U.S. Anthrax: Foreign Source? (ABC News)

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Headline: Foreign Source?

Source: ABC News, 30 October 2001

URL: http://abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/ANTHRAX_Investigation.html

Spores, Additives Raise Iraq Questions

Former U.N. weapons inspectors tell ABCNEWS they've learned the anthrax spores found in a poison letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle are nearly identical to those discovered in Iraq in 1994. ABCNEWS also has learned that at least two labs have concluded the anthrax was coated with additives linked to the Iraqi biological weapons program.

Despite continued White House denials, five well-placed and separate sources have told ABCNEWS that initial tests have detected traces of bentonite and silica, substances that keep tiny anthrax particles floating in the air by preventing them from sticking together ó making them more easily inhaled. Inhalation anthrax is far more deadly than the skin form of the disease.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer this morning continued to reject that bentonite has been found on the letter. "Based on the results of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, it is fair to conclude that that test shows that there is no bentonite," Fleischer said. "Additional tests will be done and we'll try to keep you updated."

As far as is known, only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons, but officials caution the presence of the chemical alone does not constitute firm evidence of Iraqi involvement. While it's possible countries other than Iraq may be using the additive, it is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program. "It means to me that Iraq becomes the prime suspect as the source of the anthrax used in these letters," former U.N. weapons inspector Timothy Trevan told ABCNEWS.

In the process of destroying much of Iraq's biological arsenal, U.N. teams first discovered Iraq was using bentonite, which is found in soil around the world, including the United States and Iraq. "That discovery was proof positive of how they were using bentonite to make small particles," former U.N. weapons inspector Richard Spertzel told ABCNEWS.

But officials cautioned that even if Iraq or renegade Iraqi scientists prove to be the source, it's a separate issue from who actually sent the anthrax through the mail. "What you have to keep in mind is the difference between knowledge about what type of information you have to have to produce it, and who could have sent it," Fleischer said. "They are totally separate topics that could involve totally separate people. It could be the same person or people. It could be totally different people. The information does not apply to who sent it."

Experts say the bentonite discovery doesn't rule out a very well-equipped lab using the Iraqi technique. In fact, commercial spray dryers that Iraq used to produce its biological weapons were bought on the open market from the Danish subsidiary of a U.S. company for about $100,000 a piece. Starting Thursday, FBI agents began asking company officials in Columbia, Md., if anyone suspicious in this country had recently acquired one of them.

Hijacker Cars Clean

The FBI has found no traces of anthrax in cars owned by two Sept. 11 hijackers, ABCNEWS has learned. The tests were run on cars owned by Mohammed Atta and Waleed Al-Sheehi, two of the hijackers who piloted American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Agents conducted the tests last week after the cars were tracked down at a car dealership in Tamarac, Fla. Both cars had been thoroughly cleaned and detailed by the dealership. Two cars rented from a Pompano Beach rental agency by Atta, believed to be a ringleader of the hijackers, still have not been tested. Also untested are apartments occupied by Atta and other hijackers who spent time in the area.

The FBI says it had not previously seen a need to test any of Atta's cars or apartments, despite his repeated interst prior to Sept. 11 in crop-dusting planes and chemical dispersal.

Atta Met Iraqi Spy

Raising new questions about whether Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, officials in the Czech Republic now confirm for the first time that a key hijacker met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague.

Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said Mohamed Atta, believed by U.S. investigators to be a ringleader of the hijackers, met an Iraqi diplomat shortly before the consul was expelled. Czech intelligence officials were troubled by Al-Ani's photographing of the Radio Free Europe building in the city.

"At this point we can confirm," Gross said Friday, "Mohamed Atta made contact with Iraqi intelligence officer Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir Al-Ani, who was expelled from the Czech Republic for conduct incompatible with his diplomatic status on April 22, 2001." "The details of this contact are under investigation," Gross said.

The meeting took place on Atta's second known visit to Prague. A year earlier, on June 2, 2000, he had came to Prague from Germany by bus in the morning hours. The next day, Gross said, Atta left for the United States.

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz had previously denied Al-Ani had any contact with Atta in Prague. In recent weeks, Gross also had said there was no evidence to support Prague media reports citing Czech intelligence officials who said Atta had met Al-Ani.

The meeting, along with Iraq's stockpiles of biological weapons, have led some to question whether Atta ó and Hussein ó were not somehow behind the anthrax attacks in the United States. "There are reports that one of the things that may have happened at that meeting was that [Atta] was given by the Iraqi some sample of anthrax," former U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler told ABCNEWS. "We do not know if that is true. I believe it is something that should be investigated."

For his part, Gross would not give further details on the Atta meeting. "At this point, neither I nor anyone else from the police or Czech intelligence services will provide any further information concerning this contact and [Atta's] stay and movement on the territory of the Czech Republic until the investigation is finished," he said.

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), October 30, 2001


My clueless comments:

The question of who is behind the anthrax attacks remains open, of course, but the lackadaisical approach by the U.S. Govít to this side of the investigation is very strange. U.S. spokesmen deny any resemblance to known Iraqi bioweapons techniques; they donít test the hijackersí cars and apartments; a week or so ago they tried hard to deny the meeting in Prague between Atta and an Iraqi agent. Itís almost as though they DONíT WANT to find out if Iraq is connected to the anthrax attacks.

And indeed, maybe they donít. The U.S. has previously stated (implied, but damn near explicit) that it would use nuclear weapons in reply to anyone who used chemical or biological weapons against the U.S. Oops, now it seems credible that a major Arab oil-producing country Ė- albeit one the U.S. has been at constant war with since 1990 -Ė may be implicated (letís face it, this has been an obvious possibility from the beginning, even though public evidence was lacking a month ago).

Next, take into account the reaction from many quarters to the bombing in Afghanistan, and the growing concerns over fundamentalist movements in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, among others; the last thing the U.S. wants right now is to be forced into a position of seriously hitting an Arab country, right next to Saudi Arabia no less... surely leading to an even angrier response worldwide, and perhaps leading to a collapse of the House of Saud, a threat to crude supplies... etc etc. And if Pakistan fell, with their two dozen nukes then in the hands of angry fundamentalists, the new owners of those nukes would have a justification to use them immediately against the U.S., if they could. What would be the effect of a half dozen or so container ships turning abruptly into radioactive dust while in port in Seattle, Oakland, Galveston, New York, Boston, Chicago...?

All in all, one gets the impression the U.S. would be very very happy not to have to face the possibility that Iraq is behind the anthrax. Better that all the blame falls on Emmanuel Goldstein, ummmm, I mean Osama Bin Laden.

Just some speculation.


-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), October 30, 2001.

Probably close to the truth, Dr. Weltman.

-- PHO (owennos@bigfoot.com), October 30, 2001.

The hot potato of all hot potatoes will be when it is conclusively proven that Iraq is at the bottom of all of this.

-- Loner (loner@bigfoot.com), October 30, 2001.

What will we do? Nuke 'em, punt, or run?

I say nuke 'em.

-- Buck (bigbuck@tralways.net), October 30, 2001.

Interesting article and comments. There was reportedly an "Ames" strain which indicated in several of the situations. The "Ames" strain would have come from Ames, Iowa or Iowa State University. I am certain, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the University didn't plant this strain anywhere, or aid in any illegal or malicious discemination. Yet it is their strain (or reportedly).

If the "Iraq" strain is verified, are they waiting to document its route from Iraqui labs, into the US? Could it have been stolen from Iraq and planted in the US, as a frame, or did the Iraquis do it? If I were the Prez, I would want a clear understanding of these issues before I bew up some country.

Just simple thoughts from a simple person.


-- suzy (Itssuzy2@aol.com), October 30, 2001.

Suzy, the "Ames strain" of anthrax has been *widely* used by legitimate researchers around the U.S. and indeed in many other countries. There are hundreds or thousands of naturally occurring minor variations or strains; many ended up in research collections and could have been grabbed by anyone over the past decades. Actually, the general perception is that if it's a relative of "Ames," it becomes almost impossible to trace back. Ames is everywhere. And the link to the university in Iowa is somewhat secondary -- the isolate didn't even start out there but that's the place that got it's name attached to the cultures.

-- Andre Weltman, M.D. (aweltman@state.pa.us), October 31, 2001.

Dr. Weltman, thank you for the insight and education. If the anthrax circulating is from Iraq, and provided by Iraq for use against the US or her interests, our Prez has some serious decisions to make. suzy

-- suzy (Itssuzy2@aol.com), October 31, 2001.

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