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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
Anthrax riddle baffles FBI
Decontamination workers outside US Capitol
The attacks caused panic in parts of America

Ten months after anthrax attacks in the US, killed five people and left 17 more seriously ill, the FBI is seemingly no closer to catching the culprit.

The weapons-grade anthrax was posted in letters to a number of people and institutions. In addition to those directly infected, another 35,000 people were forced to take precautionary antibiotics.


Quite possibly there are some rather high-level officials who, if not directly involved, may not be providing adequate cooperation

Barbara Rosenberg, Federation of American Scientists

Agents have interviewed thousands of people, hundreds have been subjected to lie detector tests.

Suspicion is now centring on US Government military labs and a group of current or former government scientists.

Through confidential phone lines, the FBI is hoping for help from the public in cracking the case. Scientists, behavioural specialists and psychologists have all been drafted in.

Colonel Randy Larsen, a biological warfare specialist who used to advise Vice President Dick Cheney, says that from the outset the investigation has been hampered by a number of problems:

"This is a new type of threat that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies are not properly prepared for.

"We do not have the scientific capability to do the forensic pathology we need to do to help us solve a crime."

Domestic source

When the preliminary analysis of the anthrax samples showed that some of them were the Aim strain, investigators increasingly looked towards a domestic and not a foreign source.


It's not someone who just got on the internet or went to the library and bought a book

Colonel David France

The anthrax could possibly have been taken from only a limited number of laboratories, among them the top bio-defence research centre of the US Army at Fort Detrick near Washington.

Colonel David France, the former head of the Fort Detrick research project, told a BBC news programme what type of person he thinks investigators should be looking for:

"It's not someone who just got on the internet or went to the library and bought a book and held the book in one hand and a big wooden spoon in the other and stirred up a batch.

"It's someone who has spent a significant amount of time, I believe, working with a spore format of some kind and knew how to grow, knew how to purify, knew how to dry it."

Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of current and former scientists at the US labs have now been interviewed by the FBI in the course of its investigations.

One was even named in the US press and the FBI made a highly publicised search of his home. But why have there still been no arrests?

'Cover-up'

The FBI says it is because it is still investigating. But there have been other explanations put forward, like this one from Doctor Barbara Rosenberg of the Federation of American Scientists:

"The person who did this had to have a lot of access and that person may know about secret programmes, and quite possibly there are some rather high-level officials who, if not directly involved, may feel some responsibility that they may not be providing adequate cooperation.

Mohammed Atta
Atta allegedly met an Iraqi agent in Prague
"On the other hand the FBI may also be reluctant to finger them in any way unless they have absolute proof."

Allegations of a top level cover-up have been rejected by the investigators and by other people working outside the government.

But some are saying that no arrests have been made so far simply because the FBI continues looking in the wrong place. Colonel Randy Larsen is convinced there are links that have not been fully explored between Iraq and the 11 September hijackers:

"There is some evidence that shows that Mohammed Atta [one of the hijackers who flew the planes into the World Trade Centre] made a couple of trips to Prague, that he met a senior official from the Iraqi intelligence service [who] provided some small samples of weaponised anthrax.

"We don't know, but that's certainly one of the leads that needs to be checked out."

Whoever was behind the anthrax letters has not struck again since late last year. That might suggest it was indeed a loner, a rogue scientist with a grudge which has now been satisfied.

Or perhaps it points the finger at terrorists who are now regrouping and waiting for the next chance to strike.

See also:

01 Aug 02 | Americas
24 Jun 02 | Americas
12 Oct 01 | Health
10 Oct 01 | Health
09 Oct 01 | Health
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