A chemist involved in a 1997 laboratory explosion was arrested Thursday after investigators found radioactive materials at his home.
Riad Mohamad Ahmed, 62, was charged with illegal possession of radioactive material after investigators seized three briefcases, a suit and a desk all contaminated with radioactive carbon 14 at his home, said Tori Richards, a spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney.
The radiation exceeded allowable levels outside a laboratory, but did not pose any danger, authorities said. It's unclear how the items were contaminated.
Ahmed could also face charges of violating probation stemming from the 1997 explosion at a private laboratory in Gardena, said Daniel Wright, Los Angeles County deputy district attorney.
In that incident, Ahmed was working with carbon 14 at the California Bionuclear Corp. when a small explosion and fire occurred, Wright said. The building was contaminated and the federal government later labeled it a Superfund cleanup site.
``It was so contaminated, he had to take the building down to the studs,'' said Walker, who prosecuted Ahmed in that case.
Ahmed was also charged in 1986 with mishandling radioactive, flammable and explosives materials at another lab. He pleaded no contest, served 60 days in jail and was ordered to pay a $15,000 fine."
My gut feeling as that all of this came from Britian and that the anthrax mailer travelled to the United States to do the deed.
"When President Bush came into office, he rejected several key international agreements -- the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention. In the post-Sept. 11 world, the administration needs to reexamine all of those positions."Gosh, do you think Block and (Nut)Hatch are using the same playbook, perhaps?
Yes, the deterrence theory is the only one that makes sense, and Iraq (or an alliance of Iraq and others) is by far most likely to be the responsible party.
However, the FBI is not wasting its time. First of all, the stalling is serving a necessary military purpose. Secondly, there's still the possibility that there is a domestic angle to this (theft of anthrax from U.S. stocks by a mole, for instance), and the FBI should be investigating that. Third, you want to discourage any copycats, and the idea that the FBI is vigorously investigating the domestic nut theory would inhibit a potential copycat, who might otherwise think he could get away with it under cover of the terrorist mailings.
That's simply a lie.
Of course, but that doesn't mean that they're in cahoots with one another. It's the same playbook used by 80% of prominent academics. [Remember, these academics are the people who originally invented the phrase "politically correct"; it was a positive description of someone's political views. I recall hearing this usage well before conservatives starting deriding political correctness. What had happened was that the liberals needed a way to describe somebody as being on what they considered the "right side" of every issue, and they started using the phrase "politically correct" among themselves with that meaning. This was generally said slighly apologetically, as in "politically correct -- you know what I mean"; they acted blissfully ignorant of the totalitarian flavor this gave to their utterances. Anyway, it's no surprise that they think alike.]
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