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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 14:03 GMT
Analysis: Anthrax threat from within
bio-cehmicla suits
The anthrax outbreaks have spread fear across the US
By the BBC's Hilary Andersson

In media offices, abortion clinics, and government offices around the United States, mail handlers are donning white gloves for fear of the dreaded white powder - anthrax.

But still the FBI has no conclusive evidence as to whether the recent attacks have been state-sponsored, or the work of America's own radicals.


This is Anthrax, have a nice death

Letter sent to US abortion clinics
It is a complex investigation made worse by the fact that more than 2,500 anthrax scares in the United States have turned out to be false alarms.

The National Abortion Federation (FAN) in Washington DC says about 200 "anthrax" letters have been received at abortion clinics around the country. The letters contain white powder, some bear the text: "This is Anthrax, have a nice death."

Some are signed by an organisation called the "Army of God", an underground, violent, anti-abortion movement.

"We know law enforcement officials are taking them very seriously because we don't know if any of them will test positive for anthrax," said Vicky Sapporta of the National Abortion Federation.

The letters are being tested in laboratories to see if the powder is real anthrax, but not all the results are back yet. So far none of the letters sent to the abortion clinics have tested positive.

Army of God

A three-hour drive from the capital, in the woods of Virginia we tracked down an Army of God activist: a balding, middle aged man called Reverend Donald Spitz.

The Army of God openly supports violence as a means of fighting abortion. Several of its members are in jail.

But the Rev Spitz is not. He lives in a wooden house, with his dogs caged in one of the bedrooms. He keeps guns in his home, and he believes that the FBI searches his premises occasionally when he is out.

He admits that his organisation has sent the letters but would not tell us if his organisation had access to real biological weapons. He did, however, believe that using anthrax against his enemies was legitimate.

US postal worker
US mail handlers now wear gloves
"We believe that it's justified to use force to stop an abortionist. We wouldn't consider murder, we would consider justifiable homicide," he said.

In America, hate groups like the Army of God abound. Racist groups, Nazi groups, and others spout hatred and promote the use of violence openly on the internet. The Army of God has published a manual on the internet detailing how to make explosives.

A key question investigators in Washington are asking is how hard would it be for groups like these to get hold of a dangerous form of anthrax?

Some scientists emphasise the difficulties of breaking down the anthrax bacteria into the fine, pure and lethal form that can float in the air and be breathed in, causing inhalation anthrax.

Expertise

The process itself can kill the bacteria unless great expertise is used, they say, and the equipment that would be needed is prohibitively expensive.

These facts are used to argue that America's radical hate groups could not easily obtain biological weapons.

But Dr Kenneth Alibek, a former chief of the Soviet Union's offensive biological weapons programme who defected to the United States, disagrees.


You don't have to be a rocket scientist to do something like this

Dr Kenneth Alibek
According to Alibek the chemical secrets necessary to weaponise anthrax have already been discovered, and are easily passed on. Worse still, he says, there are many former soviet scientists around who would be prepared to sell their knowledge.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to do something like this," he said. "Russia has a knowledge base and has many scientists previously involved in this business."

Alibek estimates that it would cost less than a $100,000 to buy the necessary information through an arms dealer.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Lister, in Washington
"The investigation has not been going well"
Elisa Harris, former advisor on bio terrorism
"It is likely the Bush administration know more about this material than they have released thus far"
See also:

04 Nov 01 | Americas
Anthrax cases baffle investigators
01 Nov 01 | Americas
Anthrax kills fourth American
31 Oct 01 | Americas
Cost of anthrax attacks 'surges'
27 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax found in Congress offices
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